“Would you look at this video about how pigs are treated in factory farms?”
“Oh, I know, I know. It’s terrible.”
“But you still eat bacon and pork. So maybe you’d just look at this video so you can see where it comes from.”
“No, no, really. I don’t want to see.”
“Okay. What if I tell you a story about a pig. Once upon a time…”
We all know the frustration of trying to convince our meat-eating, dairy-consuming friends and family to just look. Believing, of course, that if they looked, they would recognize the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses and would then stop consuming animal products. But some won’t look. So how to reach them?
That reminds me of a story. I was watching the Olympics a few weeks ago and was about to change the channel at the prospect of yet another bobsled run. A couple of minutes of insane speed by helmeted beings in skin-diving suits, then it’s over. But just then, NBC did a story about bobsledder Noel Pikus-Pace: the awful accident that cost her the gold in 2006, her family convincing her to try again, her rigorous training schedule and renewed hope. Okay, I’m hooked. Now I care whether she wins a medal, and I lean closer as she caroms down the icy slope.
Marketing specialists have known for years that they reach people in a deeper way through stories. Lisa Cron in her book, Wired for Story, notes, “Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention.” Indeed, psychological studies have shown that a powerful story can have a hand in actually rewiring the listener’s brain – helping instill empathy, for instance. And empathy for animals is what we, as advocates, are hoping to instill.
One of my goals in writing The Kinship Series – suspense novels that center around an animal rights investigator – is to bring an awareness of animal suffering to readers of mainstream thrillers and suspense. Won’t watch an undercover video? How about reading a mystery novel with a passionate female sleuth? Once we care about a character, we care about what matters to her. And if animals matter to her, they will matter to us.
Farm Sanctuary and the other wonderful sanctuaries for animals understand this. How many people have been impacted by getting to know the animals’ individual stories? A visit to Farm Sanctuary and you will learn that the cow’s name is Sweety and that she is blind. You will learn about her life at a dairy farm in Canada where she was kept in an industrial building on concrete floors with no access to the outdoors. Each of her babies was taken away from her, and when she was no longer “producing,” she was bound for slaughter. Then, Farm Sanctuary rescued her, and upon her arrival, one of the first sounds to reach Sweety’s ears was the gentle moo of another cow named Tricia. Tricia is also blind. In a few sentences, a story has emerged – a love story of sorts – a story of rescue, rebirth, and redemption. It’s the kind of advocacy that cannot help but change how people view dairy cows.
A story can change history. I think about Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, which has been described as “the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time,” spurring animal protection legislation for horses in Victorian England and in the United States. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle caused an entire nation to react in horror and led to the government finally getting involved in slaughterhouse inspections.
My own transformation to veganism was greatly influenced by reading Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz. While a nonfiction book, it is far from a recitation of stats and facts about the meat packing industry. The book is driven not only by Gail’s personal, courageous journey to uncover the truth, but also by the stories of individual slaughterhouse workers: their troubled family lives, their conflict, their attempts to fight the system. Through their voices, we hear about the treatment of animals inside. We struggle with them – and when they care, we care.
So when we think about how to reach the people who don’t want to look, or for whom the idea of countless suffering animals does not resonate, try this:
“Once upon a time…”