"What difference does it make anyway?"
Answers to common excuses against vegetarianism and veganism
"What can one schnitzel change?"
"How much impact does a single vegetarian have?"
These arguments and others in favor of the consumption of animal products are mostly used as rhetorical questions. Seemingly, the answer is so obvious that it is deemed sufficient to ask such blatantly simplistic questions without the need for an actual argument. Clearly avoiding a schnitzel once won't save any chicken. And a single vegetarian won't help either. Why? Because the influence of the actual action of consumption is insignificant; in a world of mass production. In this world, there are many intermediating stages between production and consumption and thus small scale changes in consumption are entirely engulfed in other economical fluctuations. This is the argument we are presented with, and it seems to be one of the more acceptable arguments used by animal product consumers. There is no denial of the situation in factory farms, and it doesn't attempt justification through the use of arbitrary moral principles made up for this particular matter - familiar downsides to most of the common excuses against vegetarianism. In fact, you can identify with "what difference does it make?" a somewhat understanding of the common vegetarian arguments, that the production of animal products does harm the animals and is morally wrong. Hence the above argument can be rewritten in a more convincing, level-headed fashion:
"Had I been convinced that by becoming a vegetarian I would save animals, it is what I would do".
A critical mass
The unequivocal answer to "what difference does it make?" is the significant causal connection between consumption and production: no consumption – no production; no meat eaters – no chickens suffering in the coops. This is of course true, but the opposite argument is a more refined one:
These arguments may have been true, had the act of consumption by a single person taken place in a vacuum. However the single person's action is taking place in a broader context, as is depicted in the comparison to political elections: had you voted in the elections, surely you didn't do it out of the belief that your vote alone will determine the outcome. Even though, most of us do bother to vote; we know that if a mandate is composed of 50,000 votes, each one of them separately does not determine the outcome, yet every one of the votes is equally necessary in order to get the mandate. In other words: the votes are not isolated; they accumulate. A consumers' boycott works on a similar principle, but without having a system to determine how many "votes" will make a "mandate". The single acts of consumption and single boycotts add up to hundreds, thousands or millions of other actions. A decrease in the amount of dead chickens purchased in the nearby supermarket as food, makes a critical mass (the "mandate") which causes a reduction in the amount of meat that the supermarket purchases; the somewhat reduced amount of acquisitions from the meat processing factory, brings a reduction in the number of chickens that the factory buys from the coops and slaughters – and as a result a reduction in the number of chicks "produced" by the chicken hatcheries in the first place. No vegetarian knows if he or she is the one that has the "deciding vote" which causes the reduction in the number of animals born into a life of suffering. But in consumerism, as in the elections, the goal isn't to be the unique deciding vote, but to be an essential part of a critical mass of accumulating – and influencing voices. The hundreds of thousands of vegetarians in Israel certainly accumulate into such a critical mass.
A social echo: distributing the idea
The simple math of "accumulating voices" is diminutive as well. The vegetarian lifestyle does not exist in a mathematical realm but rather in a social one, and opposed to the parliament elections – it is not secretly done. Nutritional habits are visible and they have a very influential social echo. Many children are drawn to vegetarianism, but in a carnivorous culture some haven't met a single vegetarian and are afraid to be "the only vegetarian in the world". Similarly, adults who are drawn to vegetarianism are afraid of social isolation. Thus the very choosing of a vegetarian lifestyle helps spread the idea of vegetarianism and makes it easier for those who are hesitant to go ahead with it. The influence exists even if you do not try to influence or even are aware of it happening at all. The rumor about your vegetarianism passes from mouth to ear. A young niece realizes that vegetarianism is a real option for her, and an elderly friend relaxes because he won’t have to face everyone on his own at meals with friends.
A social echo: a vegetarian culture
When everyone knows that there is a vegetarian in the family or among friends, they make sure to prepare a vegetarian dish for joined events instead of a meat dish (although vegetarian youth early on often complain that their family or friends prepare meat based meals in protest, still in perspective of years of vegetarianism, such cases are insignificant). When a meat dish is replaced with a vegetable dish "for the vegetarian’s sake", often, others will choose it as well, instead of having a meat dish. And when larger scales of consumerism are involved, the vegetarians create together a critical mass, which effects the increased production of plant foods and not only the decrease in animal products. When the clientele for vegetal products is large – more of them are being produced and a world of new and original products is created. Thus a new vegetarian culture came to life in the past few decades, and many new products penetrated as original dishes in the menu or as satisfactory replacements to animal products among the non-vegetarian population as well. Nowadays, a large public of non-vegetarians consume processed soy products as a replacement for meat and dairy products. Granted, in some cases the replacement isn't in full, but since a large portion of the population consumes "substitutes", it has a direct economical influence on animal farming.
An expression of weakness
Not everyone finds the concept of a critical mass easy to accept:
At times this is no more than an indifferent or lazy excuse made in order to shake off responsibility – and therefore is difficult to address (this approach also yields excuses in the line of "the chicken is dead anyway" – a testimony to the lack of understanding and the lack of interest in the dynamic system of production and consumption). However at times this isn't an evasion but rather an authentic expression of the sense of alienation, weakness and helplessness facing the seemingly all-mighty forcefulness of the industries and the markets forces. Sharing the road with a multitude of other somewhat unknown vegetarians does not lighten the sense of alienation, due to the anonymous factor. In such a case, the logic of the claims about critical mass and social echo has to struggle with deep emotions – and in such a challenge the logic retreats in favor of the emotion. However there is a way to touch the emotion itself: an encounter with a group of living and breathing vegetarians, may work wonders in eliminating the feeling that the individual cannot make a difference. This phenomena is familiar, for instance, to new participants in anonymous's events, who suddenly discover the feeling that they have the power to make a difference.
A matter of feeling
By way of conclusion, the arguments above may have left seeds of doubt as to whether consuming animal products rarely, at home, affects production;
That can be answered, that even rare actions have an accumulating effect. There is no way to determine when or how an action influences, and this doubt itself is a good enough reason to persist with a full boycott of animal products. The mental aspect now enters the picture: a diet is a matter of habit. Indecision about habits and changing them can be exhausting work, but when you get used to a certain menu, it's easy to stick with it. Meaning, it's easier to define yourself as entirely vegetarian, than to consider yourself as a "conscious meat eater", pondering before every meal, whether the choice to eat a chicken leg will make the difference this time or not. If the option to eat chickens "just like everybody else" exists in your world all the time, it is difficult to ignore it. It is also difficult not to be deceived by the excuses that help you forget that the "pulke" is actually an organ from the chicken's body, who had lived in agony and died violently. The "purist" vegetarianism is needed in order to formulate a clear and honest identity, which solves the misgivings and enables you to see the "product" for what it really is.