"What difference does it make?"

"What will one chicken cutlet matter?" 

"What difference can one vegetarian possibly make?"

These are often posed as rhetorical questions. Seemingly, the answer is so obvious that the scornful questions are enough to make the point, with no need for further reasoning. After all, refraining from eating one chicken cutlet will not save a single chicken. Nor would one vegetarian make any measurable difference. And why? Because the influence of a few consumer actions is insignificant; in a world of mass production and multiple middlemen between consumers and producers, minor changes in consumer habits fade out among other economic fluctuations. This is the argument at hand, and it appears to be one of the least spurious used by consumers of animal products. It does not deny the reality of farming, nor does it make up arbitrary moral principles – familiar faults evident among most of the common critiques of vegetarianism. The question “What difference does it make?” is based on the implicit recognition that the production of animal products harms animals and is therefore wrong. Therefore, it is possible to rephrase the argument in a more reasoned and committing manner:

"Had I been convinced that I would save animals by becoming a vegetarian, I would do so."

Critical Mass

The ultimate answer to "What difference does it make?" is the undeniable connection between consumption and production: no consumption means no production. If there were no meat-eaters, no chicken would have to suffer in broiler sheds. The counter argument, however, is more subtle:

“If the common consumption of meat stopped, then indeed no chickens would be harmed. But if I don't buy a chicken cutlet today, someone else will buy it; the buyer for the supermarket will not order any less from the poultry plant, and the plant will not buy any less chickens from the poultry farms.”


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