“What if we only ate animals that died from natural causes?” My ten-year-old cousin asked as we said goodbye to Heart, the pig with whom we just spent 15 minutes, rubbing her belly as she snoozed on a bed of hay. We were touring Pasado’s Safe Haven, a farm animal sanctuary where we visited many other animals including donkeys, cows, goats, turkeys, and chickens.
Growing up in a metropolis didn’t provide many opportunities for me and my family to meet farm animals. Aside from the dinner plate of course, a sight I hadn’t seen in years given my embrace of the vegan lifestyle in 2013. But on my young cousin’s plate, meat and dairy products were plentiful. As I prepared my response to his thoughtful question, something about production practices to meet the high demands of meat consumption, a realization stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly became aware of his budding connection between what he sees on his plate and the animals we’d been visiting throughout the animal sanctuary tour.
Although I won’t deny my hope that taking him to this animal sanctuary would plant a seed in his mind about food and animals, I made it a point not to lecture or make any statements for him. His self-realization came organically, born out of curiosity and a question even he didn’t seem to recognize as a connection.
Was exposure to live farm animals the spark to ignite his association between the cow we just hand-fed and his beloved food? Would his mac and cheese ever look the same?
Farm Animal Sanctuary Research
A 2020 study by Faunalytics found significant impacts of animal sanctuaries on visitors’ beliefs and behaviors. Participants attending an animal sanctuary tour were surveyed twice, the day of the tour and again three months later.
Intentions to reduce animal product consumption
Two months after visiting the animal sanctuary, people reported reduced consumption of animal products. One third of participants who previously identified as omnivores reported a shift towards veganism. While a greater proportion of omnivores reported a shift in their diet, other types of eaters including reducetarians, pescatarians, and vegetarians also reported shifts towards veganism.
Animal consumption and suffering
Participants who completed the survey after the tour reported significantly higher beliefs that animal product consumption leads to suffering when compared to those who completed the survey before the tour.
Education on factory farms
Participants began the tour with a video and information on factory farms that displayed animal abuse. While some found it uncomfortable to watch, almost all visitors found the information effective with one participant saying, “Sad. Just knowing how they’re treated…definitely makes me want to not eat dairy or meat anymore. We’ve been really trying to.”
Direct interactions with animals
Just like how my cousin and I experienced meeting farm animals for the first time, findings showed that direct interactions with animals provided new insights into their unique and lively personalities. Animal sanctuary visitors reflected on the meaningful moments with different animals and how they helped connect the animal with the products sold in grocery stores. “It kind of gives you a whole sort of emotional and visceral feeling of what these creatures are, as opposed to just something in the frozen food section at a grocery store,” said one participant.
Creating an environment where people begin to question their own thinking and behaviors can be tricky, especially when facing resistant and defensive attitudes. Participants in this tour were presented information about animal abuse and how diet change can alleviate suffering. The research found that a gentle and positive approach was well received by tour attendees. Encouraging smaller changes and a gradual transition away from animal products, was appreciated over “pushy” methods.
One participant reflected, “I think a large criticism that people think about the vegan community is that they can be judgmental and they try and put it in your face if you don’t follow that same lifestyle as them. They think that maybe they’re going to change you right then and there. It was nice to have that more positive aspect to it.”
Is it time to head to our local animal sanctuaries with loved ones in tow? Seems so! We can also support our local animal sanctuary through donations. I’m donating my full commission from writing this article to the animal sanctuary nearest me, Pasado’s Safe Haven.
Read Faunalytic’s full research report here.