I have sometimes heard the argument against veganism that even if you don’t buy meat, the shops will still stock the same amount and what you don’t buy will just get thrown away.
I do see where this is coming from; there is a lot of waste in the food industry and probably one person no longer buying meat from a shop will not cause them to adjust the amounts they order. However, I do believe that waste per se is not desireable for industry; of course they want the stuff they invest in to be sold, it’s the money they are after, after all.
To simplify, I put it like this. If the entire world stopped buying meat tomorrow, the meat industry would quickly stop operating. Right?
What if only half of the world stopped buying? Pretty quickly meat production would go down to half. They would be ruined if they kept producing twice as much stuff as was being sold.
Now what about a quarter of the world? At this scale, it’s still hard to imagine that the industry would take long to reduce production.
In this unlikely scenario all the “surplus” animals would probably be slaughtered and left somewhere to rot, but this doesn’t matter because it’s a thought experiment and would never happen. They would stop breeding more animals for the next round of birth and slaughter anyway, so the number of animal deaths would straighten itself out soon enough.
Anyway, If we keep dividing and dividing we get to, what if 1/7,000,000,000 of the world – one person – stopped eating meat? Presumably, 1/7,000,000,000 of the meat production would go down, which when considered on the scale of individual lives is quite worthwhile – 56,000,000,000 animals are killed in industry per year. Seeing as most people on Earth live in poverty and can rarely afford meat, a Westerner who gives up meat will save more than their “fair” chunk of that.
Of course, it is true that individual supermarkets might not notice the impact of one person. But if we go to ten or fifty people in a neighbourhood, I’m guessing that would change the quantities the stock. If you vote, you know the value of understanding your action as part of a group rather than on the individual scale.
Another way of viewing it is this. Supermarkets are reviewing how much stuff of whatever sort they are selling and ordering quantities to match. Usually they’ll notice a change when numbers pass a threshold, for example if 10 fewer chickens were sold per month for the last six months. Normally, your contribution won’t make a big enough dent to adjust what they order. However, once every so often, your contribution will be enough to tip the scales – a 100 becomes a 99, and then the supermarket manager makes a different decision than they would have otherwise.
This happens rarely, of course, but when it does, you save many more animals than just those you have avoided buying. When you take the average of all this over a lifetime, or over the lifetimes of many people, it evens out and turns into roughly 1 animal saved* for 1 animal that was not bought.
*Actually more than that, because of industry wastage.