For years, undercover footage of industrial dairy and chicken farms has been the foundation of vegan activism. Well, the times are a-changin’. Animal rights activists have gained a more powerful tool for educating the public about the goings-on in the meat industry. That is virtual reality.
The question is: can this immersive technology persuade people to pursue a more ethical lifestyle?
The Rise of Veganism
Plant-based eating is on the rise around the world. Two factors are fueling its growth: innovation in vegan eating and the rising awareness around the meat industry.
Rising awareness of the environmental and ethical impact of animal agriculture is driving the rise of veganism. In a report, the United Nations indicated that we have 12 years left to prevent the effects of climate change.
Animal agriculture is one of the main culprits of this global phenomenon. Other than its alarming greenhouse gas footprint, the industry is a huge contributor to global acidification and eutrophication.
Many are also shifting towards a meat-free lifestyle for ethical reasons. Documentaries such as Earthlings and Dominion have helped raise consumer awareness of the meat industry around the world. Both films highlight the abuse that animals go through, all for human profit.
Despite the growth of veganism, we’ve yet to see some changes in large industrial animal farms. But, advocates haven’t lost hope. Armed with immersive experiences, advocates continue to educate consumers about the realities of farmed animals. In doing so, they are persuading more people to eat less meat.
How VR Is Promoting Veganism
Although virtual reality headsets aren’t new, they are becoming more widely available to the general public. With better access to these devices, animal rights organizations gain more opportunities to spread the word about their causes.
Back in 2014, PETA came up with an immersive experiment called I, Chicken, where users get to see life from the perspective of a chicken. This gives the wearer an opportunity to empathize with the animals by seeing these experiences unravel from their perspective. Wearers see how chickens are captured and transported to the slaughterhouse.
Another virtual reality initiative with an immense potential to make a change is the iAnimal project. It uses 360-degree footage of chicken and pig farms, showing wearers the deplorable conditions that animals have to endure.
Farmed animals endure tight, crowded spaces, poor lighting conditions, and several beatings before they are slaughtered. Furthermore, animals are pumped full of drugs to prevent illness from spreading.
According to Toni Shephard, Executive Director of Animal Equality, VR is a powerful medium for change. Thanks to its immersive format, wearers can not only see but also feel what it’s like to be a farmed animal. Moreover, he says that it attracts an entirely new group of people. It has helped them catch the attention of those who are more interested in VR technology than animal rights. For this kind of audience, iAnimal is almost always their first encounter with this kind of content.
The iAnimal project is going around schools and universities in the US and abroad. Moreover, the group lends their VR headsets to other animal rights organizations to help them further their cause.
There’s no doubt about it—virtual reality is impactful. It makes people realize how their daily eating habits contribute to an industry that doesn’t care about animals or their consumers. It has the capacity to make you think twice about eating meat. If fully immersive experiences of the gruesome realities of animal farming can’t turn you vegan, or at least flexitarian, perhaps nothing can.