James McWilliams, a professor of history at Texas State University and a prolific writer on industrial agriculture and meat consumption, says that the animal rights movement has historically - and successfully - used powerful examples of animal cruelty to call attention to larger problems. Foie gras production is one chilling example of the horrors that factory farming inflicts on livestock.
He took to his website, The Daily Pitchfork, to elaborate:
The harsh imagery of production stokes our outrage in a unique way. It makes perfect sense to use that imagery to generate concern about animal cruelty on factory farms, where the prevailing images are often soothingly pastoral.
In fact, small groups of animals - or even individual animals - have often become mascots of the animal rights movement, ushering in better protections or regulations for their entire species. The documentary "Blackfish" used the plight of a massive male orca named Tilikum to expose the problems of keeping orcas in captivity; a young albino calf named "Angel" caught in the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan called international attention to the hunts that killed her pod. When one of Africa's most famous elephants, a huge bull named Satao, was poached, poaching was thrusted into the international spotlight. Is our outrage on behalf of these individuals misplaced, because they are few?