Fall In Love, Join the Revolution*

burning-hearts

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of love recently, and how it can simultaneously propel someone to greatness, but also induce massive anxiety. Does the object of my love feel the same way? Do they love someone else? Am I loving too soon (or even too late)?

While my propensity to love, quote, and praise CrimethInc is not hidden, it’s often through their anarchistic lens that I find so much to comfort myself when it comes to love. “Love like you’ve never lost” graces their gift wrap when they mail you books (along with the follow-up: “Fight like you’ve never won”). Isn’t that a novel concept? To love like you’ve never lost. Meaning, simply, to not dwell on past relationships that may have failed or gotten fucked up; to get back up and try again – move on! – NOT, as was immortalized in the 1995 movie Hackers “mess with the best, die like the rest.” No, you don’t die, silly: you learn and grow stronger!

I can’t miss this opportunity to critique Christianity, and will do with the eloquent words of A.C. Grayling whom my mother has been a fan of recently and loves to quote. When speaking about his book “The Choice of Hercules,” Grayling responds a to comment about “moral failure”:

It’s one theme and one very dominant strand of Christian morality that if you commit a sin it’s an almost ineradicable stain on your soul and you may well have to pay for it, especially in a posthumous dispensation. It might be millions of years in purgatory or something. Whereas the Greeks had a much healthier attitude to this; they thought of doing something wrong as a mistake, as a sort of misfired shot. They likened it, in fact, to shooting an arrow at a target and if you miss, well, you just simply try better next time, you learn the lesson, pick yourself up and you move on. This very, very practical and I think rather healthy attitude means that people can regard the experience of trying to be moral, trying to live an ethical life that is full of satisfactions and achievements in the end is one that you can get better at rather than get worse at.

To me, the idea of a “moral failure” lives deep within someone who has failed relationships; a relationship where they took a chance, loved hard, and fell flat on their face. If this happens just a few times, the idea of falling in love with someone new can become perniciously avoided, even to the extreme that a walled stone fortress lives around the heart of such person. While my path of love has earned me enough to live without this bastion, such a guarded life doesn’t seem like the existence of someone – man, women, or otherwise – in their fullness (a phrase I’ll borrow from the writings of Robert Moore and archetype-based psychology).

In the modern age, love should be reveled in, and given as freely as possible. Science backs this, although from the traditional standpoint of a monogamous relationship, but also offers clues about how to keep the “spark” alive and fall in love all over again. See “The Psychology Of Loves That Last A Lifetime” on HuffPo recently. Science isn’t biased, however, and researchers from the other end of the spectrum are working on an anti-love drug (a la Eternal Sunshine) with uses from erasing a bad memory to treating trauma victims. But what if it has a bad reaction…? Ah, the possibilities.

CrimethInc’s chapter on “Love” from Days of War, Nights of Love, is worth a read, and reading 10-15 years after its original publication makes me enjoy the ethos evermore. Love is rebellion, love is revolution, love is an act that we can truly engage in without commodification, without interference from capitalism. That is, if we are honest and open, anyway. That sounds like an environment that I can support, and wish to create for myself, my lover, my family, and friends…

One might say that it is ridiculous to implore others to fall in love—one either falls in love or one does not, it is not a choice that can be made consciously. Emotions do not follow the instructions of the rational mind. But the environment in which we must live out our lives has a great influence on our emotions, and we can make rational decisions that will affect this environment. It should be possible to work to change an environment that is hostile to love into an environment that will encourage it. Our task must be to engineer our world so that it is a world in which people can and do fall in love, and thus to reconstitute human beings so that we will be ready for the “revolution” spoken of in these pages—so that we will be able to find meaning and happiness in our lives.

 

*I must attribute this phrase to Shane Becker, the “veganstraightedge” on all social media ever, who likely “stole” (not really, see the copyright of this blog) it from CrimethInc, and I’ve actually modified it to say “revolution” as perhaps a new way of loving, without fear of failure or harm, can be a revolution of sorts.

Photo: Daniela Hartmann, Flickr

Seeds of Compassion: New Vegan Interview Series

Jessica, Ashley, Chris

Several months ago, I was fortunate enough to interview three “new” vegans – three young adults who all went vegan at some point during 2013. Jessica, Ashley, and Chris (L to R) are all friends of mine through different ways – two are into metal, and I met through my band, and Jessica worked at a vegan-friendly cafe I frequent. I wanted to get their perspective about veganism as new vegans, to inspire, motivate, and put in perspective the ideals and beliefs that I and other long-time vegans hold so dear. Their thoughts are compelling, and I’m grateful for the time they took to answer each question thoughtfully.

TNTSU: All three of you have gone vegan in the last year, I believe, for a variety of reasons. I’d like to start by having each of you state how long you’ve been vegan, and a brief summary why (i.e. animal rights, health, environmental, or something else):

Chris: I have been vegan since around the beginning of June, 2013. Before that I’d been vegetarian since March, which is really where the whole transition began for me. I started taking an interest in an alternative diet since October of 2012 where I was dabbling with cutting meat out of my diet for weeks at a time and was feeling a lot better physically when I did. Around January, 2013 was when I really started thinking about doing it seriously. I saw a documentary called Vegucated that taught many sides of veganism I never knew about before. That when I started to care about animal rights and realized I didn’t feel right about what I was contributing to.

Ashley: I’ve been vegan since July 4th, 2013; figured it was a great American time to start. I used to be paleo for a very long time. I played basketball for my university and was on a strict 3,500 calorie diet. I used to chow down on large pizzas, pounds of chicken tenders, triple cheeseburgers, whatever was high in calories that i could get in by the end of the night. When basketball ended and I graduated, I moved down my calorie count and ate mostly chicken and vegetables. I wasn’t entirely happy with it, as my body wasn’t exactly adapting to the changes of intensity of workouts and leaning out.

Fast forward about 9 months, and I took a free class from Coursera titled U.S Food Systems. It was taught by [a] Johns Hopkins [professor] and the Center for a Livable Future. During this class, I learned about the destruction of the environment due to cattle and dairy farming, the changing fertility and soil degradation of the land in the United States, the malnourished of the world and how much it would change if we altered our eating habits [...] Chemical fertilizer runoff, the poisoning of marine life and dead-zones, federal subsidies and the connection between health and the increase in meat consumption, etc. The class kept a distance from the morality of eating animals until the last module, which was about 15 minutes long, but I felt that was a wise move from the professor. Those statistics and information were plenty to convince me (without sounding too preachy) about switching my diet around.

I switched to a vegetarian diet a week into that class (middle of March, 2013) and slowly cut out the small amount of dairy I was eating (I’m allergic to casein as it is). I would still eat a small amount of dairy here and there while I was at work, since it smooths things over with my mentally challenged clients if I do what they do. On July 4th, I finally officially made the switch and I’ve never been happier. I found more and more that I was being drawn into animal rights issues, which was something I tried not to get involved with when I was paleo. The more I dove into the ideology behind being vegan, the more it stuck and made sense. The more I read about environmental and health related issues (which made me switch to begin with), the more it confirmed my belief that I was doing a great thing for myself.

Jessica: I went vegan in March 2013. I was originally a vegetarian from age 15 to about 20. I slowly began incorporating meat back into my diet after I began culinary school and met my omnivore boyfriend. When I went vegetarian at age 15 I was all about animal rights; I knew and learned so much about the meat industry (never thinking dairy could be “that bad”) and I tried to inform my friends on why I was the way I was. It really struck a chord with me and stuck with me for a long time. So when I went back to eating meat, it was like I kind of put my knowledge of what was really happening in some closet somewhere in my mind and just ignored it. I thought learning all the cuts of meat and different ways to prepare it was so fascinating and I wanted to know as much as I could!

About a year and a half ago I decided to take control of my health because I was overweight and completely unhappy with my body and afraid of becoming diabetic and getting heart disease and suffering heart attacks like both of my parents. I started working out and eating “clean”. I was slowly cutting out the dark meats and stuck to chicken and turkey. I eventually lost about 30 lbs. I then did a cleanse called The Ultimate Reset by BeachBody (the same company who puts out Insanity and P90x and the other programs that helped me get in shape.) When I got the package I realized, “wow, it’s basically just going vegan for a month!” Tons of water drinking and tons of awesome veggies – I even got introduced to tempeh!

So during this “cleanse” I decided being vegan was the best option for my health and well being and was still avoiding the other reasons. I suppose I didn’t want to be reminded of all the things I pretended weren’t real before. In June of 2013, Earth Friend’s Café hired me to be the creative mind in her primarily vegan/vegetarian kitchen! I was so excited! I couldn’t believe I had found a place that serves vegan food! So as I began working with Earth Friends I was reminded of all the things I put in that closet a few years back [like] how truly terrible the meat/dairy/egg industries are. I began liking pages on Facebook that are pro-vegan and I started doing more and more research on the ethical side of veganism, not just the health side.
All in all I feel amazing both physically and mentally. I love being vegan and I will never put my knowledge of why it is good for not only me but also the animals and environment back in that closet in my mind.

 

TNTSU: It sounds like all three of you were initially drawn to veganism through vegetarianism, and then as the reasons began to unfold, on both a personal and global level, a true plant-based diet emerged. Do you feel like vegetarianism is a solid middle-ground for others to pass through? Is there a risk of getting “stuck” there, when, after the facts are presented, veganism seems like the logical choice?

Jessica: I definitely feel like vegetarianism is a solid middle ground for getting to veganism. For some people removing things slowly from their diets helps the transition be a more smooth one [however] I do feel there is a great risk of being stuck there. I was there at one point in my life as a teenager. I knew the dairy and egg industries were no better than the meat industry. For some reason I just ignored it or maybe I thought I was doing my part enough by being vegetarian. So I do beleive that some people could get stuck and I’m sure several do.

Ashley: I think it all depends on your motives and how much you’re willing to dive into the research part of it all. If you become a vegetarian [and] don’t know much about animal abuse, exploitation, environmental impact, and morality, you might just be cool with sticking to vegetarianism. I think it’s a great first step that can take you further once you become more aware of the reasons surrounding going vegetarian and vegan. In my case, the more I learned, the more it stuck with me and the more I felt the need to transition [to veganism].

Chris: It seems everybody is sort of on the fence about the middle ground aspect, and I am no different, either. I think it can be a great way to start off a transition to veganism. Without that “trial period,” if you will, I probably would have crashed and burned before ever getting comfortable enough to cut dairy and egg products out of my diet. That being said, at least they’re not eating meat, which is what I consider worst of all. My girlfriend is vegetarian, and seems to not have plans of moving on from there. So this is definitely something I have to deal with and think about regularly.

TNTSU: Chris – great point. We all have to deal with that “middle ground” in our lives all the time, especially with those we care about, and we don’t want to scare them away by being the typical militant vegan. At the same time, sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough. During that transition, at least for me, “faux” products really helped: soy sausages, non-dairy cream cheese, coconut ice cream, etc. How much of these do you the three of you utilize, and do they still represent a significant part of your vegan diet?

Chris: Absolutely. I use so many of these things on a daily basis. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t stock up on Daiya cheddar and Boca spicy chicken patties. It really debunks the myth that vegans eat super healthy because I certainly don’t. I make a lot of pizzas, “burgers,” “chicken” lo mein, that sort of stuff all the time. Bottom line, “faux” products helped me with a great deal of my transition and remain a steady part of my diet, as I love to get creative with them so much.

Jessica: While I was vegetarian for so long I definitely ate the faux meats. I loved Bocca brand products as well as the brand Quorn. They can be very tasty. As for now I cook more and more from scratch and focus less on consuming processed foods and getting my nutrition from whole foods. However I am still known to throw a pita pizza in tbe oven with some daiya cheese on it for a quick and tasty dinner. Along with my obsession with tofutti cream cheese, I lobe to add things like caper and garlic to spread on english muffins or toast. As well as the Olive Nut sandwich we serve at Earth Friends Cafe which has green olives laced inside the tofutti and it is to die for! But I try to stay away from products like these personally but only because I try to eat as little processed foods as possible. I do believe that the faux products are a great way to help meat eaters transition to vegetarianism and into veganism and am by no means against them because they are super tasty!

Ashley: I was all about the faux products when i started out – sort of like a way to show people i can eat what you can eat without the misery – anything you can do i can do vegan. Because I work four 17 hour shifts in four days (with only enough time to sleep between them), i stuck to amy’s frozen foods – teriyaki bowls, enchiladas, macaroni, rice bowls, etc. it’s gotten pretty bad, where i’m just reaching for a meal at work. starting next week i’m cutting out all faux products except daiya shreds out of my diet and focusing on macros and complete, whole food meals like i used to. faux products are great if you’re in a rush, but they can also be a slippery slope where they become too convenient and permanent

TNTSU: We’re almost to the point where “lab-grown” meat is a reality. Would you consider eat animal flesh if it was derived from animal without harming it? Say, using the cells from animal biopsy that didn’t result in the animal’s death or suffering.

Jessica: Personally, no I would not. I truly believe our bodies are not meant to process animal. I feel a huge difference in the way my body works when not eating meat, egg, and dairy, all things which are incredibly difficult to digest, for me that is anyway. However, I wouldn’t be as opposed to others eating it. I would still hope for my family and friends to make the choice not to solely for their health. But I would be way less opposed to it.

Chris: The whole lab grown meat concept has always hit as a solid compromise; animals get to live, meat eaters get their fix, and we all get a conserved planet and hopefully a brighter, more progressive future. I’ve never seen anything about lab meat and thought “awesome! I’ll be able to eat meat again!”. I’ve always been very optimistic about it because it is an overall better alternative. To me, being vegan is ridding yourself of using all animal products, despite if it is harmful to acquire them or not. I will not consume lab meat out of personal choice. I hope others will, though.

Ashley: This is an issue I’ve been struggling with recently. I would never touch it, but I am conflicted if it is a good thing or not. On one hand, as a vegan I find it great that less animals will be harmed, the environment can attempt to slowly recover, and the food used to feed animals could help feed the hungry all over the world, but I also don’t believe that food needs to be, nor deserves, to be made in a laboratory. You don’t need to genetically alter or spray food to get it how you want.

TNTSU: I had a great conversation with someone about the movie Blackfish today, and that really opens the door to discussing animal rights on a larger level. Is there a particular issue that has stirred you besides farmed animals and their relation to food? (ex. animal testing, animals in entertainment, dog breeding, etc.)

Chris: One thing I really looked into and was outraged by was the Ringling Bros. Circus. I looked further into [this] after seeing the things you were posting about it, Sam. I watched a video about the elephant camp they have in Florida, where they break baby elephants and train them and the techniques they used. It was no different from dairy cows when I saw how the baby elephants were separated from their mothers. Truly heartbreaking. I also watched footage of the elephant’s trainers handling them backstage at the circus, where they were beaten for no particular reason with bull hooks. The whole video was a court testimony of an ex-Ringling employee who had experienced all the events firsthand. This is what really opened my eyes to animal rights beyond factory farming.

Ashley: Same as Chris. Also, when trying to switch over to organic, vegan cosmetics and bath products, I was pretty outraged at how little there is compared to those who do test on animals, and how expensive it is compared to the rest of cosmetics. I’ve almost completely switched over to Tarte for my cosmetics, and I still haven’t found a shampoo or conditioner that works good with my hair.

Jessica: Something that really outrages me is the production of leather products. I recently decided to learn about it and watched some short videos about the cows they use. I often stray away from watching these videos because they make me so emotional that it hurts. But I decided I needed to be educated. Leather comes from some of the most beautiful cows I have ever seen! They are abused and left without food or water for days and it is even worse, I just don’t like to think about it. In the end meeting their inevitable deaths just so people can have shoes, jackets, and furniture. I actually just bought a sofa the other day and it was a faux leather one. The furniture salesman asked me why I was so happy it wasn’t leather and I explained I was vegan and that it would have compromised my ethics to buy leather. His response was “Leather will last forever though!” I didn’t say much to that, but it makes me sad that people are willing to take lives to have a piece of furniture that will “last forever” even when we will probably be buying a new couch in 5 years.

(Follow-up question for 2014)

TNTSU: Thoughts as we turn into the new year on veganism?

Ashley: Over the last month [December 2013], I’ve worked on throwing away all my makeup, bath products, clothing, shoes, and accessories that weren’t cruelty-free and replaced them with ones that are. Armed with the proper knowledge and experience of almost 6 months down the road, I’m completely stoked heading into the new year and watching myself grow even more. Cheers!

Chris: This new year, I am definitely out of the transitional stage of veganism and have decided its time to actually follow a plant-based diet, not just a lot of fake meat [products]. For the most part, I own nothing cruelty-free. I have a pair of work boots that do need replacing, but that’s about all I can think of. I also want to have at least one person I can turn onto being [vegan]. I have joked around quite a bit saying to friends and family “I’m getting at least one conversion this year”, but it really is a goal of mine. My one year anniversary without meat is coming up in March and I couldn’t be more stoked about that. My one year of veganism will be in June and I couldn’t tell you how the thought of committing to this for a whole year makes me feel. 2014 is definitely going to be a positive one!

The Turlock Rescue: Commemorating Efforts (Guest Post)

turlock

Turlock: The Documentary is about the rescue of chickens from the largest animal neglect case in U.S. history, and the dedicated activists willing to do anything to save as many lives as possible. When Northern California animal sanctuary Animal Placfound out a factory farm in nearby Turlock had closed, and 50,000 hens had been abandoned and left to die without food and water, rescuers spring into action against considerable odds, including a dramatic standoff with local authorities, to save as many lives as they can.

Filmmaker Keegan Kuhn of First Spark Media shared the story of the rescue with TNTSU.

It was Tuesday, February 21, 2012. A news story broke about an egg farm outside of Turlock, California owned by A&L Poultry. A&L Poultry had abandoned 50,000 hens in barren battery cages for more than two weeks without food.

I was one of the first animal advocates to arrive at the farm and was promptly escorted off the property by state officials, who told me that my help was not desired or needed. An estimated one-third of the chickens had already died of starvation, and the state was in the process of gassing to death all surviving animals.

Injured hen

Being the hardheaded activist I am, I camped out in front of the farm overnight waiting for an opportunity to help. By morning, a crew of animal rescuers from animal sanctuary organization Animal Place had assembled at the farm.

We pleaded with officials to allow us to come onto the property and help any animals we could. We bombarded the local director of animal control, who now had authority over the animals, with mass call-ins. As the hours ticked by and we were forced to stand and watch helplessly as state officials killed hundreds of animals right in front of us, our patience started to wane. We were getting ourselves ready for an action of civil disobedience in plain view of the police and state officials to get as many animals as we could out of there before being arrested.

As our numbers grew and the authorities caught wind of our plans, Kim Sturla, executive director of Animal Place, was able to put pressure on the county’s animal control director – on live TV. We were granted access to all the “savable” hens, as determined by the state veterinarian on site.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, we were able to save over 4,400 hens from the horror that had been their lives trapped in wire cages.

I was involved with the initial rescue, but continued to work for months alongside Animal Place staff, who brought back more than 4,000 chickens to their two sanctuaries. We worked 12 to 15 hour days, every day of the week. When I wasn’t cleaning barns, building perches, helping with sick hens, or sadly burying those who had not made it, I was trying to document the rescue effort.

When the one-year anniversary of the rescue started to approach, I wanted to create a short film commemorating the monumental efforts of all the people involved in what became the largest animal rescue in California history. I had intended to make a 10 to 12 minute long video, but as I began editing the footage and interviews I had shot, I could not bring myself to cut the story down to such a limited time frame.

It felt like a great disservice to the animals’ and rescuers’ story to make anything short of a feature documentary film for them.

I came away from the rescue with a profound desire to increase my efforts to raise awareness of how animals are used on farms. I want to use the film TURLOCK to help facilitate a growing conversation about our view of non-human animals in our society.

The brutality that the hens from the Turlock rescue endured at the hands of their abusers is not an isolated incident. That is animal farming. And regardless of how any animal is raised, whether in filthy “factory” farms or on perceived “humane” farms, each and every one of those animals is violently killed at just a fraction of their normal life span.

Hen rescue

I became Vegan almost 18 years ago and at that time there was only one vegan egg substitute. Today with exciting developments such as Hampton Creek Foods’ Beyond Eggs products, I truly feel that the needless suffering of hens on egg farms will become a thing of the past. As people being to wake up to the reality of what it actually takes to get an egg to your plate, there will be a massive shift towards a more compassionate and just world.

I want to thank Keegan for his time, and Gary Smith of Evolotus PR for reaching out to me! To host a screening of Turlock, or find one near you, visit www.turlockrescue.org.

 

Louisville’s Designer Vegan Bags: GRACESHIP

Graceship

 

It’s always a good thing when vegan products make the news, because it puts the word vegan – and the beliefs behind it – in the minds of people who may not have thought about such an issue. Consumer goods, and in particular designer goods, often seem far removed from the animal rights activism that we engage in every day by choosing plant-based foods. But activism takes a variety of forms, and I’m happy to hear that GRACESHIP, a Louisville-based company making designer women’s laptop bags, has put this message at the forefront.

It’s with this in mind that I was excited to learn about GRACESHIP’s receipt of PETA’s “PETA-approved Vegan” logo, certifying them as a cruelty-free company:

GRACESHIP meets the high standards PETA sets for endorsement, and is the only Kentucky based company to have received the endorsement. GRACESHIP utilizes advanced technology in its manufacturing process to create premium products without sacrificing durability or style. GRACESHIP bags resist scratching, fading, and water damage. [press release]

I spoke with GRACESHIP’s Emily Gimmel about the company, and her thoughts on sustainability:

TNTSU: Congratulations on the PETA certification. Did you pursue this, or did they come to you after learning about the product?
GRACESHIP: Thank you, Sam! We learned about the new Vegan-Certified program that PETA was starting, and brought our line to their attention. We went through an extensive application process where they assessed our company and brand… and found out a few weeks later that they accepted us!

Can you talk a little about why you decided to make the line with vegan/synthetic leather?
At GRACESHIP, a primary reason our products are made from animal-friendly materials is because animals deserve to live and breathe free from suffering just as we do! Plus there are various other advantages to this alternative material. Our vegan leather is very low maintenance, so you can effortlessly remain stylish while maintaining an on-the-go lifestyle. Furthermore, choosing vegan products like ours mean you can remain confident that your bag won’t lose its impeccable and consistent color. Genuine leather is notorious for fading, becoming blotchy, and cracking. Our laptop totes will maintain their ideal shade and continue to look as if you pulled it right out of the box! Through our rigorous testing processes and compliance with the California Prop. 65, we also guarantee our products are both lead and chemical free. Using vegan leather also allows us to create a product that is accessible to a larger market. Our price point is well below many designer leather laptop bags, and we are able to offer a product that looks and functions as well or better for a more easily attainable price.

Does the sustainability factor of the brand play an important role in marketing, or is that a “bonus” and simply ethically satisfying?
Sustainability is something we feel very passionately about. We strive to be ethical in everything we do as a business, and think that our customers appreciate our efforts. The fact that the products are vegan is a great bonus for us. We want to educate consumers to let them know that good fashion does not have to be synonymous with waste, cruelty, or greed.

What are some things that women who travel frequently can do to be more sustainable?
There are so many things you can do! Be conscious of your choices. Limit fuel usage as much as possible. If you have the choice of whether to drive or fly to your destination, calculate the possible environmental impact of each choice, so you can make an informed decision. Where possible, take a non-stop flight. Pack lighter to limit the amount of fuel that plane or car requires to carry you. Once you have reached your destination, rent a bike or use public transportation instead of a car. If you have to rent a car, ask for a hybrid vehicle. While traveling, limit eating out whenever possible- bring your travel snacks from home, and if you have access to a kitchen, cook your own meals. If you don’t, try out some locally sourced restaurants to sample local fare and limit the environmental impact of your meal. Stay away from disposable “travel-friendly” products- bring your own water bottle and reusable silverware for eating on the go.

When choosing where to stay, research your hotel options, and stay in one that is environmentally aware. Some larger chains that focus on the environment are Kimpton, Hyatt, The Fairmont, and Marriott- but searching for a small boutique hotel can often land you in a greener spot. Treat the hotel like your home: turn the lights, air and electronics when you leave. Limit the length of your shower, and reuse your towels (they aren’t dirty after one use so there is no need to wash them). These actions may not affect you financially like they do at home, but they have the same environmental impact.

Do many of the employees of GRACESHIP follow a vegan lifestyle?
The employees at GRACESHIP follow varied lifestyles when it comes to food choices, but we all recognize the needless harm (both for animals and the planet) involved in using leather for fashion products. We are huge animal lovers, and our office mascot Harper, the dog, brings joy to our lives every day!

Are there any plans to develop a “budget” or less expensive line?
We have a lot of pride in the craftsmanship of the GRACESHIP products, and feel that we offer them at a fair price point. The GRACESHIP brand was created in part to offer a less expensive, well made alternative to very expensive designer bags. We have been known to offer occasional giveaways or discounts on social media, so savvy shoppers should keep an eye out for those!

Where do you see GRACESHIP in five years?
GRACESHIP aims to become an authority for mobile professional women. Our goal is to be a top of mind, go to brand for women who work and travel. We constantly strive to expand our customer base and international reach. We have plans to expand the product line, using input from our customers to create products that truly fulfill their needs, and offer them more fashionable and functional products that add value to their busy lives. We will continue to focus on sustainable growth and ethical practices as our business grows and our goals are achieved.

Thanks to GRACESHIP for their time!

Capturing Ghosts: Interview with Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo at Farm Sanctuary with Julia

I was fortunate enough to see a screener of the powerful new film, The Ghosts in Our Machine, as it gets ready for its United States debut this year. The film tells the story of our relationship to animals and how invisible that often is. Through the lens (literally) of a photojournalist, we see the struggle with how to live in a world that exploits animals at every turn. I reached out to the protagonist, Jo-Anne MacArthur, to discuss her role in the movie, and how she copes with seeing atrocity after atrocity.

Sam/TNTSU: I was first exposed to The Ghosts in Our Machine at AR2013 – there was a screening, but I missed it – so the whole premise took me by surprise. I thought it was going to be like  Earthlings, exposing the hidden animals in our world with a deep-voiced narrator telling us in gory details about the plight of these animals. Much to my surprise, and delight, as I began to watch the story of a young photojournalist. How was the idea pitched to you originally?

Jo-Anne McArthur: “Young photojournalist”. I am 36 years young :) Liz Marshall had been a good friend of mine for years. She’s a seasoned film maker and brings a lot of diverse skills and experience to all of her projects. After her film Water on the Table, she wanted to make a film that would tackle the animal question in such a way that would be reflexive and not directive for the audience. We are similar in that regard: we don’t want to tell people what to do, we want to present them with information, ideas and alternatives. So we we’re a good fit to work together. We also both wanted to produce work that would be visible and embraced by the main stream, rather than preaching to the choir about animal rights. She asked me if I would be the central human character in her next film. And the rest, as they say….

You’re often the one behind the lens, trying to artistically capture the sorrow and joy of the animals that we so often get to see. How did it feel to be on the other end of that relationship, having your actions front and center, and knowing that quite a few people are going to be watching them (in HD!)?

Haha! Well, it was a learning curve, but a short one I think (ask Liz, I suppose!). Actually Liz made it very easy because she works with cinematographers and sound technicians who are extremely unobtrusive. For the most part, I got used to it and eventually more or less forgot that they were there.

You mention in the film you have PTSD, and I believe many activists could empathize with the struggle we all feel; seeing, hearing, or knowing of countless animals who die every day for no good reason. How have you coped with the animal exploitation of the world since the filming? Have things gotten better for you?

I think that feeling traumatized by all we see and know about animal abuse is actually the correct response, not a strange one. But living with trauma every day isn’t sustainable and so we need to find ways to cope with that trauma. For many people, a great way to cope with the problems of systemic animal abuse is to become a part of the solution in a way that us sustainable for them.

The Ghosts film helps with coping, as you’ve suggested, by virtue of it being out there in the world, by it being seen and knowing that it’s making people think about animal abuse. We Animals has been getting positive feedback for years as well, which inspires me to keep pushing with the work. There are lots of heartfelt emails and positive messages each day about how the project or even just a single image has moved and changed someone.

Things are better now, yes. I had to work at it, and I had help as well. Peace came from taking better care of myself than I did in the past. It came as a surprise to me when I discovered that I don’t actually have any superpowers! I, too, was susceptible to becoming depressed in the face of so much suffering. I had to go back to some very healthy basics, like eating well, working a bit less, sleeping more, spending time with loved one and, most importantly, celebrating change and being thankful for all the hope and change I see in this world. I also read an illuminating book which should be required reading for all activists, called “Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activist and Their Allies” by pattrice jones.

Pigs at a slaughterhouse in Canada. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Pigs at a slaughterhouse in Canada. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Has there been progress in the area of pitching these ideas to large magazines or news outlets since the filming? Have you been able to secure, as you mention in the film, an assignment-based position that makes the best use of your talents?

I wish I had a great answer for you. We Animals is more visible than ever, through campaigns and through the Ghosts film. I haven’t been assigned any great shoots from mainstream media, but I’m doing more than ever for animal organizations and images from We Animals are shared worldwide on social media. At least they are getting out there more and more. One of the issues is that I don’t make time to get images out into magazines. I’m kept hugely busy with working with organizations, the Ghosts film, the upcoming We Animals book. When I *do* make the time to do outreach to mainstream media outlets, there is some success. There have been a few 8- to 10-page spreads in magazines of the We Animals work. And I have some help now in getting the work visible. Redux Pictures represent me as a contributing photographer but I don’t think my business model – giving away all images for free to anyone helping animals – works in their favour! But I do this because I am an animal activist first, and a photographer second. Mind you it would really be nice to not have to fund We Animals through shooting weddings and events. Someday soon it will be self-sustaining. It’s on its way to becoming that.

Since I often discuss technology issues on the blog, can you talk a bit about what’s in your camera bag? We saw Lightroom used in the film (on Windows, no less!) and I’m sure you employ an arsenal of lenses, bodies, and so forth. How has your rig changed over the years?

No arsenal, that’s for sure. Nice and simple. And yes, PC, not Mac. I really dislike Mac. Gasp! I used both PC and Mac for years and really can’t stand Mac systems, or their monopoly on gadgets these days, or their unwillingness to make their products compatible with other tools. ANYWAY. Lightroom is the greatest product Adobe’s ever made. Love the filing and the all-in-one suite that it has become.
I always have on me 2 bodies, 3 lenses, a flash and a whatsitcalled… the thing you see me holding in the fur farm, the light. It’s called LitePro or LitePanel or something. The bodies are Nikon (gasp!), the D800 is my love, the D700 is my ex-love but still really useful. The lenses are also Nikon, sharp and fast. Wide: 17-35mm f2/8. Mid: 50mm f1/8 (swoon!). Long: 135mmf2 (swoon again!). I sometimes bring the “boom stick”, which is my very long lens: 100-400mm f4-5.6, like when I was in the Antarctic with Sea Shepherd, for example, or when I’m shooting chimps running around outdoors at a sanctuary. Generally though I use the 50mm the most, and get nice and close to the animals I’m photographing.

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Hens from an open rescue by Igualidad Animal. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Your photo policy on We Animals reflects a Creative Common license, allowing photo use for organizations wishing to promote an animal rights message. How does this policy intersect with your professional goals and pitches to major news outlets? Do you spend much time monitoring copyright usage of your photos?

I covered some of this in the last question, not realizing this one was waiting for me. It’s a different financial model for sure! Some photographers don’t like it – it puts not just my career in jeopardy but theirs as well; we are so often expected to give all of our hard work away for a pittance, or for free, for “the chance to be published”. It’s awful. However, my work is to help animals, and I will do that in any way that I can. I’m happy with this route for We Animals, most of the time. I used to avoid watermarking because it just ruins the integrity of the image, and yet, people can’t be trusted to give a photo credit, though almost all the organizations I work with now are being great about that. Photo credit is in part what allows the We Animals work to thrive, become more well known, and helps the project grow. I monitor usage but can’t at all keep up with it, so I am sort of resigned to knowing that often the photo is being used without credit but at least it’s being seen. As you saw on the We Animals site, this gesture of free usage is granted to those helping animals, not to for-profits. I have started asking organizations who use We Animals images heavily to make a donation to the project if they are able, to help me continue the work, and they often do. There is a lot of good will and willingness to help the project thrive.

In the film, the idea of telling a story versus using statistics comes up. Have you found that in terms of effective activism, using these personal connections is better than the macro-approach of “we have to save the world because of X, Y, and Z?”

I think there are many forms of effective activism and story-telling happens to be mine. It’s what I’m good at. Some people make changes based on stats, health, direct cause and effect, etc. Others will eschew all animal products in a heartbeat when they hear my stories about Julia the pig or Miracle the moon bear.

Toronto Pig Save was kind enough to send our local group some “Why Love One and Eat The Other” signs for a demonstration we did at a local slaughterhouse. Their challenging message makes people confront the issue, and I’d like to use that as a springboard for a discussion of how “aggressive” you think vegan outreach should be:

Speaking only for me, I try to be gentle and non-directive in my animal rights work. It’s just how I roll, it’s what I’m comfortable with, and I find that it allows people to open up to me and ask questions without fear of being judged. Some people are great at being more assertive and remaining positive. I think that aggressiveness, in general, scares and alienates people. Not just with vegan outreach but as a general life thing! It’s a huge topic. I will leave it at that.

As the film begins to debut around the country, what are you most looking forward to?

Now feels like the time that we (the Ghosts team and I) get to reap some of the rewards for all the work we’ve put into making this film coming to life. We’re touring with the film, meeting amazing people, having great conversations and seeing people be moved by our efforts. It’s encouraging to know that people are eating fewer, or no, animals, because of the film. They tell us this daily, it’s just so wonderful. People ask us “What can we do to help improve this situation?” By them asking, the film has done its job.

The film also gives much more visibility to my work and so far it’s been an opportunity to expand the We Animals Humane Education Programs and it was also the push I needed to get the first We Animals book finished, which will be in hand in North America by the first week of December.

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Bullfighting in Spain. “This is a photograph of the bulls last breath. His head then sank and his eyes closed.” Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Thank you for your time, and for everything that do you for the animals. Anything else you’d like to add:

The We Animals book that you see me writing in the Ghosts film has now been beautifully designed by Paul Shoebridge of The Goggles fame (think Adbusters magazine), edited and published by Martin Rowe of Lantern Books. It’s a 208-page, hard cover book with over 100 images and stories about the animals I’ve met over the last decade or so, and the predicaments the find themselves in because of humans. There are also stories of mercy and hope, and the book ends with “Notes From the Field”, a section which details, through a small collection of journal entries, what it’s like to do investigative animal work. The book can be pre-ordered at amazon.com.

People can read more about the book here: www.weanimals.org/book, or reach me for information about the Humane Ed programs here: info@humaneeducation.ca.
I’d like to thank Jo-Anne for doing this interview, and encourage all of you to find a way to see The Ghosts in Our Machine! It’s screening in NYC and LA in a couple weeks, and should be hitting theaters around the country by the end of the year. Local screenings (through local veg groups, etc.) will start up in 2014. Check out their extensive website, too!

Photo (top): Anita Krajnc