The Turlock Rescue: Commemorating Efforts (Guest Post)


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


Louisville’s Designer Vegan Bags: 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

People can read more about the book here:, or reach me for information about the Humane Ed programs here:
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

Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline And Support the Blockade

Tar Sands Protest

“On November 19 2012 in East Texas, Lizzie Alvarado, Ben Reynoso and Julie Henry climbed up sixty feet into trees to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and prevent the destruction of a swath of forest. The lifelines supporting their platforms were tied to construction equipment, preventing any work from being done. After a nine hour stand-off with police and workers, a cherry picker arrived. A crowd of local supporters surged into the road to block the truck but were dispersed when a sheriff emptied an entire can of police-grade pepper spray into the crowd. Police used the cherry picker to take all three tree-sitters into custody. Ben, Lizzy and Julie were each charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, felony mischief, and felony use of a criminal instrument. Altogether, these charges could lead to imprisonment for several years and fines of tens of thousands of dollars.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline is a game changer; a behemoth of oil and carbon-emitting nightmares that our own president approved the construction of, an about-face on his supposed fight of climate change that still leaves us reeling. Amid the protests, controversy, and massive scientific evidence that building this thing will do nothing but destroy our earth, a motley crew of individuals have taken to direct action put a stop to this menace.

That would be the Tar Sands Blockade, and I’m proud to call one of their activists, Julie Henry, my friend. As you read above, she was involved in an action last year that could result in massive fines and jail time, and I encourage those who support her cause, and the cause of protecting our country and earth from the woes of fossil fuel, to donate.

The construction of this pipeline will not reduce gas prices, it will not reduce our foreign oil consumption, it will not create jobs, and it will destroy sensitive lands throughout the US, drive native tribes and other residents out of their homes. It will also spill (as these pipelines are built to), and release more than enough carbon into the atmosphere (through drilling, transport, and burning) to wreck the earth for good. See more facts and figures here.

I don’t know about you, but I would like a livable earth in 50 years. For that to happen, we have to fight today! As CrimethInc says, expect resistance! 

Saving Animals Through Various Means


After the whirlwind that was Vida Vegan Con, it’s interesting to pause and reflect on the state of veganism in our country (rather, North America) right now. There was a small international contingent at the conference, but with the multitude of animal rights actions happening, it’s hard enough to keep tabs on what is changing domestically. To me, what’s exciting is seeing the idea of veganism, or a cause fighting to end exploitation of animals, appear in an unlikely place. Here are just a few examples that have made the news recently:

The Randy Radish food truck is Washington D.C.’s “first 100% vegan food truck,” whose owners were inspired after watching the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race. The truck features a small but pretty interesting vegan menu – lots of sandwiches and baked goods – and is barely two months old. Run by two women who were looking for a way to serve vegan food to all ages, the truck’s goal is to spread healthy, plant-based fare to the greater metro D.C. area. Awesome!

Here’s a pretty neat story of a dude who took his OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and turned it into something good: David Klasfeld took the troublesome diagnosis and created Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, best known for “a product called Lip Tar that has become a cult favorite among the kind of cutting-edge makeup enthusiasts who also tend to favor the brands Urban Decay and Illamasqua” (NYT). While a vegan make-up company may be the norm if that’s your scene, OCC’s policy on it is splendid:

In a time when many cosmetic companies make the claim that their products are “Cruelty Free” simply because Animal Testing has become unfashionable and less cost-effective, OCC felt it was necessary to raise the bar on this issue. We pledge never to use animal-derived ingredients (including Lanolin, Beeswax, Carmine and more) in our products and accessories. Beyond any personal convictions, we simply believe that it’s unnecessary, especially when there are alternatives that are just as readily available, and equally effective in the formulation of our products. Further, you need not necessarily be aligned with animal rights issues to reap the benefits of a vegan cosmetic line: animal ingredients can be amongst the most allergenic and skin reactive, and prevent makeup from being considered Kosher, Halal or otherwise compliant with various dietary (and sanitary!) regulations.

Lastly, we have this short but brilliant piece from Élise Desaulniers that appeared on HuffPo Canada-edition, about a recent gathering of French-Canadian scientists and one man’s admission of guilt about only recently switching to veganism. The short story discusses our endless quest to satisfy nothing short of a selfish desire to eat meat (not necessary, in our privileged world, for survival), and blames the deep ethic of carnism. Desaulniers closes with this hopeful message:

The majority of humanity is not psychopathic. Our carnivorous behaviour is best explained by ignorance and denial. It is thus possible to convince people to change their habits by showing them the hidden horrors that our food choices entail, and by reminding them that exploiting animals is by no means a necessity.

These three examples illustrate the power of change across the country, but one need not start a food truck or a cruelty-free cosmetic company to effect better choices. Simply living positively will echo out the changes we want to see, through small but profound steps, every single day.