Seeds of Compassion: New Vegan Interview Series

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!

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

Saving Animals Through Various Means

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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.

Misunderstood: A Foie Gras Follow-up

Foie Gras protest

In the weeks after the foie gras protest, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the issues, the protest itself, and of course the immense amount of controversy it generated both online and off. The internet – mostly Facebook – was abuzz with status updates about the protest, often from people who care little about the animal rights issues I post so frequently about. This signified something “different” about this particular issue.

From my estimation, the criticism could be characterized into one of three categories: 1) attacking Game was unethical because they’re a small, locally owned and operated restaurant, 2) attacking foie gras is inconsistent because either a) all meat is bad or b) many other restaurants in Louisville also serve foie gras and have been doing so for much longer than Game, 3) protesting people’s food choices is inherently unethical and shouldn’t be done.

Point 3 was often contorted into various condemnations of PETA (“Going to come picket and do their disgusting displays of blood, etc, and how evil everyone is that eats meat, and in particular hunters and their taste for wild game.” link) or how we (the activists) shouldn’t force our views onto others, and that people should be “free to eat whatever they want.” In general I agree with that, although I think the understanding and acceptance of just how food is produced should be a prerequisite before it is consumed. And really, that was the whole point of the foie gras protest: understand how foie gras is produced, and then make a decision. For Game, I felt like the logical choice was to stop serving it, especially after speaking with Adam. For patrons, I feel it’s morally necessary to abstain from eating it unless a plethora of carnistic beliefs are firmly understood within your brain.

To the gawkers and “trolls” that said “well, isn’t all meat bad?!” – Yes, and we addressed that (both Loyd, the co-organizer and myself). In fact, they betrayed their own morality by admitting that point and then not following it up by adopting a vegetarian diet. But that’s not surprising, and we work to educate and combat ignorance in that area every day. Animal lovers, even those who resonate with just dogs and cats, would most likely (with a very high level of probability in my opinion) not be okay with the way 99% of meat is produced in this country. The only consistent choice after that is to abstain from eating it.

The other points I will let Loyd address, in his remarks below. Louisville.com journalist Collette Henderson was on top of things enough to write both an pre- and post-protest piece about the Game debacle that generated some much-needed press for our cause. Wave3’s coverage was laughingly docile, but once again the cognitive dissonance bled through: a man justified his eating of antelope by claiming that even though they are cute, so are cows, and he eats them. Watch it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

Collette’s piece was cut short due to the website’s guidelines (not by her), so the full interview is below. My points made it online in their entirety, which you can read here.


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An Open Letter To Louisville’s “Game” Restaurant

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If you haven’t heard the news on Facebook or elsewhere, a new restaurant called Game opened last month in Louisville. True to its name, it serves mainly “game” meats, including some more exotic ones including kangaroo, ostrich, and wild boar. As disgusting as this is, it’s also insane to me why people have an obsession with weird meats like this. However, the inclusion of foie gras on their menu is a point of contention between myself and the owners. After talking with one of them, Adam, and learning about their source of foie gras, I felt it necessary to write openly about the problems of sourcing and serving foie gras.

Many will condemn this approach for being too narrow: “why don’t you go protest McDonalds too?” they say. We do. “Well, don’t you think all meat is inhumane?” I do, yes. But foie gras is expensive, unnecessary  and supremely cruel. Far beyond raising animals for their flesh, ducks and geese are force-fed and tortured to put them in a diseased state where their liver becomes so fat that it is – for some twisted reason – considered a delicacy. This isn’t right, and I’m urging Game to stop carrying the dish. Read on for why:

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