Ask Me Why I’m Veg[etari]an (AR 2012 Guest Post)

I had the pleasure of rooming with Ethan Dussault during the four-day weekend craziness of AR 2012, and we experienced a lot of what the conference had to offer together. Ethan was able to attend quite a few more talks than I, however, and writes below about his experience. Ethan is a long-time vegan an animal rights activist from Massachussetts who first came on to my radar as part of Will Travel For Vegan Food back in March. I sincerely appreciate his time in writing this:

Greetings, friends. I write to you from my hometown of Allston, MA, while sitting in the new fully vegan ice cream parlor at what we locals have now dubbed ‘Vegan Corner.’ FoMu Alternative Ice Cream is a neighbor to Peace o’ Pie Vegan Pizza and a longstanding Pan-Asian Vegan restaurant called Grasshopper. Pretty Rad. I love Allston, but I also love getting out of town. I often wonder what people from elsewhere are thinking and doing. I went to the 2012 Animal Rights Conference in Washington, D.C., to find out. I don’t think I could fully do justice to these three days in one blog post so I will merely attempt a thorough scratching of the surface. As a newcomer at the conference, it was especially intense on the senses. Bear with.

I have been vegan almost 7 years now and I have been to many vegetarian/vegan food festivals but the Animal Rights Conference is a different story. If you have been to a Veg Fest, chances are you have seen tables from Mercy For Animals, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Compassion Over Killing, The Farm Sanctuary, Vegan Outreach, PETA, HSUS, Compassion Clothing Co., Tofurkey and more. Although the faces are the same, the focus is not on food and other vegan products, but on a different part of the vegan lifestyle: Activism.

Veganism is being embraced more and more each day. In the United States alone, a staggering increase in people identifying themselves as vegan over the last three years has turned the heads of statisticians and more. The trend doesn’t appear to be slowing either. This exponential growth is happening for a few reasons. Activists are more effective than ever at spreading the word about speciesism, discrimination based on species, and its negative impact on animals and the environment as well as human society and health. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs with their crews are creating an abundance of vegan food options and products. While attending a Rap Session mediated by Vegan Outreach’s co-founder, Matt Ball, he recalled a moment at the Tofurkey table when a representative of the grain and legume meat company asked, “What more can we do?” Ball replied, “Continue to do your part to create the supply and we’ll create the demand.”

Vegan Outreach is known mostly for its large leafletting campaign and promoting a brand of effective advocacy. And here is where the conference gets interesting. What is the best approach to advocating for the animals whose voices go largely ignored at present? How is the demand for vegan food and other products most efficiently grown in our society? This is why activists from all over come to assemble. Much debate occurs over the role of direct action, in its many forms (e.g. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Animal Liberation Front are both direct in action but also approach interpreting laws differently), versus less direct, awareness raising techniques such as leafletting (and T-shirt wearing… cute). Peter Young, most known for his direct action, began his plenary address by showing his solidarity with the animal rights movement regardless of the differences of opinion in tactics. He then passionately went on to express his support for direct action techniques, highlighting the immediacy of the lives saved and the social statement made as a result of this style of activism. In essence, the majority of the people in attendance all want to bring speciesism to a halt. A major point drilled home this weekend was to have your differences yet remain united. Sound familiar?

The heart of this movement is to spread compassion to all, regardless of species, race, gender, class et al. If we didn’t debate tactics, I would argue the movement to be dysfunctional. However, allowing the debate to break the many types of activists apart would be devastating and would play right into the hands of those who oppose our strides toward justice for the oppressed, namely profiteers of animal suffering.

Exactly who are these oppressed? Ethology, the study of animal behavior, is a branch of science which aims to answer this question. Jonathan Balcombe has written a number of books on this matter, (e.g., Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals) and was kind enough to share some of his findings in a light hearted talk. We left his presentation reaffirmed that animals are persons. That is, they are individuals with personalities; they are not automata. (Not) Sorry, Descartes. Some are honest. Some are cheaters. Some are jokers and some are very stern. They have memories and relationships; friends and families including even adoptees. They know fear and fearlessness. They know pain and they know pleasure. They know sorrow and joy. They know sharing is caring. Their lives matter to them. Remember, humans are in fact animals. We can relate.

These academic moments continued. Ryan Shapiro is a historian and animal rights activist who has been chronicling significant events which have brought us to where the movement is today. He begins his talk with an attempt to ban Bull-Baiting in England, 1800, and weaves a tale through the birth of the anti-vivisection movement throughout WWI and WWII. Shapiro then denotes the beginning of the modern Animal Liberation movement and the subsequent reaction by profiteers to put a stop to the liberators actions. Highlights of the divisive tactics include entrapment schemes and myths perpetuated by the media. The most recent attempt to dissuade and or persecute certain activists can be seen in the legislation known as the Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act (AETA). This pertinent history (can’t wait for Shapiro’s first book!) acts as a great set-up for the presentation given by “Green is the New Red” author, Will Potter. Will gives a detailed description of tactics used to dismantle social movements and touched upon current events where these tactics can be seen in use; namely in the attempts to break down the Occupy movement and Animal Rights movement. These two presenters leave the attendees with a message of fearlessness and conviction. Our value of compassion is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to hide. Know you are a caring individual and do not be afraid to stand firm. At least that is how I felt. Bravo, gentlemen.

On a philosophical note, I was pleased when activist, Bruce Friedrich used Socrates as an example of effective communication. I recently was nose deep in some Plato. As I read, ideas of how the Dialogues related to animal rights swirled in my thoughts. I agree Bruce; the Socratic Method is effective.

In a “rap session” moderated by Bob Lucius of the Kairos Coalition, a non-profit focusing on Humane Education of the youth, we debated the breadth of our individual ethics. It was too short a session to draw conclusions but it was provocative and I even brought the debate to the carpool ride home to Boston from D.C. (Thanks Humane League and crew for having me!) Is it ethical for an undercover activist to maintain their cover by engaging in animal abuse if the result of the investigation saves more lives?

And then there was Melanie Joy, authoress of “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism.” When I was first introduced to the word ‘carnism’ on the cover of her book, my interest was immediately piqued. The definition of and hopefully the demise of the world’s dominant ideology, carnism, is the centerpiece of her work. This talk was a summary and preview of the evolution of her ideas. In concise and compelling fashion, Melanie inspired us to embrace our veganism and to understand the trappings of the carnistic tendencies we have within us.

We all have tendencies. Don’t we? Those little habits, leanings, word choices that are just below the surface of our consciousness which are a product of our upbringing, and our privilege or lack thereof. A panel and topic I hope to see garner more attention at next year’s conference, although it was certainly well attended this year, was the Commonalities of Oppression talk. This panel focused on the common points seen across the social justice spectrum between women, minorities, animals, workers, etc.

A major point of this panel, the nail that stuck up [thanks, Ethan -Sam], was the position of privilege many AR activists come from. This was not meant to tear down the cause but to raise awareness of the biases that often come from being privileged. For example, I am a white male living in the United States of America. Whether I know of a specific occurrence or not, I have benefited thro.ghout my life based on my gender and race, and likely will unjustly continue to do so. Whether I like it or not these experiences have bred biases into my patterns of behavior. Also, privilege exists at varying degrees. Those who are less privileged than myself may be more privileged than others. Being sensitive to privilege will only strengthen the communities and the causes through improved communication.

More could be and will be said about this conference. I left with a saturated mind. I learned so much of human interaction and being a better activist. Though much of the facts, the who’s who and the what’s what, I already knew, I am still more inspired and more informed. If you are like me, a vegan of many years looking to do more. I urge you to head to the next conference. As I look forward to returning, even more importantly, I look forward to the rest of today and tomorrow and the next day. I look forward to the next year of wearing my new messaging shirts and the conversations that will begin with the question, “Why are you veg[etari]an?”

Justice is a single strand. It is one issue. No one or group has a monopoly on the pursuit of justice. The animal rights movement must not lose sight of this. Animal Rights are Human Rights. The basic goal, to reduce suffering, must be applied to all causes needing to be mended by the thread of justice. Go, Vegan. Go.

You can contact Ethan via e-mail at e…@g…

Photos from FARM.

Kindness is King: Interview with Philip Wollen

Philip Wollen is an amazing man. In his mid-thirties, with the world at his fingertips and the vice president of Citibank, he “gave it all away” and dedicated his life to helping animals and humans. Now, he runs the Winsome Constance Kindness Trust, a group dedicated to animal rights and social justice across the globe, supporting over 400 organizations and running the “Kindness House” which you’ll read about below. But Philip was thrust into the AR community’s spotlight with his powerful speech at a debate a few months ago in his native country of Australia. At a Wheeler Centre debate entitled “Animals Should Be Off The Menu” Mr. Wollen argued strongly for the affirmative, with one of the most moving, dire speeches of animal rights I’ve ever heard. He was kind enough to answer some questions for me so we can learn more about this inspirational man.

Again, thank you for your time. I’d like to start by asking what your overall reaction was to the outcome of the Wheeler Centre debate. The audience was indeed moved by your team’s arguments, from 65% to 73.6%. Was this a success, in your eyes?

I was confident in my facts, ethics, and values. But I have learned that going into a debate one can never be confident of the vote. The animal industrial complex, a term I use to describe the industries that exploit powerless animals, is very powerful and well-resourced. The audience came from the Food, Wine and Restaurant industry, which massively dominates the food industry. They actually promoted the debate. In fact, the high profile TV chef speaking against us stated that they had done a survey of the audience before the debate, and proudly claimed that 78% of the attendees were meat eaters. What was gratifying was that after the debate  our “anti-meat” vote went up, the undecided vote went down, and the meat industry vote went down too, losing the debate by a “whopping margin” (to quote the adjudicator). They only got 19% of the vote! What is most rewarding is the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from ordinary people around the world.

It is not for me to claim the success or otherwise. But judging by the fact that over 100,000 people have seen it, and the votes were overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition, I guess many people thought it was a success.

Myself included, the AR community around the world has embraced your powerful ten minute speech at the debate, which seems to touch on almost all of the issues regarding using animals for food. Was this a speech you felt particularly proud of, and did you expect the reaction in social media that it received?

Thank you. I was deeply humbled by the positive public response I received in the media. Oddly enough, I prefer to have a low profile. I like to be invisible. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s press described me as reclusive. So, I was quite overwhelmed by the quantity of mail I received. And I am embarrassed to tell you, I did not have a Facebook account until 3 weeks ago. I still don’t have a twitter account! Social media has been a foreign land to me.

How long have you called yourself a vegan? What does the term mean to you?

I have been vegan for around ten years, and vegetarian for much longer. I used to be a meat eater, for which I am profoundly ashamed. But now that I am vegan I can look in the mirror with a clear conscience. I have observed that our detractors have hijacked the word “vegan” and use it as a sneering term of abuse. In fact, I covered the issue of hijacked language in a lecture in India. In my opinion, the most beautiful word ever written, in any country, in any language, at any time, came from India, from the Upanishads, 5,000 years ago. “Ahimsa. …non-violence to any living being”. I love this word and I want it to become a truly global phenomenon.

So I don’t see myself simply as vegan, Australian, male, or whatever arbitrary label others put on me. I am “Ahimsan”. An overarching noun which best captures most of my beliefs. I reject violence, not just in what I eat and wear. But I also (try to) do so in what I say, and what I think. We may be American, Indian, Australian, German, English, or Palestinian. We may be Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or Jew (or no religion at all). But if we are to live a truly authentic life we can easily share common ground – without sacrificing our other beliefs. That beautiful meeting place is “Ahimsa”. Because it describes our character. Period. It says we oppose violence in everything we do.

I casually mentioned this term in conversation with the remarkable Member of Parliament, Mrs Maneka Gandhi. She remarked. “Well, one day the world will see Ahimsans as educated, enlightened and elegant people”.

Many vegans and animal rights activists in the United States may not be familiar with your organization, the Kindness Trust. Would you give an overview of what it is?

I was a merchant banker. And in my travels around the world I saw unimaginable violence, cruelty and brutality to human and non-human animals. It shocked me to the core. I decided on my 40th birthday to give away everything I owned with warm hands, and to die broke. I have to admit, so far I am right on budget! So I have supported 400-500 projects in some 40 countries. Basically focussed on our “five fingers” – children, animals, the environment, the terminally ill and aspiring youth. Schools, orphanages, shelters, clinics, sanctuaries, biogas plants, disaster recovery, animal birth control programs, humanitarian films, the arts, water wells, vegan food mobile restaurants, “kindness farms”, ambulances, oncology work, road trauma victims, that sort of thing. Basically working in countries where prevailing cost and need structures enable me to get maximum value (or leverage) on the funds available. Bang for my buck, if you like.

Describe “The Kindness House” and it how it integrates into your outreach and advocacy.

Kindness House is one of our more unusual projects, started as an “experiment” actually. It is an incubator for ambitious NGOs who “punch above their weight” and we hope they will change the world for the better. We started Kindness House 8 years ago. It is a large (nearly 40,000 square feet) commercial and retail building in a high profile, vibrant, main street, close to the Parliament and in the middle of a thriving retail precinct. It is surrounded by many of Melbourne’s finest vegan and vegetarian restaurants.

We provide fully serviced offices to around 300 incredible smart and dedicated young people, working for around 40 NGOs. The building has all the facilities any office could want – air conditioning, heating, communications, high speed internet, boardrooms, training rooms, kitchens, meditation rooms, movie theatre, elevator, cleaning contractors, security patrols, state of the art fire safety systems, bike rooms, and mail facilities. 75% of the groups pay nothing at all. We cover all the costs of running the campus. All they need to do it work hard for their chosen causes. And they do.

We have two amusing clauses in our leases. One, if you eat animals in my building, I kick you out. And two, if you have a dog, and you DON’T bring him to the office, we kick you out.

We have some wonderful groups on the Kindness Campus including Greenpeace, Wilderness Society, Lawyers for Animals, Sea Shepherd, Beyond Zero Emissions, Australian Wildlife Protection Council, Artists for Kids, Wildlife Victoria, Peace Brigades, Very Edible gardens, Animal Active, Vegetarian Victoria, Seven Women, Horse Racing Kills, Oscars Law, the National Multicultural Broadcasting Council, Australian Orangutan Project, to name some of them. The “incubation” strategy is to bring in small NGOs, provide them with proper professional office facilities, help them grow with advice, and funding, and when they have reached a size big enough to be self-sustaining, let them move to commercial buildings, while we bring in the next fledgling NGO. So far it has worked very well.

In the US, we have a small, but dedicated AR community, and a growing number of vegans (over 7 million as of 2011). Do you feel like Australia’s level of “kindness,” and compassion towards animals, is growing at a similar rate?

Australia tends to mirror the US in many ways. There is lots of excellent work being done in the US – so Australia is benefitting greatly from the work of Colin Campbell, Neal Barnard, and John McDougall etc. Regarding veganism in Australia, I have to say, Australia is a bit like a curate’s egg. Good in parts! Melbourne is undoubtedly the vegan capital of Australia. Fitzroy is the heart, and Kindness House is slap bang in the centre of Fitzroy. Other cities have vegan groups too, and they are growing too. However, I suspect the growth rate of veganism is smaller than the growth rate of animal consumption. India and China are the major drivers of this dangerous equation.

At the Wheeler debate, you said, quite coherently, “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals already sitting in the factory farms, just stop producing anymore, okay?” This mirrors the dilemma that many countries have of dog and cat populations, one of over-population, and a need to “turn off the machine.” Do you feel passionate about this issue, one of dog and cat breeding?

I am frequently asked simplistic questions accusingly “what would you do with the millions of animals in factory farms today? Would you build sanctuaries for them? And how would you fund it?” So to obliterate their vapid straw man question I say bluntly “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals already sitting in the factory farms, just stop producing anymore. Okay. Now are you happy?” It usually shuts them up because they are not expecting such a check-mate reply.

And yes, the dog and cat population is a serious problem. I support a large number of animal birth control projects (ABC) which involves Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release (CNVR). For example, dogs are caught in the streets of India by dog catchers and brought to the shelters in the trucks. They are spayed, natured and vaccinated against rabies and given a general health check. A couple of days later they are released on the same street corner on which they were caught. It is now an unassailable fact that killing dogs does not solve the problem. Dogs from neighbouring areas migrate into the newly vacant areas, or the breeding rates increase to match the carrying capacity of the territory. So releasing the neutered dog to the same area solves that problem. Of course, it has also been a boon in the fight against rabies, which used to be quite prevalent in countries like India, but thanks to the work of many NGOs, the practice of ABC CNVR has become well established, and rabies has been reduced considerably.

You have a unique history as being quite involved in the financial industry for many years. What did you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and does it intersect with your idea of spreading kindness?

I understood their motives. The egregious greed we see nowadays in the financial services sector is nothing short of disgraceful. They have privatised their profits and socialized their losses. I saw the movement as a cry from the small end of town to the big end. The clear message is that there is something systemically rotten in the corporate governance regime in most major economies. Of course, one can debate the methods used by the movement in some places, but when the powerless are muzzled, they will respond in ways that disrupt the easy flow of commerce. Smart business people will be listening intently to the message. Business does not need to be red fang and claw capitalism. Creating long term shareholder value is not simply pushing up revenues, driving down costs, concocting dodgy creative accounting, and increasing price/earnings per share multiples. It is about developing long term respectful relationships with all the direct stakeholders. And that includes staff, customers, suppliers, the community, and government. The indirect stakeholders, of course, include the environment and the non-human animals who are rarely on the radar.

How did you get involved with Sea Shepherd? Does their brand of direct action stand aside from some of the more peaceful forms of animal rights activism?

Eight years ago Sea Shepherd’s (only) ship, the Farley Mowatt, arrived in Melbourne.  I attended a small lecture at the university and was struck by the sincerity and courage of the young crew. I discovered how financially impoverished they were! I saw that Japanese killing whales in the South Ocean whale sanctuary of Antarctica (under the so called guise of “research”) was indefensible under any circumstances. So I got up on the stage and made the captain, what was at the time, a significant financial grant. I also donated free furnished offices to establish Sea Shepherd Headquarters in Australia for their campaigns in this hemisphere. So Sea Shepherd has been in my building ever since. And I am very happy to say, has grown rapidly. They now have 4 ships, a couple of helicopters and local chapters springing up all over Australia and around the world. I am always perplexed when people question Sea Shepherd’s “direct” action. It seems a tautology. What is “indirect” action? I wonder what any of us would do if we saw a kitten or a puppy being beaten to death in the street. Indirect action? We know that it is cruel, and also against the law. Well, whaling in the whale sanctuary is cruel, and it is in breach of many international laws and treaties. Indeed, the Federal Court in Australia has unequivocally said so. And Sea Shepherd has never hurt anybody in its campaigns. I guess in life we sometimes need to take sides.

I frequently have dinner on the Sea Shepherd ships with their respective captains and crews. The food is vegan. The conversation is polite, gentle, compassionate and respectful. They are peace-loving, gracious people. But they are not passive. Like all of us, they do not avert their gaze when violence is inflicted on powerless, endangered animals. They too take sides. They are enforcing laws that should be enforced by governments. If you want Sea Shepherd to stop, the solution is easy. Get all governments to behave ethically – enforce international law.

You support many groups via the Kindness Trust, from PETA to Animals Asia, and many human animal social justice groups. After dealing with so many activists, what is the key to effective activism, in your mind?

This is a hard one, and many activists have it to a greater or lesser extent. Single mindedness, attention to detail, intelligence, integrity and commitment to the “ahimsa” philosophy, relentlessness, and the ability to listen, and to communicate effectively, the ability to work with activists from other disciplines. After all forest campaigners have the same ultimate goal as animal rights campaigners for livestock. And most of all, perspective! They should realize that we have already won the battle in the marketplace of ideas. Nobody can seriously dispute the vegan facts. Industry fights back because they are motivated not by reason, but by ritual. I quoted Upton Sinclair in my rebuttal during the debate “It is impossible to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it”. Even the quiet and reserved Peter Singer, laughed and applauded! Our challenge is to fight both the ignorant and the deliberately obtuse.  There is a wonderful saying in Swahili “It is impossible to wake up a man who is only pretending to be asleep”.

Again, thank you for your time, and feel free to add anything we did not cover:

The world is crying out for only two things. Leadership. And the truth. We know the truth. Now let’s get some real leaders.

Our animal cousins have survived millions of years of evolution on this planet. They have earned the right to share it with us in peace. They have waited long enough. As I said in the debate. “The brutes and the bullies have been Goliath. But David is coming.”

Please watch the entire debate featuring Philip Wollen here, and be sure to check out the Kindness Trust’s website. Photos from Philip Wollen.

Dive! The Film: Powerful Message But Misses The Mark

Just finished watching Dive! The Film at the suggestion of a friend who shares my love for “dumpstering” waste, be it food, electronics, hardware, or milk crates. While the film was entertaining (mostly due to main character’s children), I felt it missed the mark on two levels: one, that eating meat and dairy, whether hormone-free, out of a dumpster, or from your local farmer, is somehow effective in the food movement, and two: that eating dumpstered meat and dairy is a good idea at all. Since this is a pro-animal rights blog those viewpoints aren’t exactly revolutionary here, so allow me to explain:

Jeremy Seifert’s documentary follows him and some cohorts around Los Angeles, blasting Trader Joe’s and other groceries for wasting tons of food, while highlighting the necessity of fixing our logistical waste nightmare so we don’t have 11 million people who go hungry each day in this country. This is an admirable task, and I agree with it. TJ’s and their ilk should be held accountable, in fact, all groceries, and people should: waste less, people! Seifert’s tie-in with sustainability from the WWII era was great, and I, like him, are stoked to see a resurgence of this.

But when facts are displayed on the screen about how much grain and water it takes to produce a pound of beef, what is the viewer supposed to think? That we should only eat dumpstered meat? Or buy it from a local farmer? There’s no good solution here: eating local meat is often worse for the environment due to the huge about of carbon emissions grass-fed cows produce. Eating dumpstered meat is just bad for you, and I felt the movie lacking that Seifert didn’t address this once. Surely, a conscious consumer in LA has been exposed to the arguments of veganism. Meat and dairy intake are linked to increased risk of all major diseases, and improperly cooked chicken is a huge risk, especially for children. I’m not arguing that dumpstered food is somehow “unclean” – I’d eat it myself, just not stuff that comes from another animal.

How can we argue for a less wasteful society, one that prizes sustainability and conscious consumerism, but allow rampant meat and dairy eating, whether it comes from the farm, grocery, or dumpster? Meat just doesn’t make sense to feed the world, it’s simply inefficient. Cow’s milk and its by-products, being the result of gluttonous humans (milk after infancy? why?), isn’t a health food either – Harvard realized this just a few months ago. And producing dairy takes the same cruel, wasteful approach as meat; fatten up cows, impregnate them, and steal their milk for human use. Let the cows live in peace and use that extra grain and water for starving humans!

So while I deeply appreciate Seifert’s look into the world of dumpstering, and I agree on all counts regarding waste reduction, to simply offer the option of eating nearly unlimited quantities of chicken, beef, yogurt, or whatever foodstuffs he finds in the dumpster – merely because they are trash/wasted – is short-sighted. We have to choose food wisely, regardless of the source. “Freegan” is a lame term – nothing is truly free, and eating animal products comes at a price. A vegan lifestyle, and a diet centered around plants, is the optimal one for health, sustainability for our earth, and for alleviating the suffering of billions of animals.

The Transparency Grenade Blows Up Data Everywhere

Caught the tail end of a discussion on NPR a few nights ago about “The Transparency Grenade,” and was quite impressed. It really does look like a grenade, but instead of using physical damage, it outputs what could only be construed as emotional, political, or mental turmoil. Gizmag (not to be confused with Gizmodo), explains:

This tiny bit of hardware hidden under the shell shaped like a classic Soviet F1 hand grenade allows you to leak information from anywhere just by pulling a pin. The device is essentially a small computer with a powerful wireless antenna and a microphone. Following detonation, the grenade intercepts local network traffic and captures audio data, then makes the information immediately available online.

The excerpt I caught on NPR (“On The Media,” March 1) had the creator, Julian Oliver, discussing how even encrypted WiFi networks were susceptible to the Transparency Grenade’s reach, much less audio or video performances from unsuspecting passer-bys. There’s little mention of the outcome, or how it would actually work, but Oliver has an Android application in the works that will let root-kitted ‘droid users install a similar application to their phone. Walk into a coffee shop and pull the pin? We can only assume every tweet, message, and bit of data flying through the WiFi would be steamed to some remote internet server. The applications are exciting, scary, and vast. Best of all, Oliver called out one of my favorite targets, the meat industry, for his “dream” use:

Governments aside I certainly think we need a great deal more transparency in the Agricultural sector. A lot of effort is being exerted, including laws written, to ensure we don’t know where our food comes from, alongside the impact of that food on the environment and our bodies. A year ago Senator Jim Norman of Florida proposed a blanket ban on video or photography of farms, even from the road! We have to wonder why. The meat industry is especially aggressive in this regard, their lobbies very powerful.

The grenade is currently on display (or is it running?) at “Weise7: the in/compatible laboratorium” art show in Berlin. Oh, and check out one of Oliver’s previous, and just as creepy projects, Newstweek.



BWVAKTBOOM: Funny, Or Offensive?

PETA’s new tv spot, “BWVAKTBOOM,” which stands for “Boyfriend Went Vegan And Knocked The Bottom Out Of Me” is an interesting take on advocacy. The Hollywood Reporter used the line “PETA Mines Humor From Domestic Abuse In New Ad” which is what many of the comments I’ve seen comment on: a girl, clearly injured, but returning to have sex with her boyfriend. Surprisingly many of the female vegans I’ve talked to found the ad quite funny, some even saying “that’s totally true! you do get more stamina.” And PETA itself claims the ad is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, playfully ribbing on the fact that the “vegan sex” might be so good and so wild, that you’ll get hurt.

My favorite response is from the Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi, who is not fond of this ad, or any of PETA’s sexually explicit ones. She writes:

There is also the inevitable argument that this article is itself proof of the efficacy of Peta’s tactics. That no publicity is bad publicity and that, in writing this, I have helped the violently vegan boyfriend land more (internet) hits. But even if I’ve been a pawn in Peta’s PR strategy, it should be stressed that raising a video’s views does not equate to changing people’s views. If Peta were simply after notoriety then, yes, job done. However, any meaningful measure of effectiveness for this campaign depends on people being convinced of the benefits of an animal-free diet and binning the bacon in favour of the Viagra-like qualities of bulgur wheat. Call me cynical, but it seems a long shot.

I don’t think that’s a long shot a all. Her article, along with countless others, gives PETA all the exposure it needs. The ad is shared, ridiculed, and even found entertaining by some. But the people who will really be affected probably won’t comment at all. They’ll have that seed planted – maybe they used to be vegetarian, maybe they know someone who’s vegan – and will slowly start to investigate a plant-based diet. We can only hope they look in the right places and don’t give up (American society has a lot of anti-vegan pressure, for sure), which is exactly why groups like PETA exist: they hook the curious with crazy ads like this, but have a ton of resources for how to actually go vegan.

Are there other, more subtle, or even compassionate ways to promote veganism? Of course. And groups like Vegan Outreach and Compassion Over Killing employ those, as does a group I belong to, the Louisville Vegetarian Club. We simply have delicious potlucks, people show up, and realize that eating vegan food is awesome! I honestly think there’s room for both in this world, and I’m happy to stand with all sides as our end goal is the elimination of exploiting animals. Whether it be through food, provocative ads, or ethical reasoning, the end result is challenging our long-held beliefs and getting people to think.

The controversial new ad is below, which already has over 1.5 million views:



Photo: The Inspiration Room (who also lists the credits of the video)