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

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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Interview with Holly Nolly of Vegan Shortcake

Rebecca (left) and Holly (right) of Vegan Shortcake

 

During my wonderful weekend at Animal Rights 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Holly Noll, a fellow vegan straight-edger, who, along with Rebecca Bolte, hosts Vegan Shortcake: a “super awesome” cooking show that not only features delicious vegan recipes, but animal rights issues, and “mocktails” or alcohol-free versions of cocktails. I recently spoke with Holly about the show, AR 2012, and her food choices:

TNTSU: I think Vegan Shortcake totally what need in cooking shows right now: healthy, funny, and hip. What’s your goal with the series? Did you put a lot of thought into the “look and feel” or did it come naturally?

Holly: We do put a lot of time and energy into the way that our show looks though I think that process came totally naturally to us. We pride ourselves on having a show that’s relatable, easy to watch, fun and informative. A lot of the reason our show feels so solid, also, is because Rex [Ray] makes the editing/lighting/sound really high quality and spends a lot of time making it not feel so much like a [typical] “YouTube show”.

How did you end up working with Rebecca? She adds so much comic relief to the episodes; was it a natural fit or did you two rehearse any of the craziness?

Rebecca and I actually met, I believe, at an indoor water park and became quick friends. We originally started working on this rad idea she had:a sober drink bar at shows called Teetotal Babes, which I was really into and which bled into our show with the straight-edge drink additions as well. [T]he show idea was brought up to me and I mentioned it to her and Rex; shortly [there]after Vegan Shortcake was born.

We do think a little about the jokes ahead of time, in that we plan out story lines but honestly we’re really horrid when it comes to acting so the stuff that ends up on the final cut of things is the stuff that just came out as a result of hours of laughing over inappropriate jokes and to much coffee. [Rebecca] really balances my constant need for informing [the audience] about boring food stuff with the entertainment value of the show. [S]he also holds down the drinks and is killer at making sure all the behind the scenes stuff happens like getting our show out there and seen by people, [selling] merch, and what not.

Rex Ray’s camera work makes the videos looks really good. What’s it like working with him? What’s the post-production for Vegan Shortcake like?

Rex is incredible. Honestly, we couldn’t do it without him…we tried when he was on an extended leave, Rebecca and I had some attempts at trying to film shows on this little flip camera…results were disastrous! He is a total mastermind. Somehow he pulls off seeing the end result through all of Rebecca and I running around being crazy. He holds the whole show together and – in addition to making it sound and look good – he really creates those linear structures that make the show watchable. I don’t know too much about post production of the show [but] I know there’s a lot of editing and making things all line up, as well as cutting hours of footage.

I definitely appreciate the straight-edge versions of bar drinks, but what do you want viewers to take away from that?

Yay! I’m glad you’re into it! We want to promote a few different ideas with the xvx [vegan straight-edge] “mocktails”. First, we wanted to get across that sober drinks can be complex and interesting, not just sodas and stuff for children as it is often portrayed in mainstream culture. We also really wanted to promote the fact that xvx living is hella fun and doesn’t have to be super serious. Many people outside of straight edge think of going out to clubs and drinking or partying as their primary source of fun. Here we are trying to show that we’re totally sober and stoked.

When we met, it was in the middle of a high energy animal rights conference. What did you take away from AR 2012?

Wow. Yeah, it was high energy, huh? I took so much from that conference. The most notable being the friends and connections I made, with you as well as with many other dedicated and awesome folks. The conference renewed my inspiration to keep pushing forward and was a solid reminder that so many people in so many ways are promoting the same thing I am. Sometimes it’s nice to remember that you’re not alone with your small group of people you know, and that there are tons of ideas out there – so pushing forward with your [ideas] when you see gaps is okay – because there are others who have your back.

I know you personally eat a lot of raw foods, and a few of the recipes are raw or mostly raw foods. Would you comment on eating a raw vegan diet for health benefits?

I honestly believe that it’s best to eat 80% unprocessed, uncooked food; try your best to keep [the] processed food, sugar and processed carbs out of your diet. I think it’s all about balance though, how you feel about your food affects how you digest it as well as how much you enjoy life. It’s also about seasons: in the winter it’s more likely you’ll crave warm food, so reaching for solid options like a baked sweet potato, some sauteed greens with nutritional yeast and pumpkin seed pesto might be better as opposed to the warmer months, where, if you live somewhere with seasons, you might find yourself eating all raw and not even thinking about it.

Focusing on eating high nutrient content, easy to digest, tasty foods is really the primary goal – in my opinion – for optimal health. I also believe very strongly in juicing and smoothies, as they give you the option of eating huge quantities of raw fruits, veggies and greens, very quickly and easily, where many people find it difficult to fit [that] into their schedules. [Juicing] also skips some steps for your body so it can take that nutrition straight to the body as opposed to having to break it all down.

Rapid fire questions!

Favorite vegan restaurant?

SO HARD! Either Blossoming Lotus in PDX or Chaco Canyon in SEA. (I know answering with two is cheating !)

Best current, and past, XVX band:

Seven Generations, for sure.

Most calories ever consumed in one day:

Whoa. I lived in a co-op in Oakland for a while, and one day someone brought home a deep fryer and that night we had a huge garlic inspired deep fried potluck followed by a big game of “what dessert things can we deep fry?” If I were to pick out a day, it was almost definitely that one. Absolutely the worst I’ve ever felt.

Spiciest food you’ve ever made?

I’m a total baby when it comes to spice, honestly! I recently my dad made me this harrisa crumble over beets that had this insane spice but it grew with smokiness and was complex so I loved it. I like spice with flavor as oppose to just a kick in the face.

Are you a fan of the Vegan Black Metal Chef?

Yeah, I think he is funny and awesome, though I don’t really keep up with it too much. I think it’s a great niche and it’s exciting when anything promoting veganism goes viral.

What’s next for you and Rebecca? Will Vegan Shortcake continue on or do you have other projects planned?

Vegan Shortcake will absolutely continue! Look forward to episodes on [vegan] bacon, BBQ and greens! I am also building a protein bar business, writing a “cook zine” series, brainstorming a few other books, as well as a few ongoing columns for AMP magazine and Vegan Warfare. I’m also hoping to get back to school and get certified in nutrition soon.

Anything else you want to add, promote, or dis:

We just put out our latest episode on Bananas at veganshortcake.com, so check it out as well as my upcoming articles in AMP magazine [and] veganwarfare.com. I love feedback and hearing from people so feel free to email me at holly[at] veganshortcake [dot] com.

Closing still from the video

Photos: Vegan Shortcake YouTube & Facebook pages.

A Responsibility to Protect Animals: Paul Shapiro Interview

Among the flurry of awesome people I met at AR 2012, Paul Shapiro stuck out for a couple reasons: 1) his presentation was so well put together, entertaining, and fun to watch, and 2) he was with the Humane Society of the United States, a group that some may not expect to be at a conference that included ALF supporters and talk of direct action. But I give props to HSUS for speaking and representing there, showing that they care about all forms of action that alleviates cruelty to animals. Paul got his start in activism way back in 1995, founding Compassion Over Killing and being instrumental in many of its campaigns until 2006, when he joined the Humane Society. Now he is their senior director of factory farming campaigns. Below is a conversation we had via e-mail:

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, Paul. When we met it was in the middle of a huge animal rights conference. It would be erroneous to say that there wasn’t any controversy over HSUS being there, yet your speech on Sunday was one of the most invigorating. What are your overall thoughts on AR 2012, now that it’s passed?

Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your kind words about my talk. I was glad to speak there. The response to the three speeches I gave was overwhelmingly positive, and the same was the case for other HSUS speakers like Michael Greger and Jon Balcombe, too. I was glad to be there and see so many old and new friends.

I understand that some people may not exactly be card-carrying HSUS members there, but that’s the way it goes. We should just keep in mind that the animal agribusiness industry views HSUS as a major threat for a reason, and spends millions of dollars to combat HSUS precisely because we’re effective at creating a societal shift in where farm animals land on people’s moral compass.

I want to jump right into what I believe is the main source of contention between some AR activists and HSUS. While I was aware of your relationship with the United Egg Producers, it never seemed to be the grievous move that people like Bob Linden are calling it (a “hi-jacking” as he says).

I want to understand your position on this: why is your negotiation with the UEP important? And can it exist with the Humane Society’s other initiatives, such as the promotion of “humane eating?” For you and many other HSUS members (including Wayne Pacelle) I know this means a plant-based diet (and consequent vegan lifestyle).

In all honesty, this legislation isn’t the main source of contention—it goes back a bit more. I respect Bob, and I respectfully agree to disagree with him. In 2008, he campaigned hard to deride California’s Prop 2 ballot measure and now he’s doing the same with the federal hen protection bill.  Some others who don’t like the federal hen bill also didn’t support Prop 2 (such as the Humane Farming Association and Friends of Animals). This isn’t really new for most of them. The beef and pork industries are fighting hard to kill this legislation, and we shouldn’t make their job easier.

More to the heart of your question, though: All of the animal groups that spearheaded the Prop 2 campaign support the federal hen bill (Mercy For Animals has a good page about why that is), and virtually all of the major meat and dairy trade groups oppose the bill, with the beef industry’s lobby group calling its defeat the group’s “number one priority.”

The meat and dairy industry so vigorously oppose this bill because they say they’re concerned about the precedent of having federal legal protection for animals on factory farms. It’s hard to imagine animals in a worse situation that egg-laying hens. Hundreds of millions of them are essentially immobilized in cages for 18 months prior to slaughter. It’s miserable. Of course this bill is modest, and if enacted, it would certainly reduce animal suffering, and importantly, it’s the best realistic option these hundreds of millions of animals have for the foreseeable future.

Those who don’t like this bill fail to offer any alternative legislative plan for the hundreds of millions of animals the bill would help. They’re not suggesting another legislative way forward for hens, nor are they showing how this bill is worse than having no law at all.

Simply put, no realistic alternatives are offered because none of us in the movement are aware of any. The 280 million hens in our country aren’t just a statistic.  These are real animals who endure real suffering, and we have a chance to help alleviate some of their misery with this bill.  Without it, they will be significantly worse off.

Some have suggested that people should simply stop eating animal products. Of course, one can do that while also supporting this legislation; being vegan does not preclude also reducing the suffering of the countless animals who will be helped by this bill if it’s enacted. As a vegan of 19 years, I’m heartened to see the animal movement focusing more on ethical eating options.  At the same time, I’m heartened that our movement is making so many strides to gain farm animals more legal protection from the worst cruelties, and I would value both approaches if I were a battery hen.

Groups like HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, Mercy For Animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the ASPCA, and Compassion Over Killing have been waging legislative campaigns to help farm animals on a state by state basis. Now we’re in our best position ever to gain federal protection for hundreds of millions of animals every year.  This will improve their lives compared to what they are today, and compared to what their prospects will be without the bill.

Would you explain why HSUS chooses to call itself an “animal protection” organization – words which I’m sure were chosen carefully – as opposed to “animal rights,” “animal welfare,” or something else?

To the general public these terms are largely distinctions without difference. The bottom line, though, is that we’re for helping animals. One reason HSUS has been so successful – whether in shutting down dogfighting rings and puppy mills, passing laws to help farm animals, or getting millions more plant-based meals served every year through our Meatless Mondays program – is because we focus our efforts on the human responsibility to protect animals.

Back in your days at Compassion Over Killing you were instrumental in removing the “Animal Care Certified” label from egg cartons, showing that the treatment of said hens was anything but “humane.” Do you think that current labeling, such as Whole Foods “5-Step” system, are meaningful and worthwhile?

There’s a dizzying array of welfare-related labels and some are misleading while others aren’t. HSUS is taking on some of the more misleading labels in court (for example, see our case regarding Perdue’s “humane” claim). I think HSUS does a good job of explaining what the most common ones mean—and don’t mean—at www.humanesociety.org/labels.

In your speech at AR 2012 you discussed the decline of meat consumption, and we’ve recently seen Tyson, Cargill, and other meat producers witness a drop in earnings over the last two quarters. How does this relate to the animal welfare standards of these companies?

Good question—I’m not sure it does alter what they’re doing (or not doing) on animal welfare.

In Kentucky, as you may know, we have a very strange Livestock Care Standards Commission, which listened to testimony from your colleague Matt Dominguez and others (myself included) about their silence on policies like tail docking and gestation crates. Why are regulators so resistant to enforce these now-common standards?

First, thanks so much for testifying there! That’s awesome, man. Second, there’s often a resistance from those in the agribusiness industry to providing any legal protection for animals from abuse whatsoever. On principle, many folks in the industry oppose any agricultural regulation, especially when it comes to regulations to prevent animal cruelty.

You wrote Food Day’s blog, regarding eating fewer animals, that “Very few issues have such clear connections among public health, animal welfare and sustainability.” How do we get others to understand that? Many think that dietary choices are simple, uninteresting debates based purely on taste.

There’s no doubt that eating is a moral act. What we choose to eat has profound consequences not just for us, but for animals and the planet, too.

HSUS—like so many other animal groups—advocates both to reduce the suffering of farm animals who are going to be raised for food and to reduce the total number of animals who are raised for food. For example, in addition to our efforts to ban some of the worst abuses of farm animals, HSUS’s resources include the HSUS Guide to Meat-Free Meals, our Meatless Monday video, our free recipe of the week, our recipe library, and more.

As far as advice for how to help people make better dietary decisions, Nick Cooney’s “Change of Heart” is a great book to read.

Simply put, is a plant-based diet the future for America? Do you envision a day when the majority of Americans eat this way?

Meat consumption is declining in the US. Per capita consumption of meat has dropped by 12.2% in the past five years and is projected to continue falling. Egg and dairy consumption is also on the decline. We’re raising and killing more than a billion fewer farm animals today in the US than we were five years ago, despite an ever-increasing human population. The number of people cutting back on animal consumption continues to grow, and major food industry trade publications tout meat-free options as one of the hottest trends in dining. Add to that cultural icons (think Bill Clinton, Oprah, Ellen and more) who are touting the benefits of plant-based eating, and you see that an issue that was once very fringe is now firmly in the mainstream. I definitely see that continuing.

Anything else you would like to add:

The animal movement has taken impressively important steps in recent years, especially when it comes to farm animal protection. This is progress we should celebrate for sure. Of course, the longest journeys begin with single steps, and we can’t forget that we’ve still got a long way to go. History proves that progress tends to beget progress, yet this doesn’t happen in a self-executing type of way. Laws don’t pass themselves. Campaigns don’t wage and win themselves. This progress our movement is making is only because of the tireless work of so many dedicated animal advocates who are working for tangible advancements, and it’s because of their continued efforts that we’re going to continue moving the ball forward for animals.

I want to thank Paul again for his generous time and explanations of the issues. Regardless of what lean of activist you may be, it’s important to recognize that HSUS is doing some effective work. I’ve ask Paul to check the comments to respond to any follow-up questions you may have.