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It’s been a bad month for the egg industry. Only weeks after Mercy For Animals released damning video footage taken at the Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa, Compassion Over Killing has announced details of their investigation into an egg farm owned by Minnesota-based Michael Foods. While employed at the facility in August, a COK investigator used a hidden camera to document conditions for hens in this factory farm, which confines more than one million birds inside barren wire battery cages.

COK_henCOK’s video reveals hens immobilized in the wires of their cages, unable to access food or water; decomposing corpses left in cages with live birds; a Michael Foods employee decapitating a hen; and birds suffering from overcrowding, severe feather loss and untreated injuries. Thanks in no small part to the Internet, the public is able to see more and more of this indefensible cruelty, which is clearly routine and unchecked within agribusiness.

Michael Foods is one of the country’s largest egg producers, supplying eggs to several national restaurant chains, including Dunkin’ Donuts. COK has asked Dunkin’ Donuts many times about the treatment of hens in its supply chain and encouraged the company to make meaningful changes for hens ― and consumers ― by offering vegan doughnuts. According to COK, there are an estimated 6,400 Dunkin’ Donut stores in the U.S. alone, offering more than 52 varieties of doughnuts ― all of which contain egg and dairy products from animals forced to endure miserable conditions inside massive and mechanized factory farms like the one COK investigated. After getting no action from Dunkin’ Donuts, COK launched DunkinCruelty.com, which has prompted thousands of concerned consumers to contact the doughnut maker about this important issue.

Several animal welfare experts viewed the new video. Dr. Ian Duncan, Chair of Animal Welfare in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at the University of Guelph, said the hens were clearly enduring enormous suffering. “The most striking feature of the video is the large number of dead birds that are taken out of the cages,” he said. “[B]irds are removed that have been dead for a considerable time. The carcasses are covered in feces, and are rotting. In some cases, the carcasses are actually disintegrating which suggests that the birds have been dead in the cages for well over a week. In many cases the carcasses are very difficult to remove from the cages. This suggests that the hens may have been trapped while still alive and had a slow lingering death because they could not reach the food or water.”

“No responsible company should support this animal cruelty,” says COK’s executive director Erica Meier. “Dunkin’ Donuts can ― and should ― make the right decision by removing eggs from its doughnuts and offering more humane vegan menu items.”

What You Can Do:

Compassion Over Killing is asking people to contact Dunkin’ Donuts and urge the company to stop using eggs and dairy. You can call them at 1-800-859-5339 and send them an email using COK’s form.

Click here for additional ways to help COK.

josh_balkJosh Balk is the outreach director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign, where he works with corporations to end their purchasing from factory farms that use the most intensive confinement devices, such as battery cages, gestation crates and veal crates. As part of HSUS’ “No Battery Eggs Campaign,” grocery stores, fast food chains, food service providers and hundreds of universities have moved away from buying and selling eggs from caged hens. Josh took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions regarding his activism, what brought him to the movement and how even one person can make a difference for animals.

 

What was your “a-ha” moment when you decided to go vegan?

I went vegan about eight years ago after watching the documentaries The Auction Block and Hope for the Hopeless. The first video is about the cruelty endured by dairy cows and other animals at livestock auctions and the second is about the battery cage-egg industry. Ironically, prior to coming to HSUS, I went on to work for Compassion Over Killing for three years, where I conducted undercover investigations, worked with Washington, DC, restaurants to add vegan items to their menu and did tons of vegan outreach to consumers. 

 

Could you describe the industry cruelties you saw in those two documentaries?

The Auction Block, filmed by Compassion Over Killing, is a behind-the-scenes look at several farm animal auctions where dairy cows, their calves and other animals are sold to the highest bidder, many times to factory farms and slaughterhouses. Inside the closed doors of auction houses, animals are often kicked, shocked with electric prods, dragged by their legs and beaten. I can’t imagine the confusion and fear they’re undergoing, especially the calves who only a short time earlier were taken away from their nursing mothers.

Hope for the Hopeless, another Compassion Over Killing documentary, shows what’s it’s like inside a giant egg factory farm where hundreds of thousands of hens are confined inside barren battery cages. These living, feeling beings are turned into egg-producing machines within an industrial assembly line. There’s little consideration for their welfare other than providing them water and food — the barest necessities to keep them alive for another day’s worth of production. They’re given so little space they can’t even spread their wings. It’s like forcing someone to live in an elevator with six other people for your entire life.

 

You’re well known in the movement for working with college campuses, getting their dining halls to buy cage-free eggs. Does that take up the bulk of your activism?

So far, more than 350 universities in the country have eliminated or reduced their use of battery eggs. While I’d love to take credit for this enormous success, most of the victories are due to the relentless and effective activists on college campuses I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years.

That said, most of my time is spent working with major retailers, helping them move away from using the cruelest animal products and adding vegan items to their product line. Working with corporations to enact purchasing policies that help animals is one of the most effective things we can do for farm animals.

 

Can you explain what the Cage-Free Campus campaign is?

The Cage-Free Campus campaign is one of HSUS’ signature campaigns to help abolish battery cages. University cafeterias often use hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of eggs a year. Whether anyone likes it or not, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. The question is: Is it better that these eggs come from hens confined in cages so small they can barely move for their entire lives, or from hens living in a cage-free environment where they’re at least able to lay eggs in a nest, dust bathe, perch, flap their wings and walk? I think the answer is clear.

Of course, “cage-free” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free.” However, while cage-free hens can and do still suffer, it doesn’t mean we should ignore that the alternative for most major egg buyers, including universities, is eggs from caged hens who are given less space to live than a single sheet of paper. In other words, cafeterias aren’t likely to stop serving eggs anytime soon, but they may stop serving the cruelest types of eggs.

I think most animal advocates would agree that putting an end to battery cages would reduce an immense amount of animal suffering. It’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good and force millions of hens we all know are going to be exploited to wait until a future utopia exists before they’re at least freed from the misery of battery cages. In order to so, we have to get major egg users in the country to stop buying eggs from these extreme confinement systems. 

 

You’ve also helped activists overseas working on the same goal. For example, Mahi Klosterhalfen has made some real progress for hens in Europe. Are you open to working with activists in other parts of the world to help them with cage-free campaigns?

Over the past few years I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best animal advocates from around the world. Mahi’s unbelievable work in Germany getting major retailers to end their sales of eggs from caged hens is a testament to his tenacious and effective activism. He’s one of the best activists the animals have; Compassion in World Farming is lucky have him run its German campaigns.

Up in Canada, Bruce Passmore has engineered a campaign that has resulted in numerous cities passing government resolutions opposing battery cages and has convinced some of the largest universities in the country to stop using battery eggs in their cafeteria.

And down in Australia, Kathleen Chapman is launching a veg commercial campaign similar to what Compassion Over Killing and Mercy For Animals have done in the U.S. This is after she got her university to be the first to switch away from battery eggs.

There’s no reason why others can’t duplicate the efforts of these dedicated individuals. I’d be more than happy to work with anyone from any part of the world on campaigns to help farm animals. Billions of animals suffer worldwide, and it’s going to take a global effort to win tangible advances for them.

 

What’s the best piece of activism advice you ever received?

Something I learned from many of my heroes in the animal protection movement is that I should make strategic decisions as an activist with the end goal being reducing as much animal suffering as possible. Since roughly 95 percent of animal exploitation in the U.S. goes on behind the closed doors of factory farms, I’ve made it may life’s mission to help those animals raised for food. You get the best bang for your activist buck, so to speak, by working to help farm animals.

The path I chose — corporate and university outreach ― isn’t the only way to help farm animals, but it’s the way I think I’m most effective. Others, like one of my heroes, Jon Camp from Vegan Outreach, give out tens of thousands of booklets every year to college students encouraging them to eat less meat as part of the Adopt-A-College program. Another hero of mine, Kath Rogers from Animal Protection and Rescue League, is in the midst of transforming her hometown of San Diego into the most vegan-friendly, anti-factory farming city in the country. Whatever our interest or our skill set, there’s always something each of us can do to have a major impact in the lives of farm animals. 

 

Can you offer any parting advice to the individual activist who doesn’t work with an organization? Are there any simple things they can do to reach out to restaurants, for example, or approach their college?

The great thing about animal activism is that one person can make a tremendous difference. One way for students to get involved ― on the individual level ― is to meet with their dining director about moving away from using eggs from caged hens and/or add vegan options to the menu. There are numerous universities that have stopped serving battery-caged eggs and added vegan options because one student brought this issue to the attention of the dining staff.

For instance, at Georgetown University, just one student met with the director of dining, and only a few weeks later the entire university ended its support for battery-cage confinement and went exclusively cage-free. The university used one and a half million eggs a year, meaning that one victory led to improving the lives of literally thousands of animals. If someone is interested in doing this type of effort at his or her university, they should feel free to contact me at jbalk@hsus.org.  

Jon Camp, leafleting for Vegan Outreach

Jon Camp, leafleting for Vegan Outreach

If there’s ever a Leafleters’ Hall of Fame, I expect to see Jon Camp up on stage among the first inductees. As the longtime national outreach coordinator for Vegan Outreach, Jon is one of those powerhouse activists whose work is both inspiring and, well, a little humbling. I got to know Jon a bit when I interviewed him for Striking at the Roots, and I thought his story and insights would be the perfect way to introduce the topic of activism, so that’s exactly how the book begins. Jon kindly took a few more questions from me, even as he’s busy gearing up for his spring leafleting tour with Vegan Outreach.

 

Hi, Jon! First off, what’s the deal with Takoma Park, Maryland, where you live? I know so many activists who live there. Why is it such a magnet for progressive people?

Takoma Park is a pretty, progressive town bordering Washington, DC, and it’s sometimes referred to as the Berkeley of the East Coast. It has the feel of a small town, while offering easy access to DC. The DC area hosts a number of animal advocacy groups, and Takoma Park is a desirable option for living. I live in the same neighborhood as some of the folks from Compassion Over Killing and The Humane Society of the United States. We’ve tended to gravitate toward each other because we share many similar beliefs on advocacy and because we genuinely like and respect each other. It’s always nice having friends whose way of living encourages you to be a better, more effective person; that is certainly the case here.

 

How did you get involved in animal advocacy?

In 1995, I took an Ethics course at the College of Lake County, a community college in Grayslake, Illinois, and learned about the modern-day treatment of farm animals.  I went vegetarian, eventually vegan, and started doing simple things like writing letters to the editor. In ’98 or ’99, I learned about Vegan Outreach while reading an Ingrid Newkirk book. I ordered some literature from Vegan Outreach and was so impressed by their calm, pragmatic approach of vegan advocacy as a way to reduce the most amount of animal suffering. In 2000, I went to a Compassion Over Killing feed-in in DC, got my feet wet leafleting and started to slowly ramp up my efforts. In 2004, Jack Norris, president of Vegan Outreach, asked if I’d like to work for Vegan Outreach, and I said yes. Since then, it has been a labor of love, and I’m still utterly thrilled to be doing this work on a full-time basis.   

 

What is Vegan Outreach’s Adopt-a-College program and how can activists get involved?

The basic gist of the AAC program is that individuals leaflet colleges in their respective neck of the woods. The program got off the ground in August, 2003, and we’ve individually handed out just shy of 3 million booklets at over 1,200 schools. We find college students to be the ideal demographic as they’re in the time of life when they’re really willing to question the status quo and make changes. And when you get young individuals to change, you’re reaching those who will have many years ahead of them to make a great impact for animals. Those interested in getting involved in this work can go to veganoutreach.org/colleges or feel free to contact me. We’d love to have you on board!

 

Vegan Outreach offers several different pieces of literature. Why is that?

Different situations bring out different people, and some activists prefer certain booklets over others. I like the more mild Compassionate Choices booklet when dealing with, say, young kids, while those of college age might be better suited for the more graphic Even If You Like Meat booklet.

 

What tips can you offer someone just starting to leaflet?

If you’ve never leafleted, it might help to start off with someone who has leafleted before.  If no such opportunities exist, then be brave, take the plunge, and get your feet wet!  Most everyone who leaflets ends up being surprised by how easy and painless it is and how receptive individuals are. We can increase receptivity by smiling, keeping a positive disposition and by being somewhat assertive. There is nothing wrong with asking someone if they’d like to consider information, and the animals will be so much better thanks to you having done this. It’s pretty much on a daily basis that we at Vegan Outreach hear from individuals who have gone veg or vegan as a result of being handed one of our booklets.  Lastly, many find our Adopt a College Yahoo Group to be helpful and inspiring; more information on this can be accessed on our AAC site.

 

Last fall, the Adopt-a-College program handed out a record number of leaflets. Can you tell us what went into reaching that milestone? How many colleges and VO activists were involved?

For the fall ’08 semester, over 200 individuals got out to leaflet a grand total of 657,850 booklets at 684 schools. We reached this milestone due to a great number of activists stepping up their efforts and because of the generosity of donors deciding that this was work they wanted to invest in. The success of Vegan Outreach will always hinge on the efforts of many; it was great to see so many individuals involved last fall.

 

You have a Spring Tour of colleges coming up. When does it begin and where will you be?

Starting on February 9th, I’ll be on the road for just about three months. I will be leafleting, as well as giving some talks, in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and upstate New York.

 

I assume you’ll be couch-surfing. Are you still looking for places to stay?

Keeping activists on the road and stocked with literature, to the degree that we do, costs a considerable amount of money. Therefore, in order to reach as many people as possible with the animals’ plight, we take steps to make our tours as cost-efficient as possible. As a result, those of us who travel sleep on the beds, couches, futons and sometimes floors of those generous enough to house us. I currently need to find housing throughout the southern half of Georgia, northern New York and the Tallahassee, Florida, region. If you’d be so kind as to house me, please let me know!

 

Why do you think leafleting is so effective?

In general, most people don’t wish to cause unnecessary harm to animals but don’t necessarily think about how eating animals causes them harm. While animal agribusiness goes to great lengths to keep the general public from thinking that animals lead anything but contented lives, leafleting gives us, as activists, the chance to bring the miserable conditions of factory farms and slaughterhouses directly to the general public. Moreover, when distributing credible, compelling literature and coupling this with welcoming, polite activists, you’ve got a powerful tool for enacting change on a person to person level.

 

My own experience with leafleting is that most people are very polite. But how do you deal with the occasional person who is antagonistic?

Yes, the overwhelming majority of those we leaflet are polite. When the occasional antagonistic person comes by, I just do my best to respond in a calm, sometimes even humorous manner. If individuals wish to make a scene (which is rare), I just do my best to dispel the situation. While antagonism is rare, it is better than apathy, and such situations give us the opportunity to display our level-headedness and kindness.

 

Does outreach work ever get you down, and if so, what do you do to avoid burnout?

There is always going to be cruelty and injustice and apathy; this can be hard on so many of us. But as we know, keeping ourselves miserable only adds to the level of misery in the world.

I get a great deal of joy knowing that I’m doing what I can to push the ball forward for animals, that I’m living for something greater than myself. And when we really think about it, what can be better than spending our days deliberately working to make the world a kinder, more just place? We may not be able to change everything, but through our actions, we can play a sizable role in fostering change.  

On a practical level, I always make sure I take the time to do simple things like reading, spending time with friends and getting good exercise. If we wish to be in this for the long haul, we need to take an approach that is sustainable.  

 

You spend a lot of time traveling. How do you find nutritious vegan food?

As I stay at homes and not motels, I often have better access to stoves and such for cooking. And good, healthy vegan food is becoming more available with each passing year. While at times I do have to rely on foods that aren’t as healthy as would be ideal, I usually manage to find enough nutritious food. The good news is that I’m still alive and kicking!

 

It seems like every year Vegan Outreach outdoes itself. Does Vegan Outreach in general or you specifically have any outreach goals for 2009?

With the economy in the shape it is, we might not be able to have the record year that we would love to have. But we’re still going to have a very solid year and will continue to work our hardest to make sure as many of today’s youth as possible are reached with a full and compelling case for choosing compassion. We’re very good at converting funds into booklets. So if any readers would like to support this work, that would ensure that many more college students are reached!

 

How about helping to make 2009 a great year for Vegan Outreach? If you’d like to house Jon, leaflet with him or even have him speak to your group, please email him at jon[at]veganoutreach[dot]org.

Food is an incredibly powerful component in the activist’s toolkit. It is imbued with special meaning in the psyche of humanity: we need food to nourish our bodies, but we also look to food as the centerpiece of many of our rituals and ceremonies.

 

Because of food’s unique position in our lives, it also offers the promise of transformation, for what we place in our bellies can be the bridge to a higher level of compassion — a rich appreciation of life itself. The simple act of sharing a delicious plant-based meal with someone more accustomed to dining on dead animals may not inspire them to immediately embrace a cruelty-free lifestyle, but it removes another brick from the massive edifice built upon the myths of ethical eating: that vegan food is strange, that it is hard to prepare and, perhaps the biggest false premise, that a meat-based diet is ideal for optimum health.

 

If you’re new to vegetarianism or veganism, or you’ve just never used your love of plant-based food in your activism, getting started can seem a bit daunting. How does one begin? You needn’t be a professional chef or cooking instructor to have an impact on another person. Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing recommends starting with your immediate circle: friends, family and co-workers. “Bringing vegan treats to the office or hosting a vegan dinner party for your neighbors or meat-eating friends are two simple yet effective ways to introduce others to animal-friendly eating,” she says.

 

One crucial point about using vegan food in your outreach: Make sure the food is delicious. “I will happily eat good vegan food, but I will never offer good vegan food to non-vegans,” says Erik Marcus, author of Meat Market. “Any food I offer to non-vegans has to be outstanding, or I won’t offer it at all. We don’t want non-vegans to try vegan food and decide it’s only okay. We need them to think this is some of the tastiest food they’ve ever eaten.” This attitude applies not only to the food Erik offers, but to the food products he recommends, the cookbooks he suggests and the restaurants he takes his friends to. “Vegan food is indeed a powerful outreach tool, and that’s why I make sure that non-vegetarians get only the very best of what the vegan world has to offer.”

 

Whether you’re bringing in treats to the office or having friends over for dinner, if you’re hoping to encourage someone’s own vegan culinary adventures, don’t start them off with anything too complicated or that contains hard-to-find ingredients. “The food must be easy to make, so that those eating might actually make it at home,” advises activist Monica Engebretson. Chilled Avocado, Tomatillo and Cucumber Soup with Saffron-Lime Ice may be impressive and delicious, but any recipe that calls for saffron threads and toasted Hungarian paprika is not for beginners, and we want to emphasize that veganism is easy! Fortunately, one outreach effort that Monica and countless other activists have found particularly successful uses some of the easiest vegan foods you can find.

 

Feed-Ins

The idea is pretty simple: Hand out free vegan food to the public. After all, who doesn’t like free food? For a feed-in, activists prepare some vegan versions of popular meat-based foods, such as veggie burgers and “chicken” nuggets, and pass out samples at a location with lots of foot traffic ― like the front of a fast-food restaurant. Passersby get to try some tasty vegan treats, have a non-confrontational encounter with an animal activist and, we hope, walk away feeling that veganism isn’t that strange after all. Feed-ins can be as basic as one person with a platter of Tofurky sausage samples and some vegan literature or several activists going all out with a table, veggie dogs with condiments and a banner declaring “FREE Vegetarian Food!”

 

“The challenge with feed-ins is that the food has to be really good,” says activist Nora Kramer. “Plus, you need to present it in a way that looks good and tastes good at that moment, like on a street corner. Vegan chicken nuggets, for instance, taste really good, if they’re hot, with ketchup or barbecue sauce. If they’re cold? Um, not so good. You’re really not helping any chickens. Same thing with giving out vegan ice cream – you’ve got to keep it cold. If it’s a hot day, no one’s going to want you’re melted, liquidy ice cream. So, keeping things hot or cold and presenting it in a way that will make people want to try it is important.”

 

Nora also notes that it’s important people know why you’re there. “It needs to be clear that you’re not representing Soy Delicious or whatever,” she says. “You’re there volunteering your time because you care about animals and you want people to know that vegan food tastes really good.”

 

Mercy For Animals' feed in

Mercy For Animals' feed in

Nathan Runkle of Mercy For Animals (MFA) advises getting the food donated, if possible. “When soliciting food donations,” he says, “keep in mind what will be easiest to prepare and how you’re going to distribute it. Soy ice cream in tubs, for example, is going to be more difficult to distribute than Tofutti Cuties, which come pre-wrapped.”

 

Getting companies to donate food is not that difficult, according to Caroline McAleese of Vegan Campaigns, which organizes annual food fairs and monthly vegan food and information stalls in busy shopping areas. “If you do not already have a contact name at the company,” she says, “I would send an email to the general address, then follow it up with a phone call and keep the contact name for next time. I normally write quite a detailed email about the event or stall. I would include how many people you would expect to come, the venue and the aim of the event.”

 

Caroline also recommends giving the company an incentive, such as adding their name to a flier for the event, offering to give out their leaflets at the event and posting a link on your Web site to theirs. “It’s good to feed back to the companies afterwards, to show them photos and let them know how it went.”

 

If this all sounds like feed-ins are a complicated exercise demanding many people, relax. “Most of the feed-ins we do are just a couple people,” Nathan says. “It’s taken us a little while to master the marketing of feed-ins, because if you just go the street corner wearing regular clothes, and you’re handing out food, it seems kind of sketchy, and people get a little nervous taking food from strangers.” So now Nathan and his fellow activists don black aprons and plastic gloves, giving their feed-ins an air of professionalism. “We also have a large banner that reads ‘For the Animals, Earth and Your Health ― Enjoy a Free Vegan Sample.’ This makes it look more like an event so people will come up to try the food.” To really make an impact, MFA sometimes sets up a table with the dipping sauces, vegetarian starter kits and local veg guide. “The veg guide also lists health food stores, so we can tell people how to find specialty items,” he says.

 

Of course, there are countless other ways to use vegan food in your outreach, from bringing homemade cookies to work or school to asking your favorite restaurant or campus cafeteria to carry (more) vegan entrees.

 

Although there are many other tactics for helping animals, when we speak of animal cruelty, the overwhelming majority of abuse is suffered by animals who are bred, raised and eventually slaughtered because humans happen to enjoy eating them. And because most of the Earth’s human inhabitants directly contribute to the needless cruelty suffered by so many billions of non-human animals each year simply by eating them, changing the hearts and minds of these people yields extraordinary benefits. So if you’ve never used vegan food in your outreach, give it a try. I’m betting you’ll find it fun.

One of the busiest and most well-known activists campaigning for animals today, Paul Shapiro is the senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Factory Farming Campaign. Before joining HSUS in 2005, Paul founded Compassion Over Killing, where he worked as a farm animal cruelty investigator, primarily documenting conditions on egg and broiler factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants.

 

     Throughout 2008, one of Paul’s biggest priorities is promoting California’s Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. If passed in November, this voter initiative will phase out the confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, breeding pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates.

 

     “Many HSUS successes against factory farming would not have been achieved but for Paul’s initiative and execution,” says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “He is visionary, relentless, passionate and intelligent, and I thank my lucky stars he works for the organization.”

 

     Paul paused long enough to answer a few questions about his 15 years of activism.

 

Paul, I know you’ve been involved in animal activism since at least high school. What was the turning point for you? What made you realize animals need activists to speak up for them?

The first time I was exposed to our routine mistreatment of farm animals was in 1993, when a friend showed me some films of animals confined on factory farms and being abused at slaughter plants. I was horrified. Having lived with dogs my whole life – which admittedly was only 14 years long at that point – I looked into the terrified eyes of the animals in the video and saw my family dogs, struggling to free themselves from the cruelty that was obviously inescapable to any viewer. I imagined what I would have done to protect my dogs from such a fate, which of course was pretty much anything. I realized then that I was financing that violence every time I sat down to eat, so I became a vegetarian immediately, and as I learned more in the following few weeks, I became vegan.

 

What was the reaction from your family when you became vegan and an activist?

My brother was a vegetarian, but not yet vegan – he became vegan a few years later. Neither of my parents was vegetarian, and while they certainly made sure to provide vegan options, they were pretty skeptical at first. As time went on and they realized how mainstream vegan eating was becoming, not to mention how many good reasons there are to do it, they gradually starting eating lower on the food chain themselves. At this point they’re very supportive and far more animal-friendly than the average person.

 

Can you tell me about some of your early activism? What worked for you starting off – and what didn’t?

I started off as a high school student trying to make a difference in whatever ways I could. Whether it was serving vegan lunch to classmates to show them how easy humane eating really is (sometimes called a “feed-in”), putting on video showings about factory farming and slaughter plants or hosting animal protection speakers, there was no shortage of ways I found to be active for animals. Of course, there were some more confrontational tactics that as a teenager appealed to me, which I now recognize were not particularly effective. That’s not to say confrontation is always ineffective, but my views on animal advocacy – and many other things! – have evolved since I was 14 years old.

 

You’re one of the busiest animal activists I know. What’s a typical work day like for Paul Shapiro – and what do you do for fun?

That’s kind of you. Some of the folks I work with definitely have more on their plates than I do – their schedules are mind-boggling to me.

     Of course, I try to work as hard – and as smart – as I’d want someone working for me if I was the one confined in a factory farm. Advancing the interests of animals is very rewarding work, so it’s not a sacrifice to devote myself fully. Helping animals is my life, not just my job.

     A typical work day? Each week is different, especially during something as massive as California’s Prop 2 campaign. Right now, it’s Monday afternoon and I’m on a plane from DC to LA, where I’ll meet with local campaign coordinators tonight; we’re fortunate to have some of the best people working on this campaign. Really, it’s an honor to call them my friends. Tomorrow I’ve got a meeting in LA and then fly to San Francisco for a dinner meeting. Wednesday I’m back in Southern California giving a speech at a veterinary school. Thursday I’ve got both lunch and dinner meetings in Southern California with key campaign endorsers. Friday it’s back to DC for two days until getting on another plane to meet with a major food retailer about improving its animal welfare policies.

     My good friend Gene Baur regularly says that being in this field brings you into contact with the worst of human traits (cruelty, greed and selfishness) and the best of human traits (kindness, compassion and devotion to serving the less fortunate). One of the most heartening and rewarding parts of my work is having the privilege of meeting so many people across the country who epitomize the latter.

     As far as what I do for fun – keep in mind that I already find what I do to be pretty fun! But I also enjoy reading, politics, weight lifting and playing football. (Wow – that last sentence sounds eerily like a personal ad.) 

 

Speaking of Prop 2 , this California ballot measure is getting attention across the U.S. Why is Prop 2 a national issue?

It’s getting national attention because it’s an epic clash in the nation’s largest agricultural state. The campaign involves a very powerful and well-financed interest (the agribusiness lobby) going head-to-head against the animal protection, environmental and food safety movements. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

 

What are some of the lessons you learned from Compassion Over Killing, the organization you founded in 1995, that you are applying to your work at the Humane Society of the United States?

I think one of the things made crystal clear by Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States is the power of undercover exposés at factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants. Shining a bright spotlight on the very dark world of animal cruelty and allowing animals to “speak” for themselves can often be more powerful in changing hearts, minds, and policies than anything else.

 

What parallels can you draw between the animal rights movement and other social justice causes?

The most obvious similarity to me is that both the animal movement and many other social movements aim to lend a hand to those who can’t help themselves – to provide aid to those who are less fortunate and often at the mercy of others who are far more powerful. And of course, the most obvious difference is that the beneficiaries of our movement aren’t able to participate, nor are they even able to tell us what they’d like us to do for them. It’s a huge disadvantage for our work.

 

Many activists are aware of the debate between activists who work for incremental reform to relieve animal suffering versus strict abolitionists who think such so-called “welfarist” campaigns harm the movement. What’s your take on this debate and the effectiveness of incrementalism as a path to ending animal exploitation?

I think there’s a false dichotomy here and that most people understand that social change usually occurs incrementally.

     Could you imagine environmentalists opposing stricter emissions standards for vehicles, saying that they just make people feel better about driving even though they’re still polluting (although less)? Of course not. They recognize that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; we should applaud steps in the right direction while continuing to move the ball even further down the field.

     I don’t anticipate that we’ll reach societal agreement regarding the ethical permissibility (or lack thereof) of exploiting animals in the near future. Such a debate is important and should continue. I certainly come down on the side of those who would like to see an end to our often ruthless exploitation of animals – exploitation that requires animals to be treated as nothing more than mere commodities. At the same time, we have an obligation to immediately move the ball forward on eradicating areas of animal exploitation that most Americans already agree are simply unacceptable.

     There’s no excuse for failing to enact policies prohibiting many of the worst abuses animals face, and there are plenty to go around. This would reduce an enormous amount of animal suffering and demonstrate that we are indeed capable of restraining ourselves when it comes to the virtually unlimited power we hold over animals. This type of progress wouldn’t end the discussion as to whether or not we should exploit animals nor would it end all animal cruelty, but it would allow us to move in a direction nearly all of us agree is positive.

     As anyone familiar with social change knows, progress tends to beget progress. In other words, it’s pretty hard to go from A to Z without passing by 24 other letters first.

     Legendary 19th-century animal campaigner “Humanity Dick” Martin was once asked about the modesty of a bill he was trying to push through the British parliament. He responded that he’d gladly outlaw all cruelty to animals in a heartbeat if he could, “But if I can’t get 100 per cent, why then, I must be satisfied to take 50 or 25 per cent.”

     I don’t believe all animal advocates must work on campaigns to ban the most objectionable forms of animal abuse, but I think the animals who will certainly  be brought into existence and be exploited in the immediate future are sure glad that some are.

 

You’ve had many successes in recent years. Are there any you are especially proud of?

Everything I’ve done and continue to do is the result of team effort with so many of my close friends and fellow campaigners. We’re a relentless crew of folks who are adamant about generating concrete results for animals. As the late Henry Spira said, “Activism has to be results-oriented. Raising awareness is not enough.”

     Some of the work I’ve had the honor of playing a partial role in that has been particularly useful, in my opinion, includes banning gestation crates in Oregon, banning gestation and veal crates in Arizona and Colorado, ending the use of the “Animal Care Certified” logo on egg cartons, changing corporate policies to prohibit the use of battery eggs and producing HSUS’ Guide to Vegetarian Eating. Of course, the California campaign is likely to be the most important of anything I’ve had a hand in.

 

What advice do you give to people just starting out in animal activism?

It’s very easy – and common – for people who are just learning about the universe of misery we inflict on animals to become angry and resentful. It’s possible for us to feel so passionately about reducing animal suffering that we let that rage override effective communication with those who aren’t yet where we’re at. Anger and frustration may be understandable, but we need to take care not to let them overwhelm us and overshadow all of the positive steps we can take towards making a difference for animals.

     While those may be natural reactions, we shouldn’t just act in a manner that makes us feel good, but rather we should act in a manner that’s actually effective in creating tangible progress for animals.

     The vast majority of us weren’t raised as vegans. While we learn more about animal cruelty and move further along the path, it’s often difficult to remember that – just like our family members, friends, colleagues, and co-workers who aren’t vegan – we, too, once ate animals.

     Because of this, it’s often helpful to ask ourselves, “Why did I become vegan?” Chances are, we didn’t choose to strive toward cruelty-free living because someone yelled at us in a condemning tone. Likely, we adopted our diet because someone helped us see that choosing compassion over cruelty was a simple way to prevent needless suffering.

     We’re in a great position to effect positive change for animals by being their most effective and pragmatic ambassadors.

     Finally, I think many new – and older – activists who are interested in effective advocacy may find both the essay “A Meaningful Life” and the book Ethics Into Action interesting reads.

 

Congratulations to Paul for being inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame at the recent Animal Rights 2008 conference!


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