You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘vegan’ tag.
There’s been buzz within the animal rights community for some time regarding a work in progress called The Ghosts in Our Machine by Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall. This will be a feature-length documentary, but it will also be an online immersive narrative experience, says Liz, a director who combines cinematic storytelling with social and environmental justice issues. (Her previous film, Water on the Table, documented the quest to have water declared a human right.) The Ghosts in Our Machine not only explores the hidden world of factory farming, but it introduces viewers to individual animals, focusing on their sentience, their beauty, and their pain. These animals are the ghosts in our machine. Liz is going full blast and is about halfway through with the project, but she took some time to give us a glimpse into Ghosts.
Your work has explored a number of social justice issues, from sweatshop labor in Mexico and Bangladesh and global water rights to corporate malfeasance and the rights of girls in developing countries. What brought animal exploitation to your attention?
Two people and one animal: My life partner Lorena Elke, a longtime vegan and a highly principled activist. Her outlook has impacted me, and she has made me rethink our relationship to animals. Jo-Anne McArthur’s photographs of animals pose the moral questions I think most people grapple with. Her images have inspired the approach I am taking with the film. My late dog Troy Celina Marshall (RIP: 1994-2011) was a deep friend who taught me many essential truths. She lives on in my heart.
I have always been sensitive to injustice and the suffering around us, which is why I became vegetarian in 1988 and vegan during the making of The Ghosts in Our Machine, and which is why I am drawn to exploring social issues as a filmmaker. I have primarily focused on human rights and more recently on the environment. The animal rights’ ethos is still relatively new to me. It’s a journey of discovery into what is a complex social issue — one that needs to be considered morally significant.
It’s great to hear that Jo-Anne McArthur has a central role in Ghosts. Why did you choose to tell this story through her lens?
I started with Jo’s photographs as an entry point and visual compass to anchor the film. As I zoomed out, I saw the person and realized that she would make a compelling human entry point to help tell a complicated story. As a filmmaker, I am drawn to character-driven narratives, and several individual animals are central in the film, but I also wanted a strong empathic human at the center, and that’s Jo. She is full of hope, empathy, courage, and she is a free spirit with a good sense of humor, too. She is also a woman on the precipice of breaking out into the mainstream as an important activist-photographer, and the film captures this arc as a symbolic backdrop.
In working on this film, have you encountered any animals who had a special impact on you?
Yes. In the summer of 2011 we were in development and we travelled to upstate New York to film the first story of the film: the rescue of Fanny and Sonny by Farm Sanctuary. Fanny and Sonny were “downed” factory farmed food animals destined to be sold to a rendering plant, but they now live happily at Farm Sanctuary and continue to be featured in the film. Fanny was a “spent dairy” cow and Sonny a one-day-old dying “veal” calf. Through this story, my eyes were opened to the realities of the dairy industry, and I became vegan. Cutting out dairy continues to make sense to me, and now that I have a distance from it, I can see just how collectively ignorant society is about the dairy industry. There is a myth that cows naturally produce milk for humans. I look forward to the extensive discussions and “a-ha” moments that are sparked for people.
You’ve described The Ghosts in Our Machine as a cross-platform documentary. What platforms will it incorporate?
The Ghosts in Our Machine project offers many interactive possibilities and a community building environment that is attracting a broad spectrum of animal lovers.
On June 5th we are excited to unveil a new magazine themed website: www.theghostsinourmachine.com. Join our Facebook page — it is an active and diverse space for sharing and for dialogue. Although we are just halfway through production, we have over 2000 fans from around the world.
Here are some selected examples of our online presence:
The Ghost Free Journey (GFJ) is a bimonthly online interactive blog that to date has taken place exclusively on our Facebook wall. It has been an educational, supportive and community building initiative, and now we are pleased to announce that in July of 2012 we will officially kick off the GFJ on our website, to give it more prominence and to give it a home!
A flash-based immersive story will be prominently featured on our website in 2013 created by the Webby award-winning interactive art directors The Goggles. It will provide a full-screen interactive experience that follows me and Jo-Anne McArthur on a journey of discovery through the questions and issues of animal rights. What excites me the most is that it will be a powerful vehicle to inspire our audience to go further with the subject matter.
People can also check out our Ghost Stories and Trailers on our Vimeo channel.
What do you hope to achieve with The Ghost in Our Machine?
A lasting awareness that as individual consumers we can make a difference for the Ghosts, each and every day.
When will people get to see it?
The feature-length documentary and the online immersive story will premiere together in early 2013. A double whammy!
How can people get involved in the discussion?
Please tell your friends about us.
Back in 2009, I wrote about the value of “one-click activism”; that is, using the Internet to participate in positive changes for animals. Since then there have been a number of headline-grabbing stories that involve activists using the Internet, from the more than 31,000 Change.org community members who helped convince the Food Network to stop featuring sharks as food to an online protest that led to the cancellation of a dog-meat festival in China last month. Now, I’m not suggesting that such armchair activism can ever replace more traditional avenues of campaigning. But as a tool for change, Web 2.0 activism is becoming undeniably important.
Change.org is one organization in an emerging field that is using the Internet to help people turn clicks into social change. To get an idea just how valuable online petitions have become, I asked two Change.org editors, Sarah Parsons and Stephanie Feldstein, to offer their insights. Sarah writes about food-related subjects on the site, and Stephanie is focused on animal issues. I began by asking Sarah how petitions on the site are created and who can create them. “Anybody, anywhere can create a petition,” she said. “We’ve had everyone from individuals to national non-profits. We try to promote petitions that have broad appeal to a fairly sizable audience. We do feature local campaigns as well, but they should be something that people in other parts of the country can relate to. We also want to make sure it’s something that is timely — that we feel can make an impact in the immediate future, rather than something that might take several years to accomplish.”
In addition to the recent success story about the Food Network, Change.org features a number of victories for animals, such as Urban Outfitters apologizing for selling real fur and a town in the UK halting a factory farm. But are all such victories directly linked to petitions, or are other factors involved? “It depends,” said Sarah. “Sometimes the online petition is the driving factor that creates the change; other times it’s just one piece of the puzzle. There could be an organization or individuals who are doing some on-the-ground organizing, who are holding protests or rallies or who are working with other groups to apply pressure. Sometimes the online petition is the main pressure point and other times it’s just one tool that is being used as part of a broader effort.”
I asked Stephanie how animal issues rank with Change.org’s members. “While we don’t have a ranking system among our causes,” she said, “animal issues are consistently among the most popular, both in terms of people coming to Change.org to sign campaigns and to start campaigns.” Okay, I responded, tell us a little about those campaigns. Which petitions for animals strike you as particularly meaningful? Stephanie said that one of the biggest victories they’ve had was working with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) to push for reform to British Columbia’s animal cruelty laws. (Ian Somerhalder is anactor best known for his roles on Lost and The Vampire Diaries.) “When the story broke earlier this year that 100 sled dogs had been executed after a slow tourist season, animal activists around the world were furious,” explained Stephanie. “Ian wanted to make sure this kind of cruelty didn’t happen again, so ISF started a petition on Change.org, which laid out an ambitious list of improvements to British Columbia’s laws. More than 60,000 Change.org members joined the campaign. When the Sled Dog Task Force — which had been appointed in the wake of the public outcry about the 100 slaughtered sled dogs — submitted its final report to the government, it cited ISF’s Change.org petition, and nearly every recommendation from the petition was adopted by the provincial government.” She is also proud that their petition in support of the California bill on the sale and possession of shark fins attracted more than 27,000 signatures. The governor signed the bill into law last week.
One of the most encouraging aspects of online petitions is that they don’t take a lot of signatures to become an agent of change. “We had one campaign targeting Citibank Singapore, which was offering an incentive for new members to get a discount at a restaurant that served shark fin soup,” said Sarah. “The petition had about 75 signatures in 24 hours, and that was enough to get them to pull that promotion. So it’s not necessarily the number of signatures; sometimes just bringing it to a company’s attention is enough to get them to move on something.” But, I wondered, when a company like Citibank makes a change, how do you know it’s because of the petition? “You have to look at what else is going on in the space. If there are other organizations working on the same issue then you can’t say it was only because of this petition. But in the Citibank case in particular, there was really only this online petition that was calling them out to stop running this promotion. And as soon as the petition started, they ended up pulling the offer. We’ve also had companies respond to our petitions, and sometimes we work with them. It’s not always an antagonistic relationship. Sometimes a company is very willing to work with you as long as you bring it to their attention.”
Sarah acknowledged that a lot of activists consider social media activism to be a waste of time. “Certainly there’s this criticism that just signing an online petition is slacktivism, and that criticism will probably always exist,” she said. “But I think what our platform shows is that online petitions can be very powerful, and as we move into an increasingly technological age, communications via the Internet is really the wave of the future. It’s not slacktivism; it’s just modern.”
Sarah ended our conversation with this advice: “Don’t ever feel there’s nothing you can do. If you see a problem in your community or the country at large, there is a way for one person to make an impact. There’s no issue that’s too big or too small. It doesn’t cost any money. All you need is an Internet connection.”
Last weekend in Vancouver, nearly 100 people gathered at the city’s public library to hear lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project, speak about food justice. The talk was organized by the Vancouver-based group Liberation BC, a grassroots organization I’ve blogged about before. lauren’s talk was so in-depth that I couldn’t possibly cover everything in a blog post, but I will offer some highlights along with some background on her nonprofit organization.
lauren has been active in the animal rights movement for more than two decades, and in that time, she’s not only learned how to be a very effective advocate, but, as she explained to attendees Saturday night, she’s come to realize how many social injustices revolve around food. Although she is at heart an animal rights advocate, lauren began her activism campaigning against apartheid and the oppression of farm workers when she was still in high school and looked to role models like Steven Biko, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to inspire her. Then she learned about factory farming.
“I was a vegetarian by age 16, but I knew absolutely nothing about how animals were raised for food,” she told the audience. “I just knew I didn’t want to take a life. I’m from Texas, so every time we’d drive around and see the cows, I’d think, ‘How sad would it be for that baby calf to come home one day and the mom’s not there.’” She eventually learned about animal agriculture, and with her mother working two jobs to raise three daughters by herself, lauren and her family frequently dined on fast food and TV dinners. “It was what was convenient,” she said, explaining that it planted the seed that would come to be Food Empowerment Project, an all-volunteer organization that looks beyond single issues to educate people not just about the abuse of farmed animals, but about a community’s lack of access to organic produce, factory farms destroying the environment and even injustices perpetuated by large corporations, such as Coca-Cola privatizing and commodifying water.
lauren always struggled with wanting to tackle both animal rights and human rights. “A lot of animal rights activists were upset with me because when I would do radio interviews, I would talk about the grape boycott, or I would talk about another issue — not just animals. They felt I was doing the animals an injustice.” In 2006, she addressed the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela. “I spoke about all the different ways corporate animal farms exploit animals, workers and the environment.” But when attendees at the forum asked who was working on these issues internationally, there was no one lauren could refer them to. “I realized that every single thing that I cared passionately about revolved around food. Water privatization, animals killed for food, immigration, labor issues — everything. That’s where the concept for Food Empowerment Project came to me.” By talking about food and seeing it as a valuable outreach opportunity, lauren believes Food Empowerment Project can have a powerful impact.
After an enlightening discussion of animal cruelties — including the killing of sharks for their fins — lauren addressed a number issues that are probably new to many animal activists.
“Food Empowerment Project recognizes that eating cruelty-free is not just about being vegan,” she said. Because vegans encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, we have a greater responsibility to lend our support to the farm workers who help put that produce on our tables. These workers — many of whom are migrants struggling to eke out a living for their families — are without many of the rights other workers enjoy, they spend countless hours bending over in blistering heat and may even die from sun stroke. Even reaching a farm to work on can be dangerous for these workers, said lauren. “Workers coming up from Mexico have to cross the border, and it’s becoming more regular for the women to start taking birth control pills in advance because of all the rape that is happening.”
Another issue lauren addressed on Saturday evening was related to the chocolate industry. “We encourage people to only buy vegan chocolate that does not come from the slave trade,” she said. “Fair trade isn’t enough.”
“In our investigation of the chocolate industry, we’ve found that the majority of chocolate is coming from Ghana and the Ivory Coast.” Kids are kidnapped, some are sold, she said, for chocolate. “What I mean by sold is that the mom might have her sister’s husband watch her kids for an afternoon. When she comes back, the kids are gone because the kids have been sold into slavery. There are also other people who choose to work in the cacao farms in Ghana and the Ivory Coast because they are promised — kind of like migrant farm workers are — a good wage, a good living, that they’ll make some money. What happens is, when they get to these farms they’re locked in at night. … If they try to leave, they are beaten or killed.”
After researching the chocolate industry, Food Empowerment Project offers a list of chocolates on its web site. The list is broken down into companies the nonprofit can recommend, companies it cannot recommend but that are working on the slavery issue, companies it cannot recommend and are not working on the issue and companies that either won’t divulge where their chocolate comes from or simply refused to respond to queries from the nonprofit. “The worst part of that list?” said lauren. “The majority of the companies are vegan. We encourage you to write them and not only ask, ‘Where do you get your chocolate from?’ but say, ‘I’m not going to buy your products until you tell me.’”
lauren noted that Martin Luther King, Jr., became the most powerful (and thus was followed and tracked by the U.S. government) not when he was just talking about civil rights, but when he began bringing other social justice issues together. “When he started talking about the janitors struggling in Chicago, when he started talking against the war in Vietnam, that’s when they got scared of him, because he was widening his circle of people he was working with. He was expanding that circle of compassion to other beings. I feel that when we do that, we will be so much stronger.”
Leafleting has long been a standard form of activism in the animal rights movement. Indeed, it’s considered so effective that at least one nonprofit — Vegan Outreach — has been built around the premise that reaching out to the public, especially college students, with free information on the plight of animals used for food and encouraging people to go vegan is an easy and generally non-confrontational model of speaking up for animals. We’re not terribly surprised to hear when an activist is arrested at a demonstration, but leafleters have always enjoyed a lower profile, offering pamphlets and other literature to passersby; in fact, the Vegan Outreach site touts, “None of us have ever been arrested.”
Looks like they’ll have to update that page. This week, activist Nikki Benoit of Vegan Outreach was arrested as she was handing out leaflets at Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa, California. “Numerous attorneys have reiterated that we have a constitutional right to hand out free literature — drama-free — and anywhere, really, especially in California, which has very inclusive free speech rights,” says Benoit, adding that the campus security officer “manhandled me, even while I was handcuffed.”
Although this arrest is rare, it is not unheard of, and the law supports the rights of activists leafleting on public college campuses. In fact, in the case of Jones v. the Board of Regents of the University of Arizona (1970), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that non-students not only have the right to exercise free speech on campuses, but that colleges and universities are obliged to provide these individuals with police protection to ensure their rights are not violated. Not that campuses always obey the court. In 2008, for example, an employee with Jews for Jesus was arrested for handing out leaflets at San Francisco City College. The employee successfully sued the college in 2009, with the court ruling they had violated his freedom of speech.
A lawsuit is also what Benoit’s lawyer has in mind. “I will first get the criminal charge dismissed, and then we will sue the police for violation of her civil rights,” says attorney Bryan Pease. “Nikki was well within her constitutional rights, and the crime she was charged with requires interfering with the peaceful conduct of activities on the campus. Passing out leaflets does not meet that test and is quintessential free speech.”
The larger question for activists, though, is should they be worried about leafleting? Benoit was making a stand at OCC; she was tired of being told by faculty and campus police at some colleges that she had to sign in before leafleting, limit her leafleting to a designated “free-speech zone” or be restricted to a table, where students could approach her. But that doesn’t mean activists need to risk arrest. According to the Legal Questions about Leafleting page on the Vegan Outreach site, if you have a problem with campus security, stay calm and polite. You can either stop leafleting immediately and leave, or you can remind authorities that you have a constitutional right to distribute literature. Pease cautions that “the police may make up a charge like they did in Nikki’s case,” but authorities “should recognize there is no chargeable offense for handing out leaflets in a public forum.”
Benoit says she’s been standing up to campus bullies for some time now and that police are usually unable to cite her and other activists who refuse to give up their constitutional rights. “At Southwestern College in Chula Vista a couple weeks ago, the security guard was writing my citation and learned there was nothing to cite me with,” she says.
Whenever I consider the power of leafleting, I am reminded of Nathan Runkle, who not only went vegan but later founded Mercy For Animals (MFA) — an organization known for exposing the suffering of animals in factory farms — because he was inspired by a piece of animal rights literature someone had given him when he was 11 years old. For additional information on leafleting, check out this video from MFA.
Back on July 12, Shane Close launched something that has become a familiar experiment: he began 90 days of meatless living. His journey started with a month as a vegetarian, then he went vegan for 45 days, finally spending the last two weeks eating a raw vegan diet. But Shane, a filmmaker, added a twist, chronicling the process in a documentary. The final day of his journey was October 9, and now Shane hopes to get Meatless: The Movie into the festival circuit through his company, Big Happy Films.
It was after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma that Shane decided to accept his wife’s challenge: could he give up meat? The longtime meat-lover made daily blog posts on his culinary adventures, documenting both the highs and lows of navigating a brave new world. Here’s what he told me about his three meatless months.
Why document your journey on film?
Personally, I think there are a lot of average Joes out there like myself who are completely ignorant to vegetarian diets, what it means, why people do it and especially how easy or difficult the transition is. Since there are so many forms of vegetarian diets, I felt that it was important to explore a few and document what I found and how I felt along the way.
Had you tried being vegan before?
Before embarking on this journey, I had never even considered a vegetarian diet, let alone a vegan diet. To be honest, I think I was just as ignorant as a lot of people out there and thought it was a hippie, New Age, animal-rights-extremist way of eating, and I wanted no part of it. When you don’t grow up in major cities, typically coastal, or in progressive communities, it’s hard to grasp any informed perspectives or gain any understanding of these types of ideologies. You only know what the media portrays and what those around you have to say ― who, I might add, are equally ignorant on the subject.
What have you found the most difficult part of being vegan?
I think after getting over the initial hump of making the transition, figuring out what you can and cannot eat and how difficult navigating a grocery store can be, the most difficult part would have to be traveling, eating out or anytime you are out of the comfort zone of your own kitchen. If I have control over the stovetop, I can make a mean vegan dinner. Take me away from that level of control and I get confused, frustrated and grumpy, as the film will show.
What’s been the easiest?
The easiest part has to be when you realize just how often you are eating vegan, or near vegan, and with slight modification, meals you regularly enjoy can be completely vegan. Everything from Italian food, Japanese, Indian, Mexican and even some down-home country cooking.
What kind of support did you get from friends, family and the veg community?
That has been the most amazing part of this journey, by far. The people who have opened their hearts, homes, voices and support have been incredible. My family has been incredibly supportive, and my wife has been absolutely amazing. The participants in the film continue to surprise me with their willingness to get involved in this project. But by far, the vegan community has been the most supportive. They post regularly on my blog or Meatless: The Movie Facebook page with information, uplifting messages when I am in a rough stage, and even send me care packages full of everything from DVDs and books, to vegan foods and deserts. I can only say, vegans should be proud of their peeps in Boulder, Colorado. I have also received emails from people all across the world wanting to see the film. As far away as Europe, Australia and the UAE.
No one could ever accuse Nora Kramer of being a quitter. When she was laid off from her job last year, the longtime animal activist took advantage of the extra time she had to jump right in and start something new. The result is a summer program developed around young people who want to make a difference. Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA) got off to a great start last summer, and this year promises to be even better.
“We will have camp in Oregon and two sessions in California, so we’ll reach three times as many kids,” explains Nora. “And we are clarifying our focus on four things that all of our core activities are geared around: building knowledge, skills, confidence and community to empower effective activism.” This year, campers will be asked to take on a project and spend at least an hour a week on it after camp.
Nora says there will also be more attention on animal rights issues. “We have gotten a lot of media recently from the AR/veg community, and as a result, we have more youth who are choosing that issue this year than we did last year.” Other social justice issues covered at YEA Camp will include racism, gay rights and poverty, with each camper choosing his or her area of interest.
The California camp will be located at the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond and will be divided into two sessions. Session I is July 25 through July 30, and Session II is July 31 through August 5. The Oregon camp will be August 14 through August 21 at Camp Onahlee in Molalla, 25 miles from Portland.
YEA Camp costs $800 for the full program. The price includes comfortable cabin lodging, nutritious vegan food, all activities and workshops, a highly experienced adult staff and inclusion in the post-camp mentoring program, through which campers will apply what they learn to real-world activism opportunities. Nora says that scholarships are available for those who might need financial assistance.
As with many animal activists, my path to advocacy has been crisscrossed with life-changing intersections and punctuated by important milestones. One of the most influential landmarks in my road to activism was Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, which compares myths about meat-eating with myths about what it means to be a man. Reading Carol’s book, it is impossible to ignore how a patriarchal society has marketed eating animal flesh as manly and debased women along the way. She’s also the author of many other books, including Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarian’s Survival Handbook, and co-editor of The Feminist Care Tradition in Animal Ethics: A Reader. Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Carol about animal activism. Our conversation ranged from using social networks to whether activists need to watch disturbing undercover video footage. Not surprisingly, Carol began with a topic that’s close to her heart.
“We’ve got a problem with sexism in the movement, so that the people who traditionally have cared, who are women, are not always heard as well as male philosophers are,” she said. “The male philosophers the animal rights movement has held up are really wonderful people, but they draw on a male-based philosophy — that of rights or Utilitarianism — and this assumes the individual is autonomous, and it’s a male model, emphasizing rationality over caring and autonomy over interdependence. One thing the animal rights movement needs to do is to become more alert to incorporating feminist attitudes throughout the movement. So instead of having nearly-naked women saying, ‘Stop harming animals,’ we should have a variety of people saying, ‘I care about animals, and I’m a better person for that.’ Not, ‘I’m a better person than you, but maybe a better person than I was.’ Instead of being absolutely confrontational, so that we allow other people to take their unease with emotions and bring it out of themselves and blame us for making them feel uncomfortable, we can find a variety of ways to help people sit with their feelings and learn how to listen to those feelings.”
Carol, who has devoted much of her writing to exploring the links between species oppression and gender oppression, said the animal rights movement often disowns women and disowns emotions that are equated with women. “So I feel like we have to evolve the movement to lift up caring and lift up the people who care — i.e., women — rather than sexualizing them, and appealing to socialized men who have been taught that maleness equals not caring.” She believes that when it comes to animals, many otherwise caring people keep their feelings at arm’s length. “When someone tells me, ‘I don’t want to know what’s happening to animals; I’m afraid to care,’ I often say, ‘Tell me about your childhood relationships with animals.’ I want to know what kinds of scars there are from a time when they might have cared and what happened to that caring. I’ve looked at how families handle the death of a pet in the United States, and they do it really terribly — ‘Oh, it was only a pet,’ ‘We can get a new one,’ ‘Oh, stop crying’ — so that part of the movement to adulthood is putting down the feelings that are associated with being a child. But those are really good and honest feelings. That’s why in my own writing I’ve written prayers that speak in the voice of a child who’s lost a beloved companion animal to provide a way to show that grief is part of what we are going to feel if we care about animals, and to model how to move through grief.”
Yet in responding to the plight of farmed animals, Carol said, female animals are often overlooked. “It’s this abuse of female reproductivity that disappears from the radar so often. I mean, I know that animal rights groups are lifting it up more and more, but I still think that the fate of the dairy cow and the egg-laying hen is one of the most serious issues for us to address. If we eliminated forcing cows to get pregnant, you’d eliminate 50 percent of hamburgers, too.” She noted that meat-eating would not exist if female animals were not exploited. Yet, she observed, meat-eaters still manage to take credit for the presence of animals on Earth. “Meat-eaters argue, ‘Well, the animals come into life, into existence, because we want to eat them. The animals owe us their lives.’ No, the animals come into existence and owe their mothers their lives. It’s the mothers who are being the most oppressed because they’re going through constant pregnancy.”
As our conversation turned to the use of hidden cameras to capture graphic images that can be used to educate consumers and activists alike, Carol said she worries that the animal rights movement might focus too narrowly on these upsetting videos. “I think that sometimes that’s not necessarily going to be the best way to change people. I don’t want to just shock people. I know some people are changed that way. I remember when I used to go to AR conferences they’d have this one room that just showed a film with one horrible image after another. The young people coming out of that room were weeping and feeling so powerless. In terms of change, I know there’s a new Mercy For Animals video that’s tied to the egg industry. I appreciate their work, but I can’t watch these anymore, and I think it’s OK to say to people, ‘You don’t have to watch these. What we’re looking for is consciousness.’ We don’t need, necessarily, to have these images burned on our retinas.”
When I mentioned that some activists feel we owe it to the animals to watch such videos, she said, “Again, it’s a male model of change versus a feminist model of change. It’s not about owing. It’s about asking, ‘How can I nurture the best relationship possible for all animals?’ I’m an animal, too. I do not need to inflict suffering on myself if the consciousness of what’s going on is already there. I think women often are going to be more obedient to these exhortations because, again, of the sexism in our society. But if a lot of women already are socialized to care, then our experience of those videos may be drastically different, and I think that needs to be acknowledged. Extraordinary expectations do not need to be laid down on animal activists. We’re already there. We should ask, ‘What’s the best I can do as an individual linking up with others?’ Everyone answers that differently, but our answers become part of a chorus that’s the same.”
Besides videos, then, what tools for change does Carol recommend? “In Living Among Meat Eaters I ask, ‘How do we know how change happens? Why do we think there’s one model for change?’ I think we fail to recognize that the right brain can also bring about change. That you can incubate and you can be stimulated by art to change. I think because activists are often more likely to be left brained and rational, they fail to take account of the way the right brain can be enlisted to help people change. In the book I say that meat-eaters are perfectly happy eating vegan meals, as long as they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. What I mean by that is people hate being self-conscious about what they’re eating. Eating is supposed to be directly experiential — it’s not supposed to have a theory to it. People think vegans are going to examine everything. One of the most important things I think we do is just having vegan meals for people. They leave and think, ‘Gee, Carol’s a vegan. That was a really great risotto; it was so creamy. So…that was a vegan risotto.’ So I’ve given them a chance to incubate, and the next time they come back to me they’re not as threatened, because I’ve enlisted their right brain to work with me rather than just arguing with the left brain that might not want to change.”Carol also likes Facebook, which she joined earlier this year. “When I get friended by someone I don’t know, I generally accept the friending, but I’ll ask them to tell me about their activism,” she said. “Oh my gosh, the wonderful responses I’ve gotten! People write, ‘Thank you for asking,’ and often they’ll talk about the influence of my books. Some will say, ‘I’m a quiet activist. I’m uncomfortable speaking in public. But I make vegan meals.’ Some say, ‘I’m a full-time teacher, but I also write letters, or rescue strays and help them get new homes, or I’m doing this or organizing that.’ I’m just so grateful for them. No one has to tell them to go watch a video. They’re way beyond that.”
My sincere thanks to Carol Adams for her time and her contributions to the movement. You can learn more about Carol’s work at her Web site.
Animal activism need not mean protesting a fur boutique or even handing out vegan leaflets at a local college (though I recommend both). Advocating for animals can be as simple as telling one person why you adopted a plant-based diet. In fact, such one-on-one conversations can often be more effective than a large demonstration, allowing someone to see that animal activists are not that different from other people. In the spirit of simplicity, here are ten very easy things you can do for animals.
1. Wear pro-veg buttons, a t-shirt or hat. Bruce Friedrich has a great technique for engaging strangers in conversation about animals. He wears a shirt reading “Ask Me Why I’m a Vegetarian.” When someone asks, rather than launching into an angry diatribe about animal abuse, Bruce asks the other person, “Do you eat meat?” The person generally says, “Yes,” to which Bruce responds, “Why?” The person will answer with something like, “Well, I like the taste.” Bruce will then ask, “Well, what do you know about factory farming?” And so a dialog begins. I wear a button reading “Ask Me Why I’m Vegan” (which I coincidentally bought from Bruce at a PETA event years ago). I’ve learned to keep my responses simple, and I always keep some pro-veg literature with me, in case someone is interested in learning more.
2. Add an animal-friendly message to your voice mail. If you’ve ever been put on hold (and who hasn’t?), chances are you’ve listened to a pre-recorded message touting commercial products and services. This same idea can be applied to animal rights using your home answering machine by asking callers to go veg. You can also do this on your cell phone. It can be as simple as recording your usual greeting and then adding, “Before you leave a message, I’d like to remind you that a great way to relieve animal suffering, help the planet and improve your health is to switch to a plant-based diet. For more information, please visit goveg.com.” Of course, your recording can promote any campaign or urge callers to adopt from shelters rather than buying from pet stores ― just keep it to one message or call to action per recording.
3. Take advantage of social-media sites. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook have doubled or even tripled in membership over the last year. In the words of Internet consultant Clay Shirky, media is now “global, social, ubiquitous and cheap.” That’s good news for us and good news for the animals we’re working to protect. So use social sites to the fullest by becoming an active community member on Facebook, Twitter, Care2, MySpace or whatever sites appeal to you and allow you to share campaign news, undercover videos, links, recipes, etc. If you post blogs, ask friends to vote for your posts via sites like StumbleUpon and Digg. Votes result in higher visibility — and more attention on your cause. Also, remember that new social media sites pop up constantly, so keep current on what’s happening in the world of Web 2.0. A great place to do this is by visiting the social media guide Mashable.
4. Use charity search engines that donate to animal organizations. Charity search engines earn revenue by displaying advertisements alongside your search results, and you use them as you would normally use Google, Yahoo or other search engines. While there are a lot of these charity-based search engines, not all of them allow users to designate which non-profits receive donations. Two sites that do allow users to choose animal-advocacy organizations are iGive.com and GoodSearch.com. You should also note that some sites, without any input from users, donate to organizations many animal advocates oppose. CharityCafe.com, for example, donates to Oxfam, which exploits animals. So be sure to do a little homework before signing up. For a list of charity search engines, click here. By the way, Mashable is building on this donation model to create a large-scale online charitable campaign called the Summer of Social Good, half the proceeds of which will go to the Humane Society of the United States and WWF.
5. Add a link to the auto-signature of your email. Auto-signatures are an easy way to automatically distribute information every time you send an email. And the possibilities are endless: you can link to campaigns, videos, free veg starter kits, organizations ― you name it.
6. Bring a batch of vegan cookies or brownies to work or school. Nothing brings people together like delicious treats. This is a great way to show people that, yes, you can make wonderful food without animal-based ingredients. Click here for some sweet recipes.
7. Use animal-friendly URLs when posting comments on blogs. Take advantage of the Internet by commenting on any blog post that focuses on animal issues — pro or con. And if the blog allows you to include a Web site, use a URL that relates to your comment. For example, if you’re commenting about how easy it is to be a vegan, you could use goveg.com or tryveg.com; if your comment has to do with circuses, use circuses.com, which exposes the truth under the big top. You get the idea. My point is, don’t waste the opportunity to provide a link that I guarantee you people will click on when they see your name highlighted. Tip: A great way to find blogs in the first place is to use Google Alerts, which will automatically email you any time a news story or blog is posted with the key words you’ve chosen (e.g., “vegan,” “animal testing,” “puppy mills”).
8. Bring a vegan entrée to a family gathering. Social occasions need not be awkward for the veg-minded. By bringing a great vegan dish, you not only show others how fantastic and satisfying plant-based meals are, but you’re sure to have at least one thing to eat! If you don’t have a favorite vegan cookbook ― or you’re just looking for some simple ideas ― check out this list from Erik Marcus. You might also want to visit vegcooking.com.
9. Ask your school cafeteria, favorite restaurants and grocery markets to offer more vegan options. In the world of the almighty dollar, nothing ensures a business will carry animal-friendly items like consumer demand. So be sure to tell managers and owners where you shop and eat that you’d like to see more vegan items on shelves and menus. Oh, and if they do honor your request, encourage your friends to vote with their wallets by ordering or buying the vegan items.
10. Keep a few leaflets with you. It’s a good idea to have some pro-veg brochures or other vegan-advocacy literature in your backpack, purse or jacket when you’re out in public. I find these to be incredibly handy, especially in situations where there’s not a lot of time for discussion or if you’re somewhat new to activism. Some excellent choices are Why Vegan?, Even If You Like Meat and a Guide to Cruelty-Free Eating from Vegan Outreach and the vegetarian starter kits from FARM. PETA offers a guide to compassionate living that’s a nice resource to have on hand, too.
When I first heard that activist and graphic designer Josh Hooten was going to ride his bike 600 miles to raise awareness for animals, I was heartened and impressed. Six hundred miles on a bike is no easy task. That’s roughly the distance from San Francisco to San Diego; I don’t even like driving that far. But Josh is doing it for a great cause: he’s both celebrating 10 years of being vegan and he’s benefiting Farm Sanctuary, which he acknowledges had a major influence on him a decade ago.
“I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Farm Sanctuary, but I was living in Boston back then and involved in the punk scene,” Josh says. “There were ― and are — a lot of animal rights people in that scene, and Farm Sanctuary is a well-known organization on the east coast, as well as other places, obviously. The first I really remember learning the story of Farm Sanctuary was through Eric Weiss, who worked at Satya magazine, and for Eddie Lama, and is an amazing activist. He did a music zine called Rumpshaker, which was amazing — truly one of the best ever. He did an article on the farm and on [co-founders] Gene and Lorri. Hearing the story of Hilda and of their dedication and pioneering work really moved me. It took me awhile after that to finally go vegan, but Farm Sanctuary had a real effect on my decision and therefore on my life.”
After 10 years of vegan living, Josh will be giving back to the organization that inspired him by pedaling from his home in Portland, Oregon (where he and his wife, Michelle Schwegmann, run the ultra-hip Herbivore Clothing Company), down to Farm Sanctuary’s California shelter in Orland. His plan is to leave the first week of May and arrive at Farm Sanctuary in time to emcee their annual Country Hoe Down on May 16 and 17. (Look for the tired guy with the big smile.)
In addition to donations for Farm Sanctuary, Josh is hoping for another form of support. “I’m going to ask non-vegans to go vegan for the days that I’m riding down,” he says. “It’ll be nine or 10 days of pretty serious biking, so I’m asking folks who want to support me to do so by being vegan for those days if they aren’t already.”
Josh is busy training for the long ride, and he’s taking some beautiful photographs along the way. See it all and learn more at http://joshivore.blogspot.com/.
When 10 activists from Austria’s Association Against Animal Factories (“Verein gegen Tierfabriken,” or VGT) were arrested in May 2008 and charged with “suspected forming of a criminal organization in connection with direct animal right actions,” activists around the world were quick to show their support. Animal Liberation Victoria even carried out an open rescue in solidarity with the prisoners, saving 13 hens from a battery-egg operation in June. All the attention shined a spotlight on the Austrian government, which released the activists in September. Clearly, in an age when the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act can become law with hardly an objection from lawmakers, anyone might find themselves behind bars for voicing an opinion not in step with the status quo.
“It’s important for us to be vocal and active about supporting people who have been incarcerated for defending animals ― or even just speaking out in their defense ― because it relays a clear message that the people abusing animals are the real criminals, not the people trying to protect them,” says Dallas Rising, president of Support Vegans in the Prison System (Support VIPS). “Supporting political prisoners of any kind makes a difference for the individual, but especially for animal rights activists. The average animal rights prisoner has very little in common with the general prison population, so having a connection to people who share a similar value system can be very important to people who are isolated, bored and frustrated by the lack of meaningful exchange in their environment.”
Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for liberating animals from several fur farms in 1997, believes that supporting humans in prison sends a strong message to activists that there is a safety net for them if they are caught engaging in illegal actions on behalf of non-human animals. “This peace of mind makes the work of people fighting for animals under darkness much easier,” he says. “I have also found the stories of animal rights prisoners to be powerful outreach. These stories of people breaking the law to save animals raise the bar and bring those new to the issue a sense that if other people are willing to break the law to save animals, the least they can do is be vegan.”
There are many ways to help imprisoned activists, and providing a little support to someone facing years in jail can buoy that person’s morale and nurture solidarity in the movement. I am going to focus on five main methods: writing letters, sending books, visiting, helping vegan inmates get plant-based food and providing financial support (sending money, helping with legal expenses, etc.).
The first step is knowing where inmates are, and the easiest place to find addresses for animal activists serving time is the Internet:
- Bite Back magazine maintains a list of prisoners that the publisher updates weekly.
- The Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) site lists activists currently serving sentences for their actions against Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).
- The Vegan Prisoners Support Group lists inmates in the UK (including SHAC).
- A SHAC7 support site in the US is also worth checking out.
Cards and letters are paramount to relieving an inmate’s feeling of isolation; however, all mail is opened and read by prison officials, so don’t write anything that may cause problems for the prisoner. “Depending on the prisoner, do not discuss the case or anything related to the case,” advises attorney Shannon Keith, who has represented a number of animal rights activists and campaigns, including SHAC and Sea Shepherd. “Do not discuss your feelings about whether the person is innocent or guilty.” She also says that most prisons do not accept anything other than letters and photos. “So, no stickers ― especially no animal rights stickers. No pictures depicting protests.”
Dallas cautions supporters not to take it personally if the inmate doesn’t respond. “It is not about you,” she says. “Don’t get upset if the person doesn’t write back to you, especially if they didn’t know you before going in. And even if they did know you, they may not have the mental or emotional energy to write back. Or they simply may not have the time.”
Unless you’re lucky enough to have unlimited time and resources, commit to writing just one or two inmates, and do it consistently.
Here are a few more letter-writing do’s and don’ts.
- Write on both sides of the paper.
- Write your address on the letter or card.
- Number the pages of your letter.
- Make sure the content of any photos you sent is appropriate; write the inmate’s name and prisoner ID number on the back of photos.
- Let imprisoned activists know about animal activism going on around the world.
- Send currency.
- Send stamps, envelopes, blank paper or blank note cards.
- Tape your envelope closed.
- Include paperclips, staples or other metal objects inside your letter.
- Send food or care packages.
- Send photographs larger than 4”x6”. No Polaroid photos.
- Write “legal mail” on the envelope or anything in your letter that implies you are an attorney.
“Letters to a prisoner can be like anchors or lifelines to the outside world,” says Andy Stepanian, who served two years and seven months in prison for “conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act” as part of the SHAC campaign (he was released in December 2008). “Although my mail was vetted for content, I still received bundles of letters, and every time I did I felt like I could hold my head a little higher. The letters reminded me of where I came from and what I was fighting for.”
Most inmates appreciate receiving books, since reading is one way to pass the time behind bars. It’s a good idea to write to the prisoner first to confirm he or she can receive books; you can also ask what kinds of books they would like to read.
Books sent to most prisons must be new and with a soft cover (paperback); hardcover books will either be refused or prison officials will tear off the covers before passing the book on to the inmate. Unfortunately, many prisons will not permit you to mail a book to an inmate yourself; instead, books must be sent either directly from the publisher or through an online retailer such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Prisoners are often able to list books they would like to receive on Amazon’s Wish List section (just search the inmate’s name), or through a support group Web site.
Each US federal prison has set up certain days and times ― visiting hours — for family and friends to visit inmates. The inmate you plan to visit should tell you what the hours are for that prison. But you can’t simply show up and expect to see an inmate.
“Most prisons require that you be accepted and on an approved list first, so before you take your trip to the prison, call to make sure you do not have to be approved first,” says Shannon. “If so, mail the prisoner and ask them to fill out a form for your visit. You will receive an approval later, and then you can visit as you please during visiting hours. When visiting, know that you are being watched and possibly recorded. Avoid discussing legally sensitive subjects. Dress appropriately.”
In the UK, visiting a convicted prisoner requires you to first have a visiting order (a “VO”); these are generally issued to inmates once a month, and he or she will mail it to you. Depending on the prisoner, visits are one to two hours, and prisoners may be allowed between two and four visitors a month. For more information on Visiting inmates in the UK, click here.
If a city or county jail is denying a prisoner access to vegan meals, a few phone calls to the warden can help, says Dallas. “There’s not a lot people can do to help make sure a vegan is getting good food in a federal prison, but in a jail, phone calls matter a lot.”
Peter agrees. “Mob-action phone calls work,” he says. “You can’t overstate how concerned most jailers are with outside scrutiny. I have never had a problem with food that 100 phone calls in six hours did not fix. One jail was so concerned about the perceived threat of angry activists they sent a sheriff to the supermarket each morning, with a shopping list I wrote with my own hand.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals can help with prisons. PETA’s Bruce Friedrich says it is best if the judge orders the prison to provide vegan food before the convicted vegan heads to jail. “If your judge orders it, you’re set.” Failing that, family and friends on the outside can help by contacting PETA. “PETA is always ready to work to get vegan food for anyone who is having trouble,” says Bruce.
Although prisons may not be known for their vegan fare, some have surprisingly good plant-based food options, including lentil shepherd’s pie, vegan pizza, veggie burgers and mock meats. Here is PETA’s list of the top 10 veg-friendly US prisons.
Prisoners must pay for envelopes, postage stamps, phone cards and other necessities. They may even have to buy their own vegan food from the prison commissary. They probably also have legal fees. All these expenses can be offset with a fundraising effort managed by friends on the outside. Some organizations, like SHAC, set these up and allow people to donate online. Moreover, they raise funds through benefit concerts, film screenings and product sales.
“Fundraising for costly legal fees is always appreciated,” says Dallas. “As a bonus, you automatically have something to write about.”
You can also support inmates by sending money directly to their commissary account. The US Bureau of Prisons has a system to maintain an inmate’s monies while he or she is incarcerated. Family, friends or other sources may deposit funds into these accounts. For details on options for depositing funds into a prisoner’s account, click here.
You might also consider money-transfer services like JPay that allow you to get funds to a prisoner the next business day.
Prisoner Support Groups
SVIPS – United States
Founded by Dallas Rising, Peter Young and Aaron Zellhoefer, Support Vegans in the Prison System (SVIPS) assists prisoners needing vegan food, toiletries and general support.
VPSG – United Kingdom
Vegan Prisoners Support Group (VPSG) helps prisoners obtain vegan food, vegan toiletries and vegan footwear. British animal rights activist Jo-Ann Brown formed the group in 1994 to aid activist Keith Mann. Since then, VPSG’s work has grown, and it has been called upon to advise on disputes between prisoners and the prison service relating to vegan diets. Though based in the UK, VPSG supports prisoners in other countries. While incarcerated in Austria last August, for example, VGT activist Elmar Völkl wrote: “The Vegan Prisoner Support Group work must have been very good, because from the first day I got vegan food (on the first day I didn’t get anything), although I didn’t ever mention the word ‘vegan’ once!”
ALFSG – United Kingdom
The Animal Liberation Front Supporters Group (ALFSG) is a legal, above-ground organization that provides financial and practical support to those who find themselves in prison as part of the movement.
Advice from Prisoners of Conscience
Peter Young gave a talk on prisoner support at last year’s Let Live conference, and it’s definitely worth checking out.
SHAC activist Lauren Gazzola believes no form of support is better than activists staying active. Lauren, now serving a four-year, four-month sentence at a federal prison in Connecticut, told Abolitionist Online: “[T]o everyone who has written, sent books, donated, or done any other form of direct support, please know that the best form of support we can receive is vicarious ― please get out and fight for the animals. Step up your efforts, no matter where you currently stand in your activism ― take one step further, inspired by the SHAC7, and make our conviction a victory for the animals.”
“It’s easy to get lost in prison,” says Andy. “Lost in solitude, despair or other negative sentiments. Letters and outside support help pull you out of that space and strengthen you, make you whole.” Andy encourages people on the outside not to be deterred if they don’t know what to write about. “What many fail to understand is that the prisoner is just eager to make contact, to hear good news about movement victories or reconnect with an old friend. If you are a stranger, don’t feel discouraged. I can speak from firsthand experience that on some of my worst days while imprisoned, it was the words of a stranger that helped me trudge through another day. Something as simple as describing a beautiful day outside may mean the world to a prisoner at that moment when they open your envelope.”