Shortly after Striking at the Roots was published, I embarked on another literary endeavor: a book about animal suffering that takes into account the many forms of exploitation that do not receive a lot of mainstream media attention. We see, read, and hear so much about animals raised for food, for example, but how often do we see a story—or even a Twitter post—concerning donkeys who toil in the brick industry, or pigeon shoots, or bear baiting, or the plight of birds in the feather industry, or xenotransplantation, or bestiality? The distressing roll call of animal abuse goes on and on.

BleatingHeartsLittle did I know in 2008 that Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering would consume five years of my life, researching or writing nearly every day. I am so pleased to say the book is being released this month in both print and electronic form (it’s already available from some online sellers). In addition to covering lesser-known topics, Bleating Hearts examines issues we hear about, such as animal testing, but may not fully understand. The contents include:

Chapter 1 – Bleating Hearts: Animals Used for Food

Chapter 2 – Dressed to Kill: Animals Used for Fashion

Chapter 3 – Trials and Errors: Animal Testing

Chapter 4 – Poachers, Pills, and Politics: The Persecution of Wild Animals

Chapter 5 – Ruthless Roundup: Animals Used in Sports

Chapter 6 – The Age of Aquariums: Animals Used in Entertainment

Chapter 7 – Animal Rites: Animals as Sacrificial Victims

Chapter 8 – Conceptual Cruelty: Animals Used in Art

Chapter 9 – The Horse Before the Cart: Working Animals

Chapter 10 – Secret Abuse: Sexual Assault on Animals

Chapter 11 – Achieving Moral Parity

That last chapter is a Q&A session with some of the leading voices in the animal rights movement. I couldn’t spend 10 chapters exploring many of the cruelest abuses imaginable and not end the book with some ray of hope. So I turned to Carol Adams, Marc Bekoff, Mylan Engel Jr., Harold Herzog, James McWilliams, and Richard Ryder, who all respond to questions relating to what it might take for animals to receive full moral parity with human beings. I think you’ll find their insights genuinely fascinating.

Here’s a short video interview I did with activist Michelle Taylor Cehn of Vegan Break that explains a bit about the book and why I wrote it. I was also on Our Hen House recently discussing the book in a little more depth.

I see Bleating Hearts as a companion to Striking at the Roots—one book examining animal exploitation and the other giving advocates tools to campaign against it.

Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project, Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals, and Mark Hawthorne

Anita Krajnc of Toronto Pig Save, lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project, Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals, and Mark Hawthorne

I am especially pleased that the book features a cover photo by Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals. (You may know Jo-Anne as the human subject of the new documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine.) Jo-Anne took the photograph during one of the vigils organized by Toronto Pig Save, an organization founded by the tireless activist Anita Krajnc. The group bears witness to the suffering of animals raised and slaughtered for food, and lauren and I were delighted to spend some time with Anita and Jo-Anne in Toronto a couple weeks ago. We participated in a demo outside one of the city’s slaughterhouses, and I was more than a little surprised to see Anita not only speak to the owner, but present him with a copy of Forks Over Knives, which he promised to watch!

Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering is available from the usual online book sellers in several countries, but if you can, I’m hoping you will support your local independent bookstore or the animal rights groups and vegan e-tailers that will carry it, such as Herbivore and Vegan Essentials. Please check my website for updates. Thanks!

“I feel like I’m a war photographer,” says Jo-Anne McArthur early in The Ghosts in Our Machine, a powerful documentary that follows her for a year as she uses her lens to bear ghosts_in_our_machine_xlg-700x1024witness to the exploitation of nonhuman individuals for food, fashion, and research. Happily, TGIOM juxtaposes this war on animals with the lives of many who have been rescued—ambassadors for the “ghosts” who go unseen in slaughterhouses, fur farms, and research labs.  After premiering in Toronto last spring and being screened throughout Canada, the film makes its U.S. theatrical debut in November in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and other cities.

Director Liz Marshall frames TGIOM around Jo-Anne’s journey as she captures devastating still images of cruelty, heals the emotional wounds she experiences from her work by visiting Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, and develops the soon-to-be-published book of her photographs, We Animals. Along the way we meet a couple who adopts two beagles saved from research labs, and learn about some of Farm Sanctuary’s residents from the shelter’s director, Susie Coston, who introduces us to cows Fanny and Sonny, a bandaged turkey named Boydstun, and a family of adorable pigs, all of whom will live out their natural lives in peace.

What makes the film especially compelling, I think, is that it covers so many issues related to animal exploitation and does so without hitting viewers over the head, often letting the animals speak for themselves. It is mercifully light on graphic images (though they’re not entirely absent), instead focusing on Jo-Anne’s use of photographs as activism. It’s remarkable how much impact her photos can have, especially when you see the context in which they were shot.

In one undercover segment at a fur ranch, Jo-Anne teams up with a European investigator, identified only as “Marcus,” who speaks of the power behind images. “When I worked [covertly] in an animal testing laboratory,” he says, “this laboratory was not afraid of property damage because this is paid for by insurance or they can pay it from pocket money. But they were afraid of somebody infiltrating them and taking photos or video.”

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in "The Ghosts in Our Machine"

Jo-Anne McArthur at work in “The Ghosts in Our Machine”

TGIOM also highlights some of Jo-Anne’s other activism, including humane education and demonstrating with her local group Toronto Pig Save, and we hear from many of the leading voices in the animal rights movement today, including anti-captivity advocate Lori Marino; Theodora Capaldo, president of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society; and Bruce Friedrich, senior director of strategic initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

As well as being an inspiring film, The Ghosts in Our Machine is augmented by terrific music (original score by Bob Wiseman), imaginative editing (by Roland Schlimme and Roderick Deogrades), and beautiful cinematography (it was shot by Nick de Pencier, John Price, Iris Ng, and Liz herself). I hope you will take time to watch it and share it with family and friends.

Personal note: I am so proud that the cover of my new book, Bleating Hearts, features a photograph by Jo-Anne McArthur.

The conference center, a former slaughterhouse. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

The conference center, a former slaughterhouse. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

With speakers hailing from Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, and the US, last week’s third-annual International Animal Rights Conference (IARC) in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, truly lived up to its name. I had the privilege of attending, and I have to say, it had an entirely different feel from AR conferences I’ve been to in other countries.

To begin with, IARC was held inside a former slaughterhouse, and from the tiled, subtly slanted floors to the rusty hooks still dangling eerily beneath conveyors from the ceiling, it was impossible to ignore the tools of a system engineered to kill and disassemble animals. I have been inside factory farms, but this was my first interior view of a slaughterhouse, and it was all too easy to imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of death this place was responsible for. (It was closed not because of lack of business, but because Esch’s residents felt uneasy about having a slaughterhouse in town and wanted the killing done in a more isolated location.) Yet there was something empowering about having an animal rights conference amid the remnants of animal suffering, as if to wave a collective middle finger at industrialized abuse.

Rusty hooks hang from the ceiling of what was once a slaughterhouse

Rusty hooks hang from the ceiling of what was once a slaughterhouse

Another difference was that there was a higher percentage of men among the 400 attendees than I’ve seen at other conferences, and that of the 38 speakers—including Chris DeRose, pattrice jones, Brendan McNally, Sharon Núñez, lauren Ornelas, Claudio Pomo, Kim Stallwood, and Liz Tyson—a refreshingly large percentage were women.

The conference had a very communal feeling, with people gathering for meals (vegan, of course, and mostly organic) in a large tented area with picnic tables. The food was plentiful and generally delicious, and no one went hungry. There was even a bar where you could enjoy beer and wine, and a Saturday night concert featured a lineup of three vegan singers/groups: Tes, Maxime Ginolin, and Gab De La Vega. There was the usual exhibit hall where organizations and retailers had tables (I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Belgian group Bite Back offering Striking at the Roots for sale), and smaller rooms where you could find a quiet corner to chat or get online. A particularly compelling element of the conference was an art display by the German painter Hartmut Kiewert, whose work reflects his hopes for the liberation of animals. And no AR conference would be complete without a few documentaries; the one I caught was a rough cut of Live and Let Live.

Art exhibit featuring paintings by Hartmut Kiewert. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

Art exhibit featuring paintings by Hartmut Kiewert. Photo by Rosielyn Wolf

Like many other conferences, IARC offered parallel tracks, forcing attendees to choose between at least two interesting topics. Fortunately, it seemed like they recorded all or most of them, so they’ll be posted online soon (check IARC’s Facebook page for updates).

I could easily write a few thousand words on my impressions of this conference, but here are some highlights:

Independent scholar and author on animal rights Kim Stallwood kicked things off on Thursday by delivering the opening plenary. He summarized his critique of the animal rights movement with his paper “Animal rights: Moral crusade or political movement?,” which was published in the academic journal Relations. He addressed the animal industrial complex, the politics of animal rights advocacy, and a new strategy for the animal rights movement. “Most, if not all, social movements struggle with the question of fundamentalism and real politik or abolition and regulation,” Kim said. “Often, they fail to resolve it successfully, and I think that we are no exception. Frequently, this tension is framed as an exclusive choice. I do not support this view. Both are needed to help the other achieve the change they seek. The challenge is to learn how to direct strategies simultaneously and complementarily. This is why animal rights is more than just a moral crusade pursuing idealistic goals of abolition. It is also a pragmatic social movement working to embed the values of animal rights into public policy.” Kim’s observations are always insightful, and I urge you to check out his talk. (His book GROWL will be published by Lantern in 2014, and I can’t wait to read it.)

Longtime animal campaigner Kim Stallwood and yours truly relaxing between presentations

Longtime animal campaigner Kim Stallwood and yours truly relaxing between presentations

On Friday, Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas addressed a variety of issues with her presentation “Food justice: Making animal rights/human rights more than just a slogan.” lauren pointed out that even the food of vegans—fruits and vegetables—is drenched in oppression, as farm workers are poorly paid and treated and live in terrible conditions; some are even homeless. “These workers are not paid enough to put a roof over their heads,” she said, noting that many don’t even have access to the fresh produce they’re picking for the rest of us. “In the US, eating healthy is a privilege, and it shouldn’t be that way.” lauren said that the same institutions that oppress and exploit animals are responsible for doing it to people too.

For several years now, Food Empowerment Project has been raising awareness about the working conditions of children in the cocoa farms of West Africa—many of these children are slaves taken from their families—and lauren mentioned one of the efforts her group is working on is a campaign to get Clif Bar to disclose where they source their chocolate. (You can sign the petition here.) “Just because something is vegan, that doesn’t mean it’s cruelty-free,” she said.

Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas

Food Empowerment Project founder lauren Ornelas

lauren emphasized the importance of working on a variety of animal issues—from fur and vivisection to captivity and animals raised and killed for food—as well as the importance of using all the tools available to activists. (This was in response to statements made in earlier sessions implying that advocates should dedicate their energies to fighting factory farming at the expense of other campaigns, since more animals are killed for food than in any other form of exploitation. While this may be true, I think activists should embrace the issues that matter most to them.)

Also on Friday, Steve Best gave an interesting talk called “Future: Tense” in which he painted a rather grim picture of the ecological catastrophe we’re facing. “We live in an era of absolute planetary crisis that is rapidly worsening,” he said. Invoking Thomas Malthus, Steve blamed this crisis on population growth, globalization, industrialization, environmental degradation, modernization, and resource scarcity. “To an important degree, the future is already loaded into the environment,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what we do—although, of course, we must do all we can. There already is a catastrophe waiting to unfold, no matter what we do now.”

The nice folks at Bite Back (Belgium)

The nice folks at Bite Back (Belgium)

At the end of the presentation, an audience member asked Steve what we can do to change the bleak course we’re on, to which he admitted he didn’t have a satisfactory answer.

In her presentation the following day, pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary offered a response for Steve: “Don’t worry—the feminists are coming!” pattrice’s talk, titled “Intersectionality in theory and practice,” introduced the feminist theory of the intersection of oppression, arguing that understanding the link between the oppression of women and others and the oppression of nonhuman animals is necessary for building a consistent animal liberation movement. She explained how the gender system was built to keep men and women in their place, for example, and how the logic of domination divides the world into binary dualisms, such as nature vs. culture and black vs. white. Relating this to our domination of nonhumans, she offered zoos as an example: “It’s all about saying, ‘We’re so powerful as people we can create a savanna in Sweden!’” In the end, she said, we as activists need to put our efforts into the intersections of social justice, which is where—just like highway intersections—most of the action takes place. “The more that you understand these intersections,” she said, “the more able you’re going to be not just to see connections between different problems, but to make real and meaningful connections with other people who will work with you, and together there will be enough of us to do what we need to do.”

The food was delicious, plentiful, and mostly organic

The food was delicious, plentiful, and mostly organic

I also enjoyed the presentation by Sharon Núñez, one of the founders of Animal Equality. Sharon talked about some of the investigations her group has conducted and how they’ve used tools to achieve results, such as getting more media. She stressed the importance of high-quality images and video footage, and discussed why campaigners need to set SMART goals—goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

The International Animal Rights Conference 2013 proved to be a well-organized event, and I look forward to returning next year.

Of all the cruelties humans inflict on animals, vivisection is arguably one of the most insidious. The use of these victims as “test subjects” has a long and disgraceful history, made all the more shameful by the enduring myth that animals “sacrificed” for the good of science are soulless objects without interests of their own. That notion is slowly, if grudgingly, beginning to change, as institutions begin to acknowledge the self-awareness in some animals. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), for example, recently announced plans to substantially reduce the number of chimpanzees used for government-funded biomedical research. The NIH will “retire” hundreds of these chimps and move them to sanctuaries over the next few years. (The NIH will retain up to 50 chimps, however, and their decision does not impact private institutions.)

While it’s wonderful to see anyone released from a laboratory, the tragedy is that thousands upon thousands of mice, dogs, rabbits, cats, pigs, fish, rats, and other species languish inside facilities where they are used to test drugs, household products, medical devices, surgical techniques, military weapons, and much more.

Gina and friend

Gina and friend

That’s why I was so heartened to learn about New Life Animal Sanctuary in southern California. New Life is the brainchild of longtime activist Gina Lynn, who started the rescue center a few years ago when she heard the psych program that used animals at California State University‒Northridge was closing down. “We were committed to rescuing all the animals they had there,” she says. “More than 300 small animals—rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and mice—including all the offspring of the animals who came to us pregnant. All of those animals, plus five rabbits and 50 more mice from two additional labs, were all adopted out into wonderful homes!”

New Life’s mission is to take animals from labs and place them into loving homes, and do so completely above-ground. “We make sure that every animal we take in is completely legal so as not to potentially risk the other animals we care for,” explains Gina. “We have a legal contract that we have a representative of the lab sign saying they are releasing the animals to our care and relinquishing all rights they have to the animals.”

Gina learned how to start a sanctuary through Best Friends, which offers a course that introduced her to the physical, administrative, and emotional elements of such an effort. “It was awesome,” she says. “I attended a week-long workshop at the sanctuary that covered every aspect of starting and running a sanctuary. We learned everything about animal care, raising money, recruiting volunteers, building and maintaining safe enclosures, etc. We got to see firsthand how a beautifully successful sanctuary is effectively run and were given lots of useful tools and materials to take home for future use.”

Of course, unlike most shelters, before an animal can be adopted from New Life, the traumatic experience of life in a lab means that she or he needs topig and bunny be rehabilitated first. “We have to take every animal and situation on a case-by-case basis,” says Gina. “I believe that love can be very healing, and I have personally rehabilitated severely abused or otherwise traumatized dogs and cats. It is beautiful and amazing to see the transformation once an animal realizes that there is no longer anything to fear, that all of their needs will be met, and that they can trust in the love and affection of a human being.”

There is a concern, however, that rehoming animals from labs could provide research institutions with a convenient way to assuage their consciences regarding the future of animals they exploit, and it’s one Gina and her team are well aware of. “That has been a topic of conversation and will continue to be going forward. We are completely opposed to animal experimentation and must be careful not to sanction what they do in any way. One thing that was great about the Cal State Northridge rescue was that the entire animal department was shut down and the experiments were ended permanently!”

Keep an eye on New Life Animal Sanctuary’s Facebook page and new website for more details on their rescues and adoptable animals. They will soon be calling for volunteers and looking for donations so they can continue their rescue work.

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1. The anti-fur button on your jacket is made of Bakelite.

2. Someone had to explain to you that Joaquin Phoenix has done things other than narrating Earthlings.earthlings

3. Neighbors assume you’ll be able to find a home for every stray animal in town.

4. You can vaguely recall a time when the animal liberation movement actively supported other social justice movements.

5. Your car still sports a “Honk If You Love Brigid Brophy” bumper sticker.

6. You know who Brigid Brophy was.

7. Your only source of fun is getting a letter to the editor published.

8. You remember when the word “terrorist” referred to someone who killed people.

9. Your favorite animal rights film stars Betty Boop.

10. No one asks where you get your protein anymore.

Captain Kirk Buried in Tribbles

Captain Kirk liberates hundreds of animals in “The Trouble with Tribbles” (Paramount Pictures)

Considering it only ran for three television seasons nearly 50 years ago, Star Trek has left quite a mark on popular culture. Of course, it predicted widescreen TVs, desktop computers, and mobile phones — and launched a huge franchise of movies, books, comics, toys, and other shows. Hey, Spock is even a vegetarian. So its enduring influence is understandable. As commander of Starfleet’s USS Enterprise, James T. Kirk was a leader not afraid to gets his hands dirty. In the spirit of Star Trek’s lasting impact on our society, here are five important lessons animal activists can learn from Captain Kirk:

1. Understand what you’re up against. Whether he was quizzing his first officer or the chief engineer of the Enterprise, Captain Kirk wanted to be kept apprised of every detail. Likewise, one of the most critical things we can do as activists is to understand the issues. Every form of animal exploitation — from factory farming and abusement parks to vivisection and the fur industry — comes with a galaxy of statistics and data. While it’s not necessary that we know it all, it’s important that we’re versed enough in the issues to both understand what we’re fighting and be prepared to argue against it. That means not only reading animal rights literature, but the material (studies, reports, websites, etc.) produced or valued by the opposition. Good resources for information from both sides of the factory-farm fence, for example, include Food Empowerment Project, Jack Norris (for vegan-related health), and the ag rag Feedstuffs.

2. Keep your eyes on the prize. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose hope, especially when we’re faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. When his core crew members were held captive by the Melkotians and forced to reenact the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral — meaning certain death for himself, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov — the perceptive captain knew enough not to kill his enemy when he had the chance. By the same token, we need to resist the infighting so common in the animal rights movement today and remember the animals. We can waste our time engaging in online arguments about veganism, we can join the haters and bash national groups, we can criticize activists for their “welfarist” tactics … or we can focus our energies on practicing whatever form of animal activism brings us the most satisfaction, whether it be leafleting, tabling, corporate campaigns, direct action, bringing plant-powered desserts to share with our co-workers, or anything in between. Incidentally, as a result of Kirk’s wise display of mercy, the surprised Melkotians opened up a dialogue with their former adversary.

3. If a challenge looks unwinnable, re-write the rules. Faced with a no-win scenario in a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru — named for a disabled federation freighter — Kirk reprogrammed the simulator, changing the conditions of the test so that it was possible to rescue the ship and thus win. (Some argue he cheated, but Kirk received a commendation for original thinking.) To apply this approach to real-world adversaries like animal exploiters, we need look no further than the new book Changing the Game by longtime animal advocate Norm Phelps. “The world is changing, and the animal rights movement must change with it,” Norm says. “The number of vegans in the US has been stuck at around 3 percent of the population for over a dozen years. If we don’t want to become a small vegan club with little impact on the broader society, we have to change the game.” To liberate animals, we must begin playing by a new set of rules. Norm offers a seven-point program for changing the game, which includes establishing animal rights as a compassionate social justice movement in the progressive public tradition, not a proscriptive private morality movement in the conservative religious tradition; practicing “two-track activism” that simultaneously pursues agitation and politics; and aligning the cause of oppressed animals with the cause of oppressed human beings — an ideal we often preach but rarely practice. Maybe this approach sounds crazy, but such is the curse of original thinking.

4. Set realistic goals. Kirk understood that everyone and everything has limitations, which is why he said in “Metamorphosis” that nothing is ever 100 percent efficient. Likewise, an animal-rights campaign that begins with a lofty objective such as “End factory farming in 5 years” is doomed from the start. Long-term aims are wonderful as an ideal (I would love for the world to go vegan, for example), but we need to be realistic; to do otherwise only leads to frustration and activist burnout. Try embracing a set of achievable, short-term goals that can be acknowledged and celebrated when they are met. These goals can be as modest as volunteering to leaflet at a circus protest or on Fur Free Friday, or something more ambitious, like doing outreach at a community event with your own animal rights table. The most important thing is that we get out there and take action.

5. Enjoy a little R and R. Yes, animal activism is hard. Activists are constantly exposed to horrifying images and narratives infused with animal cruelty. So take a page from Captain Kirk’s playbook and have some fun once in a while. Kirk understood the benefits of rest and relaxation, even if the crew’s attempts at shore leave are never as tranquil as he’d hoped (such as the time on Argelius II when the ghost of Jack of the Ripper popped up). If we’re going to be in this movement long-term, it’s essential we treat ourselves with care. Try to not be too critical of yourself. Take a real vacation once in a while. Get lost in a good book. Go out with friends and have a good time. Remember: activists are animals, too.

Kirk must know something. After all, he did save those whales.

Recently, I finished five years of research and writing on a book that deals with the many forms of animal exploitation,* and an entire year of that time was devoted to the chapter on animals used for research. Thoroughly examining this issue – interviewing former vivisectors, talking with undercover investigators, reading peer-reviewed studies – was a gut-wrenching experience, and it showed me just how insidious this practice is. Animals in labs are beaten, burned, and blinded. They are nailed down, tied up, and sliced open. They are starved, suffocated, shaken, and shot. Their organs are pulverized, their limbs are severed, their bodies are irradiated, and their spirits are broken. They are forced to drink alcohol, inhale tobacco smoke, and consume a variety of highly dangerous narcotics, including heroine. Name a modern disease, and they’ve been infected with it. Imagine a torment, and they’ve suffered it.

Portland Animal Defense League

Portland Animal Defense League

While I believe we should focus our energy on this issue year-round, there’s at least one week a year when animal advocates dedicate extra time and effort to campaigning against vivisection. This Sunday marks the beginning of World Week for Animals in Laboratories, an international movement of protests, rallies, demonstrations, marches, candlelight vigils, and media events to raise awareness about animal testing. Indeed, many of these activities will target research facilities and universities.

And lest you think such efforts are wasted, consider that as of March 2013, the import and sale of cosmetic products and ingredients tested on animals has been banned in the UK and all other member states of the European Union. This follows a similar ban in Israel.

Simple ways you can help:

  • Never, ever purchase products tested on animals. Read labels and look for language that indicates the product is free of animal testing. You can also check for the Leaping Bunny logo.
  • Use this opportunity to write a letter to the editor of your local paper urging that society abandon animal testing. Although animal testing is currently required before drugs go to market, no U.S. law dictates that animals should be subjected to torture to test the safety of household products. Click here for tips on getting your letter published. (Even a letter that doesn’t get published is a force for positive change.)
  • Do not donate to charities that test on animals. Click here for more information on charities.
  • Become part of an organized event. To find something in your area, simply go to Facebook and type “World Week for Animals in Laboratories” in the search field at the top.
  • Add a message to your voice mail or email signature that speaks up for animals in labs.
  • Share this article with family and friends.

*Bleating Hearts: The Hidden World of Animal Suffering should be published around September.

Entrepreneur powers new vegan platform

At last summer’s Animal Rights 2012 conference in Washington, DC, I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Glover, who had traveled from England to attend. Matthew is the kind of enthusiastic vegan who makes good things happen for everyone — an entrepreneur with the vision and means to take an idea and build it into something special.

Matthew told me about a new online community he was working on called Bleat, which would combine resources like veggie restaurant guides and ethical shopping with a vegan/activist social network. “But it’s really much more than that,” he said. Matthew and his team have clearly been busy, and with Bleat now only weeks from its official May 1 launch, he provided a few more details about what looks to be a really exciting project.

What’s the origin of Bleat?

It all started when I clicked on a banner advert for “Meet Your Meat.” I had been a vegetarian for many years, but that video started me on a journey of research into animal rights and veganism. I read your book Striking at the Roots and The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Bruce Friedrich and Matt Ball as I was searching for my role in the movement.

As I have been a businessman for 20 years, with a passion for marketing, other animal advocates suggested the best role for me would be continuing to use my expertise in these fields. So, I researched various vegan business ideas, and then an acquaintance suggested I should meet a fellow vegan who had an idea for a new vegan website. I was curious, so I met my partner in Bleat, Mike Dean, and within a few meetings we decided we had to create this website. Mike is the brains behind the website, so he is concentrating on managing the developers and turning his dream for a vegan social media website into a reality.

Our main motivation for Bleat is to help the animals. Factory farming and other forms of animal exploitation need to stop, and we hope that our efforts can play a part in helping people to make the transition to veganism.

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So Mike is the creative force. How would you describe your role?

I will be running the traditional business side of the business. I have two other business interests which from May will need only limited involvement from me. So from May 1st, Bleat will become my main job. I will be networking with animal advocates, vegan business owners, and others to help get the site launched successfully.

Who’s your target user?

To begin with we’re targeting vegans. But we hope the site will be a great tool for helping people who are currently vegetarian or omnivore to make the transition.

Have you gotten much support from the vegan/animal rights community so far?

Yes, we’ve been surprised by how much support we have received. It started when we created an online survey and posted the link on Facebook and Twitter. We had over 400 responses in a short amount of time, with relatively little promotion.

Since then we have presented our ideas to many of the main animal rights organizations and they’re all keen to be involved and help promote the launch. We’ve created a Facebook group, which has hundreds of followers already, and we have a list of volunteers wanting to be involved in the beta testing stage. We’re confident that once the site goes live on May 1st, the support we get from a very passionate community will help get the site off the ground.

What will Bleat offer that users can’t get on other websites?

What we’re doing is creating a platform where users can bring all the information that already exists online into one place. Our site will have recipes, restaurant search, product search, events, animal rights news, health and dietary information all in one place. It’ll be a social media platform with advanced search facility to help people find vegan information easily.

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Who is backing Bleat financially? Will there be advertising?

I have funded all of the development work so far, and will continue to do so until it stands on its own two feet. We will be including discreet advertising and sponsored listings for vegan businesses wishing to promote their products. This revenue will then fund the continued management and development of the site going forward.

How does launching a vegan-based business differ from getting other business models off the ground?

Good question. For me, there are two distinct differences in how I’m approaching the launch.

Firstly, when setting up and running a normal business, I would have detailed financial projections and a business plan which considers all the risks before I decide whether to invest time and money. In this instance, because the business is more of a passion, I am more relaxed and am just going with a gut feeling about what is right. I believe that people need to transition towards a vegan way of life, and I believe this platform will help people do this.

Secondly, the other businesses I run are fully commercial entities with the ultimate goal of making a profit. With Bleat, Mike and I have agreed that the majority of any net profit will be reinvested in the animal rights movement and vegan outreach activities. We will have overheads which need covering, and we intend to scale up the development of the website and potentially move into other areas, but the bulk of any net profit will be put to good use.

It’s starting in the UK and the US, right? When will Bleat be a truly global experience for users?

Our intention is for Bleat to be a global site from the outset, encouraging users from all over the world to get involved. That being said, we see the US as the most influential country and with the most advanced vegan community, so we will be keen to get US vegans on board. With Mike and myself from the UK, then this country will also be a priority. I do see the US and UK combined as drivers of social justice movements historically, and the same needs to happen with veganism.

Watch this space for the Bleat launch on May 1. You can follow Bleat on Twitter @WeAreBleat

sarah-brown-queer-vegan-food-e-book-cover-r4-01What do you get when you mix vegan chefs like Mariano Caino, Allyson Kramer, Lee Khatchadourian-Reese, Christy Morgan, Heather Pace, and Kelly Peloza, sprinkle in a few well-known writers like Carol J. Adams and Rory Freedman, add a healthy dash of bloggers such as Jason Das, Gena Hamshaw, Courtney Pool, and Ali Seiter, and stir them all with a heaping tablespoon of egg replacer? The Queer Vegan Food Cookbook, of course.

The brainchild of Sarah Brown—the mastermind behind QueerVeganFood.com—this e-cookbook is jam-packed with appetizers, comfort foods, desserts, smoothies, and entrees. Best of all, the whole thing benefits animals. Sarah’s goal was to put together, as she puts it, “the weirdest, most unique and delicious recipes from top vegan chefs, bloggers, and authors around the world,” the proceeds from which would be donated to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York. “I’ve always enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, and my culinary style has always been playful, fun, and exploratory,” she says. “I thought that creating an assemblage of recipes from chefs who push the boundaries of creativity would be really fun and that people would respond to it.”

Respond they have. Sarah says the cookbook has been a big success, and looking at the recipes and mouth-watering photos, that’s hardly a surprise. “The goal was always to reach as many people as possible to spread awareness about vegan cuisine and raise funds for the sanctuary, so I think we’ve been pretty successful so far in that!”

One of my favorite recipes from the book is for Corn, Black Bean, and Cherry Tomato Cupcakes with Sweet-Sour Guacamole Frosting (contributed by Rory Freedman and Jason Allen).* “I love that recipe, too!” says Sarah, who clearly has an affinity for culinary creativity. “I almost always make a really funky superfood smoothie every morning for breakfast. I toss in everything: chia, maca, stevia, hemp seeds, mesquite, lucuma, cacao, and fruits and sometimes greens. Sometimes it looks strange, but it tastes so good and is quite nutrient-dense!” (I confess I only recognize about three of those ingredients.)

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown

So what exactly makes food “queer,” you ask? “It’s food that challenges the norms of cuisine in the United States,” answers Sarah. “In some ways, all plant-based food is queer vegan food, but especially plant-based foods that do not imitate animal products.” Like mock meats, which I do happen to enjoy. “They’re fine if you’re into them. I personally am not a fan anymore. For the first few years of being vegan I ate a bunch of those, and they helped me transition from vegetarian to vegan—I went vegetarian at age 12—and now I don’t really eat them very often or at all. I find that I can enjoy a variety of vegan protein sources, including homemade veggie patties, beans, legumes, greens, and superfoods, without missing fake-meat products, but I think if folks love them, that’s fine for them! Why should there be a one-size-fits-all vegan diet? As long as folks feel good and enjoy what they’re eating and it’s as ethically sourced as possible, I say great!”

In addition to her blogging, Sarah advocates for animals through letter writing, petitions, and social media activism-awareness campaigns. “I also spread veganism through cooking for non-veg friends and family.”

You’ll find more details on The Queer Vegan Food Cookbook, including a complete list of the contributors—and a simple way to purchase the $15 e-book—here.

*For some delicious, traditional Mexican recipes, check out veganmexicanfood.com

Some time ago, my wife and I were visiting a small wildlife rehabilitation center north of Sydney, Australia, where volunteer and longtime activist Lindy Stacker showed us around. Lauren had spent many years working on behalf of kangaroos, and Lindy was one of her main Aussie contacts. Neither Lauren nor I had met a ‘roo in person, however (we wouldn’t think of visiting a zoo), so we were thrilled when Lindy took us to her facility and introduced us to several of these charismatic marsupials recovering from various ailments.

Her other guest that day was a veterinarian named Howard Ralph, who was there to check up on one of the adult kangaroos. Dr. Ralph is not just a vet—his remarkably diverse medical IMG_1930background includes work as a surgeon, aesthetician, and emergency care worker—but he’s spent the last three decades treating injured, sick, and orphaned wildlife, all on a volunteer basis. Six years ago, he founded Southern Cross Wildlife Care (SCWC). During dinner, Dr. Ralph shared with us his photo album of patients, and it was clear there was no animal this humble man couldn’t help heal: tortoises with cracked shells, wombats with cataracts, baby kangaroos with broken limbs, koalas with burns, along with lizards, birds, frogs, wallabies, possums, bats, and many others. Indeed, he and his volunteers at SCWC treat more than 2,000 native animals every year, many of whom have been hit by vehicles on Australia’s busy roads.

“Howard never gives up on even the most sad and hopeless-looking situation,” says Lindy, who also volunteers at SCWC. “If you were a sick animal, trust me, you would want to look up and see the eyes of this most kind man looking over you. It is very difficult getting vets to care for wildlife. They just won’t afford our precious but often desperate wildlife the time and attention they need. It really breaks our hearts.”

“I could work treating wildlife 24 hours a day, seven days a week, forever because the need is overwhelming,” says Dr. Ralph. “There is a small nucleus of dedicated people that help with this, and without them it would be hopeless.”

It was after a brushfire that Dr. Ralph noticed the lack of volunteer assistance for Australia’s injured native species. “The wildlife were getting so little help and I thought, ‘Well, I have only got one life and I should put it to the best use I can, and the wildlife need it the most,’” he says.

Bites and scratches are an occupational hazard, hence the bandages.

Bites and scratches are an occupational hazard, hence the bandages.

“People bring animals from all over Sydney, and they ring Dr. Ralph from anywhere in Australia for advice,” adds Lindy.

Without government or corporate funding, Southern Cross Wildlife Care struggles to meet its annual costs, which are more than AU$200,000. If you would like to donate any amount, please contact Lindy Stacker on 9982 1751 (from the US, that’s 011-61-9982-1751) or 0409 404570 or email lindystacker@yahoo.com.au. You can also click here.


Welcome to the official blog for Striking at the Roots by Mark Hawthorne, your source for interviews, profiles, and advice for more effective animal activism.

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