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.


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.


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.


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—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

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 You can also click here.

Rescues, bans, and protests—any way you look at it, 2012 was an eventful year for animal activism. As I began reflecting on the last 12 months, I was heartened by just how vocal people were, and how their speaking out for animals helped to create positive changes. Our voices didn’t always result in an all-out victory, but even when they didn’t, we can still claim some success. Rather than rank these stories, I’ve put them in chronological order. Here are 12 for ’12:

1. Ireland bans puppy mills (January)

The year got off to a promising start as puppy farming was outlawed in Ireland. Puppy farms (or puppy mills) are commercial dog-breeding facilities that put profits above animal welfare—they’re like the factory farms of the pet industry. Irish dog-breeding establishments are defined as premises that keep six or more female dogs over the age of four months who are physically able to breed. These facilities became so ubiquitous in Ireland that the country was known as the Puppy Farm of Europe. Puppy_mill_Ireland

Unfortunately, not everyone has gotten the “Adopt, Don’t Buy” message, and many people continue to purchase dogs. In Ireland, puppy mill dogs have frequently been sold through small ads or the Internet and shipped to England at hugely inflated prices. The animals typically suffer from severe health problems and congenital conditions.

With the passage of the Dog Breeding Establishments Act 2010, which went into effect on January 1, all breeders must be registered with local authorities and they must keep dogs in housing that is clean and not overcrowded. The dogs must be given exercise and bedding material, as well as food and water, and female dogs must have no more than one litter of puppies in a year. These provisions will be enforced with mandatory veterinary inspections, and a register of breeders will include only breeders that meet the new standards.

2. Thousands of hens rescued from egg farm (February-March)

It’s been called the largest rescue of farmed animals in California history. More than 4,400 hens were saved from an egg farm in Turlock after the owner simply walked away from the operation and left behind 50,000 birds. Weeks went by before someone alerted authorities, but by that time, some 20,000 of the hens had starved to death. Others fell into giant manure pits under their cages and drowned. Twenty-five thousand more had to be euthanized. Farmed animal sanctuaries Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home took on the responsibility of caring for the hens and finding homes for them. In the meantime, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the law firm Schiff Hardin sued the owners of the egg farm to hold them responsible for their heinous cruelty. The farmers sought to have the case dismissed, but on December 5, the court rejected the farmers’ arguments, permitting the case to move forward.

3. Japan ends whale-slaughter campaign with less than a third of its target catch (March)

Everyone enjoys stories where the bad guy loses. So you gotta love that Japanese whalers went home with far fewer whales than they’d hoped for this year. According to Japan’s Fisheries Agency, whalers killed 266 minke whales and one fin whale, well below the approximately 900 they had been aiming for when they left Japan in December of 2011. “The catch was smaller than planned due to factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists,” an agency official said. “There were definitely sabotage campaigns behind the figure.” Hot in pursuit of the whale killers was Sea Shepherd, hurling stink bombs at the boats and using ropes to try to tangle their propellers in a series of exchanges, which have seen the whalers retaliate with water cannon.

Every winter finds the Sea Shepherd crew plying the frigid Southern Ocean actively interfering with vessels from Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) as they search for whales to kill and “study.” A registered nonprofit, ICR claims it has no commercial stake in the hunts, yet whale meat from their government-subsidized “research” continues to be sold in Japanese seafood markets. Last December, the Fisheries Agency admitted that it had diverted US$29 million from Japan’s March 11, 2011, tsunami relief fund to subsidize the country’s whaling program and protect it from animal activists. The money evidently was used to equip the Shonan Maru 2 with unspecified security equipment designed to win the battle against Sea Shepherd.

With Sea Shepherd’s latest campaign about to begin, it will be interesting to see how they respond to the recent court injunction prohibiting them from attacking Japanese whaling ships.

4. Panama bans bullfighting and other cruel “sports” (March)

On March 15, Panama’s National Assembly approved an unprecedented bill—the first in the world to explicitly ban all forms of bullfighting, from the traditional Spanish corrida to so-called “bloodless” Portuguese-style bullfighting; despite the name, bulls are killed after leaving the bullring. Since bullfights were not taking place in Panama, this was a preemptive measure: With bullfighting losing ground in other countries (even Mexico City, home to the largest bullring on Earth, is considering a ban), Panamanians wanted to ensure the blood sport wasn’t exported there.

The new animal protection law, signed by President Ricardo Martinelli in November, also prohibits dog fighting, hare coursing, and greyhound racing, and it contains such strong regulations on circuses that it will effectively ban the use of animals in their performances. Sadly excluded from the law are bans on cockfighting and horse racing.

5. Italian activists liberate 30 beagles from Green Hill (April)

When animal advocates in Italy get active, they open a serious can of whoop ass. The story of the liberation of 30 beagles destined for vivisection is actually just one element of a much larger narrative—one with an ending that makes this, in my view, the most inspiring victory of the year. The drama began in October 2011, when five members of the group Fermare Green Hill got onto the roof of the beagle delivery building at Green Hill, Europe’s largest farm breeding dogs for research, near Milan. Among the clients of Green Hill are university laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and the notorious Huntingdon Life Sciences in England.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Tino Verducci, a member of Fermare Green Hill, when he was in California for the recent Animal Liberation Forum, and he explained the impact of the roof occupation. “We managed to get five people on the roof for 30 hours. That was crucial, because we brought cell phones, video camera, computer, and so we managed to get media. We had TV, radio—all sorts of media. Being on the roof, we could hear the dogs. You have to bear in mind the perception of the people at home, who were listening to the puppies and dogs crying. As soon as the activists came down, all Italy went against vivisection. A poll a few months after said 86 percent of the Italian population was against it. This put a lot of pressure on the Italian government, and it raised awareness about activism. Every day for the next six months we continued our campaign to close down Green Hill. The pressure of the people was very beneficial because the Italian government decided to set up a law to ban vivisection for cats, dogs, and primates.” When I ask when the law goes into effect, Tino smiles. “In Italy, things go very, very slow,” he says.

beagle2All the media attention raised awareness and the ire of the Italian public, so it was no surprise when at least a thousand people showed up for a demonstration outside Green Hill on April 28. Protesters—some carrying signs reading “We are the 86%”—were so motivated to take action that a few hundred boldly stormed the facility and came back with a mother beagle and dozens of puppies. Dramatic photos of these animals being gingerly handed over the fence were posted around the world. Police arrested a dozen demonstrators and reportedly took back a few of the puppies. “Very important, though, is that the people in the local town were helping the activists by hiding the dogs—they knew police were checking everyone,” explains Tino.

Two months later, police raided Green Hill, where they discovered more than 100 bodies in the freezers. “Italian law states that any animal born must be microchipped and their birth recorded. The police found that the dogs in the freezers did not have microchips or birth records. This is crucial, because they were breaking the law. Police also found that [Green Hill’s owner] Marshall Farm, from the USA, tried to manipulate data, so police were very suspicious about all this.” The government seized some 2,700 dogs, according to Tino, and has shut the facility while it conducts its investigation. Meanwhile, the dogs have been placed in adoptive homes. Faced with the possibility they’ll have to relinquish the animals to Marshall Farm, the dogs’ guardians are ready to fight. “The people have said, ‘They’ll get the dogs over my dead body,’” says Tino. Rescued_beagle

Fermare Green Hill is set to take on Harlan Sprague Dawley, Inc., which breeds not only beagles, but marmosets, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, gerbils, and hamsters, as well as hybrid, mutant, and transgenic animals. Bolstered by their latest success, Tino seems pretty confident. “Green Hill was a lesson to the vivisection industry and to activists everywhere that when people work together, they can change anything,” he says.

6. Activists block access to New Zealand’s largest egg producer (June)

EnrichedCageComparisonAfter an undercover investigation revealed that the conditions hens endured inside colony cages were little better than battery cages, campaigners with New Zealand Open Rescue and the Coalition to End Factory Farming spent four months creating a protest against New Zealand’s biggest egg producer: Mainland Poultry. The company had been testing colony cages, which are set to gradually replace existing battery cages over the next 10 years.

Deirdre Sims, Marie Brittain, and Mengzu Fu suspended themselves from the top of steel towering tripods on the road and chained to a gate, forming a blockade. The action “effectively shut down Mainland Poultry and halted the distribution of cruelly produced eggs to their suppliers,” said spokesperson Carl Scott, who last year spent a month inside a cage to protest the eggs Mainland sells. NZOpenRescue

“We risked our lives that morning, but Mainland Poultry now realize that we are highly capable of shutting them down, so it was definitely worth it,” says Deirdre. “This action served as a strong warning to Mainland Poultry and the egg industry that we are escalating our efforts. Our undercover investigation inside this Mainland Poultry colony cage facility revealed that hens are still suffering inside cages. We witnessed tens of thousands of birds crammed into colony cages, which are nothing more than modified battery cages. After decades of campaigning against cruel cage systems, enough is enough.”

7. California’s ban on foie gras takes effect (July)

It was more than seven years in the making. In 2004, California legislators passed a law prohibiting the sale of any product derived from the force-feeding of birds to enlarge their livers. The law—the only one of its kind in the United States—kicked in on July 1. The seven-and-a-half-year grace period was intended to give foie gras producers time to devise a less-cruel method for creating fatty livers. To no one’s surprise, they couldn’t.

California’s only foie gras producer, Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, closed shop at the start of the ban. The state’s other previous suppliers—foie gras farms in New York and Quebec—have seen their sales in California evaporate since July 1.

For an insider’s view on this issue, lauren Ornelas has written a great blog post detailing how she and other activists achieved this victory.

8. Ben the Bear is granted permanent sanctuary (August)

Photo: PETA

Ben today. Photo by PETA

For six miserable years, Ben was confined to a tiny, barren kennel at a roadside zoo in North Carolina. He paced the concrete, gnawed at the metal fencing, and endured filthy conditions. After years of legal wrangling, including a lawsuit filed by ALDF and PETA, a judge signed an injunction allowing Ben to reside permanently at a California sanctuary operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Today, Ben enjoys a huge habitat, with grass, trees, and his own pond. When lauren and I visited Ben recently, we were told he spends every night sleeping outside—even in the rain—although he has a comfortable den. “He just loves being in the grass,” the PAWS docent said. Six years of sleeping on concrete will do that to you.

Click here for a short video telling the story of Ben’s rescue.

9. Adidas gives kangaroo skin the boot (September)

Its shoes have been worn by athletes since the 1920s, and today Adidas is one of the largest sportswear companies on the planet, thanks in part to its knack for innovation (it introduced, among other design enhancements, arch supports and spikes in track-running shoes). For years, Adidas manufactured several lines of football (soccer) cleats from the skins of kangaroos, thus subsidizing what the nonprofit Animals Australia describes as the largest land-based commercial wildlife slaughter in the world.

Central to the commercial killing is the debatable premise, perpetuated by farmers and ranchers, that the country’s estimated 25-60 million ‘roos are agricultural “pests” who compete with sheep for forage and destroy crops. With many Aussies convinced the destruction of these herbivorous marsupials is justified, the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia makes a great effort to promote the animals as food and fiber resources. The primary argument made by most animal welfare groups is not that the kangaroos are being slaughtered, which is bad enough, but that the methods used for killing them are inhumane. Hunters are supposed to adhere to Australia’s National Code of Practice, a set of guidelines intended to minimize the pain and suffering of targeted kangaroos. According to the Code, shooters must hit the animal in the brain. Since hunting occurs at night at distances of 50 to 100 meters (164 to 328 feet), accurate shots to the head are difficult at best.

The Code also states that hunters must not kill protected species, and they should avoid shooting female kangaroos who have dependent young—two more directives that are impossible to fully comply with, particularly under nighttime shooting conditions. Only six of the 55 kangaroo species are allowed to be killed for commercial use—the Eastern Grey, the Red, the Western Grey, the common wallaroo (also called the Euro), the Bennett’s wallaby, and the pademelon (a type of wallaby)—but in the dark, who’s to say which species of kangaroo is being destroyed? Furthermore, baby kangaroos are considered a worthless byproduct of the industry, so when a mother ‘roo is targeted, her babies are also killed, multiplying the tragedy. Should a weaned baby (called a young-at-foot joey) escape being shot when his mother is killed, he hops off into the night to die by starvation, dehydration, or predation from foxes, hawks, or dingoes. There are also pouch joeys who are dragged from their dead or dying mother’s pouch; after experiencing the trauma of mama’s murder, these orphans get their heads cut off, bludgeoned, or bashed against the tow bar of a vehicle. Such are the killing methods recommended in the Code.

In September, after years of campaigning by Viva!, Viva!USA, and other groups, Adidas announced it was phasing out its use of kangaroo skin.

10. Bill and Lou make headlines (November)

It didn’t have the happy ending we were all hoping for, but the story of oxen Bill and Lou became a flashpoint for the debate about animals raised for food. Think about it: When was the last time so much attention was focused on two farmed animals? Their story was told in The New York Times and on NPR, among many other media outlets. James McWilliams frequently blogged about Bill and Lou as the drama unfolded and is currently writing an e-book about them. (Meanwhile, it should be noted, tens of millions of cows were being slaughtered with scarcely a peep of objection from most observers.) Bill_and_Lou

Some said all the interest in Bill and Lou only served to promote Vermont’s Green Mountain College (GMC), whose agriculture program exploited the two bovines for a decade and then, when Lou injured his leg and could no longer pull a plow, declared the pair should be killed and fed to the students. So vociferous was the public outcry that GMC found itself defending the economic, environmental, and ethical basis of its program. Citing health concerns, GMC says they euthanized Lou on November 11. It was a heartbreaking blow to countless people who’d asked the college to allow both animals to be placed in a sanctuary such as VINE, which had campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the oxen. But there’s no doubt in my mind that were it not for the pressure brought to bear on GMC, Bill would be dead, too. (He’ll evidently be kept alive on the campus farm.) Moreover, the conversation about these two animals fueled the general discussion about viewing animals as mere resources.

11. Costa Rica bans hunting as a sport (December)

Following a unanimous and final vote from Congress, Costa Rica became the first country in Latin America to ban hunting as a sport. Under the new law, those caught hunting can face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000.

Costa Rica is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, attracting foreign hunters in search of exotic cats and traders from the pet industry looking to snatch colorful parrots.  “We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore,” environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, told local radio.

This is also Costa Rica’s first proposal that came to Congress by popular initiative, with 177,000 signatures calling for the ban submitted two years ago.

12. The Netherlands Senate votes to ban fur farming (December)

In the last decade, the Netherlands’ mink farming industry has grown from three million to an estimated six million minks killed every year, making them the world’s third largest producer of mink “pelts,” after Denmark and China. This month the Dutch Senate voted to ban mink fur farming, which comes after a 2012 inquiry by the Ministry of Agriculture revealed that 93 percent of the nation disapproves of killing animals for their fur. Mink fur farmers will have until 2024 to get out of this bloody business. The final step is a sign-off by the relevant Dutch Minister and the Queen.

Mink_FarmThe Netherlands’ fur industry currently operates 170 mink farms. Mink are typically kept in barren wire cages measuring little more than the length of a human arm. In their natural habitat, these animals would enjoy environmentally rich riverbank territories of up to three square miles. Due to the extreme stress of confinement, farmed mink routinely engage in self-mutilation and other abnormal behaviors.

The country banned fox fur farming in 1995 and chinchilla fur farming in 1997. The ban on mink fur farms will mean that in 12 years, fur farming in the Netherlands will be a practice about which the Dutch will shake their heads and say, “Can you believe we used to do that to animals?”

All in all, a pretty good year, I’d say. Is there a victory you think should have made the list?

Two new studies examine the impact of shocking photos and video on outreach efforts.

A decade later, the photograph still haunts me. I had recently gone vegan and was looking for ways to turn my newfound passion into action when I received an email from Humane Society International about the annual slaughter of seals in Canada. Accompanying the message was a particularly gruesome image that showed the bloody bodies of dozens of freshly skinned seals scattered across the frozen landscape. Near the bottom of the photo, pondering this horrible scene, was a lone seal who had managed to escape the carnage. What must she be thinking? I wondered. Was she looking for her mother? A friend? Some answer to what had happened—and why? A few years later when I addressed in my book and in talks the role upsetting images can play in activist burnout, this was the photo that occupied my consciousness and kept me awake at night.

Not that such images don’t have a place in animal activism; they certainly do. Vivid pictures from factory farms, slaughterhouses, canned hunts, research labs, fur farms, and the like reflect society’s mistreatment of animals. They are important markers in our ignoble history. But as the animal rights movement matures—along with technology and social media—and discusses how best to frame its message to the public, the use of potentially off-putting images has become a hot topic. How and when should we use photos and videos with graphic detail in our quest to change consumer behavior? Evidence shows the repulsive approach is working in the anti-tobacco campaign, for instance, where cigarette cartons carrying images of diseased lungs are more effective at delivering the anti-smoking message than any blithe warning from the Surgeon General ever could.

Photos vs. Video

Photo: FARM

Last month, the results of two studies on the use of images in vegan outreach—each with apparently conflicting conclusions—were released. One study, conducted with funding assistance from the nonprofit FARM, showed three different photos to survey participants: one with a low level of graphic detail (a dead pig on a muddy slaughterhouse floor), one with a medium level of graphic detail (a dead pig on a bloody slaughterhouse floor), and one with a high degree of graphic detail (a dead pig with his throat slit on a bloody slaughterhouse floor). Each image’s effect on attitudes toward animal rights was measured using the Wuensch animal rights scale: a high score indicates positive attitudes toward animal rights, and a low score indicates negative attitudes toward animal rights. As explained in this FARM blog, “the low graphic detail image was the most effective, the moderate graphic detail image was less effective, and the high graphic detail image was the least effective, although this effect was not statistically significant. What this means is that, though the images affected attitudes towards animal rights to different degrees, there’s about a 15% chance we could have gotten this result even if the images had no effect.”

The second study, conducted by the Humane Research Council (HRC) on behalf of VegFund, asked people between the ages of 15 and 23 to watch vegetarian/vegan outreach videos and then complete a survey. Following the popular pay-per-view outreach model, each participant received $1.00 to watch one of four short videos. The videos were:

  • Farm to Fridge (Mercy For Animals): An intensely graphic appeal to ethics/compassion using footage of farmed-animal abuse sourced mostly from undercover investigations.
  • Maxine’s Dash for Freedom (Farm Sanctuary): An appeal to ethics/compassion by telling the story of a cow who escaped slaughter and was rescued.
  • A Life Connected (Nonviolence United): An appeal for consumers to connect with concerns about the impact of factory farming on animals, the environment, and/or human health.
  • Geico Couple (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine): An appeal to health concerns by telling the story of a couple who adopted a vegan diet and successfully lost weight.

After watching the video, participants were asked questions about what they learned; if they wanted more information about eating vegetarian or vegan; about their current levels of meat, dairy, and egg consumption; and whether they intended to reduce consumption of any animal products. In contrast to the study carried out with partial funding from FARM, the HRC survey found that graphic images had the biggest impact, with the grisly candor of Farm to Fridge resulting in 36 percent of participants saying they were considering a reduction of the animal products they consume—that is an average of 7 percent better than the other, much less graphic, videos, even though viewers on average were only able to endure 78 percent of Mercy For Animals’ video.

There Will Be Blood

Photo: Mercy For Animals

Based on these results, it’s tempting to conclude that when it comes to photographs, milder images rule, while shocking depictions of animal abuse are more effective in videos. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

“I think the FARM study is a bit flawed in how it was created, the questions asked, and the images selected,” says Mercy For Animals founder Nathan Runkle. The study measured attitudes about animal rights, for example, and didn’t ask if the image changed their perception of animal agriculture or prompted a behavioral change—such as going vegan. “The HRC study did that,” says Nathan. “It looked at behavioral change, which is really what is most important to animal advocates. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who says they want to see graphic images, but those who do see them often show more behavioral change.” Nathan says the controversial use of violent images reminds him of this—and every—presidential election. “Voters claim to be tired of and turned off by negative ads. But politicians continue to use them year after year, because they work.”

While Nathan concedes the images used in the first study are upsetting, he doesn’t believe they necessarily depict cruelty. “All three images showed an animal who was already dead,” he says. “In my opinion, that doesn’t show cruelty in a graphic light, since the animals are already dead and unable to be experiencing pain. So, you can see how in this study what is considered ‘graphic’ is already open to debate.”

Studies aside, animal advocates agree graphic images work. “Doing outreach in person, I like graphic movies in a pay-per-view or classroom setting, if you can get a teacher to show Farm to Fridge,” says Chris Van Breen, who gauges the impact in part by the comments he receives. “I have had complaints such as, ‘You should have warned me. Now I can never eat meat again. If I knew that’s what that video was, I would not have watched it.’” He’s gotten similar responses while distributing graphic leaflets. One recipient told him, “You should not be handing these out. I got that leaflet last week and have not eaten meat since then. It made me sick.” Hmm. Sounds like a winning strategy to me.

“After being a long-time vegetarian, it was ultimately seeing footage of factory farming that made me go vegan,” says Jasmin Singer, co-founder (with Mariann Sullivan) of Our Hen House. “So, yes, I think the graphic imagery works in a lot of cases. I just don’t think it necessarily will always draw people in, which is the catch-22.”

The Middle Way

“I tend to take a middle ground,” writes Doris Lin on her guide on animal rights. “Probably the most graphic image I’ve published is this one of a whale being butchered in Japan. I believe that graphic images can convey a message that no words can, but I am cautious about their use. The whale is dimly lit, and the photo is from a distance, which lessens some of the horror of the scene.” A survey of readers on her page suggests that most people agree graphic imagery—provided it’s used thoughtfully—has its place in the movement.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/

“I think they both work,” says Jo-Anne McArthur, whose photographs of oppressed and rescued animals can be both haunting and beautiful. “It depends on the viewer. Just as one person will see a graphic image and make a positive change based on the experience of seeing it, another person will turn their eyes from it. We are all affected by different images and therefore different tactics, which is why a variety of tactics is crucial to creating change, as history has shown in all movements.” Graphic images move some people and not others, Jo-Anne observes, but they must be part of the movement, along with softer images and softer messages, academia, sanctuaries, letter writing, public demos, leafleting—all of it. She offers an example: “When I went veg, difficult and graphic images helped me to do so. Tim Pachirat, author of Every Twelve Seconds, was undercover at a slaughterhouse for six months and still didn’t go veg! But when he did, it was after he met a rescued cow at Woodstock sanctuary.”

Jasmin sees the logic in this. “I personally have a difficult time believing that your average meat-eating Joe would click on a graphic image to look for more—but, according to these studies, I am wrong. The thing is, I am actually not wrong—but neither are they. Because posting ‘cute, fuzzy kitten’ photos—or their farmed animal equivalent—also works, right? I think in that instance, the important part would be the messaging, which would obviously need to be incredibly compelling and strategic.” That’s a point Karen Davis, founder of United Poultry Concerns, also stresses. “Right now, there are many images of human-caused animal suffering on the Internet,” she says, “but if they are not matched by a passionate verbal message—not necessarily or always exactly where the images are being shown, but as the overall ethical language and context—it seems likely that most people seeing them will say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ but will not connect what they are looking at with personal responsibility or action. I also think that images of animals suffering and abject need to be in contrast to images of these same animals living in happiness—images that are not just ‘postcard’ pretty, but expressive, evocative, and moving.”

Again, Karen and Jasmin are in agreement here. “Sometimes,” says Jasmin, “it’s the happy stuff that packs more of a punch, because—as in my case—the viewer says, ‘LOOK WHAT WE ARE TAKING AWAY FROM THEM!’ The most heartbreaking thing for me about VINE Sanctuary in Vermont, for example, is that many of the chickens choose to sleep in the trees, even in the winter, even though it’s so hideously cold there.” (This natural environment is in stark contrast to the filthy, industrial conditions billions of chickens are raised and confined in every year for their flesh and eggs.)

Indeed, in addition to showing animals suffering, it’s essential they are portrayed as individuals so we don’t promote the concept of them as commodities, says lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project. “If we only show them suffering, we’re not showing them enjoying some semblance of a normal life,” she says. “Take ivory, for example. If you only show images of dead elephants with their tusks cut off, it affects people because we’ve all seen images of these animals walking on the savanna. Most people have a better understanding of them in a more normal situation than, say, most people do of animals like chickens.” lauren, who has taken more than her share of upsetting undercover video, believes explicit images play a crucial role in showing people how animals raised for food are treated. “Though I do tend to worry that focusing on what some might view as extreme scenes of abuse—which we know are possibly routine—might detract more than help.” A better approach, she says, are depictions of abuse that cannot be disputed, such as animals in confinement and even the mutilations inflicted on them (beak searing, tail docking, de-horning, etc.).

The last word on images has yet to be uttered—and likely never will. We can count on further discussion and more studies as the movement hones its methods and message. But for the moment, grim depictions, particularly scenes from undercover videos, seem to hold sway. Adds Nathan: “As I said before, no consumer will tell you they want to see graphic images, but the fact remains that they are undoubtedly effective in changing attitudes and behaviors. Graphic images, which are hard to ignore and impossible to forget, create an emotional connection to the issue and raise ethical discussions, and these things impact consumer behavior.”

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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