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From seals to squirrels, the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) has been racking up an impressive record of victories for animals since Bryan Pease and Kath Rogers founded the San Diego-based non-profit seven years ago. Their latest win is persuading yet another local restaurant to remove foie gras from its menu. After Kath announced that they had convinced Bernard’O Restaurant to forgo foie gras, I asked her to share with other activists how APRL managed to get the restaurant to stop serving this cruel delicacy, which is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese until their livers become diseased (foie gras is French for “fatty liver”).
Kath told me much of the credit goes to Christina Tacoronti, APRL’s campaigns coordinator, and Lisa Osborne, a tireless volunteer at the vanguard of the foie gras restaurant campaign. “These two powerhouse ladies run the show on the anti-foie gras front here in San Diego,” Kath says. “Approximately 25 restaurants have removed foie gras in the past few months due to our campaign. Three pulled it from their menus this week alone!”
Christina was kind enough to walk me through APRL’s anti-foie gras campaign. Not surprisingly, they’ve taken a page from the Henry Spira playbook (in fact, Christina is in the process of creating an anti-foie gras manual for activists). She says they had a Valentine’s Day protest scheduled for another restaurant in the neighborhood, El Bizcocho, when they discovered Bernard’O was also serving foie gras. “Since the restaurants were less than a mile away from each other, we decided that we could easily target both of the restaurants on such a special day,” she says.
Christina’s first action was to call Bernard’O and ask if they would remove foie gras from their menu. “I explained to the owner how the product is made, that the sale and production of foie gras will be banned in California in 2012 and that the City of San Diego commends restaurants that remove the product before the ban goes into effect. After hearing all of this, the owner said he would consider removing foie gras. Generally, when a restaurant says they will ‘consider’ removing foie gras, it means that they will not remove foie gras and they are not taking you very seriously.” So Christina called back the next day to see if he had indeed considered it. “I also told the owner that if he would not remove it, we would be outside of his restaurant educating his customers with signs and posters about the cruelty of foie gras. Bernard did not seem to care.” She called him again, on February 13, to remind him that APRL campaigners would be outside his restaurant the following day, Valentine’s Day ― one of the most popular days of the year for couples dining out.
“On the day of the protest, as the protesters were walking up, Kath and I went into the restaurant to ask the owner one more time to take foie gras off the menu,” says Christina. “We were not welcomed in the restaurant, to say the least, and the owner’s wife promptly called the police. It was a good thing that I contacted the police beforehand and that I have a good relationship with the local sergeant.”
Anti-foie gras protests are often held on a Friday or Saturday night, which are busy evenings for restaurants (Valentine’s Day was a Saturday this year). Christina waited until Monday to call Bernard’O again. “I got to speak to the owner’s wife, who said that she was happy to have us there and that we actually increased the sale of foie gras that night. This is a sad tactic that the other side likes to use to make our efforts seem less significant. I told her that we would return if they would not stop serving foie gras. We scheduled the protest for two weeks later and I called the restaurant two days later.”
On the next phone call to the restaurant, Bernard’s wife tried playing the sympathy card, but Christina wasn’t buying it. “This time she said that she loved animals and that we should consider her right to make money. With this I knew I had her, and I upped the threat. I told her that we would be back for our second protest with more people and for a full two hours if she did not remove foie gras. At the end of the phone call, she said that she would talk to the owner and the chef and then get back to us in two days. At the end of the second day, we called the restaurant and talked to Bernard. He said they had talked about it and that the restaurant would no longer be serving foie gras. To confirm, we sent a volunteer to look at the menu and ask what the specials were and, indeed, the restaurant was foie gras-free.”
In other words, it took a few phone calls, a little face time and a single protest for a restaurant to give up serving foie gras. And this was a restaurant that had seemed steadfast in its position.
To ensure restaurants are sticking to their foie gras-free pledges, APRL visits them about once a month, checks the menu and asks if foie gras is available as a side dish. “If it’s not, great,” says Christina. “We will check back in a month. We do tell the owner that if we find that the restaurant is serving foie gras again, we will return without warning. And that is how we continue to get victories and make them last.”
APRL is working hard to get every restaurant in San Diego to stop serving foie gras now. Speaking of which, as I was preparing this blog, Kath told me they were planning a protest at El Bizcocho. A few hours later, I received an email from Kath: “Bizcocho took foie gras off the menu! Woo hoo!!!”
If you’d like to thank Bernard’O and El Bizcocho for making the compassionate choice, you can email them:
Bernard’O – email@example.com
El Bizcocho – RanchoBernardoInn@JCResorts.com
Erik Marcus is a tireless campaigner who works on efforts related to animal protection and promoting veganism. In addition to publishing Vegan.com, which features his daily blog, Erik has authored three books: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics and Money, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating and The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice, which he just published this month. He took some time from his hard work to talk about his activism, his writing endeavors and the question all activists should ask themselves.
Your latest book, The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice, is hot off the presses. Please tell me what this new book covers.
I think when you first consider becoming vegan, it’s immensely helpful to get advice from somebody who has been doing it for a long time. So in this book, I strived to cover everything that is important to new vegans. I’ve written chapters on food shopping, cooking, nutrition, travel, relationships and so forth.
Anybody can write about these things, so I kept asking myself, “Am I presenting this material as helpfully as possible?” My preoccupation with being genuinely helpful led me to offer up a ton of information I haven’t encountered elsewhere. For instance, there are plenty of places a vegan can buy food, so I’ve got a chapter about supermarkets, another about natural food stores, another about farmer’s markets, and still another about shopping online.
Wherever I can in this book, I try to provide simple advice that unlocks a great deal of value. For instance, when talking about food, I introduce the idea of basing your diet on five core foods: smoothies, sandwiches, salads, stir-fries and grilled veggies. These foods are all super healthful, they are quick and easy to make, and they can all be prepared in a multitude of ways so you can eat them all the time without getting bored.
My intention in writing this book was to give a non-vegan every piece of information required to allow that person to easily become vegan tomorrow, without fear or sacrifice. From the responses I’ve received from the book’s first readers, it appears I’ve accomplished that goal.
How does your new book differ from Meat Market and Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating?
Both of those books required me to spend months and months in an agriculture library. The Ultimate Vegan Guide, by contrast, is my attempt to distill my twenty years of vegan living into a short and super-readable book. I think this subject gave me room to be much more relaxed and entertaining with my writing.
You made Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating available as a free download from Vegan.com. Why did you decide to do that?
I guess it was sort of an experiment. I wanted to see how many people would take advantage of reading it if I made the book free. The book ended up being downloaded tens of thousands of times, and I’ve had numerous people approach me to say they went vegan as a result of downloading the book. I should mention the free download went away when I re-launched Vegan.com last spring, but I’ll bring it back at some point when I find some time.
Most people know you as an author, blogger, podcaster and public speaker, but you’re engaged in other models of activism. What’s your favorite form of animal activism?
Well, Vegan.com and my writing sucks up nearly all my time. But I still manage pass out Vegan Outreach literature at my local colleges at least a few times a semester. This is something anyone can do, and I urge people who are unfamiliar with the effectiveness of leafleting to read Matt Ball’s wonderful essay “A Meaningful Life.”
One of your points in Meat Market is the “commodity-cruelty argument.” Could you explain what this is?
I devoted Chapter 2 of Meat Market to this argument, and it so happens that Chapter 2 of The Ultimate Vegan Guide reiterates this argument in a more concise format. Basically, this argument introduces the ethical consequences of what happens when meat, milk and eggs are produced under a commodity system. See, the name of the game with commodities is that only the lowest-cost producers survive. So, when animal-based foods become commodities, what happens is that producers are forced to embrace every possible cost-cutting measure, no matter how cruel it is to the animals involved.
Just by understanding this one simple concept, you’ve gained a window through which you can witness and understand the deeply rooted cruelties that exist within agribusiness.
Speaking of ag cruelties, you recently scored a victory for animals at your alma mater, UC Santa Cruz: they’re going to start making cage-free eggs available. Can you walk us through what you did to make that happen ― and how others can do the same at their college?
After receiving guidance from Josh Balk of HSUS, I used the classic Henry Spira approach of opening a respectful dialog with UCSC’s director of dining services. When that communication didn’t bear fruit, I got the attention of the Chancellor’s office. Soon after that, I was able to get some media coverage of the issue ― and within weeks of that coverage appearing the University started offering cage-free eggs. It was no big deal; anyone can do this sort of thing. But given the number of battery eggs served on campus, the simple efforts I made are going to eliminate a great deal of cruelty.
I know this victory is just the beginning; what’s next for you in working with the campus?
Well, now that Prop 2 has passed, UCSC doesn’t have any excuse to continue serving battery cage eggs. So I’m now back in touch with the Chancellor’s Office to see how quickly they can get rid of all battery cage eggs at the University. I’ve made contact with other activists on campus and, if the University doesn’t take speedy action to get rid of battery eggs, we’re going to launch a campaign that will expose the university’s ties to animal cruelty. But I doubt such a campaign will be necessary: my intuition is that the Chancellor’s Office and Dining Services staff are outstanding people who will want to quickly cut the university’s ties to battery cage egg farms. It’s the right thing to do.
You’re considered one of the leaders in the vegan movement. Who are the people that inspired you?
I’m not a leader; I’m just a guy with a website who has written a few books. Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, Philip Lymbery, Josh Balk, Mahi Klosterhalfen, Jack Norris and Matt Ball: those are some of the movement’s leaders.
I’ve been very fortunate to make friends with some incredibly effective people in the movement, and these people have played a big role in shaping the kind of activism I do. I got to know Henry Spira in the early 1990s, and my contact with him led me to the sort of work I do today. For me, it’s all about pragmatism: getting in tune with the public and figuring out what steps they’re ready to take right now. If you’re ready to go vegan, then great, I’ll give you the encouragement and the information you need. If you aren’t ready to stop eating animal products, then I’ll encourage you to eat fewer animal products and to shift your purchases away from factory farms.
Outreach is all about listening to people, and helping them to take whatever next step they’re ready for. It’s not about deciding what step would make that person a moral human being in your eyes, and expecting that person to jump through the hoop you’ve constructed. That’s the mindset of an asshole, and it’s at the root of the angry vegan stereotype.
It seems you work non-stop on behalf of animals, and I know you’ve seen some of the cruelest abuses agribusiness subjects animals to. What do you do to keep from burning out?
It’s true that this work can mess with your head. After David Foster Wallace hanged himself this past autumn, I found myself emotionally unable to write for about a week. At some point, you need to take care of yourself. After all the exposure I’ve had to animal cruelty, I’ve stopped watching new cruelty videos when they come out. I’ve seen everything I need to see, and it’s important I preserve my emotional health.
But the real way to avoid burnout is to regularly engage in tasks that you know will make a big difference. I’m certain that anyone who cares, and who works steadily, can keep more than a million animals out of a slaughterhouse. I talk about how to accomplish this in the final chapter of my Ultimate Vegan Guide. Since I know I’m being effective, there’s no room in my belief system to permit burnout.
We’re going to annihilate factory farming in our generation, while putting veganism solidly into the mainstream, and I’m delighted to be one of the people working to make this happen.
What’s next for you? Any other books you’ll be working on?
I think I’ve now finished plugging up what I perceived as the main gaps in the movement’s literature. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book — at this point there’s nothing else in the vegan/animal rights world that I’d be interested in writing about. Since my book-writing career has likely come to an end, my life at the moment is at a crossroads; my main goal moving forward is to identify new efforts that make me increasingly effective for animals. I’m now asking myself the same question I hope every reader of this interview regularly asks themselves: What can I do that will impact as many farmed animals as possible?
One of the busiest and most well-known activists campaigning for animals today, Paul Shapiro is the senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ Factory Farming Campaign. Before joining HSUS in 2005, Paul founded Compassion Over Killing, where he worked as a farm animal cruelty investigator, primarily documenting conditions on egg and broiler factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants.
Throughout 2008, one of Paul’s biggest priorities is promoting California’s Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act. If passed in November, this voter initiative will phase out the confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, breeding pigs in gestation crates and calves in veal crates.
“Many HSUS successes against factory farming would not have been achieved but for Paul’s initiative and execution,” says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “He is visionary, relentless, passionate and intelligent, and I thank my lucky stars he works for the organization.”
Paul paused long enough to answer a few questions about his 15 years of activism.
Paul, I know you’ve been involved in animal activism since at least high school. What was the turning point for you? What made you realize animals need activists to speak up for them?
The first time I was exposed to our routine mistreatment of farm animals was in 1993, when a friend showed me some films of animals confined on factory farms and being abused at slaughter plants. I was horrified. Having lived with dogs my whole life – which admittedly was only 14 years long at that point – I looked into the terrified eyes of the animals in the video and saw my family dogs, struggling to free themselves from the cruelty that was obviously inescapable to any viewer. I imagined what I would have done to protect my dogs from such a fate, which of course was pretty much anything. I realized then that I was financing that violence every time I sat down to eat, so I became a vegetarian immediately, and as I learned more in the following few weeks, I became vegan.
What was the reaction from your family when you became vegan and an activist?
My brother was a vegetarian, but not yet vegan – he became vegan a few years later. Neither of my parents was vegetarian, and while they certainly made sure to provide vegan options, they were pretty skeptical at first. As time went on and they realized how mainstream vegan eating was becoming, not to mention how many good reasons there are to do it, they gradually starting eating lower on the food chain themselves. At this point they’re very supportive and far more animal-friendly than the average person.
Can you tell me about some of your early activism? What worked for you starting off – and what didn’t?
I started off as a high school student trying to make a difference in whatever ways I could. Whether it was serving vegan lunch to classmates to show them how easy humane eating really is (sometimes called a “feed-in”), putting on video showings about factory farming and slaughter plants or hosting animal protection speakers, there was no shortage of ways I found to be active for animals. Of course, there were some more confrontational tactics that as a teenager appealed to me, which I now recognize were not particularly effective. That’s not to say confrontation is always ineffective, but my views on animal advocacy – and many other things! – have evolved since I was 14 years old.
You’re one of the busiest animal activists I know. What’s a typical work day like for Paul Shapiro – and what do you do for fun?
That’s kind of you. Some of the folks I work with definitely have more on their plates than I do – their schedules are mind-boggling to me.
Of course, I try to work as hard – and as smart – as I’d want someone working for me if I was the one confined in a factory farm. Advancing the interests of animals is very rewarding work, so it’s not a sacrifice to devote myself fully. Helping animals is my life, not just my job.
A typical work day? Each week is different, especially during something as massive as California’s Prop 2 campaign. Right now, it’s Monday afternoon and I’m on a plane from DC to LA, where I’ll meet with local campaign coordinators tonight; we’re fortunate to have some of the best people working on this campaign. Really, it’s an honor to call them my friends. Tomorrow I’ve got a meeting in LA and then fly to San Francisco for a dinner meeting. Wednesday I’m back in Southern California giving a speech at a veterinary school. Thursday I’ve got both lunch and dinner meetings in Southern California with key campaign endorsers. Friday it’s back to DC for two days until getting on another plane to meet with a major food retailer about improving its animal welfare policies.
My good friend Gene Baur regularly says that being in this field brings you into contact with the worst of human traits (cruelty, greed and selfishness) and the best of human traits (kindness, compassion and devotion to serving the less fortunate). One of the most heartening and rewarding parts of my work is having the privilege of meeting so many people across the country who epitomize the latter.
As far as what I do for fun – keep in mind that I already find what I do to be pretty fun! But I also enjoy reading, politics, weight lifting and playing football. (Wow – that last sentence sounds eerily like a personal ad.)
Speaking of Prop 2 , this California ballot measure is getting attention across the U.S. Why is Prop 2 a national issue?
It’s getting national attention because it’s an epic clash in the nation’s largest agricultural state. The campaign involves a very powerful and well-financed interest (the agribusiness lobby) going head-to-head against the animal protection, environmental and food safety movements. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?
What are some of the lessons you learned from Compassion Over Killing, the organization you founded in 1995, that you are applying to your work at the Humane Society of the United States?
I think one of the things made crystal clear by Compassion Over Killing and the Humane Society of the United States is the power of undercover exposés at factory farms, livestock auctions and slaughter plants. Shining a bright spotlight on the very dark world of animal cruelty and allowing animals to “speak” for themselves can often be more powerful in changing hearts, minds, and policies than anything else.
What parallels can you draw between the animal rights movement and other social justice causes?
The most obvious similarity to me is that both the animal movement and many other social movements aim to lend a hand to those who can’t help themselves – to provide aid to those who are less fortunate and often at the mercy of others who are far more powerful. And of course, the most obvious difference is that the beneficiaries of our movement aren’t able to participate, nor are they even able to tell us what they’d like us to do for them. It’s a huge disadvantage for our work.
Many activists are aware of the debate between activists who work for incremental reform to relieve animal suffering versus strict abolitionists who think such so-called “welfarist” campaigns harm the movement. What’s your take on this debate and the effectiveness of incrementalism as a path to ending animal exploitation?
I think there’s a false dichotomy here and that most people understand that social change usually occurs incrementally.
Could you imagine environmentalists opposing stricter emissions standards for vehicles, saying that they just make people feel better about driving even though they’re still polluting (although less)? Of course not. They recognize that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good; we should applaud steps in the right direction while continuing to move the ball even further down the field.
I don’t anticipate that we’ll reach societal agreement regarding the ethical permissibility (or lack thereof) of exploiting animals in the near future. Such a debate is important and should continue. I certainly come down on the side of those who would like to see an end to our often ruthless exploitation of animals – exploitation that requires animals to be treated as nothing more than mere commodities. At the same time, we have an obligation to immediately move the ball forward on eradicating areas of animal exploitation that most Americans already agree are simply unacceptable.
There’s no excuse for failing to enact policies prohibiting many of the worst abuses animals face, and there are plenty to go around. This would reduce an enormous amount of animal suffering and demonstrate that we are indeed capable of restraining ourselves when it comes to the virtually unlimited power we hold over animals. This type of progress wouldn’t end the discussion as to whether or not we should exploit animals nor would it end all animal cruelty, but it would allow us to move in a direction nearly all of us agree is positive.
As anyone familiar with social change knows, progress tends to beget progress. In other words, it’s pretty hard to go from A to Z without passing by 24 other letters first.
Legendary 19th-century animal campaigner “Humanity Dick” Martin was once asked about the modesty of a bill he was trying to push through the British parliament. He responded that he’d gladly outlaw all cruelty to animals in a heartbeat if he could, “But if I can’t get 100 per cent, why then, I must be satisfied to take 50 or 25 per cent.”
I don’t believe all animal advocates must work on campaigns to ban the most objectionable forms of animal abuse, but I think the animals who will certainly be brought into existence and be exploited in the immediate future are sure glad that some are.
You’ve had many successes in recent years. Are there any you are especially proud of?
Everything I’ve done and continue to do is the result of team effort with so many of my close friends and fellow campaigners. We’re a relentless crew of folks who are adamant about generating concrete results for animals. As the late Henry Spira said, “Activism has to be results-oriented. Raising awareness is not enough.”
Some of the work I’ve had the honor of playing a partial role in that has been particularly useful, in my opinion, includes banning gestation crates in Oregon, banning gestation and veal crates in Arizona and Colorado, ending the use of the “Animal Care Certified” logo on egg cartons, changing corporate policies to prohibit the use of battery eggs and producing HSUS’ Guide to Vegetarian Eating. Of course, the California campaign is likely to be the most important of anything I’ve had a hand in.
What advice do you give to people just starting out in animal activism?
It’s very easy – and common – for people who are just learning about the universe of misery we inflict on animals to become angry and resentful. It’s possible for us to feel so passionately about reducing animal suffering that we let that rage override effective communication with those who aren’t yet where we’re at. Anger and frustration may be understandable, but we need to take care not to let them overwhelm us and overshadow all of the positive steps we can take towards making a difference for animals.
While those may be natural reactions, we shouldn’t just act in a manner that makes us feel good, but rather we should act in a manner that’s actually effective in creating tangible progress for animals.
The vast majority of us weren’t raised as vegans. While we learn more about animal cruelty and move further along the path, it’s often difficult to remember that – just like our family members, friends, colleagues, and co-workers who aren’t vegan – we, too, once ate animals.
Because of this, it’s often helpful to ask ourselves, “Why did I become vegan?” Chances are, we didn’t choose to strive toward cruelty-free living because someone yelled at us in a condemning tone. Likely, we adopted our diet because someone helped us see that choosing compassion over cruelty was a simple way to prevent needless suffering.
We’re in a great position to effect positive change for animals by being their most effective and pragmatic ambassadors.
Congratulations to Paul for being inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame at the recent Animal Rights 2008 conference!