We are thrilled to continue to recognize Heroes of Compassion, people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.
Today, we honor Megan Watkins. Megan joined the Farm Sanctuary Board of Directors in 2009 and has served as Chair, as well as on the Development and Executive committees. Megan is the National Practice Executive for Foundations & Grantmaking at U.S. Trust. She leads the practice area dedicated to helping individuals and families, as well as boards of directors and trustees, to maximize their impact in the charitable sector. This includes educating and advising her clients on a number of topics related to philanthropic giving, including how to select the most appropriate charitable giving vehicle, identifying and articulating a philanthropic vision and mission, engaging family and/or board members in philanthropy, and the many nuances involved in starting and operating a strategic giving program. Prior to joining U.S. Trust, Megan served as Philanthropic Advisor and Program Officer in the Philanthropic Services Group at J.P. Morgan Private Bank, where she facilitated giving in the areas of animal rights and welfare, affordable housing, human services, workforce development and youth development. Megan’s additional nonprofit and policy activities include roles with ACCION New York, World Neighbors Nepal, and the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Megan holds a Master of International Affairs degree from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies from Barnard College.
Here is my conversation with Megan.
What does the phrase “living compassionately” mean to you? What inspired you to start down this path?
To me, living compassionately means living in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around you. It means listening, being thoughtful, and showing care and concern in the decisions you make and the actions you take. I would say that I started down this path fairly early in life, having been raised by a mother who was incredibly community- and service-oriented, even given limited time and income. She was the first to teach my sisters and me that everyone’s voice mattered and that everyone should be heard. She also showed us that it was important to keep our door open, to the people and the animals who needed our help.
It wasn’t until later in my life when I began to fully grasp the plight of farm animals and the conflict that existed between my values and my diet. I absolutely attribute this awakening to the animals residing at Farm Sanctuary. I had taken a trip up to Watkins Glen with my husband and a group of close friends. Unsure of what to expect when stepping onto the property, I suddenly found myself sitting on the ground, looking into the eyes of the animals, and knowing that I was about to make a change that would impact the rest of my life.
What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?
My sister, my husband and I all transitioned to a vegan diet on the same day several years ago. This was incredibly helpful to all of us, as we made our way through cleaning out kitchen cabinets, restocking ingredients and comparing recipes. While I would say that we were all on a learning curve for the first year, we kept moving forward and soon found ourselves planning trips based on nearby vegan restaurants, or on Facetime “SOS” calls when our recipes were a flop. If I had one tip, it would be to find a community. Whether that is just a friend to join you, or an established group like Farm Sanctuary, every transition is easier when not alone (and you are definitely not alone on this one!).
What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?
Speaking very personally, when I first became involved with Farm Sanctuary, I felt a bit like an outsider breaking into a very tight community. I was newly vegan and, while familiar with the issues facing farm animals, hadn’t participated in the animal rights movement at such depths. My experiences and motivations may have been questioned at times, which initially left me feeling somehow not vegan enough, or maybe not activist enough. Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, I now find myself on the other side of this, struggling to be patient with those who haven’t made similar transitions in their own lives. And then I remember, as Gene wisely points out, that we are most successful when we are able to meet people where they are. Just like he met me where I was, once upon a time.
What advice / tips would you give to people who find it hard to cope with living in a world where the vast majority of people eat meat and so many farm animals are suffering and dying every day?
Before I became involved with Farm Sanctuary, I actually used to lie awake, unable to shake images of animal cruelty. I would have tears in my eyes, and would just stare at the ceiling. I felt helpless, like the issue was too big and I was too small. When I began spending time taking action on behalf of farm animals, when I sat with them in their own environment, I was finally able to breathe. So my advice to anyone feeling helpless – activate. Get even closer to the issue. Become part of a community that cares and that is taking action on behalf of these incredible souls.
How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?
Many years ago, I attended an animal welfare philanthropy conference where Gene participated on a panel. He spoke early, maybe first, in a soft tone, telling stories of individual animals and allowing us to picture the beauty of what happens when farm animals find sanctuary. He was followed by two or three other speakers, I honestly don’t remember, as I needed to leave the room. When the next speaker began, and the horrifying images started to hit the screen, it was too much for me to process. I waited outside in the hallway, listening, but not watching. That was probably the first time that I thought seriously about needing to engage in some level of work on behalf of farm animals. And while I absolutely acknowledge the impact that those other speakers and images had on me, it was Gene’s focus on the animals as individuals and ambassadors that truly spoke to me.
Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?
That’s easy – Snickers [lead photo of interview]. Snickers steer was the first resident of Farm Sanctuary to welcome me to the farm. I treasure my picture with this amazing ambassador, he was an incredibly gentle soul and will forever be my reminder of my awakening to the plight of farm animals.
Do you have a favorite resident at one of the sanctuaries, and/or do you have a special affinity for a certain species of farm animal?
I can honestly say that I love every one of the Farm residents, even the bull who MAY have chased Susie and me over a fence one blazing hot afternoon.
What is your cookbook or recipe?
I am a huge fan of Terry Walters and the Clean Food cookbook. Her lentil soup recipe is amazing! My sister and I had the pleasure of joining her for a clean food cooking/yoga weekend and everything was plant-based, gluten free and pure awesome.