Is Being a Vegetarian Important?

Have you ever been in so much pain that you thought you were going to die?

Have you ever suffered so much that you wanted to die?

Every year, many unseen individuals in the U.S. do suffer to death. Slowly. Excruciatingly. Pigs, transported hundreds and hundreds of miles in open trucks without food or water, freeze to death. Chickens raised to be “meat,” genetically manipulated to grow unnaturally fast, have their legs break under their own weight, leaving them incapacitated and unable to get to food or water.

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It can be shocking to learn that, even before they have a chance to reach slaughter, modern agribusiness is so inherently brutal that it will cause countless individuals to die agonizing deaths. As Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times:

More than any other institution, the American industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of what capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. Here in these places life itself is redefined — as protein production — and with it suffering. That venerable word becomes “stress,” an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution, like tail-docking or beak-clipping. Our own worst nightmare such a place may well be; it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs, into the brief, pitiless life of a “production unit.”

For a growing number of people, these facts compel them to stop eating chickens, pigs, ducks, cows, and turkeys. More and more people are making a daily, public statement against the breathtaking viciousness behind meat production.

For me, being a vegetarian is not the conclusion of an impartial set of utilitarian calculations, nor the endorsement of “animal rights.” Rather, being a vegetarian is a statement about the person I want to be. I could not live with myself if I were to be a part of such cruelty to thinking, feeling individuals.

But of course, not everyone makes this choice. With factory farms concealed, slaughterhouses hidden, and society structured around consuming faceless, disembodied, sanitized “meat,” we can easily ignore reality and just go along with the crowd. And if confronted with the hidden realities of modern agribusiness, we can seek out the “less bad” and call it good.

Michael Pollan, quoted earlier about the horrors of big ag, isn’t a vegetarian. In fact, he actively mocks the “moral certainty” of vegetarians. He fabricates fantastic fantasies to continue to justify eating animals. For example, he says that thinking in terms of individuals is human-centric, and that instead, we need to think in terms of species’ interests. Of course, this is exactly backwards. “Species” is a human construct, an abstraction that inherently can’t have interests. Only individuals have the capacity to experience pleasure or suffer pain and thus have interests. To argue that we should eat the flesh of our fellows to advance the “interests” of a species is so absurd, such a complete inversion of reality, it is truly stunning that a seemingly intelligent person would be willing to put forth such ludicrous nonsense. Pollan is the perfect example of Cleveland Amory’s observation that people have an infinite capacity to rationalize, especially when it comes to something they want to eat.

This may seem an unnecessarily harsh condemnation of a man who at least is willing to write about factory farms. But Pollan not only mocks vegetarians via laughable straw-man arguments, he even endorses the brutal act of force-feeding geese to create foie gras! This level of repulsive rationalization should be exposed for what it is. Pollan’s unwillingness to honestly consider vegetarianism, combined with his firsthand experience of “our own worst nightmare,” leads him to praise “happy meat” from “humane” farms. Having had the time and resources to investigate the various farms, the pinnacle of Pollan’s praise is Polyface Farm, where “animals can be animals,” living, according to Pollan, true to their nature.

So what is Polyface like? Rabbits are kept in small suspended wire cages. Chickens are crowded into mobile wire cages, confined without the ability to nest or the space needed to establish a pecking order. All year ‘round, pigs and cattle are shipped in open trucks to conventional slaughterhouses. Seventy-two hours before their slaughter, birds are crated with seven other birds. After three days without food, they are grabbed by their feet, upended, and, without any stunning, have their throats slit.

This is the system that Pollan proclaims praiseworthy. While mocking vegetarians, he argues that we should ethically and financially endorse Polyface’s treatment of these individuals.

But really, how can we expect better? In the end, Polyface’s view is the same as Tyson’s: These individual animals are, ultimately, simply meat to be sold for a profit. It is logically and emotionally impossible for there to be any real respect — any true, fundamental concern for the interests of these living, breathing, thinking, and feeling individuals — when they are being raised only to be butchered and sold for maximum profit. If we insist that we must consume actual animal flesh instead of a vegetarian alternative, it is naïve, at best, to believe that any system will truly take good care of the animals we pay it to slaughter.

image001See also: Humane Meat and the Arc of History

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If, in the end, you see an individual as meat, you will treat them as such.

Of course, I applaud anyone who looks honestly at “our worst nightmare” and begins to take steps toward more compassionate choices; most people find it easier to go along with the crowd.

Yet for those of us striving to live a truly moral life, it is important to avoid getting caught up in rationalizations. In the end, we have to address the most fundamental question: Do we respect individuals, or do we support slaughter? Details aside, the bottom line is that meat is the flesh of a unique individual — an individual who had thoughts and feelings, friends and fears, and who struggled and fought to stay alive.MattChicago2016

We can each recognize and respect these chickens, cows, ducks, pigs, and turkeys as the incredible individuals they are. We can recognize that rather than being food, if given the chance, they could each be a friend.

-Matt Ball

Ways to be Compassionate for Random Acts of Kindness Day

February 17 is Random Acts of Kindness Day! Celebrate this day (and every day!) by extending your kindness not only to the individuals around you, but also to actions that help keep the earth and all of its inhabitants healthy! Here are three ways we can celebrate and support farm animals:

  1. Share a #CompassionateMeal with a friend, neighbor, or coworker.

This day is the perfect opportunity to teach your friends, family, and community about why compassionate meals are important to you. Learn more here.

  1. Go veg for a meal … or a day!

Be kind to animals and the planet by cooking, baking, or exploring plant-based options in your area for one meal, or the whole day. You can find lots of easy, yet amazing recipes throughout the V-lish site, including the blog! Or use apps like Happy Cow to find cruelty-free restaurants in your area. Get creative, and be sure to share your creations and ideas with friends and family!

  1. Bring a compassionate meal to someone in need.

Pay it forward by sharing the meal you made above; taking someone in need out to dinner; or bringing warm, healthy, store-bought meals to someone in need.

 

Farm Sanctuary Statement on USDA’s Animal Welfare Information Purge

Update: Why is Trump covering up animal cruelty cases?

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The Washington Post reports:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.”

Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary’s President and co-founder, has issued this statement:

“Farm Sanctuary encourages transparency and accountability, and we are very concerned about the USDA’s recent decision to remove records of animal welfare violations from its public website. This change enables animal abusers, and we urge that it be reconsidered.”

Read full article>>

Beware the Boomerang

The Daily Show recently did a segment – R.I.P. Facts – lamenting the fact [sic] that what is actually true no longer matters.

The problem, however, is actually significantly worse. If someone believes something false that conforms to their preconceived beliefs, fact checking them can actually strengthen their false belief. This is called the “boomerang effect.”

This is important to recognize, because it is very likely that most people believe that eating meat is necessary; chicken is healthy; free-range means cruelty-free; etc. Just telling them otherwise, even with supporting facts, is likely to just reinforce their current belief.

Instead, it is good to start by seeking out common ground. While most people have a negative view of veganism and vegans, most people also have a visceral repulsion to factory farms. So it is often good to ask what they know about factory farms as the beginning of a Socratic-style discussion.

Also, most people are willing to speculate on the motivations of others (rather than defending their own beliefs). It might seem strange, but asking people if they know anyone who is vegetarian and why they think those vegetarians don’t eat meat can be a good hook.

Unfortunately, there is no set script we can follow in every situation. But it is important to recognize that we can’t actually win an argument with a meat eater. The best we can do is to start a conversation. This is the way we can potentially find common ground, and allow the other individual to open their heart and mind to uncomfortable ideas.

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Megan Watkins, Hero of Compassion

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.

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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?

img_6177Speaking 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.

image1If I were to pick … I really love goats.  I would live among the goats, with the full understanding that my pockets would be picked and my coat sleeves chewed until eternity.

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.

 

 

Help End “One of the Worst Crimes in History”

Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens, took to the pages of The Guardian to make the case that Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history, and that the fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. In this article, he addresses the common claim that animals have to be treated well in order to “produce.”

What makes the existence of domesticated farm animals particularly cruel is not just the way in which they die but above all how they live. The root of the problem is that domesticated animals have inherited from their wild ancestors many physical, emotional and social needs that are redundant in farms. Farmers routinely ignore these needs without paying any economic price. They lock animals in tiny cages, mutilate their horns and tails, separate mothers from offspring, and selectively breed monstrosities. The animals suffer greatly, yet they live on and multiply.

Kiev of Farm SanctuaryAt Farm Sanctuary, we recognize that each of these animals is an individual, with the ability and desire to have friends, love their offspring, and enjoy life.

One thing we can each do today is to share this video, What Came Before, with our social media friends. It tells a powerful story that can help more people start to make compassionate choices.

Thanks!

Christina Cuenca, Hero of Compassion

We are excited to continue our Heroes of Compassion program, where we recognize people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.

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Today we honor Christina Cuenca, who has been unstoppable as Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals coordinator in Seattle since 2013. She is a board member of the Northwest Animal Rights Network and Generation Veggie. After the birth of their son, Luciano, Christina and husband Fernando formed the Seattle Vegan Families Group. Christina is currently grants manager for a local nonprofit organization, as well as an aspiring poet. In her spare time, Christina enjoys hiking, reading, rummaging through thrift stores and, of course, strong coffee.
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Cultivating Compassionate Communities: What does “living compassionately” mean to you? What inspired you to start down this path?

In late 2000, I came across Erik Marcus’ book, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating. I couldn’t believe I had been virtually unaware of the realities of factory farming, and I remember feeling sucker-punched in the gut. I finished the last page of the book, emptied out my fridge and pantry, and became vegan on the spot.

For me, living compassionately means more than just not exploiting animals. It means thinking about the world and all its living beings as connected, valuable and deserving of respect and consideration. It means being accountable for the decisions we make that affect others and our planet. It means community taking care of one another during difficult times, and celebrating each other’s accomplishments with sincerity and joy. It means showing up when it matters, in whatever way that you can.

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

I was so angry about what had been hidden from me, my total ignorance about where my food came from, that I didn’t really have a transition period. I finished that first book, and said “no more.” Since then, I’ve expanded my knowledge to include an understanding of the environmental implications of eating meat and how capitalism drives the decisions we make (or are made for us) about our food. The oppression and exploitation of animals does not occur in a vacuum, and I’ve realized it’s important for us to continue to engage in complicated, messy dialogue. Don’t be afraid to have those conversations.

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

The greatest challenge for me has been navigating the ups and downs of feeling like you’re making a difference one day, to feeling like you aren’t making even the smallest ripple of impact the next. I am often overwhelmed by the apathy that is so pervasive in our society, the overconsumption of our natural resources, the out of control consumerism, the disregard for anything other than “me and my own.” And it’s not easy to re-center and re-focus. I often find myself wondering: What more I can do? How can I be more efficient so I can take something else on? I’ve gotten a bit more adept at managing this over the years, especially after having a child, but it’s a constant struggle.

the-cuencas

What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

First and foremost, find your circle. Find ways to connect and cultivate relationships with others who are fighting the same fight. The support you find within your community will help keep you energized and positive. Of course, it’s dangerously easy to have your worldview skewed when you are surrounded by only like-minded individuals, and our social media feeds only compound this. It’s important to step out of that safe bubble.

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?

Farm Sanctuary is highlighted in Erik Marcus’ book. Living in New York at the time, Watkins Glen was an easy road trip away and I had the pleasure of staying in one of the adorably rustic red cabins. My time at the sanctuary was emotional and powerful. It was the first time I had been near a farm animal after becoming vegan, and the experience transformed my veganism from theory to the intimate.

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After visiting the sanctuary, I attended a Walk for Farm Animals event, and was moved by the positive energy and the many compassionate people who came together to show their support for ending the abuse of animals on factory farms. While I had been vegan for years at this point, the experience sparked my animal activism. I moved to Seattle in 2008, attended Seattle’s first Walk for Farm Animals in 2011, and became a volunteer organizer for the event in 2013-2015.

Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?

My first adopted cat, Ashes, will always have a special place in my heart. She was full of attitude and zest, and I was crazy about her. We currently share our home with Sir Isaac Newton, a ball of orange-haired feline sweetness. He is one of those rare unicorn cats who loves belly rubs.

 

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?

During my one and only visit to the Watkins Glen shelter, I met Arbuckle. I sat with this blind and incredibly sweet cow for a while in the fields. I’ve never forgotten him.

How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

Being a mother, much of my current activism focuses on building support and community for vegan families. My husband and I started a local meetup group for vegan families in Seattle, shortly after the birth of our son six years ago. Since that time, membership has exploded. I also work with Generation Veggie, an online resource for raising plant-powered kids. I see growing numbers of vegan children who are confident, proud, and vocal advocates for animals. I think we’ll continue to see compassionate vegan families become more mainstream, and this is an exciting shift. I also expect to see advancements in cultured meat, which has the potential to affect great change.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal? 

This changes fairly regularly, but right now I’m on an avocado toast craze. I can’t get enough.

Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know? 

Here are a few other organizations that excite me:

www.generationveggie.org
www.narn.org
www.foodispower.org

 

Seth Tibbott, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to continue Heroes of Compassion, where we recognize people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.

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Gene Baur and Seth Tibbott

Today we honor Seth Tibbott, founder of Turtle Island Foods, makers of the amazing line of Tofurky products! Since founding Turtle Island in 1980, it is certain that Seth has touched the lives of just about everyone reading this post. For example, when I first discovered Tofurky slices, I immediately emailed another friend and said, “Stop whatever you are doing, go to the co-op, and buy these new Tofurky slices.” A half hour later, I received a response: “How do they do that??”!

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Cultivating Compassionate Communities: What does the term “living compassionately” mean to you? 

When in Germany last year, an animal rights group gave me a bracelet that sums up compassionate living to me. In German it reads “Leben Und Leben Lassen,” which translates to “Live and Leave Living.” Life on this beautiful planet is all too short for all sentient beings, human and non-human alike. Anything we can do to live more compassionately and do less harm pays huge dividends to ourselves and the planet as well.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I stopped eating animals in 1972 after reading Diet for a Small Planet by Francis Moore Lappé. I was a teacher/naturalist at the time and her book pointed out to me the inefficiency of animal agriculture from an environmental perspective. The word vegan was not in popular use at the time and I started out as a vegetarian, flopping back and forth from vegetarian to vegan — which had been called a “pure vegetarian” diet for many years. When I later learned about the health benefits of a plant-based diet and of the cruelty inherent in the factory farm system, it felt like my decision was a win-win-win for myself, the animals, and the earth.

My flopping stopped when, thanks to Farm Sanctuary, I finally understood, in my heart, the sentience of farm animals — who just like you and I, only want to spend as much time as possible on this glorious earth, living in peace with our friends and family.

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

Some people, smarter than I, change from their meat- and dairy-based diet overnight to a vegan diet. I was not one of them. On the one hand, in 1972 there were no farm sanctuaries of any kind that I was aware of, nor animal advocacy groups beyond the ASPCA. PETA was founded, I believe, the same year I started making tempeh — in 1980. But even after that, when more and more information became available, it was still a gradual process. Even though I thought of my diet as “flexo-vegan,” eating a small amount of cheese and at some points even fish, it took many years before becoming totally vegan. Though I regret not becoming vegan sooner, I am glad to be vegan now and I know too much now to ever go back.

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

Finding food is no problem, even while traveling the world and visiting strange places that you would not think of being vegan-oriented. I think it’s challenging sometimes interacting with friends and loved ones who are not vegan. I try and live by example without judgment, but sometimes struggle with feelings of separateness by eating a diet that is very different than the norm of many friends. That said, I recently went to a potluck hosted by some of my best friends and as it turned out, there was no meat at all there!

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?

I am 65 now. I’ve been in business for 37 years with a front row seat, watching the world slowly begin to change its dietary course. While this change is more like an ocean liner gradually turning than a small sailboat tacking on a dime, the growth I have seen over my lifetime has been tremendous. In 1972 there were not only no meat alternatives in wide circulation, there was not even any granola on the shelves of the supermarket. Today, plant-based foods are a five billion dollar industry and growing fast. That’s basically growing from zero to billions in what is a blip in time. None of the great social causes changed fast enough and this change is no different, but this change IS happening. We are well on our way to seeing plant-based foods be the new norm.

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and how did you get involved?

I first found out about Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt a Turkey Project in 1997, I think [see Tofurky Feast box below]. We had just launched the Tofurky Feast two years earlier, so it seemed like a good fit to support Gene and Lorri, who were just getting started. We devoted one panel of the box to this great program and gave a little money. Gene’s story of authentically growing Farm Sanctuary has paralleled, in many ways, our own approach to developing the Tofurky Company: slowly but surely, not selling out to anyone who would tell us what to support and what not to support. It’s an honor to be associated with the Farm Sanctuary today that is in full bloom and changing so many lives.

farm sanctuary tofurky box0

Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?

Well of course I love the turkeys, but honestly it is the pigs that I really like to hang out with the most. So cuddly but also so smart.

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?

It was a great honor to meet my namesake, Tibbott the turkey [below] at Orland in 2013.

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How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

I think the protein market will be dominated by plant-based foods and possibly, if they develop in the right way, cultured meat grown without harming any animals. I doubt that all animal agriculture will disappear by then, but factory farms will be a shameful footnote in history and no one will understand how this generation ever accepted such institutionalized cruelty.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal? 

I love all products but keep going back to the Tofurky Roast with gravy and all the trimmings.

seth's plated roast0

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Thanks to much for everything, Seth!

One Possible Future

With cruelty rampant on factory farms, and vegetarians currently a small minority, it is easy to dismiss the hope for a truly compassionate world. “My Uncle Dick hunts, and my cousin Jeb is always mocking me for being vegan. You’re crazy if you think they will ever change!”

These are legitimate concerns. However, it is nevertheless possible to achieve our goals – and much more quickly than we imagine.

Taking a longer perspective can help guide our advocacy. Society has advanced an incredible amount in just the last few centuries. Even though democracy was first proposed in ancient Greece, only during the eighteenth century did humanity see the hints of a democratic system. Only recently was slavery abolished in the industrialized world. It was not until the last century that child labor was ended in Europe and North America, child abuse was criminalized, and women were allowed to vote. Some minorities have attained more equal rights only in the last few decades or even the last few years.

It is hard to comprehend just how much society has changed in recent history. Prejudices we can hardly fathom today were completely accepted just decades ago. For example, if we read what was written and said about slavery – fewer than 150 years ago – the defenders were not just ignorant racists, but admired politicians, civic and religious leaders, and learned intellectuals. What is horrifying to us now was once not only accepted, but respected.

However slow our progress may feel, we are advancing at lightning speed compared to past social justice movements. A century ago, almost no animals received any protection whatsoever from abuse. Now, according to a Gallup poll, 96 percent of Americans want to see animals protected from abuse, and 32 percent believe that animals deserve “the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.” Until 1990, only a single ballot initiative to protect animals that had passed at a state level – just one! Since 1990, animal advocates have passed dozens, including several directly abolishing some of the worst abuses on factory farms.

Not only do the vast majority of people oppose cruelty to animals, many question eating animals, at least on some level. In 2011, Grist’s Tom Laskawy reviewed a survey from agribusiness front group Center for Food Integrity: “The study’s analysis notes that 51 percent strongly agree that they have ‘no problem’ eating meat and dairy. It’s still a majority, but the number is down a full 12 percent since 2007.” Consumers losing faith in Big Food.

Thus, the discussion now must focus on helping people see that eating meat violates their own principles. This effort is only just beginning. In the 1980s, most animal advocacy in the U.S. was focused on fur and vivisection, mostly ignoring the roughly 99 percent of animals who are butchered for food. Only relatively recently have more individuals and groups focused on this ninety-nine percent by exposing the cruelty of factory farms and promoting compassionate eating.

In large part because of this shift in advocacy, factory farms – which most people knew nothing about 10 or 20 years ago – are now considered by many to be ethical abominations to many. As noted in The Animal Activist’s Handbook:

Twenty years ago, few people had heard the word “vegan.” Finding mock meats and soymilk was nearly impossible. According to market research by Mintel, “Until the mid-1990s, change was slow in coming to the world of vegetarian foods, and many average consumers relegated ‘vegetarian products’ to a counter-cultural movement, not a mainstream trend.”

Today, even cousin Jeb doesn’t need “vegan” explained to him. You can find veggie burgers, soymilk, and various other convenience foods in most grocery stores. And plant-based meats, milks, and cheeses is a huge trend across the market.

As we continue our efforts, more plant-based products arrive on the market every month. Having convenient options available is vital, as it makes it easier for new people to try and, more importantly, to stick with a compassionate diet. As more people sample plant-based meats and other products, competition will continue to increase the supply and variety, improving quality and driving down prices. This cycle of growing numbers of vegetarians and the increasing convenience of vegetarian eating is self-reinforcing. Essentially, the technology of vegetarian meats and other foods is both driven by and a driver of moral progress.

If we continue to expand and refine our advocacy, the growth of compassionate eating will accelerate to a tipping point, where opposition to factory farms and the adoption of plant-based foods become the “norms” among influential groups. Legislation, as it usually does, will continue to follow these evolving norms, and we’ll see more of animal agriculture’s worst practices outlawed and abolished – something that has already begun. Corporate practices will also continue to adjust to the demands of an increasingly aware market.

At the same time, powerful economic forces will kick in, because ultimately, meat is inefficient. It is more efficient to eat plant foods directly, rather than feeding plant foods to animals and then eating some of the animals’ flesh. Of course, people aren’t going to substitute tofu for meat, but that is not the choice they’ll be making. Food science has advanced such that the best plant-based meats are able to satisfy even hardcore carnivores. Products including deli slices and strips from Tofurky, burgers from Beyond Meat, Gimme Lean sausage and ground beef, Gardein’s fish fillets, and many others clearly show that giving up meat is now not a deprivation.

The faster the growth in the number of people making compassionate choices, the faster plant-based meats will improve in taste, become cheaper, and be found in far more places. (Compare a 2016 Impossible Burger to a 2006 Boca Burger to a 1986 Nature Burger, and imagine how good a 2026 veggie burger will be!)

We are now challenged to expand the plant-based market by explaining to more meat eaters the reasons for choosing compassion, while exposing them to new – though similar – products. The more rapidly we do this, the sooner cruelty-free eating will be widespread.

After his first heart attack, Uncle Dick will shift over to plant-based meats that have no cholesterol or saturated or trans fats and are high in omega-3s. Cousin Jeb’s second wife – a vegetarian since seeing an online video in 2003 – will use that as an excuse to only cook meat-free meals, and Jeb will hardly notice the difference! Their daughter Barbara will grow up to oversee McDonald’s shift to non-animal chicken in their sandwiches.

Despite the current horror and continued suffering, if we take the long view and are willing to commit to the work that needs to be done, we should be deeply optimistic. Animal liberation can be the future. With our efforts, it could be achieved with a whimper, not a bang. Change will come not by revolution, but through person-by-person outreach progressing hand in hand with advances in technology, leading slowly but inexorably to a new norm that, to most people, hardly seems different. But an unfathomable amount of suffering will be prevented.

It is up to us to make this happen.

MattChicago2016-Matt Ball

Initial version published in 2006 as “A Roadmap to Animal Liberation,” also published in The Accidental Activist

 

Jo-Anne McArthur, Hero of Compassion

We are thrilled to continue our new program, Heroes of Compassion, where we recognize people who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to help animals and make the world a more compassionate place.

Jo-Anne McArthur; Photo by Kyle Behrend

Photo by Kyle Behrend

Today, we honor Jo-Anne McArthur, who has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over a decade. Jo-Anne is the subject of Canadian filmmaker Liz Marshall’s acclaimed documentary The Ghosts In Our MachineJo-Anne’s first book, We Animals, was published by Lantern Books in 2013. Recent awards and accolades include the Institute for Critical Animal Studies Media Award; More Magazine’s Fierce List; 2013 Toronto Compassion for Animals Award; one of CBC’s Top 50 Champions of Change; HuffPost WOMEN’s “Top 10 Women trying to change the world,” and one of 20 activists featured in the book The Next Eco Warrior.

Cultivating Compassionate Communities: What does the term “living compassionately” mean to you? 

It means looking beyond our own needs and desires, and considering how our actions affect others. It means always trying our best to live in a way that doesn’t cause harm to people, animals, or the environment. That might seem like a tall order, or hard to achieve every day, but living compassionately is a joyous thing.

What inspired you to start down this path?

I was always someone who thought it was important to give instead of take. I realized in my 20s that I could combine my passions for photography and animal justice to do something unique, and contribute to creating change for animals. That was in the early 2000s. I often tell people to figure out what you love doing, and what you’re good at, and then find a way of using those skills for social justice and for making the world a better place. We can all do this, in small or big ways.

Carlos and Turpentine; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Carlos and Turpentine; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

What was the transition like for you, and what did you learn that might be useful to people currently trying to make changes?

I remember that it felt like a big deal to transition to a vegan diet. No animal products in my food or clothing whatsoever. Because those things are so normal in society, I thought it would be a big challenge. It does offer its set of challenges, but you learn to navigate them, and you can do it joyfully and in a positive way.

I used to think that veganism was extreme. I quickly learned, however, that living compassionately is not extreme – it’s the needless killing that is.

What has been most challenging and/or surprising about living a compassionate life?

One learns that it’s a joy, not a hardship, to live compassionately. One of the challenges though is living in a world that is unlike your own. People who are vegan or animal advocates see the world through a different lens. Things that are invisible or commonplace to others, things that fit the status quo, are not invisible to us. All the ads for bacon and milk. Clothes that have fur trim on them. These are examples of things that don’t go unnoticed by us. It can be disheartening to live in a world where others seem to wear blinders. But this is a historical time for animals and animal rights. We compassionate folks are in a position to speak up and create change, and we’re doing that. We see change everywhere these days, be it with the number of vegan products, or more cosmetic companies eschewing animal testing, or chimps and other animals being retired from cruel research practices. As compassionate people, we might feel lonely, but there is community – and we can rally for each other and for the animals, and be part of the historical changes taking place.

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?

Do your best to focus on the good, and focus on one step at a time. A vegan utopia isn’t right around the corner and that can be depressing, so I choose to focus on one action at a time, one person at a time. Yes, billions of farm animals are suffering right now as I write this, but if I choose to focus on that pain or feel the emotions that come with that knowledge all the time, I would burn out. I’ve been through two depressions and post-traumatic stress as a result of all I’ve seen, and a lot of compassionate folk suffer because we’re empathetic. But existing in this suffering is an indulgence we can’t afford and neither can the animals. It makes us burn out. So many activists come into the movement, guns blazing, and leave after a few years because it’s exhausting – emotionally, intellectually, all of it. So we need to pace ourselves, and not exist in an emotionally unhappy state. I have had to work to choose to focus on joy, and now it’s my way of life. It’s a habit – positive thinking, and choosing to focus on good, and on change. So my advice is to work at staying positive, for yourself and for the animals, so that you have longevity in the work you are doing for animals. There are so few people speaking up for animals. They need every one of us to be doing it for as long as we possibly can.

What advice would you give to an aspiring activist?

Think about what your skills are, and what you enjoy doing, or what you’re good at, and employ those specific skills to make the world a better place. If you haven’t figured out what that is yet, help an organization or person who is doing great work for animals. Organizations need volunteers and all manner of support. Be that person. The world needs volunteers!

How did you learn about Farm Sanctuary, and why (and/or how) did you get involved?

When I was getting interested in animal rights, over 15 years ago now, I started doing research into animal industries, and the organizations who were working to change those industries. I found and fell in love with Farm Sanctuary. The Farm has really shaped and changed my life; I really would not be who I am today if it hadn’t been for Farm Sanctuary. In 2003 I applied to do an internship. I’d only been there 24 hours and my life was already irrevocably changed. I had been vegetarian until that internship, but became vegan at the Farm and never looked back. The Farm is a place of refuge not just for animals but for compassionate people and activists, and there’s also a lot to learn from the Farm and its staff and its inhabitants. It’s my favourite place on the planet.

Zoop; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Zoop; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Has there been a specific animal who was special to you?

Due to the nature of my work as a photojournalist who focuses on animal issues, I’ve met animals in heartbreaking, harrowing situations, as well as rescued animals who are cared for and loved. I’ve met hundreds of thousands of animals now, and sadly, I have had to leave most of them behind, after I photograph them during investigations and then leave. I keep these animals tucked deep in my heart. They are never far from my mind, and the knowledge that they continue to suffer propels me to continue working on their behalf. There have been a lot of special individuals and relationships, and yet I know that all the animals I’ve met…the mink crammed into cages, the layer hens too, and the pigs in farrowing crates…they are all special, they are all individuals trapped in a terrible system; individuals who would love to express their will and their individuality if they could. When organizations like Farm Sanctuary rescue animals, and these animals are then able to live in conditions which allow them to thrive and be happy, you really get to know just how sweet cows are, and how funny chickens are, and that turkeys love affection.

The rescued animals become ambassadors for those locked away in terrifying confinement. We get to know them, and then we can understand that they all deserve our help, our care, and our respect. Some of the Farm Sanctuary residents who have been most special to me are Mayfly the rooster, Arbuckle and Thunder the steers, Zoop the three-legged goat, and Fanny and Sonny, whose rescues happened on the same day (and I was fortunate enough to be there to document those rescues, captured in the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine).

Fanny; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

Fanny; Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

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?

Some of the Farm Sanctuary residents, like Sonny and Fanny, are extra special to me because I was there to document their rescues. Others, however, like Mayfly the rooster who lived at the Farm long ago, will always be in my heart because he was just so charming. He LOVED being with people and did that “attack dance” around your feet, but he wouldn’t attack – he just wanted cuddles. I’d pick him up all the time and stroke his perfect, handsome plumage. He made me laugh, and so do the chickens and turkeys. They have such big personalities, which is why I spend hours and hours under the willow tree in the turkey enclosure when I’m visiting.

How do you think things will change over the next 50 years or so?

Things are getting better and they are getting worse at the same time. In growing economies like China and India, they are eating more meat and setting up more industrial farms. In other countries though, veganism and consumer demand for vegan products is very much on the rise. There’s much more of an awareness about animal cruelty, ethics, environmentalism, and climate change than there was even just a few years ago. More compassionate decisions are being made by a growing number of the population, and collectively we need to do everything in our power to encourage that. I choose to be hopeful and to focus on the good, and work every day to do something that makes the world a better place. Frankly, this is an emergency and we all need to take part.

What is your favorite “main dish” recipe or meal?

Pick just one? Really? That’s cruel. But if you must know, I’m actually a popcorn aficionado.

Here are a few recipes for amazing popcorn:

Fancy pants popcorn

  • A buncha popcorn kernels
  • Olive oil
  • A buncha dried rosemary (1 tbsp?)
  • Salt
  • Cracked pepper
  • Omega Oil (I like the Udo’s 3-6-9 DHA omega oil)

Let the rosemary simmer in the olive oil a bit before adding the kernels to the pot. Then pop it on the stove. Put it all in a bowl and drizzle omega oil on it. Healthy! Add salt and cracked pepper, to taste.

Zingy spicy popcorn

  • A buncha popcorn kernels
  • Cayenne
  • Lemon
  • Nutritional yeast

So easy: make popcorn, then squeeze a bit of lemon on it, then sprinkle whatever amount of cayenne you like, then top with nooch [nutritional yeast]. I like this recipe nice and spicy. NOM.

Is there anything else you would like the Farm Sanctuary family to know? / Do you have a favorite website you would like to share?

I do have one more important thing to say. Animal rights advocates are very much looking at metrics on how to best spend our time and dollars to help animals. There are several books and blogs on this topic, and they are great. What some of them point out though is that keeping rescued animals is expensive, and that money might be better spent elsewhere. There is a lot of sense to this, but it overlooks some important things. Individuals matter. When we save their lives, this means the world to them, and this has intrinsic worth. Additionally, places like Farm Sanctuary are where people can see and experience that. How can we put a dollar amount on one life, when we don’t know just how many lives that rescued individual will influence? Getting to know individual animals at Farm Sanctuary changed my life’s path irrevocably, and I’ve since done a lot to help animals around the world. You can put a price tag on that. You can’t put a price tag on Mayfly the rooster or Sonny the calf’s lives, because they have influenced untold numbers of people to go out and be better people in the world. And rescued animals get photographed and filmed by people like me, who share their stories, and these stories warm hearts and change people. We can’t put a dollar figure on that. It’s really important to help reputable sanctuaries like Farm Sanctuary to thrive and maximize their outreach, so that they can look after the animals and all that that entails. And so that the animals and the staff can keep having a huge, huge effect on anyone who meets them or hears their stories.

Jo-Anne and calf0

I’m so happy about the direction of the animal rights movement. It’s way more organized and strategic than it was just a few years ago. It’s way more intersectional too. We have such a broad spectrum of activism and advocates, and we know that a diversity of forms of activism will reach different demographics, so it’s important to support the grassroots efforts, the outreach and humane education, the protests, the sanctuaries, and the large organizations alike.