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.


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.

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.


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.


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:


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.


Yes, we CAN ask for less than “go vegan”

Another guest post from Tobias Leenaert.

An often heard crede – especially among so called “abolitionist” vegans – is that “veganism is the moral baseline”. It seems to mean that being vegan is the minimum we can do for the animals if we want to be moral creatures. Conversely, anything less than vegan is immoral behaviour. I don’t agree with that, and the way many activists use the sentence often seems quite ineffective and often condescending to me.

From idea that veganism is the moral baseline, it seems to follow (at least for those who adhere to the moral baseline motto) that our outreach towards omnivores can never be anything less than suggesting them to go vegan. Asking people to be reducetarians, for instance, would be an immoral demand, just like, believers hold, asking or demanding that a childbeater become a parttime childbeater rather than doing it every day (I have written about that before, here and here).

Let us assume for a minute that asking anything less than veganism is immoral (and that veganism is the moral baseline). Let us, however, at the same time assume – for the sake of the argument – that asking “things less than veganism” leads to a higher reduction of animal suffering and killing.What, in that case, should we prioritize: the morality of our outreach, or its impact? In other words, should we – again assuming for a minute that we know for sure – use a less effective message because we believe it to be a more moral one?

driving force

Those who would answer that the morality aspect is the most important, will often claim that the impact is actually on their side too, and that what is painted above is some kind of false dichotomy. I want to briefly examine here if that is true. In other words: is it possible that asking other things than “go vegan” is more effective in reducing animal suffering and killing?

People who follow this blog will know that my answer will be that that is definitely possible. I give three reasons why I think a smaller ask may (often) be more effective than the bigger, go vegan ask. I am not implying that everyone should do “reducitarian” outreach – more about that below.

One: bigger total impact
It seems to be common sense that when we ask people to do something easy, more of them will do it than when we ask them to do something hard. The difference between the small number of people doing the hard thing, and the higher number of people doing the easy thing is big enough, the people doing the easy thing may all together have a higher total impact. Say we ask one thousand people to go vegan and say we get ten of them to actually do so (it definitely is possible to go vegan overnight, no one is denying that). On the other hand, say that we ask another thousand people (our control group) to participate in Meatless Mondays, and say that 300 do so. You can do the math. One might object that the few people that were convinced become fulltime vegans might also become active in reaching out to others, but actually the same can be said about the meat reducers, who can also advocate for Meatless Monday.

Two: meat reducers may more easily become vegan
I believe our main challenge today is to get as many people as possible totake the first steps, to cross a certain treshold.That is in many cases one of the most important things we can help them do, because it is a lot easier to move up the vegan scale when you have made a first step. Being a reducetarian is not an end, but a beginning.

Three: meat reducers make veganism easier and may tip the system faster
Meat reducers are the driving force behind demand, and companies producing vegan products, do so in the first place for *them* and not for vegans. In other words, meat reducers help to make it easier for everyone to eat more and more vegan, or even to go vegan overnight.

These are three reasons – and in my upcoming book they will be better referenced – that could indicate that asking people to reduce might have a bigger impact than asking them to go vegan. One could argue that if this would be so, this demand would actually be the more moral one. After all,what’s moral about using a message that is less effective than one we know to be more effective?

Let me explicitly state my purpose in writing all this. I am not saying that our movement should never use the “go vegan” message. I *am* saying, conversely, that we are under no moral obligation to *always* use the “go vegan” message. And I am suggesting that those who think they should criticize people who do “less than vegan” outreach (be they vegans themselves or not) stop doing that.

Campaign Update: Changing the Way People View and Treat Farm Animals

By Nick Cooney

April 10, 2013

One of the key pillars of Farm Sanctuary’s mission is to change the way people view and treat farm animals. Another key pillar is to promote a compassionate vegan lifestyle.

Compassionate Communities was created to do both of these as efficiently as possible. Occasionally in this blog we share updates about what our volunteers are doing around the country to change hearts and change diets. This week, we share a few examples of the feedback we get from those whose hearts and diets have changed as a result of the Compassionate Communities Campaign.

“I found [your
Something Better leaflet] on a cafeteria table and decided to become vegetarian after reading through it. I think that is a good way to raise awareness without being intrusive…I would like a stack of maybe 50 so I can pass it around our school campus.”
        – DongNi Zhang


“Its been almost 6 months since I first saw your video and I almost immediately became a vegetarian after that. It was the thing that really made me change my opinion on meat…It has been really easy for me to change into a meat-free diet and instead of missing eating meat, it kind of disgusts me now knowing whats behind a hamburger or a chicken cutlet.”
        – Anna Segarra



“I am taking meat out of my diet. Thank you so much again, I love animals and I would hate for them to be slaughtered for the sake of my taste buds! I cannot wait until I get my meat-free meal guide. God bless you!”
– Abby Baca


“Im a 15 year old girl who never imagined to go vegetarian; however after seeing how horribly these animals are being treated I could never see myself going back.”
        – Louella Dent



“Since I saw your video my life changed. I have been almost 4 months without meat and I have been feeling pretty good and confident about my decision. I thought it was going to be harder but so far it has been a lovely journey for me.”
        – Daniela De Los Rios


“This video is the reason I am now vegan! Thats all it takes to change minds and hearts to become vegan is to see truth of what’s on our plates … I have also joined some local animal rights and vegan groups here in Phoenix AZ. Every voice will help open eyes and save lives! Bless you and your work!”
    – Angel Cullen



“I’m happy to tell you that I no longer eat meat since the first day I saw your video! If you have a farm nearby that might need some help with the animals I can help any weekend, and I will be very happy to do so.”
– Diana Pais


“I had heard that this type of behavior was common throughout the industry. But I just couldn’t believe that our fellow human beings could be that cruel. Obviously I was wrong…God forgive them. And I am going to try to become meat-free in my diet.”
        – Mike Onofrietti



“This is going to change my life. I have been flirting with becoming a vegetarian for years but have hesitated … Thank you so much! PS, I am 82 years old but plan to live to be 102 because I am in excellent health.”
        – Eloise Peterson


“This is so sad, I am not eating meat anymore, because animals are just like humans, and if they’re suffering, then I’m not eating meat.”
        – Brandy-Latisha Lee



“Great work by the way … I have now been a full vegan for 2 months!”
        – Aly MacNeill-Weir



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