“Those things we cannot unsee”: Interview with Jacqueline Morr of Project Intersect

One of my driving interests as an ethical vegan activist over the past few months has been exploring the intersection of ethical veganism and other social justice movements. Having been one to indulge in the myopia of “animal rights” for many years, I have experienced quite the eye-opening (to put it mildly) since pursuing a broader stance of resistance, leading me to take seriously the interconnections of forms of oppression. And to take seriously the necessity and importance of solidarity with other activists across movements.

As I explained in a previous post, I am co-editing a collection of letters from current vegans called Letters to a New Vegan. Through that project, I got connected with Jacqueline Morr, a writer and activist currently living in Los Angeles who is doing a range of academic and activist work on issues surrounding intersectionality, ecofeminism, and animal/total liberation. She recently founded Project Intersect, a zine that I hope will become a nucleus for intersectionality that brings together academics, activists, and a broader population… sliiime

Can you talk about your process of going vegan? When was it, and what factors played into your decision to stop participating in the exploitation of animals? In January of 2011 I moved to Chicago. Nick, a longtime friend of mine, had contacted me about an extra room in his new apartment in Roscoe Village for only four hundred dollars per month; I did not hesitate to accept his offer. This was immediately after I finished with student teaching in my hometown (Mansfield, Ohio), which solidified my desire to teach—and to finally move out of state.

Nick left Ohio immediately following high school graduation, having earned a film degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in addition to working toward a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts Studies from Columbia College (Chicago) by the time I arrived in that city on the lake. He’d already been vegan for a year, whereas I was one of those self-proclaimed “vegetarians” who still ate canned tuna and never even gave cow’s milk or chicken’s eggs an iota of critical thought. I had also spent six weeks in an eating disorders treatment facility in Philadelphia in February and March of 2010—of my own volition, I still feel the need to mention—and was still recalibrating my relationship to food and hunger and also to the post-traumatic self, the multiply-fractured consciousness left in the wake of recovery.

When Nick found the skim milk, “organic, free range” eggs, and “100% real” butter I’d put in his fridge he indicated his discomfort. If I could name the sense of shame I felt for introducing animal products into his cruelty-free kitchen it might sound something like denial. This prompted serious conversations regarding his veganism, during which he recommended I read Eating Animals. I plucked that book from his shelf and read it in a little more than a day. I cried when I finished. Not only for the enormity of the other animals’ suffering but also for my own willful ignorance and, strangely enough, a recovered memory: an undercover video from a fur farm in China I’d seen years before, thousands of minks ineffectively bludgeoned and stripped of their skin while still alive and thrown into pink and steaming piles of others in various stages of dying and decomposition. Writhing ever so slightly. Lidless eyes filled up with the horror of that violent human indifference.

The next morning I held ceremony at my last non-vegan meal, which consisted of diner buckwheat pancakes and a milkshake.

Your academic experience is in trauma studies. How has that research and scholarship affected your work as an activist? Have you found it useful for yourself (and others) who are striving to end the suffering of others?

Trauma and the traumatic subject fascinate me. More than that—I feel indebted to the language and physiology of trauma. The hard work of my Master’s thesis, which culminated in an extended research paper (a history of eating disorders and female [writerly] resistance), an artist’s statement (on the inherent “madness” and “feminine” aspect of writing), and a conceptual nonfiction novel called sick girl (regarding my personal experience as a clinically “disordered” female), revolutionized my experience and understanding of research and writing and critical thought. Specifically: I had begun to more rigorously connect my desire for and aptitude toward knowledge to my increasing unrest as an advocate of critical pedagogy and feminism, amongst many other things (animal and earth liberation not the least of them). A further result was that I more clearly understood the urgency of action around the issues that were closest to my heart and mind—in addition to discovering their utter interconnectedness. During this time I made explicit the previously implicit connections between my feminism, atheism, ethical veganism, earth activism, anarcho-syndicalism, and so forth. Proclaiming it from the rooftops, as it were…sounding “barbaric” yawps from the Manhattan Bridge or the fountain at the center of Washington Square Park.

While my time in the Trauma Studies Department at NYU contributed positively and so thoroughly to my increasingly intersectional mode of praxis around my ethical and political self, it also clarified the extent to which my idea(l)s are “radical,” even (and oftentimes especially) in the context of disparate academic and activist circles. Where I sought allies I found willful resistance, oftentimes hatred and bigotry: “feminists” rejecting the equation of the exploitation of their reproductive systems to that of other female animals; polyglots and Ph.D. candidates in Literary Criticism arguing against boycotts and direct activism on the basis that “choice cannot truly exist;” LGBTQIA activists employing ableist, sexist, and speciesist language to discuss the history of their own oppression.

I could prattle on forever here, but perhaps I should end by noting that knowing itself can be traumatic. In the case of animal/earth liberationists and radical eco-feminists this strikes me as especially true. Those things we cannot unsee will often wash over us in a wave of cold desperation. Of panic, really, with an intensity that would bowl us over. You know the sort: undercover videos from factory farms implant themselves as memories in the Nightmares Section of our brain’s memory warehouse. This cathexis then connects to an intense urgency, hatred, fear around the gestation crate, the bull hook, the anti-nursing bullring, the captive bolt pistol, the puppy mill, the free-range shithouse.

What are some of your primary issues of focus these days as an activist and advocate? What do you feel ought to be some priorities of the vegan/animal-rights movement(s) in general?

Intersectionality remains a central focus of mine. How to cultivate safe and productive spaces for radical eco-feminists and (gender, ability, intellectual, or otherwise) nonconforming persons in animal liberationist spaces; how to successfully critique welfarist incrementalism and cognitive moral dissonance by modeling engaged, intersectional, abolitionist ethics and politics; and, perhaps most importantly, how to model intersectionality through the language I use and the tactics I employ.

There is, I feel, a startling lack of definitional rigor that encapsulates the contemporary movement for “animal rights” (I would instead use the term liberation or defense, for deploying rights-based language to advance any radical social justice movement mires us in legal jargon and a certain capitalist economy of subjectivity—very limiting and counter-productive. This is aligned with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s shunning of the concept of “tolerance” during the U.S. Civil Rights Movement: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension. It’s the presence of justice.”) Amongst the fractured sects of this movement there are no real working—read: widely-accepted and applied—definitions of violence, personhood, accountability, effective activism, and yes—even veganism. I am in no way advocating that diversity, nuance, multi-vocality, and anarchistic values be swallowed up by some equalizing structure or language. Each of us must retain access to the fullest range of significations without fear of subjugation or silencing. But if we are to organize we must ourselves be organized and intentional. Not slaves to any structure or forms but certainly willing pupils, always read to learn and humbly accepting our ill-fated (human) grandiosity: our gross lack of perspective.

You founded Project Intersect, which is an exciting effort to bring together different activists and scholars in order to create a space and vehicle for dialogue on various (but related) social justice issues. Can you explain, briefly, what intersectionality is, and talk some about why it is such a crucial component of ongoing justice advocacy and how you feel it can change the way we approach the ending of exploitation?

I feel I’ve talked about this a bit earlier in this interview, so I’ll keep it brief here: intersectionality, in my understanding, considers all oppressions as interlocking and mutually-reinforcing. Its foundation is built upon the recognition and acceptance of empathy as the driving force behind all ethical concerns—with some caveats around white (male) privilege, colonial histories, indigenous practices, geography, and so forth.

It’d be a true exploitation of my own privilege to claim that all persons should adhere to intersectional ethics as I must, and do. How do I honor the history of the term itself, which was coined by black radical feminist Kimberlé Crenshaw in “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” without coopting or claiming the experiences of persons whose lives, in so many ways, are distinct from my own? Me, born to middle-class white folks in Ohio exurbia, sent to Catholic school where I accessed a truly college-preparatory education, possessive of my BA and MA, never having wanted for food or shelter or, really, friendship. Of course, as a female-bodied, young, atheist, body-modified, anti-capitalist, earth liberationist, ethical vegan person, I can find multiple intersections between my experience (of oppression) and that of others, especially female-bodied persons. Never claiming their experience as my own; never speaking for or at or artificially “with” them; but in solidarity and humility to the greatest extent possible.

Identifying and illuminating these intersections is key to collaboration and solidarity across multiple movements for social justice and liberation (power in numbers). This means posing to feminist-identified persons that the exploitation of the female body, regardless of species, must be recognized as intolerable. It means speaking with labor organizers and those who campaign for the rights of working-class laborers and immigrant workers about the exploitation of workers (both adults and children) in slaughterhouses, tanneries, the ivory trade, and so on.

What are some of your goals with Project Intersect, in the near future and further down the road?

Well, of course, to distribute the zine more effectively and widely—to put the publication in the hands of as many unawares passers-by as possible! It’d be lovely to have the zine come out bi-annually, but I’m a High School English teacher and find that I don’t even have time to read for myself anymore, let alone write. Bitter about all of that (teaching is wonderful and awful and uplifting and miring all at once.) But! The first issue of the zine is currently available online (e-mail projectintersectzine@gmail.com to request a copy) and in some brick-and-mortar stores: The Pop-Hop bookshop in Highland Park; Skylight Books in Los Feliz; and Stories Books & Café in Echo Park. All in Los Angeles, currently, but my collaborators on the project—Ashley Maier (a good friend and fellow activist) and Nick Morr (my spouse, and another radical liberationist)—are working to improve distribution and promotion of the zine. If anyone would like to help, please, contact us!

As a post-script I should mention that the theme for the next issue, whenever it DOES come out, will be On Violence.

Another of your interests is Ecofeminism. How would you define ecofeminism and its relationship to the larger feminist movement? Why is ecofeminism not always also a vegan movement?

These questions! Eco-feminism has a particularly interesting history, which I won’t recount here; instead I’ll point readers in the direction of Marti Kheel, Lori Gruen, Josephine Donovan, pattrice jones, and so forth. Eco-feminism itself represents that marriage I discussed earlier: a sort of praxis of ethics, experience, and care that fuses (without coopting or whitewashing or undifferentiating) multiple ethical, socio-political, economic, environmental, and ontological concerns. I fear I’m sounding too wordy but I hope my high-flung language is appropriate enough for this context. I care very deeply about the accessibility of these concepts and lifestyles, which must be moldable enough to fit the needs and desires of innumerable persons and communities.

As I’m finding myself a bit overwhelmed by this question, and in the interest of our time, I’ll be as direct as possible: vegan eco-feminism is a “radical” stance in that it establishes and aspires toward rigorous moral baselines. It’s polemical because many feminists identify strongly with one cause or another. Many self-identified feminists I’ve interacted with that are NOT vegan perhaps have never heard of eco-feminism, or feminist arguments for veganism. Or, if they are aware of such arguments, they’re resistant—perhaps they feel they cannot relate, or they have adopted a humanist stance, or they are simply disgusted at the comparison between their reproductive systems and those of female animals of other species. These run the gamut. Melanie Joy’s concept of cognitive moral dissonance resonates well here.

I am in no way asserting that feminists who have not yet made the connection between the oppression of “women” and the multiple other oppressions tended to by eco-feminists and ethical vegan feminists are “bad feminists”—nor are they bad people, necessarily (yet these things always must go forward case-by-case, as we know). As a white, cisgender, educated, able-bodied person I must accept the skewed perceptions that such privilege can and does promote. However, I feel no remorse in proposing that embodying ideals of non-violence, anti-capitalism, solidarity across social justice movements, and the opposition to all forms of bigotry (including speciesism, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, classism, nationalism, and so forth) should rightfully be at the heart of all efforts to end oppression/the oppressors.

Besides all of these projects and interests, you have also contributed articles to a few publications and do your own writing. Where can we read some of your previous work?

  1. My personal blog, which has been cast aside as the result of my teaching schedule: honeyonthebrain.blogspot.com
  2. I’ve contributed a few pieces for my column “I Forge Things” at Yay! LA Arts & Culture Magazine: http://www.yaylamag.com/category/yay-lit/i-forget-things-literature/.
  3. I have forthcoming pieces in Letters to a New Vegan and an as-yet-unnamed project by professor, author, and activist Laura Wright on the intersections of ethical veganism, femininity, and eating disorders.
  4. Also, I’ve written a conceptual non-fiction book, titled sick girl, that sits gathering encrypted dusk on my hard-drive. It was written for partial fulfillment of my Master’s thesis. I love it and miss it, and intend to get through that final round of edits some day soon, and re-submit to literary agents. Hopefully. Hopefully.

Thanks so much for speaking with me about your work!

My greatest pleasure, of course!

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Michigan Microsanctuary: Interview with Rachel Waite of Vegan Michigan

It has been an eventful few weeks for us with our farmed animal rescue, Triangle Chance for All. We just took in four more chickens, including two young roosters who will be the start of our first rooster flock. We have also been receiving much more attention for our “microsanctuary” concept, including an article at Our Hen House and an exciting grant award that has helped us to launch The Microsanctuary Movement.

We feel that microsanctuaries can be a powerful source of inspiration and support for people who are thinking about rescuing farmed animals, or who are already doing it. Rachel Waite is one such person. She shared her excitement with us after finding a movement, an identity even, that made it clear she was part of something bigger … that she was not alone in turning her home-space into a sanctuary for ducks, chickens, and goats.

Rachel also founded Vegan Michigan as a way to educate her community about veganism and provide support networks for those making the transition, as well as those who already had. I was very interested to hear more about her experience with these two–in my mind closely interconnected–activities on behalf of the animals…

microsanctuary10Please share your story of going vegan. When did you make the transition, and what motivated you to stop using animals for your own benefit?

I grew up in a typical meat-eating family, but after an influential summer camp trip at age 10, I met a camp counselor who was vegetarian and told me about factory farming. When I returned from camp, I announced to my family that I was starting a vegetarian life. I spent my early tween years organizing an online group called “Veggie Club,” which I used to distribute vegetarian related e-newsletters to fellow vegetarians I met online, and we even had a website back when domains were free. Back then even vegetarianism was quite rare, and especially veganism. I used PETA’s web resources a lot because they were one of the only groups back then with a strong online presence. I’ve been veg now for 18 years, but it wasn’t until 2013 that I finally took the leap towards full veganism. With my decision to go vegan I feel like my ethical convictions are now totally aligned with my values, and that is very good feeling. I knew when I went vegetarian that I didn’t want to support animal exploitation, but without taking the full leap to being vegan it is impossible to avoid exploitation.

What has your experience been like as a vegan in Michigan? Is it particularly hard, or do you have a lot of resources and a strong vegan community around you?

There were a couple times previously in my teens I thought about veganism but I experienced major push back from my family and dropped the idea. I didn’t have any vegetarian family or friends for years and definitely didn’t know any vegans. My biggest regret is not going vegan sooner, but I realize now how important having the social support of other vegans can be in making this kind of life-changing, ethical decision. This was one of my major motivations for starting the Michigan-based nonprofit organization Vegan Michigan. Michigan has a decent-sized vegan community in the bigger cities, and the vegan restaurants and businesses have been increasing significantly in recent years. There are not a lot of restaurants that are 100% vegan, but a lot of places are at least offering significant vegan selections due to increased demand. A lot of groups and individuals are working hard to do “restaurant outreach” in our area and educate businesses about why they should carry more vegan options.

You founded the group Vegan Michigan to promote animal rights and cruelty-free lifestyles. What motivated you to organize your outreach efforts in this way? How has the response been so far?

The social and community aspect of veganism is really important because it aids people in being able to take that next step. This was a major motivation in organizing Vegan Michigan as a collective. There are many people who are already vegetarian or leaning in this direction but they feel alone in their convictions and are not able to take “the next step” towards adopting the vegan lifestyle. I want to educate individuals, advocate for animals, and build community among vegans. The community aspect cannot be over emphasized, as I believe this is key to creating lasting change and supporting each other in our common goal of ending animal exploitation and promoting veganism as the path towards achieving this goal.

We’ve had an extremely positive response to our efforts thus far. Many people have contacted me about volunteering, guest blog writing, working events, or helping us with our efforts in other ways. The vision for Vegan Michigan is to be a collective, not a top-down organization. We hope to continue to increase our stakeholders and contributors and want everyone to feel like they have an equal stake in the organization. Veganism isn’t about me or you or any one person playing the big shot. It’s about doing what’s best for the movement and for the animals.

What sort of goals do you have in the near future for Vegan Michigan and for yourself as a vegan advocate?

We plan to increase our presence at local community events in terms of educating the public about a vegan diet and lifestyle. We have a large-scale event planned for June 2015 called the All for One Festival, which focuses on yoga and healthy living. The event will highlight vegan cooking and food, animal-related nonprofit groups, vegan-friendly businesses, free yoga, and veg movie screenings. One problem I’ve noticed with many vegan events is that they are organized by vegans and only vegans show up. That is not an effective way to do outreach if the general public is not attending the events. In terms of building up the already vegan community that may be a good strategy, but Vegan Michigan is interested in reaching out to the general public and convincing more people to adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. We are structuring our events to appeal to the general public so that non-vegans attend and are able to learn more about veganism.

As far as goals for myself as an activist, I attended the 2014 Animal Rights National conference this July and learned a lot and met some awesome activists in our movement. I’m planning to also attend the World Vegan Expo in March and continue to expand my activist strategies and skills to bring back and use in our efforts with Vegan Michigan.

I also know that you have your own microsanctuary for farmed animals, including chickens and ducks. How did you get into rescuing farmed animals as a vegan?

About a year ago I started dating my boyfriend, Ryan, who is also vegan. Ryan is heavily involved with animal rehab and rescue at the Lowell Farm and Wildlife Center. As a vegan, working directly with animals is something we are all drawn to do, and almost every vegan I know dreams of “someday” opening their own animal sanctuary. The microsanctuary concept empowers vegans to make “someday” into now. We don’t have to own a million acres of land or have a million dollars to offer sanctuary to rescued farm animals. We can do this on a small scale now with the resources we do have.microsanctuary2

We started off building our microsanctuary with a few Pekin ducks who were rescued from wandering on the highway in the winter. These are the kind of ducks people raise for meat or eggs; they were surely not being fed well and wandered off. We freerange the ducks during the day, and they have never left the property. We have a large shed in our yard that we turned into an animal barn for the ducks. We later continued to add more rescued animals whom we found out about because of our connections with the wildlife center. We added six chickens and three goats. The goats share the barn with the ducks and the chickens have their own custom-made coop and run. We built the goat enclosure ourselves with supplies we bought from Lowe’s. I’m not a country girl—I was born and raised in the city—but I’ve educated myself on farm animal care with the help of my supportive boyfriend, and together we are caring for the animals we have here.

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How does your own microsanctuary inform your work as an advocate? Do you see the two as being interrelated in any way?

I definitely feel closer to my passion for ending animal exploitation because of the microsanctuary. Every day I am reminded by these amazing animals what I am fighting for. My work as an animal advocate and having a microsanctuary are two things that definitely can and should go hand in hand.

Have you seen other people undertaking similar efforts where you live by seeking to provide permanent homes to rescued farmed animals while committing to not using them? Are you noticing any sort of increase in the number of people doing what you do on a larger (national or international) scale?

The microsanctuary concept really has not taken off around my area. There is still a lot of confusion around when it is okay to use animal products and when is it not okay. For example, a lot of people house chickens in order to use their eggs rather than just for the pure joy of housing the chickens. While the ethics of using a backyard chicken egg is better in comparison to using a factory farmed egg, either way the animal is only being appreciated for what he or she can give us and not for what he or she is. Animals are not ours to use and should be respected as sentient beings.

As a vegan advocate working hard in the community, I am sure you know that there a plethora of approaches to getting non-vegans to make the transition. What sorts of strategies have worked best for you? Where would you like to see the vegan/animal rights movement head in the future?

I am acutely aware of the differences of opinion between vegan activists and the different approaches being used. For Vegan Michigan, it was intentional that we used the word “Vegan” in our name rather than the more common “Veg” because we felt that “Veg” gives the impression that either vegetarian or veganism is the goal rather than veganism. However, we also recognize people make their own choice in terms of how to get to this goal and whether to take steps or go “cold turkey.” We support all steps towards veganism, but we make veganism the clear goal in our efforts to educate individuals. We also don’t shy away from talking about the health or environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. I’ve known people who adopt a plant-based diet for reasons other than ethical ones and later come around to what I like to call “the truth.” I’d love it if every single person responded to the abolitionist model, but I don’t think everyone responds well to that approach even though to me personally it makes the most sense.

microsanctuary7While I consider myself an abolitionist at heart, it is hard to stomach the idea of making zero welfare reforms in the meantime while we continue to fight for a vegan world. We have to think about what we can do to help animals now while at the same time promoting a consistently vegan message. I really believe that veganism is the ultimate promotion of compassion and nonviolence, but some key activists are very critical of each other in a way that doesn’t promote these ideals. In the future, I would like to see the welfare reformers and abolitionist vegans working together more and less criticism and division within the movement. I really believe we all want the same thing and that is to end animal exploitation.

What are some of the biggest challenges and/or issues that vegan advocates need to be addressing?

There are SO many things that need to be done. We are at the very beginning of a major social movement: the animal rights movement! We have the animal sanctuaries, we have the lawyers, we have the grassroots nonprofits and vegan meetup groups, we have the bloggers, we have the career activists, and many many others fighting for this cause every day. I think every person in this movement plays a critical role since we are a growing movement! I think bringing more attention to the exploitation and putting that information in front of people is the key way we will increase support for our movement. These types of outreach efforts, I believe, are critical in reaching non-vegans. I also think continuing to build community for those who have already made the decision to be vegan is important as well. One of the worst things to hear is that someone “was vegan” or “tried to be” but didn’t have enough social support.

How might we best inspire other vegans to take part in rescuing farmed animals from the agricultural system and becoming caregivers? Do you see this as having a key or marginal role in the larger effort to end exploitation?

I post a lot on social media about the animals we have here at our microsanctuary. I hope to inspire other vegans to house rescued farm animals rather than continuing to view farmed animals as the “others.” We happily adopt and foster dogs and cats but somehow view farmed animals in a totally different light. Even as vegans we can be guilty of viewing farmed animals this way. When people see pictures and videos of these amazing animals living happy lives this helps improve even non-vegans’ appreciation and compassion for farmed animals and hopefully brings them closer to making that connection.

For me personally, starting the microsanctuary has played a key role in strengthening my conviction as an activist. The animals inspire me every day to keep on fighting the good fight and to be the best version of myself. They make me want to work harder as an activist and motivate me to do what I need to do for the movement. In the larger effort to end exploitation, if the microsanctuary concept really took off, it could have a profound impact. I will certainly be doing my part to promote the microsanctuary movement to my fellow vegans as I know firsthand what a rewarding experience this can be.

Thanks for speaking with me about your microsanctuary and your work with Vegan Michigan!

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Creating Sanctuary: Interview with Ren Hurst-Setzer of Sanctuary13

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It is rather fun to watch an idea spread. One of my recent personal story-interviews was with Amy Dye, whose decision to rescue and care for two sheep at her home offered a perfect example of a “microsanctuary,” a concept that Rosemary and I have been developing as part of our rescue, sanctuary, and education work with Triangle Chance for All. While we are turning our three-acre property into a microsanctuary for chickens and one day goats and pigs (and perhaps other species), we are also seeking to help other vegans see themselves as caregivers on their own microsanctuaries.

Amy’s story inspired an article on Care2.com by Abigail Geer, which helped to spread the idea of microsanctuaries to a much wider audience … including Ren Hurst-Setzer, who co-founded with her partner Brandy Sanctuary13 in northern California.

Ren’s path to veganism has been intimately connected to her work with other animals, in particular horses. Her story of taking a step beyond non-harming to creating a space of wellness and safety, for non-human as well as human animals, is fascinating to read–and to witness, as Sanctuary13 grows from a vision to a sacred space…

travisIt sounds like your transition to veganism was tied closely to your decision to create a sanctuary for rescued animals. When did you go vegan, and what made you realize the need to stop exploiting animals?

It was actually tied to discoveries I made while trying to build authentic relationships with my horses. I had read in Michael Bevilacqua’s book Beyond the Dream Horse that horses could smell if we were meat eaters or not, and it just made sense that if I wanted to have a real relationship with my horse, it would probably be beneficial not to smell like a predator. As a bonus, my health would probably improve. I had always been open to becoming vegetarian, but that is what motivated me to do the work to make it happen. There is no short answer to this question, as my journey was long and intense to get me where I am today, but my horses have become my equals in every way in terms of our relationships. What they have shown me and taught me through my acknowledging their true nature has made it impossible to not realize the truth: exploiting animals is easily one of the most destructive acts on our planet.

That realization happened prior to changing my diet. I became a vegetarian about two years ago. The switch from vegetarian to vegan is still an ongoing process some days, but I am committed to the full transition. It’s simply taking time for me to change habits, break addictions, develop the skills, and work through the emotional baggage of the past. I have changed so much and so drastically in just the last five years. I really look forward to mastering this area of my life (diet), which has been one of the most difficult for me for as long as I can remember.

Please talk a little about Sanctuary13, your burgeoning microsanctuary in Northern California. How did the idea get planted, and how has the growing process played out so far? Where are you at now, and what are some of your most pressing needs to get started and be sustainable?

In 2012, I became a student of Nevzorov Haute Ecole, a highly advanced school of horsemanship out of Russia. Through my studies there and application of such with my horses, it became completely obvious that domestication in general is a product of ego and a serious setback for human evolution. This is my personal experience, not the actual teachings of the school. Through my past experience with and studies of horses, I already knew that there was nothing biologically different between wild horses and domestic horses. Why then is it so widely accepted to have them in our backyards and use them the way we do when if I tried to do the same thing with a rhino, or even a more closely related zebra, it would be considered a crime? There is no difference. It’s all a crime against nature. I decided that sanctuary was the only viable solution. Not rescue alone, which only treats the symptom, but sanctuary based on results and education, where people can learn and experience something different, something they feel is actually better than the current reality. Take care of what we have, and stop creating more of the problem. We genuinely heal horses here, not just remove them from abusive situations and fix their physical ailments. Our horses are free to express themselves in any way they wish without any fear of punishment, and because of that, they don’t act like your average horses. We don’t use any training equipment or methods. We simply relate to them from a place of authenticity and unconditional love. If enough people can see and experience what I’m talking about, I have hope that it can inspire change in huge ways.

We are just barely getting started and are in way over our heads at the moment. I was a professional horse trainer prior to making a major shift in my awareness through my school horse, Shai. We had 13 horses in our care who were mostly intended to be rehabilitated, re-trained, and then sold. Well, obviously, that was no longer an option with our shift. So we promised them to honor what they had taught us, and we built this idea around them. We were offered an opportunity to work with like-minded horse people in this area, so I walked away from a successful career as a trainer and natural hoof care practitioner, we sold off most of our belongings, and we spent our entire savings moving ourselves and our herd of 13 from Texas to a very remote and off-grid location in Northern California. Nothing has been what we expected, and it’s all been a very beautiful, albeit incredibly difficult, experience. We did not end up working with the other people, and instead found space in our lives to create what we were meant to, which is what will become Sanctuary13. Our name honors the 13 equines that brought us here, but we also happened to land in section 13 of our rural subdivision, as well as on lot number 13 of this section. Coincidence? Doubtful. The numerology surrounding the numbers is pretty spot on as well.

Currently we are living out of a 19-foot travel trailer, solar powered by my very novice skills at setting up such a system. We are working very hard to split our time between making sure the animals’ needs are met, working through these massive changes in our personal lives, and developing this dream of sanctuary. It’s messy and unorganized at the moment, but each day brings more clarity and results. You don’t get 25 animals BEFORE deciding to create a sanctuary without having a massive amount of baggage to unload. Our list of pressing needs is pretty long at the moment. Extra hands and more people involved is a must in the near future, as most of the time it is me against the elements and 25 animals to care for entirely on my own (my partner is a flight attendant and only here about half the time). We just formed a board of directors that will be coming together next week to sign paperwork, and then the real sanctuary work begins.

For sustainability, we’re going to be relying on the programs we develop, which are beyond discussion at this point. This is our life and these animals are our family, so we are committed to doing whatever necessary to care for them regardless of outside funding in the future. This is not about earning a living. The model we are creating is not one that I know to be operating currently in the sanctuary/rescue world, and that’s entirely because of our unique background with the horses. It will be interesting to see where we fit in amongst our new peers.

10153915_1491840011039650_1595996672567491344_nWhere do you see Sanctuary13 five or ten years down the road? What is your vision for the sanctuary after its maturation?

We believe in simple living, and we believe simplicity is the earmark of truth (words by the great Dr. David R Hawkins). In 5-10 years, I see us having a turnkey operation in terms of the animals here having all of their needs met, and our place being a well-organized and well-run facility that operates effortlessly. Our animals are permanent residents, but within five years I would like to implement a foster program to aid other organizations, especially our county animal services, to help place outside animals while using our skill set to rehabilitate those animals and teach other organizations better care practices through the results. I want to keep the organization small because I want this to be a model for what is possible and just how easy it can be to care for animals WELL in smaller spaces than people are used to thinking about. We want to incorporate all areas of sustainability into what we’re doing out here, from our own housing to a very large focus on organic gardening and permaculture. We want people, animals, and the planet to receive equal attention in our efforts.

Though animals brought us to this idea, our sanctuary will actually be more focused on healing people, especially since our resident herd of animals will be in a mostly healed state at that point. We believe that healed people and raised consciousness is the real answer to taking care of the animals, and the problems in our world. Once the animals here have everything they need, we will put a lot of energy into developing programs in experiential education and personal transformation for people. Think of equine-facilitated therapy, but unlike anything I know to be out there just yet. The current model of equine therapy does not fully honor the horse, or even recognize where that horse may not be healed themselves before asking them to be a mirror to a person needing help. There will be no placing a horse in a roundpen so that some strange human can use them as a mirror, a very skewed mirror, to draw out that person’s inner issues. We’re about rising above all that. We want people to find inner peace, to create sanctuary in their own lives—in whatever form they want or need. Unconditional love is the only avenue to peace, and we’d like to teach people how to find the courage to get there through our model with horses.

After maturation, I’d like our team to travel the globe and help other organizations and people implement similar models at their own facilities. We are very much still walking the path ourselves, so this is all very much a developing projection of our current feelings.

You have begun talking about Sanctuary13 as a “microsanctuary.” What does the term mean to you as you are building Sanctuary13? And what role do you see microsanctuaries playing in the future of the vegan and animal rights movement(s)?

I’m sure the size requirements to be considered “micro” will be determined at some point in this movement’s evolution, but for right now I just think of “microsanctuary” as an animal sanctuary that operates on far less land than is considered normal in that industry. And it operates successfully on less resources. Whether by housing fewer animals or by using advanced methods of caring for and understanding them, it doesn’t take nearly as much space as often thought to keep animals healthy and happy—that means a LOT more people can do it, which means a LOT more animals get saved. I think the role these places play will have a massive impact on people. Imagine: If there was a rescued pig in every neighborhood, who was loved and well cared for, and people interacted with that pig … how easy would it really be to go home and open that pack of bacon? There is a huge disconnect for people between the animals they eat and the animals they welcome into their homes, and it simply comes from not understanding their value as sentient beings. If more and more opportunities like that become available, more and more people will see that there is no difference between the cow on their plate and the dog in their backyard.

Vegans who also provide a home (i.e., sanctuary) to farmed animals are not many in number. Why do you think so many vegans avoid adopting farmed animals? Is it mostly a practical issue in your experience (for example, all vegans live in urban apartments and would violate their lease if they got a chicken), or is it also a mentality problem?

10256085_1491246271099024_1422908420512177955_nI have a lot of respect for people who understand just how much of a commitment bringing another being into their lives is supposed to be. It is no simple undertaking to care for animals—they require far more than food, water, and shelter to be fulfilled, happy, and healthy unless they are able to live completely natural lives amongst their own kind, without human intervention (which isn’t likely possible in a micro-environment). The amount of time it takes to really learn about an individual species and provide for its needs is a lot of work, and you have to be passionate about it for it to work out for everyone. I think most vegans who don’t desire to care for animals have no need to change that, and I think that’s a sane decision. They are actually doing a great deal for the planet by simply setting the example in not creating the problem to begin with. Providing a home and providing safety are not the same thing. In the horse world, I see it every day—horses in rescues and sanctuaries who are in pain and probably worse off from their suffering than if their lives had just ended. It’s very common, and I’d prefer to see the rescuing being done by people who are capable and who are not in need of rescue themselves. I’m sure our own horses suffered through the massive transition we’ve gone through in the past year, and that’s nothing compared to traditionally kept horses. I also see a LOT of vegans training and riding horses because they have no idea of the harm that is caused to the animals. Riding horses is no more vegan than eating a cow—it’s exploitation at best and does nothing for the animal’s well-being.

You have said that a primary purpose in starting Sanctuary13 is education. What unique educational opportunities do you see your microsanctuary being able to provide to the public? What are some of your educational goals, and what steps are you putting in place (now and in the future) to accomplish them?

Our knowledge of horses is in no way limited by what we wish to do with them. What I mean by that is most people cut off their learning about these animals the second that it threatens their current reality—especially professionals who0 risk losing their income if what they know becomes irrelevant. We already walked away from the professional horse scene and have nothing to fear. We know what works, and we know what keeps horses healthy and thriving. We have zero vet bills to speak of outside of freak accidents, which are rare at best. We can teach people how to care for horses on a minimal budget and reap giant rewards through these relationships, by loving and honoring these creatures in the most unconditional way. In this way, we help horses in need find non-traditional homes with a new market of horses lovers not attached to the idea of riding, and we raise consciousness through their model of care. This goes for the farmed animals as well—there is no difference, and the more we experiment in relating to pigs and others the way we have learned to with the horses, the more that becomes true. We can teach people what unconditional looks like so that they can take it back home and use it where it’s needed most.

Other educational goals would surround vegan meal preparing, cooking, gardening, and anything learning based that we can tie back to our sustainable agenda.

Thanks for talking with me about Sanctuary13 and your transition to a place of true respect for non-human animals!

Of Rock Stars and Roosters: Interview with Jewel and Jason of Danzig’s Roost

jewel

It is fairly easy for veganism to be seen as a monolithic thing. Non-vegans especially seem to have a hard time recognizing that vegans eat different types of foods, live different types of vegan lives, and see (and react to) the world in very different ways.

Given the fact that my glass is virtually always half-empty, I notice a lot of times that the idea of the “joyful vegan” clashes with the reality of my experience as an ethical vegan of over 15 years. It can be jarring (to say the least) to watch as other vegans have babies, obsess over the latest vegan products on the market, and trumpet the apparent signals that the world is “almost there” to becoming a more compassionate place.

For many of us, none of that makes sense. Indeed, to look at the world in a different way means seeing how much pain exists and how little is actually being done to stop it. Since getting into animal rescue and sanctuary-building in recent times, all of this suffering and inertia are growing more and more apparent.

That is why I feel a great kinship with people like Jewel Johnson and Jason Kero, the unstoppable forces behind the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost. I appreciate brutal honesty, a sharp edge, and an uncompromising dedication to giving animals better lives. Jewel and Jason have provided us with countless instances of inspiration, insight, and support as we create a microsanctuary of our own for rescued farmed animals …

jewel and jasonCan each of you share your story of going vegan? How long ago was it, and what made you realize that you could no longer exploit animals?

Jewel: November 11, 2003 I went vegan. I ordered Meet Your Meat from PeTA. I sat down and watched that VHS tape. I’ve been hearing the machines and the blood curdling screams since. I’ve wanted to fight to put an end to such needless horrors from that point on. My experiences on our family cattle ranch, combined with my experiences helping raise chickens as a kid, and my relationship with my rescued parrot, all led up to me being willing to watch that video, which changed my life and the lives of many non-human animals since. The footage of slaughter, the act of slaughter, is brutal and unnecessary. Why should another life die because someone wants to taste salt, fat, and boiled blood? It’s disgusting and the heights of selfishness to demand these atrocities be committed on behalf of selfish people. I want absolutely no part in such outrageously unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death. I’m not selfish enough to fool myself into believing that it’s not that bad. It is that bad. They scream that loud. They bleed that much, they kick that much, feel as much fear as anyone would at their own slaughter.

Jason: Back in 1998 I found a flyer talking about the cruelty of the circus, and it had me remember the one and only time I went to one as a child. My brother and I were in tears because we couldn’t understand why the elephants looked so sad and why they were being whipped. Our parents took us home ten minutes into the show, and we were both scarred for life. Finding that flyer almost two decades later made me rethink how people treated all animals, and I began to search out more information. I discovered the truth behind so many things, and being so disgusted I promptly stopped eating and wearing animals altogether, but I was a vegetarian fooling myself. No matter how long it was between shameful indulgences, it didn’t truly click in my heart until 2008. That is an important thing to consider: the guilt one feels, or doesn’t feel, when they say, “Fuck it.” I’m not talking about “what your friends might think” because I never had any vegan friends; I’m talking about looking at oneself in the mirror and justifying the selfishness, the greed, the entitlement… I never felt relief, just pure disgust at myself for bearing witness and then turning my back. I know in my heart that I would now resign myself to death rather than eat the flesh or discharge of an innocent ever again. To the death.

I know that you each have varying musical tastes with more (Jason) or less (Jewel) interest in heavy metal and similar forms of music. When did you get into heavier music? How far over to the dark side have you gone?

Jewel: I really started liking heavier music after I went vegan. What I want is action, not a hippie drum circle filled with losers, listening to jam bands and eating free-range jerky.

Jason: I’ve been into metal and punk since 9th grade. Before that I was listening to whatever was on the radio—oldies, mostly Motown, which I still like.

Danzig and Jewel.
Danzig and Jewel.

I got very excited when I discovered Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost, as I had a hunch that the name “Danzig” was a metal reference. Can you tell us about Danzig the rooster, including how he became a member of your family and the origin of his name?

Jewel: Danzig and Moe came to me as chicks back in 2005, I believe. The details of how they arrived are hazy. I had no idea what I was doing at first. I thought maybe they could live in the house, whatever. At the time I had a boyfriend who said he would shoot them if they grew up to be roosters. That story didn’t have a good ending for that man, but it did have a good ending for Danzig and Moe, the hen. Danzig the rooster looked and strutted like Danzig the singer. Basically, you knew that was his name by looking at him. It’s like Danzig the rooster told me his name. He was hatched with that name. Moe also looked like a Moe. The name suited her partly because she resembled one of my best friends in high school, Moe … the prettiest little metalhead girl ever.

Jason: I first met Danzig the rooster when I was looking for bands on Myspace a long time ago. A suggestion came up and I clicked on the page and there was this little fuzzy black rooster named Danzig with his own profile. I thought that was the coolest thing, how appropriate! I looked around on the page for a little bit and a song from Primus started playing (I think it was “Tommy the Cat”) and I was just cracking up. I got distracted and a few days later I told a couple buddies about it but then basically left Myspace. After Jewel and I had been together for about a year we got to talking and she had mentioned Danziggy’s Myspace. We jumped online to look and see if it was still there and I couldn’t believe the way it felt when Primus started playing and I remembered finding that page so long ago!

Was the resemblance to the punk/metal star purely physical, or did they share any personality traits?

Jewel: Oh yeah, the stout, proud little strut, black Mohawk, and black attire made Danzig the rooster the perfect little version of the human Danzig. I don’t know if the human Danzig is such a gentle and caring soul like Danzig the rooster was, but appearance wise, they matched as much as a human and a rooster can match.

Jason: I think most male rock stars are comparable to roosters … look at Mick Jagger or Bon Scott.

I have so much respect for vegans who do more than just stop consuming animal products, or even who do advocacy, but who also offer sanctuary to farmed and companion animals. How did the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost get started? How did your veganism lead you to open a sanctuary for roosters, hens, and other farmed animals?

Jewel: Obviously Danzig the rooster was the inspiration to save more roosters. I didn’t have the opportunity to build a sanctuary in the mountains where I had been living since I was a kid. I lived in a small house in an old mining town in the Rocky Mountains, and I had Danzig the rooster living with me. I also had Lerr the rooster living there briefly. Lerr was jumping the fence and attacking people who walked by. I thought that was hilarious. My neighbors did not. Although I was zoned to have 12 roosters if I wanted, the neighbors threw a fit. This ugly little man started a petition to kick my roosters out of town. This guy made fiddles for a living … evil little, bad vibe fiddles. That guy would vibrate with anger any time he saw me. When he started calling the cops about the roosters and complaining about the crowing, I broke out Slayer and my Stihl chainsaw. How’s a chirping bird compared to that? Don’t ever buy a fiddle from an ugly little guy named Dennis.

Before anything could come out of the petition and the constant complaints, I started a search for another house to live where my birds were safe with me. My commitment is to these beings in my care above all else. I’d do anything for them, including rearranging my entire life and plans for the future. The safest place I could find that would keep me at a good distance from potential complaining neighbors was way out on the plains, east of Denver. That was the crossroads for me. Continue my desirable life in the mountains, or commit to the back-breaking work of building a sanctuary on the plains. Before we had a closing date on the property that is now Danzig’s Roost, Danzig the rooster passed away in my mountain home. It’s because of him that so many lives have been saved. While he was sick, I slept on the floor with him snuggled in blankets. He would scoot closer in the night and snuggle right up to my neck. It’s painful to think of that moment in time when I was losing him.

Jason: I was at a point in my life where I needed to make a decision. I remember talking with a friend, and he mentioned the vivisection dungeon at Wayne State (I’m from outside Detroit, Michigan) and that something needed to happen. I said that they would just move the lab. He said he would like get the animals out. But there would be no way to get in without a key, and I remembered Britches’ rescue. On that rescue video you see someone unlock the door for them. He was not afraid to be on camera and was risking his entire reality by letting them in, but you could tell that he had had enough of the abuse. This rattled me for a while and I considered going and getting another loan to go back to school there just to get into the program and get a key. Realizing that this was an unattainable scenario, I, having met Jewel online about a year earlier, asked her if she needed any help at her brand new sanctuary and that I felt like moving across the country.

pete the duck
Pete the duck.

How many residents do you have at the sanctuary now, and what species? Do you have any others named after musicians? Have you ever considered creating an avian version of a Misfits reunion at the sanctuary?

Jewel: Right now we have 54 roosters and about 120 hens. We have eight ducks and a pig, three goats and two horses. No, we do not ride these horses or any other horses. We are ethically opposed to horseback riding. The horses are named from some characters in Monty Python’s The Holy Grail, King Arthur and Patsy. We have had some birds named after other musicians. We had a rooster named after Frank Zappa. There is Ziggy Startdust, a super cool looking Polish rooster who is mean as hell. Lerr, the white leghorn rooster was named after Larry from Primus. Lerr is hick pronunciation for Larry. There can’t be a true Misfits reunion without Danzig. It’d have to be a cover band with a new name.

Jason: Hey, don’t forget about Elvis! I agree, an avian reunion of the Misfits would be most excellent, but we must remember that no matter how good looking Doyle was, Bobby Steele was the superior guitarist. I also have to mention that Lerr’s namesake is Larry Lalonde who not only started Primus but was also the guitarist of one of the first death metal bands, Possessed. How coincidental!

What does a typical day at the sanctuary look like for you? Is music a big component of that day, and if so … what is a typical day’s soundtrack look like for you?

Jewel: Work. Running a sanctuary is work. Thankfully Jason has more focus than I do, because I get sidetracked with all the awesome critters to say hi to. Every morning we haul water to 18 coops, distribute feed, hand transfer non-integrated birds, and medicate any birds currently needing medical attention. After all are fed and watered, it’s always tea time with Pete the Duck. During daily chores like mucking and food mixing I put my headphones on and listen to what I call “chick rock,” which is mostly women-fronted bands like She Keeps Bees and Cat Power. I still like to muck the horse stall while listening to the Misfits and Minor Threat. I’ll throw in a little Led Zeppelin and who knows what else. I just like to stay energized, and a variety of music will do that for me. Too much of one type gets boring.

Jason: Sleeping in for me is 7:15 a.m. (if Jewel is home; if she’s not I get up at 6 a.m. at the latest). From there it’s nonstop chores until I go to work and then another three hours or so of chores after I get home. I like having a reason to be up to watch the sunrise. If I’m up that early I like to listen to somber doom metal. Out here on the plains the vast landscape can remind me of the ocean as the sun rises and Morgion or Pallbearer, or Russian Circles are great for that intensity, as well as Solstafir. Once the sun is up though, early morning thrash quickens the pace, and nothing’s better than Sepultura’s Beneath the Remains/Schizophrenia or King’s-Evil from Japan. Kreator also has a special place, as well as Slayer up until Live Decade. It depends on the time of year and the weather for me. During the winter, if there is fog and it’s very cloudy during the day Blut Aus Nord; if it begins to lightly rain Deathspell Omega … if it’s a brutally hot summer day Monstrosity, Vader, Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, old Carcass. Cold winter as the sun sets, Immortal, Emperor, Gorgoroth, Samael, early Naglfar, and Dissection. Clear night sky and intense stars, Blacklodge, Aborym, Void, Red Harvest, Lorn. I mix it up with classic Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (Dio), AC/DC, The Doors, Alice in Chains, Pink Floyd, and neoclassical electronic music like Autechre and Aphex Twin.

I have a deaf dog who does not mind my listening to death and black metal, but no one else seems to appreciate it. Do any of the residents like to listen to heavy metal?

Jewel: Either way, music doesn’t seem to do much for the sanctuary residents. The chickens don’t seem to mind power tools or my trusty chainsaw. They’re pretty easy going no matter what after they realize how safe they are here.

Jason: I have a cat who likes Anaal Nathrakh.

A lot of heavy metal and other extreme music (at least the kind I listen to!) can foster a darker perspective on things, such as a misanthropic attitude or even the harsh criticism of popular culture that punk is notorious for. Do either of you see any ways in which your musical interests and your work as a vegan advocate are related? Does one reflect on and/or influence the other at all? How about your overall worldview?

Jewel: The energizing music I listen to absolutely reflects how I feel about activism and how I respond to the world. I want a change. I want a revolution. I’m angry and active. Listening to music that reflects that, like the Dead Kennedy’s, makes me feel empowered.

Jason: I think it’s important to consider that metal in itself is more of an outsider form of music than others and that this lends itself to a crowd that may actually be more open to a perspective not driven by populist attitude. Though you have ego-driven perspectives, just like with any sub-sect or culture, you would be surprised at how many metal people are willing to listen and learn more about animal rights than your average material-driven narcissist listening to the latest hit on the radio over and over. Look at a veganarchist band like Fall of Efrafa or even Wolves in the Throne Room and you can see that the attitude is having an effect. I used to listen to music with a message in my punk days with Rudimentary Peni, Crass, Conflict, and The Mob, among others, but I found that to me, once the door is open you can throw away the key. Sure I’ll still listen to them when the mood strikes, but I listen to things from other countries and with voices I cannot understand and the vocals become an instrument of their own, almost as if it’s instrumental music. I’m not all that interested in a “message” anymore when it comes to music. I’m more interested in what a person is doing in the world to actually help end the slaughter and get out there to help animals in need. Making records is not enough, and collecting them while eating veggieburgers talking shit is even worse. Make a sacrifice and help.

Jewel, you mentioned that you do not feel like you and Jason are a “typical” vegan couple. What makes you feel that way?

Jewel: Some vegans say “humans are animals; you have to love humans too.” No I don’t. I don’t have to love humans as a whole any more than someone has to love murderers and serial killers as a whole. They’re animals too, aren’t they? I also feel that I’m not the typical vegan because I don’t make this about me or food. I certainly don’t feel like I fit in very well with the cupcake crew. I have a bitter yet active response rather than being paralyzed by how I feel about the situation.

Jason: I think most people should be tied to trees outside the village gates and left for the wolves. Whatever annihilation that is inevitably coming to humanity is a fitting reward for the willful ignorance and pure stupidity that our species displays.

Do you see the diversity within veganism that you contribute to (from love & light optimists to morbidly misanthropic pessimists, from those focused on personal health to those concerned about animal welfare, and everything in between) as a sign of its health or the seed of its own destruction?

Jewel: Honestly, I don’t believe any of us really know what we’re doing. Some people in the “movement” have big enough egos to believe they have all the answers. Who knows what is going to work? I know what I do well, so that’s what I do. We have apologists who congratulate others for choosing “humane” meat and spew the most repulsive phrase, “Well, it’s a step in the right direction.” No it isn’t a step in the right direction. It’s a different way to exploit non-humans! We have sanctuaries adopting out hens to people who will eat eggs from those hens, further perpetuating the humane myth, and essentially transferring those hens from one egg operation to another. A lot of people also say that “we all want the same thing in the end.” That’s not true either. When it comes down to it, some of these people are okay with killing in the most ideal setting, whatever that may be. The end goal is total liberation of non-humans. No compromise. If that’s not the agreed upon goal, they’re not in the same movement I am a part of.

Jason: I like to see different people’s approaches. Some approaches work better than others. Some people don’t like my approach and say I shouldn’t have such contempt for humanity, but you know what…these are the people who look for excuses and will use anything to not look themselves in the mirror. It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else says simply because they, like the old adage states, are debunkers disguised as skeptics. Skeptics have an open mind, will listen even (especially) when you’re angry, and they will never come out with some shit about plants having feelings. I’m more concerned with the victims than making it easier for the exploiters to wake up in the morning. Personally I’d rather not ever have to deal with humanity in all its egotistic superiority complexes, but since I’m here I’m going to do more than pretend eating out and shopping are going to change anything. No vegan dessert ever made, or kept, anyone vegan. Only the truth about humanity and the acceptance of its horrid selfishness will.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and for the wonderful work you are doing at the sanctuary!

 

Life with Sheep: A Vegan’s Story of Giving Refuge

522Since getting into animal rescue, and in particular starting an organization that rescues farmed animals, I have become fascinated and inspired by the many vegans who see the plight of farmed animals and open their homes to–or create homes for–the cows, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, and other animals dumped into the “food animal” and “livestock” bucket. Even by vegans, these animals are often seen as “other” when it comes to consideration as companions.

Amy Dye is someone who has seen the realities of animal agriculture and has changed her life accordingly–by becoming vegan and by rescuing farmed animals. Not only does she and her family have some awe-inspiring garden spaces thriving on their one-acre property in Maine; she also went beyond the fairly entrenched ideas (even amongst vegans) that “companion animals” are exclusively dogs, cats, and occasionally other small furry creatures, and that veganism is a diet.

So there is something special about those vegans who have a flock of chickens and feed the eggs back to their ladies, or who start a sanctuary to give shelter to roosters–perhaps the most discriminated-against animal around. Amy’s verdant homestead and her two sheep are good examples to us all of how we can extend the circle of companionship to include farmed animals…and how “micro-sanctuaries” (as my wife calls them) can–and must–spring up wherever possible…

photo(17)When I was a child, my family raised chickens and turkeys for food. I vividly remember anticipating their arrival each spring. The mailman would pull into the driveway and beep the horn, presenting a small, brown box with 50 peeping chicks. Out came the camera, documenting their first steps in the outside world on our basement carpet. All summer long we would feed them our leftover sandwich crusts through the fence of their outside coop. They hung out with us in the yard, keeping our dogs and me company on warm summer days. Inevitably, the dreaded day would come that my stepfather would slaughter each one in the side yard, leaving a circular, fly-covered bloodstain for the remainder of the fall. Their heads were left in the compost, tiny eyes closed. I would shut my shades and hide in my room on these horrible days, feeling very different from the rest of my family, who happily dunked the dead chicken or turkey bodies in boiling water and then hung them upside down to pluck.

Even though I was extremely upset that the birds were killed each year, I did not realize that I did not have to eat them. I ate all animal products, just like everyone else, without giving it a second thought. I had never heard of vegetarianism, much less veganism, until much later.

As I grew up, I became a dog rescuer, focusing on dachshunds, only because Ziggy the dachshund was the first one I rescued from our local shelter. Pippin and Winston came next. Pip was a breeding dog from a puppy-mill raid in Tennessee, and Winston was left behind when his owners were evicted from their home, also in Tennessee. With age came a husband and human babies and declining health for the “furkids.” I lost the last of the dachshunds, Ziggy, who was fittingly also the first, two years ago.

My husband and I became very interested in gardening and being more self-sustainable around this time. We had always enjoyed having a garden, but when we moved to a new house with more land and sun, he especially embraced vegetable gardening. We had discussed getting some goats for milking, and even visited a few farms. The woman at the first farm pointed out a skinny Nubian cross goat and informed me that she was going into the freezer soon if she couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. I asked her how they killed the goats, and she told me that they take them behind the barn and shoot them in the head. She laughed when I suggested putting them to sleep, as the vet bills were more than they could afford. The barn was lined with angora rabbits in cages. In the distance, over a small hill, were white turkeys, undoubtedly the same breed as the ones from my childhood, waiting for the weekend to be slaughtered for the Thanksgiving holiday. The woman at the next farm told the same story (shooting in the head, which ones would be in the freezer, etc.). While we were there, one of the females went into heat and she let a male go in to mate with her. “She’s a virgin, so she doesn’t know what to do,” she said, as the male chased her around the enclosure.

In doing my research about the goats, I read a story about a woman who was doing what we had intended to do, raise them for milk. I had never thought about the fact that they had to stay pregnant most of the time in order to produce. The baby goats were not allowed to nurse and then were sold to whoever wanted them. The woman in the story recounted a time when one of the kid goats was sold to a family and put into the trunk of their car to be slaughtered for Easter dinner. That was her aha moment and mine as well.

After these experiences I decided to not pursue the goat idea. Still not “getting it,” I decided that I would like to get some ducks instead, since we have a brook that runs behind our house, and we could use their eggs. I ordered four ducks–two Khaki Campbells and two Cayugas–from an online poultry clearinghouse. Just like the chickens and turkeys, the ducklings came in a tiny box. I found out a few days beforehand that they were coming from California . . . I live in Maine. Even though I was worried about the ducklings when I knew they were in the mail, I still didn’t make the connection that what I was supporting was wrong. I figured that since this is the way it is done, it must be OK. I later found out about how inhumane the practices at hatcheries are–that they kill most of the male birds, because they are not considered valuable because they don’t lay eggs.

I began having conversations with friends that I could easily be vegan, but I was afraid of how it would affect my family. My husband and I had several favorite dishes that we liked to make together, and honestly, I was scared that I would cause disruption in the family. In the fall of 2012, I saw the movie Forks Over Knives sitting on the shelf at the video store. Although my reasons for being vegan weren’t health-related, as a Registered Dietitian, the topic interested me, and I thought my husband would enjoy it as well. After it was over, he said, “I’m in! I will do a plant-based diet for a month.” That 1158was all I needed to hear. I’ve been vegan ever since.

I became involved very quickly in animal rights activities and began looking for more “farm” animals to rescue. We only have about an acre of land, so it couldn’t be cows, and our town doesn’t allow pigs, so they were out. I had goats in the back of my mind and began looking through Farm Sanctuary’s animal adoption network. I saw an ad from Christine Egidio, mentioning that she was an ex-sheep farmer, newly vegan, looking to re-home some of her girls. I immediately e-mailed her to inquire. Two months later, I drove to Danbury, Connecticut, to meet Christine halfway to collect my two new friends, Violet and Clover.

The first question people ask when they hear I have sheep is, “Are you going to shear them and use the wool?” I tell them that yes, you have to shear them because we have domesticated them so that their wool would continue to grow and get matted and attract disease and cause extreme discomfort. They also want to know what I will do with the wool. It’s hard for them to accept that I am going to leave it outside for the squirrels and birds to make nests out of. Here in Maine, as I’m sure is true in other parts of the world, it is very “cool” to spin yarn and knit your own hats, sweaters, etc. What people don’t realize is that by and large, “wool sheep” are not allowed to live long lives. Once they are done producing nice wool, they are sent to slaughter, just like any other “farm” animal. They are commodities.

The girls themselves are similar to dogs in temperament, I would say. However, they don’t get as depressed as dogs, I have found, being left alone. When I scratch their necks they shake their legs just as dogs do and they are always thrilled to be in your presence when you are around. They have distinct personalities, even though they are twins (fraternal)–Clover is more of the bossy diva, and sweet Violet is a laid-back love bug.

I would say to any vegan considering rescuing a farm animal to go for it. I built the sheep enclosure myself with a post hole digger. On days when I don’t spend much time with them, they are content to be by themselves. It doesn’t take much time at all to make a world of difference for these special souls. I work and have two small children, and I have done it. You can too! We also only have an acre of land with a LOT of gardens and play equipment for the kids–you just need to be efficient with your space.

I think of the millions of sheep and lambs slaughtered and/or mistreated every day as I look in their eyes. Each and every animal is special and unique and deserves to live their lives. Until the world is vegan, we need to give refuge to the ones who make it out alive.

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“I always end up back at the Earth”: Interview with Vegan Illustrator Matt Gauck

Vegan always wins...
Vegan always wins…

It is funny how you meet certain people. We all have those stories of randomly connecting with someone who, in short order, feels like an old friend.

This is certainly true for me when it comes to Matt Gauck, an impressively interesting and creative nomadic vegan illustrator (or “drawist,” as he puts it) wandering the world (mostly on two wheels) with a home base in Portland, Oregon. Since getting in touch with Matt for some logo work for an event (Vegan Night Out) and a non-profit organization (Triangle Chance for All), I have had the good fortune to trade many an e-mail with Matt that left me laughing and feeling good to know that someone out there was doing something interesting.

Matt’s artwork is often humorous and always thought-provoking, with a deep core of environmental awareness coupled with a keen attention to the most pressing social issues of our time. While much of it is dark, with a rather morbid sense of humor (which I love) and a healthy dose of metal, Matt’s art is as varied as the situations our planet and its passengers face today.

You can check out Matt’s artwork at Cargo Collective, and you can learn about and support his upcoming bike tour/book tour/story-gathering tour by donating to his Indiegogo campaign.

How long have you been vegan, and what motivated you to cut animal products out of your life?

Well, my official jump to veganism happened about six years ago, right when I moved to Portland. I had been vegetarian for a long time before that, like seven or eight years, and I was super into dumpster diving from 2002 through about 2007. When I say “really into” I mean I literally didn’t buy almost any food at all; and I would only buy vegan food, even though I didn’t consider myself vegan at the time. Even from the beginning I had more of a problem with the money side of the industries of exploitation, and wanted to avoid putting any money into that market. Anyway, when I moved out here (to Portland) I found that dumpster diving is way less of a possibility for a variety of reasons, and I finally started putting my money into the vegan industry, and went vegan. I also read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, closely followed by that collection of essays about the Animal Liberation Front, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?, that Sue Coe did the cover art for…those helped round out my politics regarding animals.

You have said that you are doing your best to live by the phrase: “How will you live your life so that it doesn’t make a mockery of your values?” How does veganism tie into your overall value system—and putting your values in practice? How about music—has the soundtrack of your life influenced those values and actions as well?

I love that quote. Everybody can learn something from that, no matter what you’re into. Veganism is a huge part of my value system, but that’s still just a stepping stone to me—my main interest is honestly just eating vegetables and simple, whole foods, and supporting small farms, farmer’s markets, and co-ops. I think the logical transition is vegetarian to vegan to farmer to Walden pond or something like that. Self-support, or supporting a small group on a small scale: that’s a great idea and ideal to me. I think the backbone of this quote is responsibility, and then also being fully intentional about all the decisions you make.

As for the music thing, it helps me remember things outside my everyday life—people writing lyrics about issues overseas that are less visible to me, things like that—that keeps me feeling like I can be involved in things beyond my immediate life, which is super important too. I still love the “personal liberation” type of lyric writing the most—the reminder that you can live any kind of life you want to, despite what contemporary culture says about it. Live in the woods, do art for a living, write and travel full time, the idea that desk jobs and careers aren’t mandatory for growing older.

Your illustrations are fantastic in that, besides the artistic skill and aesthetic appeal, they largely pack a powerful punch of social justice and cultural critique—on topics as wide-ranging as overpopulation (the “Vasecretary” poster) and flaccid environmentalism (Contemporary Environmentalism at Work) to the nonsense that is the Paleo diet, along with more personal works. What inspires you to make art, and what idea(l)s and philosophies and issues fuel that work?

Oh man, art… I love making art, and I will always want to draw and paint stuff, but sometimes I honestly have no idea where this stuff comes from. It’s like, well, there are these issues in the world, and some of them are so ridiculous that I have to come up with some way to laugh a little about it. Not that I don’t take it seriously; but I really think that humor, and this “over the top” type of thing really helps people to think about things differently. The same way that satire is an effective way to get an idea across to a differing viewpoint…this is my sort of “visual satire,” as it were. A lot of friends of mine tell me they can see humor in even the most straightforwardly graphic stuff, like a bull goring someone; it’s SO over the top, you have to laugh. I like that reaction.

I do find that my best, and most pointed, work comes from when I have conversations with people I disagree with, and see things I get irritated by. I swear, all I have to do is search “hunting” online, and once I see all those pictures of hunters who have killed huge animals, I have to get that anger out somehow. So, typically, I draw.

What, for you, are the most pressing social issues of our day? How do you approach taking them on—in your artistic creative process and in your daily life?

It’s hard, as I think there are so many that are all intertwined, but overall, I find that the environment, like, the physical Earth itself, and everything human beings have done to it—that seems to be the most important to me. Social justice, class lines, and trying to eliminate capitalism in general—it all means a lot, but somehow I always end up back at the Earth. I can see that awful plastic garbage patch in the ocean in the back of my head. I honestly don’t “think” too much about how I can make art about any particular concept; most of them are just so obvious already in the world, that my brain is already responding to them just by being alive, hearing people talk about these things, seeing ignorance and misinformation spread… Making art is a way of dealing with social problems; they make for the best concepts, since everyone can relate on some level, since all these problems have some overlap. The best art, to me, has a purpose and a clear concept to it. You need something to say before you say it, you know?

Besides your artwork, you do a lot of bike-touring and have been known to go on the road with bands. Would you consider yourself a fairly nomadic person? What about this sort of lifestyle do you find fulfilling and enlightening?

I’ve been super lucky to befriend the right people (which happens when you’re as polite and talkative as I am) and have gotten to tour fairly frequently with some friends in bands, which has been a great way to reinforce the DIY network of people I am friends with all over the planet. My partner, Sara, gave the best description of me, when she called me a “charismatic introvert,” which seems pretty apt. That works into my nomadic disposition—I love getting to see different things, go on hikes in strange places, camp in insane spots; but I really love getting to return home someplace to avoid people for a little while, too. I joke I have a split personality thing happening, which isn’t true, but it’s an accurate way of looking at how I approach life. Travel, meet people, do exciting things, then, hole up, draw stuff, listen to audio books. I make the best of each of the seasons, really. Spring, summer, fall—outside. Winter, early spring—inside. I find the whole of this process very fulfilling, and inspiring.

The bike touring is just a more concentrated approach to getting crazy stories, and having fun out in the world. My bike is like a story generating machine, seriously.

Have you encountered any difficulties as a vegan on the road—such as trouble finding places to eat, run-ins with hostile people, etc.?

So far, nothing too bad—mostly someone offering me food, and then glaring in confusion when I’m like, “Oh, that’s really nice, but I actually don’t eat…” Yeah, that thing. Some guy in Alaska offered me moose burgers, to be cooked IN the parking lot of a Safeway, and I told him I just ate vegetables, and he said, “Oh, man, you one of them “healthies’, then huh?” I love that. There’s always the moment of getting to the only restaurant in some town, only to find that they use chicken stock in everything from the salad to the French fries, at which point, you just deal with it. I’ve eaten A LOT of bagels with peanut butter for dinner on bike tours.

Where are you going next, artistically and personally? And where do you feel the vegan movement NEEDS to be going next to sustain itself and make a real difference in the world?

Next, I’m physically going to ride across the country with my partner, Sara, and writing a giant zine about it. My previous zine efforts are being released as a book this coming June, so it’ll double as a book tour as well. The goal both during and after that is to get a bunch (about 15) paintings together for a show I’m having in November of this year, which means September and October, I’ll just be painting pretty much full time. Keeping in motion helps the ideas coming, so I’m not sure where my life is headed after that, though I’m sure I’ll have ideas in the next couple months.

As for the vegan movement, I’d love to see people becoming more interested in shopping at farmer’s markets, growing their own vegetables, and just using the resources we have available to use wisely. Even just growing herbs in your window sill, or setting up something to catch rainwater, is a move in the right direction. I want the vegan movement to CLEARLY be the movement that is actively interested in saving the world, rather than abstaining from something specific. My goal when I’m older is to live in a self-built (or with friends, realistically) structure, in the woods, with small, sustainable farms on all sides. I’d love to see more vegans getting excited about that idea.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

Totally my pleasure—thanks for asking such good questions, and being part of so many rad organizations.

Making the Connection: A Personal Story

christine egidio sheep

As a vegan advocate, it is always a question for me of what will finally get someone to wake up and realize that he or she can no longer exploit animals. For most people, their only interaction with farmed animals is at the end of the production process–as a hamburger, as ice cream, as leather boots…

Yet many people spend much or all of their lives in direct contact with farmed animals and somehow persist in the exploitation. We call some of them farmers.

It is almost an Earth-shattering moment when we see someone who raised animals for food transition to veganism. These rare few, farmers like Harold Brown or Howard Lyman who are also two vocal vegan advocates, made the connection, saw the animals in a new way, and stopped. They went vegan.

Christine Mariani Egidio is one such person. She lives in New Jersey and was well on her way (with her husband and sons) to making a life as an animal farmer. Her story of becoming vegan is a powerful and inspiring example of one person’s ability to put honesty and compassion over habit and personal tastes. She was kind enough to share that story with us…

In April of 2009, we purchased 32 acres and decided to get into breeding and selling meat sheep to help pay the mortgage and to provide income after we retire. We decided on Tunis sheep because they are very docile and easy keepers. I purchased three breeding ewes and a ram (Lasa Sanctuary now has two of my original breeding ewes, Lily and Roslyn. The third–Sofia–died along with her lambs during her second year with us.)

I am horrified to tell you my motto about our sheep breeding business. I would tell everyone, “They have a really great life, up until they no longer have one.” It makes me cringe now to type that. I wholeheartedly believed in the “humane slaughter” myth. And even worse, even though I soon learned that sheep all have individual personalities, are SMART, and definitely form bonds with one another, show joy, fear, friendship–every human emotion–I still did not make the connection. I have always been an animal lover, rescuing dogs, cats, horses–but I still did not make the connection that farm animals are no different in their desire and right to live.

We intentionally bred sheep for three years (the fourth year I was vegan and had separated my ram from the ewes, but he bred quite a few of them through the fence!). I lost Sofia during delivery and Roslyn’s daughter Cinnamon (Daisy Lu’s full sister) during labor. I also lost three lambs. All heartbreaking, many tears cried, but still I didn’t get it.

I’m married and have two sons in their twenties, both living at home. My husband, my younger son Derek, and I were all on the Primal Diet (similar to Paleo), so we were eating more meat than anything else. I always tried to buy organic, grass fed, and it was hard to find in our area and very expensive. So Derek got the idea that we should raise pigs, turkeys and chickens for meat (we already had hens for eggs). He was also an animal lover, so he said that in order to make sure that the animals were not mistreated during slaughter, and in order not to cause them stress hauling them from our place to the butcher, he would learn how to slaughter them himself. He felt that if he could do it very calmly and not be rough with the animals, they would not be afraid because they would know him–and that would make it okay. He told me he was going to watch YouTube videos on slaughter and then would find a local butcher to show him first-hand what to do.

I remember so clearly the day I came home from work and Derek said to me, “Mom, I’ve decided to become a vegan.” He is very athletic, and the only reason I could think of to become vegan was he thought it was healthier. So I asked him, “For your health?” And he told me, no, but that he had watched a video of pigs being “humanely” slaughtered by a person they knew, who was handling them gently and calmly, and the pigs were still panicking, trying to get away, and the other pigs in the pen knew what was going on and were screaming and trying to escape. And then he very simply said, “Mom, they don’t want to die.” Such a simple sentence, but so profound. Because that’s it in a nutshell. All of the arguments people have against veganism come down to that one fact…the animals don’t want to die.

I had never known anyone who was vegan–except one friend who had a son who became vegan and lost so much weight and looked terrible. Knowing what I know now, he probably was not eating properly, too lazy to make himself proper meals. I truly believed that humans NEED to consume meat/milk.

I watched Derek for the next couple of weeks and asked him questions. I was haunted by what he said–that the animals don’t want to die. So I decided to give up meat. For about 3 months, I still drank cream in my morning coffee, ate cheese pizza, and didn’t read labels to see if they contained eggs or dairy. But then one day, I saw a post on Facebook about the dairy calves being dragged away from their mothers, and it suddenly CLICKED and I became fully vegan. It will be two years this February 24th.

We had 23 sheep at the time we stopped breeding, and most were re-homed to sanctuaries like Lasa Sanctuary and to vegan families. I still have seven now as my pets.

If you had asked me last week if I ever thought Donn (my husband) would become a vegan, or even a vegetarian, I would have adamantly said NO! He is a typical meat and potatoes guy, very picky, and limited in what he will eat. I would make delicious smelling vegan food, and he would comment on how good it looked and smelled, but would turn his nose up at it when I offered him some. He has been vegetarian for four days now, has stopped using cow’s milk in his many daily cups of coffee, and I truly believe that he will eventually go vegan.

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Thanks to Christine for sharing this story. It is heartening to know that change is possible, no matter what path a person may be on. Animals surely do not want to die, and we have no right to mete out death to them…just as we have no right to use them as means for our own ends.

Faced with these truths, the only defensible course is to go vegan.