Full Text of Justin’s Interview with Yoga International

I was recently interviewed by Kathryn Ashworth, a Producer at Yoga International, for a story she was doing on veganism and animal sanctuaries. Because of space limitations, only a portion of the interview made it into the final article, so Kathryn and I agreed to post the full text here for interested readers… ~ Justin

10468042_583591315080432_4486259597133632367_o

1. What is The Microsanctuary Movement? How is a sanctuary a state of mind? 

The Microsanctuary Movement is an effort we started based on our work with Triangle Chance for All to help empower others to rescue farmed animals and self-identify as being part of a sanctuary, both through information and resources and through support networks. We are working on our website right now, but in the meantime we have been trying to share helpful tidbits through The Microsanctuary Movement’s Facebook page and our Facebook group, Vegans with Chickens. Through these and future means, we hope that the movement will inspire many vegans to rescue farmed animals, whether that be a rooster and some hens, or a few goats, or whatever species they can accommodate. To us, this is truly revolutionary because relying on large sanctuaries exclusively means limited ability to rescue farmed animals. Large sanctuaries can usually take in a few hundred animals at most, and so much of their income goes to administrative and other non-care costs. Comparatively, a few thousand vegans each rescuing a handful of animals would open up so much more space and (this is important) resources for care.

To answer the question about sanctuary being a state of mind, we have to first recognize that “sanctuary” is about how one cares for rescued animals and sees them as beings worthy of the utmost respect. Thus a microsanctuary centers on a space that is home to rescued animals and emphasizes their health and happiness. So someone with a rescued house rooster is just as much a sanctuary (by virtue of being a microsanctuary) as a million-dollar non-profit with hundreds of acres and hundreds of animals. I am frustrated by how self-limiting we all tend to be when it comes to our views of sanctuaries. I so often hear people say that they want to start their own sanctuary one day if they win the lottery, but without any clear idea of what “sanctuary” really means to them and how to get there. I was there once, and the notion of a typical sanctuary was so daunting that I did not even know where to start to make it happen. By throwing out the ideal, I was able to really think about what sanctuary means for the residents and the caregivers. It is a very powerful relationship and way of living, as well as a perspective on the world and our role as caregivers.

This sense of dedication to the service of rescued farmed animals, as a way to end (and help ameliorate in some way) their exploitation, is what lies at the heart of sanctuary—and on an individual level truly defines a microsanctuary. This is all about how we approach rescuing animals and accommodating them within our lives where we are now, not where we might be at some undetermined future time.

2. Can you give us an example of one animal you rescued and sheltered recently? How did you find them? What’s their story?

There are so, so many beautiful but poignant stories here at the TCA Microsanctuary, because each resident’s story reflects upon both their unique personality but also the exploitation by humans that they were rescued from. One of the dearest to our hearts is that of Bibi, a tiny little hen who came to us after her three flock-mates were killed by a raccoon who broke into the “chicken tractor” they all lived in in someone’s backyard. Bibi barely survived and was maimed in the attack: her top beak was partially bitten off, a hole was punched into her bottom beak, and she also lost part of a wattle. When she arrived, she was clearly suffering from PTSD; she spent several weeks just sitting in a bathroom like a lump. She started to come out of her shell when we put a mirror in with her, and then she really regained some of her spark when we brought in one of our other hens, Hypatia, to be a companion for her. Now she is a real fireball, with plenty of spunk and attitude. She has had to have several surgeries on her beak since then, and will likely always have trouble eating and require special attention, but she really rolls with the punches.

Bibi’s story highlights so many of the problems with backyard chicken-keeping (for example, she was part of a hatching project in which eight of the twelve chicks who were roosters and so were sent back to the farmer and most likely killed). We feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to give her a better life.

Another story is that of Plutarch the piglet. Plutarch fell off a transport truck in transit and was taken to a rural animal shelter while still a tiny little guy. When one of our board members, Linda James, discovered him at the shelter, we started scrambling to find placement for him (because we knew we could not accommodate an 800-pound farm pig at our microsanctuary). Richard Hoyle at The Pig Preserve, an amazing sanctuary in Tennessee, stepped up and agreed to take Plutarch. TCA board members Linda and Alan Nelson fostered Plutarch for nearly a month, allowing him to grow bigger and stronger in a loving space, and then several board members transported Plutarch to The Pig Preserve in late December—where he is now the most rambunctious, joyful pig you will ever meet.

His story is sad for so many reasons—not just recognizing that he would have been killed in a matter of months for his flesh, but also realizing that he was stolen from his mother at such a young age and never got to know that nurturing parental love as he grew. Animal agriculture is a story of broken families as well as torture and death, and Plutarch’s experience makes that abundantly clear.

3. What do you mean when you say, “veganism is the only satisfactory response to the suffering of non-human animals”? What about humanely raised animals?

There is no “humane” way to eat or use a living being or the things that come from her body. There is a persistent effort in our society to assuage our discomfort with harming other animals by coming up with slightly less bad ways to do the things that make us uneasy. There is no longer any doubt that, as a species, humans can thrive on a plant-based diet and have no need to exploit other beings for our benefit. That recognition of our ability to live without directly harming other animals has to frame this entire discussion about whether or not it is possible to exploit those beings “nicely.”

It takes little time researching the practices of every agricultural industry to see that animals are commodities, not individuals. You cannot justify killing a living being who is not in pain many, many years before he or she would naturally die. But that very thing happens with cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits…any animal used for food, really. There is a vast difference between when an animal is at “market weight” (i.e., when they are old/large enough to slaughter for prime profits) and when an animal is at the end of their natural lifespan. Chickens can live up to 13 or 14 years, for example, yet “broiler” chickens raised for meat are slaughtered after six weeks. Even dairy cows, who are supposedly given a better life because they are not raised for meat, still end up as hamburger after their milk production declines after a few years. It makes no sense for a farmer or corporation to keep feeding, vetting, and otherwise dealing with an animal who is not at peak production. If you want proof of this, research what happens to “spent” laying hens, whether they are in battery cages or so-called “free-range” farms, once their egg production declines after a couple of years—if they even make it that far.

As for chickens naturally producing eggs, which is a common misconception, it is helpful to understand the biology of a modern domesticated hen. The wild ancestors of domesticated chickens, which are wild jungle fowl from South Asia, lay at most ten to fifteen eggs per year strictly for reproduction. In contrast, domesticated hens have been selectively bred and genetically altered by humans to produce 250-300 eggs per year. This genetic manipulation has turned hens into victims of their own biology, leaving them trapped in their  own bodies, and it is directly responsible for the fact that most hens die before age five because of reproductive system complications (especially cancer). So to say a hen “naturally” produces the eggs humans eat is to utterly twist what “natural” actually means. There is nothing natural about a domesticated hens’ eggs, just as there is nothing ethical about eating them. Whenever a human eats a hens’ egg, whether it came from a battery cage or a backyard flock, they are perpetuating this inescapable suffering that hens endure.

Veganism is the only answer to this situation because there is no good way, no ethically defensible method or process, to exploit other beings for our benefit. Period. Once you accept the fact that animals exist for their own reasons, and have as much right to live as individuals with their own autonomy, then the question of how they are exploited is a moot one. One cannot exploit another being and pretend that one is being nice about it. One cannot justify using other animals when the only reason for doing so is personal tastes and habits and a refusal to look past the traditions and corporatized narratives telling us we need animal products to be healthy. To do otherwise is to turn individuals into objects, and that can never be justified.

4. What about people who say that they can’t afford to not eat meat due to health issues? 

In almost all cases, health arguments for eating meat or other arguments are based on ignorance of actual human nutrition, an attempt to excuse away a desire to eat animal products, or a combination of similar factors. I recognize that some humans may have such severe health issues that eating a plant-based diet is extremely difficult, just as I recognize that many humans live in food deserts and have a huge challenge just finding adequate food to feed themselves and their families. But the majority of us have the capabilities, both in our physical needs and our resources, to stop eating animal products. This is even true for athletes who put their bodies in much more rigorous and demanding physical conditions. There are vegan ultra-marathoners, bodybuilders, mixed martial arts fighters, NFL football players… It is abundantly clear, looking at living breathing humans, that being athletic does not prohibit being vegan.

5. How do animals, particularly the ones we classify (culturally) as less important (pigs, chickens, cows… etc.) give your life meaning? Why do you connect with them as individuals when so many see them as food?

Being vegan for us is centered on the idea that other animals deserve as much respect and consideration as our fellow humans.  Living with and rescuing animals (in particular farmed animals), however, reflects the fruition of our ethical principles put into practice. This is especially true for farmed animals because all of us, even vegans, have accepted the idea that they are somehow different than dogs, cats, and the other species we classify as “companions.” They live on farms somewhere out in the country and are owned by farmers … unless they are lucky and go to a big farm sanctuary that is also out in the country and run by a different sort of farmers.

It would be hard for us to pinpoint a reason why we connect with farmed animals as individuals, except to say that it is an entirely impossible task for us to do otherwise. Humans have desensitized themselves to violence and exploitation, in particular by compartmentalizing them so as to ignore or forget them. We, and other ethical vegans, are not able to do that any longer. Taking that to the next level, we are committed to helping as many animals as we can get the respect that they deserve by getting them out of the exploitative systems they are trapped in. Getting involved with farmed animal rescue and care has led to a profound shift in how we see ourselves as vegans. It is no longer so much a negative orientation, in the sense that we are trying to not cause harm or not be part of exploitation. It feels so much more positive to have a direct role in and responsibility for the care of the very individuals for whom we went vegan. All of us at Triangle Chance for All are and always have been vegan for the animals; saving and sustaining the lives of as many of them as we can has given our veganism so much more depth, meaning, and relevance.

6. What do you think it will take to finally convince people that this is a social crisis? Is the solution simply a matter of leading by example?

We have to do the work and reach the humans we can but not wait on others to make change happen. This means focusing on helping the victims of human greed as much as possible while also advocating on their behalf. It often seems that no one ever listens, and that we are losing the battle to make a society that is kind to all beings. But whether or not we achieve our goals, we have to do the work and strive as hard as we can.  Otherwise we can be sure we will lose.

I do not think leading by example is enough, though it is important. We have to feel within ourselves the urgency of non-human animal liberation because it is far too easy to deprioritize or forget their suffering. Empathy is important, but it is not the same as experiencing what they do, and I think this is a large part of why so little has actually changed with how humans treat other animals. So I think “what it will take” is some sort of crisis that makes consuming animals immediately harmful or impossible. Even with as many vegan products and resources as we have available now, vegans are still a tiny minority (about 2.5% or so) of the American population, and this is true globally as well. It is not a matter of practicalities.

I try hard not to be a pessimist with this whole issue. Humans have a hard time acknowledging crises until they significantly affect the humans (especially the humans with the most power and privilege) themselves. That is why it is so crucial for those of us who do get it to both advocate to other humans and act to make change happen for the individuals who suffer—whether that means helping others go vegan or rescuing animals from exploitation. Advocacy and leading by example are not enough; activism, whatever that means for you (be it protests, disruptions, leafleting, rescuing animals…), has to be a key part of how we live in the world as vegans.

7. Do you practice yoga? If so, how does your practice influence your activism?

That depends on how you define yoga, I suppose. If you mean mat work, Rosemary and I, as well as board member Linda Nelson, practiced yoga for years before starting TCA. We all saw yoga as a practice while also taking seriously the principles behind it. For example, ahimsa is a principle of not harming that (we feel) provides an imperative for being vegan. This is why Jivamukti Yoga, for example, includes veganism as a component of the practice. It is a shame that more modern yoga traditions and practitioners do not recognize this.

You could also see what we do as a form of karma yoga, of course. As someone who studied and practiced Buddhist meditation for many years, as well as yoga, I feel very strongly that our “practice” is most important when it is actualized through our ways of living in the world. What we do in private on our mats or our cushions should be a foundation for how we live in and influence the world around us.  We should also do more to acknowledge how intentional acts of service, compassion, and justice are essential components of a practice of ahimsa.

Advertisements

Food Is Power: Interview with lauren Ornelas of Food Empowerment Project

Food is a complicated affair. As vegans know, getting other humans to examine their food choices and (more importantly) change them can feel like trying to pick up the Earth and move it a few planets farther out. 

Part of the urgency we feel with food arises from the reality that it has so many ramifications on our planet, beyond whether or not we are eating other animals. This means every choice counts…and that achieving justice involves much more than going vegan. Factors ranging from treatment of workers, to environmental impact, to access to food, and much more are all crucial considerations we have to make if we truly care about just food.

Far too few vegans and “animal rights” activists venture outside of the ethics of eating (and otherwise using) animal products, but lauren Ornelas, founder of Food Empowerment Project, is an outspoken advocate for true food justice and against exploitation in all its forms. I first corresponded with lauren after writing about the influence growing up poor had on me as a vegan, and I have been awed by her work and Food Empowerment Project’s growing presence since then…

lauren_TEDx_4 (3)
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?

I went vegetarian when I was about five years old when my mom told me that the chicken I was eating was, well, a chicken. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I was able to stick with that decision (for a variety of reasons), but I had already stopping buying leather products. However, when I was 17 I was connected with an animal rights group in my area and learned about factory farming—it was then that I went vegan. I think, overall, the biggest factor for me when I was five was not wanting to break up families or being responsible for their separation. This April will be my 27-year vegan anniversary.

What motivated you to start Food Empowerment Project, and how did you build it up into the organization it is today?

One of my motivations for starting Food Empowerment Project was my frustration with animal rights activists who did not like me talking about the suffering of human animals in various industries, including chocolate, when I was asked by interviewers if animal rights people only cared about the suffering of non-human animals.

My passions were also stirred when I went to speak at the World Social Forum in Caracas, Venezuela, and realized so many issues that I also cared about, such as workers, the environment, indigenous rights, immigration, etc., were all related to food.

I wanted to have an organization that strove for justice in all of these areas.

What have been some of your biggest victories so far? What issues are a priority for you moving forward?

To me the biggest victory has been the evolution of people understanding our work. Not that all vegans understand it, but many seem to be understanding (or at least being less hostile) to our desire to connect these issues. Food Empowerment Project has been around since 2007, but only recently does it seem as if our work is being sincerely recognized.

Getting people to understand the connections of oppression and our ability to work together (and not be separated by specific focus or being an expert) is a huge victory in my eyes. Although in a more tangible form, our work over several years to get Clif Bar to disclose the country of origin for their chocolate was a big victory.

Our priorities continue to be hindered by our slow rate of growth in funding (an area which shows that people are only just now starting to understand the importance of our work, but funding is not pouring in).

Fortunately, with a great group of volunteers we will continue to work promoting the issues of ethical veganism, fight for justice for farm workers, discourage people from buying chocolate from areas where the worst forms of child labor are taking place and get companies to be transparent on their sourcing, and continue our work with communities on the lack of access to healthy foods.

image (23)

There is some criticism in the vegan movement of “single-issue campaigns.” Would you consider FEP’s actions—e.g., targeting Clif Bar for their chocolate sourcing—to be single-issue campaigns? How do you respond to that sort of criticism, if you encounter it?

Campaigns have to be single issue in a sense if you want concrete change versus general outreach. For example, you can have a long-term goal to get all animals out of marine parks, to abolish marine parks, but perhaps your smaller goal is to shut one of them down. I am a campaigner, and I like concrete goals in order to know if I am having an impact versus just hoping or assuming I am.

When it comes to Clif Bar, I don’t find it to be a single issue as we were targeting a company that makes primarily vegan products. Our goal was to get them to be transparent. We want all companies that make vegan products to be transparent, but we can’t just tell them all that and think we can get somewhere. In an ideal world, sure. But the reality is that corporations aren’t going to make changes for the good unless we demand it from them and we’re specific about what we are asking of them.

Along with your work with FEP, you do a lot of speaking about activism and intersectionality. What are some of your priorities as an activist?

Yes, I do talk about how issues are connected. My priorities as an activist change and they evolve. Currently, I would say they are in a constant struggle to block out the noise of those who are not doing strategic work and to make sure that F.E.P. works in a way that is consistent with our ethics. It is tough to juggle, but we do our best. And also as an individual I want to be sure to keep active with strategic campaigns and outreach efforts for both animal liberation and human justice.

More importantly, what do you feel the vegan movement needs to do in the context of other social justice movements? What have we done well, and what do we need to do better?

FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.
FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.

I think the vegan movement should not sell out other social justice issues that are also advocating for those who are being exploited, marginalized, abused, and killed. I don’t ask for vegans to give up their good, just, and necessary fight for non-human animals, but to work to be consistent by not supporting chocolate that comes from child labor and to be educated about using incorrect statements such as, “Anyone can be vegan if they really want to be.”

We need to do better about truly connecting the issues. Connecting issues does not mean you only talk about other social justice issues as a pretext for getting others to go vegan. It means truly understanding how these issues are connected and work with others to stop them. It’s important to remind yourself that you might be an expert when it comes to animal issues, but perhaps you’re not with other issues, so there is a time to lead and a time to follow.

I am particularly interested to get your perspective on how to make (ethical) veganism less of a phenomenon of the privileged—despite the historic associations between animal rights and white supremacy—and more about enabling everyone be able to make healthy, sustainable, just food and lifestyle choices. What can individual vegans do, and what has to be changed on a larger socio-economic scale?

I think vegans can and need to be honest. If they are creating recipes, let’s not pretend that anyone can make it because it is made from scratch and from whole foods. That is great for many, many people, but not everyone. Be honest and acknowledge that your meal ideas and recipes are very important and can help people go vegan, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking it is easy for everyone. It won’t work for people who only have access to tomato sauce, and for whom fresh produce is a potato and onion on an irregular basis, or for people who live in shelters or motels. They might care, but they might not have an option right now.

We all need to work for living wages. Living wages for everyone will mean they will have more access to healthy foods—including fruits and vegetables.

Little boy with backpack
FEP School Supply Drive beneficiary.

Are you optimistic that the vegan movement can grow out of its largely consumerist phase and actually make a difference in the lives of humans and non-humans everywhere? Why or why not? Do you have any suggestions for making veganism a real force for social justice?

I do think we can as long as we keep the issue at heart as the focal point. Look, unfortunately, capitalism is to blame for much of the ills in the world. And by using consumer campaigns we have to work to force corporations to make changes. But if we are dishonest about our goals, I believe we lose credibility. It’s important to keep the focus on the animals, and the reason why many of us do the work we do is because we do not want non-human animals to suffer, be abused, exploited, and killed. This way we keep the heart of the matter front and center and do not allow the dollar to be the focus.

It is important to remember that with a diet based primarily of fruits and vegetables, what we eat (and encourage others to eat) also comes from an abusive and exploitative industry. Farm workers in the US face some of the worst abuses in the food industry. They are not paid living wages (many get paid based on how much they pick), do not get benefits, they work in extreme environments (some collapse from heat exhaustion and die in the fields), are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and many of the women are victims of sexual abuse. These are issues vegans need to address.

Eating a cruelty-free diet will require that the rights of the farm workers are also met.

Thanks so much for speaking with me!

Thank you for wanting to cover our work!

Interview with Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

It is always exciting to meet another vegan metalhead (if you are a vegan metalhead like me at least). I cannot quite remember how I met Jayaprakash Satyamurthy in the realm of Facebook-Earth, but it was a quick experience of exponentially increasing excitement. Jayaprakash, who lives in Bangalore, India, is more than just a vegan metalhead; he is also the bassist for the band Djinn And Miskatonic, as well as a published writer of weird fiction in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft. Oh, and on top of all that, he runs an animal rescue organization and shelter, which means he lives with a big furry family.

I was fascinated to learn more about Jayaprakash’s experiences and his work…

JayaprakashPlease share your story of going vegan. When did you decide to stop consuming and using animal products? What motivated this change in your lifestyle?

I was raised vegetarian. In my college years I started to eat meat. I can say that it was the usual process of dietary drift a lot of young Indians go through once they are exposed to a more diverse peer group in college; I can say it was just the convenience of picking up a sheek kebab or shavarma roll after a night at the pub with my friends. I can make any number of excuses, but the real reason is that my vegetarianism was simply a matter of habit, and even though I considered myself an animal lover, it was more of a sentimental thing, not something I’d thought through rationally as an adult. More to the point, I think it just showed how weak-willed and ready to be tossed about on the waves of peer pressure I was. I didn’t care to “fit in” in my choices of music and books or clothing; yet it seemed okay to go with the flow when it came to more crucial choices like diet and even clothing—I wore my share of clunky leather boots and jackets during this time.

I will say that I was never completely comfortable eating meat. I always felt heavy and sluggish after eating anything more than a kebab roll, I was repulsed by bone and gristle in what I was eating, and I frequently fought down a sense of nausea while eating meat, thinking of the living thing it had once been. In fact, meat formed a very minor part of my diet, which was mainly ovo-lacto vegetarian.

Questions of the use of animals for food and clothing and so forth surfaced in my mind from time to time, but I never considered them in sharp detail. I was opposed to animal testing, and I continued to enjoy the company of cats and dogs, but since moving out of my family home and living in a series of hostels and shared flats, I hadn’t had a pet and I think losing that daily connection with the animal world helped blunt my instincts.

I reverted to vegetarianism after living with the woman who would become my wife. She was born into a meat-eating community but gave up meat as a little girl, not wanting to harm animals. It felt to me like a natural decision, a relief, a homecoming. You might ask if I would have continued to eat meat if I had met a different woman, and all I can say is that sometimes the right people come into one’s life and leave it at that. A lot of people remain meat eaters even if their spouses are not—this was the case with my father and mother—and I could have done so too. I also stopped wearing leather shoes and retired my old leather jacket.

As I grew more involved in animal welfare, moving from activism to regular rescue and rehabilitation of stray dogs and cats, I started to learn more about the issues involved in how we exploit animals for our comfort, convenience, and luxury. I read a lot about ethical reasons for a life free of animal products, worked my way through Massimo Pigliucci’s examination of these issues on his Rationally Speaking blog, and reconnected with the deep emotional connection I had felt with all animals as a child. Finally, a video by PETA on dairy farming in India pushed me over the edge. I decided to stop consuming dairy as well, and called my wife up and told her I had taken the decision to become a vegan.

I know that the exploitation, torture, and murder of animals continues around me daily. I know that my ceasing to use the products of this cruelty probably doesn’t reduce any of it. But I take comfort in knowing I no longer have blood on my hands, in knowing that there is no ethical contradiction in my animal welfare activities (well hardly any) and in, perhaps, serving as an inspiration to others. I feel like I have finally become someone the five-year-old me would have been proud of.

You are involved in the heavy metal scene in a number of ways, from playing music to being an active commentator online. How long have you been into heavy music? How long have you been playing, and what is your band, Djinn & Miskatonic, up to these days? Any other projects in the works as well?

I discovered heavy metal music through MTV in the early 90s. I was already a music lover with diverse tastes for an early teen: classic rock, some blues, some alt, a lot of western and Indian classical. At first, I had little patience for the “long-haired guitar bands” on MTV. But then songs by Metallica and Guns n’ Roses started clicking. My home life was not altogether happy, and I identified with the rage in many of these songs. When I discovered Iron Maiden, I responded to their complex melodies and epic storytelling. Judas Priest filled me with intimations of power and glorious darkness. Slayer’s music showed me how music could be sinister and attractive at the same time.

I wanted to start playing this music at once, picking up an acoustic guitar and playing at writing songs and being in a band with friends. It took me years to get any good, and to decide to play the bass guitar. I played with a few different bands in my college years, covering everything from alt rock to thrash and heavy metal, and trying out a fair number of original songs along the way.

I’ve been playing the bass guitar since I was 17. I had a long hiatus from music but started again in 2010. In 2011 I formed what would become my current band, Djinn And Miskatonic. Our first album, Forever In The Realm, was a more traditional doom affair, with lots of Saint Vitus, Reverend Bizarre, and Electric Wizard influences. We’ve nearly finished recording our second album, and this time around the musical range varies from Sleep/Vitus doom to Cirith Ungol-influenced epic doom metal with a couple of other odd things along the way.

I’d love to do a couple of other musical projects—something more raw and thrashy as well maybe a space rock project some day. Right now, I don’t have enough time or collaborators for anything other than Djinn, and anyway we’ve got an anything-goes approach to songwriting which allows us to try out a lot of different musical ideas.

In an earlier interview, I discussed possible connections between an interest in black metal and veganism with Samuel Hartman of Anagnorisis. What is your take on being a vegan metalhead? Do you feel like your brand of veganism is in any way informed by your taste in music, or vice versa?

I think maybe extreme metalheads, if they have not been co-opted by the right-wing politics and misogyny that inhere in those circles, are people who are used to standing out from the mainstream and making their own decisions. I think there is a strain of nature-worship and pantheism in black metal in particular which is conducive to moving towards veganism.

But I don’t, ultimately, see a close link between the music and the ethics of veganism. I am happy to see that people like Mille Petrozza are vegan, but I also know many more metal musicians thrive on steaks and leather. There’s no consistent ethical stance in what is after all a diverse community of people and ideologies.

On the other hand, I have found in practice a lot of animal lovers in the metal community here. So that’s a good sign. I try to be visible in my veganism so that I can act as an advocate to people in the music community who may feel predisposed to at least hearing me out because they respect me as a musician. But ultimately, you become vegan because you do not wish to participate in the murder, rape, and torture of sentient beings any longer. People from any musical background can and have made that connection and that change in their lives, and I respect them for it and count them as my peers.

You are also an active writer of weird tales, and a fellow fan of H. P. Lovecraft (yes!). How does your penchant for weird fiction tie into your other activities—music, veganism, etc.?

Although I’ve tended to approach horror themes a little more crudely in my lyrics, my interest in weird fiction does have a lot to do with the urge to write dark, eerie music and with an overall preoccupation with dark, fantastic themes and imagery. So far, I haven’t written songs that are directly influenced by my ethical choices. I don’t know if there is any tie-in between weird fiction and veganism, but I have heard it suggested, I don’t know how seriously, that animals might have a very different kind of consciousness from ours, as different as those of the Lovecraftian gods are from our own—and we’ll never stand a chance of learning more about how that consciousness works if we keep eating them.

Along with all of this creative work, you also are involved in animal rescue in Bangalore. Can you discuss your rescue and what got you into rescue work?

I got into rescue work because I wanted to do something more practical and impactful than the activism too many animal lovers content themselves with. There is a place for raising awareness and running campaigns, but my own temperament draws me to working at the rescue side of things instead. I feel I am doing something of intrinsic and real value when I help nurse an animal back to health, find a new home for a former stray, or at least provide warmth, food, shelter, and love for a dying animal. There are many roles you can play in animal welfare: awareness, fundraising, admin, and so forth. I found that this was the role I could be most useful in, and even so I don’t think I’m very good at it yet.

My wife and I started to be the go-to people for anyone who found a lost or abandoned cat or kitten. There aren’t as many animal lovers in Bangalore working with cats as dogs, and our home population of rescued cats keeps growing. We also take in dogs, and starting a shelter seemed like a natural progression. We’ve had a setback recently, losing the land on which our first shelter was run, but we are looking at new sites and hope to include a full-fledged cattery at our next shelter. Our shelter is called Simba’s Run, after an abused Dalmatian who was one of the first rescues undertaken by our animal welfare organization, Animal Aid Alliance.

How does being vegan influence your efforts to rescue and care for animals in need?

The shelter I help to run is no-kill as far as possible. I have taken a decision to put down animals who were terminally ill and in pain, like a cat with a shattered spinal column or a puppy with an advanced, uncurable case of distemper. This decision is never taken lightly, and I try to spend time with the animal, comforting it, before the euthanisation. The idea of euthanasia for “unadoptable” animals or simply to keep shelter populations down is repulsive to me.

I’ve also had to accept that it is very hard to give cats and dogs a meatless diet. I don’t feel good enabling the slaughter of one set of animals to help my efforts to save another set, and this makes me feel like a hypocrite. Vegan diets for dogs and especially cats are a deeply controversial topic and hard to get clear facts and advice about. I have experimented with a vegan cat food with taurine added, but my cats have not responded to it especially enthusiastically. Still, I hope to learn more and to switch to vegan food for my shelter if it seems like the animals will not miss out on nutrients and flavor.

Sometimes I wonder what we’re all doing, setting up dependent relationships with animals and playing god. Some human beings respect that social contract with our companion animals; others don’t, and then people like us try to step in and rectify the balance. Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

What sort of advocacy work are you involved in, and can you talk some about the vegan scene in the Bangalore area? What are some successes you have seen there, and what are some key issues you think need to be addressed?

I’m not involved in any vegan advocacy in an organized way. I make no secret of my veganism, and as an “out” vegan I hope to influence others. I think I have helped at least two people go vegan. There are a couple of vegan restaurants in Bangalore and a few vegan meet-up groups. I still haven’t interacted much with them beyond the occasional online chat. I really should, I’m sure, but in a culture and society that’s becoming deeply committed to meat eating, I think it is more useful to be out there, being visibly vegan, sane, and happy.

In my country, meat eating is a complex affair. It’s a way to rebel against Brahminical strictures; it’s forbidden flesh; it’s cool and sophisticated. Suddenly everyone is a foodie, sampling steaks and whatnot at hipster eating places. I think people need to learn to see their dietary choices as not just about their lifestyle and self-image but in the context of the ethics of what we eat.

At the same time, the average Indian vegetarian is deeply dependent on dairy products and the idea of doing without cow’s milk is unthinkable to many. I’d like to see that lactose addiction being combated with better information and better awareness of what it means to keep a mother in captivity, impregnating her time and again just to steal her milk from her babies.

Our government has in the past run highly successful campaigns to popularize milk and eggs as healthy and essential to our diet; I don’t think veganism should be government mandated, but I’d like them, and the media as well, to at least table it as a reasonable choice and not something extreme or just a fad.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!

Thanks for the chance to do this interview. I’d like to invite anyone in Bangalore who is seriously considering veganism to reach out to me to learn more. Also, I now kmow one other vegan in the Indian metal community: Aditya Mehta of Solar Deity. I’d like for our tribe to increase, so if you’re an Indian metalhead who loves animals, and would like to learn more about veganism, once again, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you, and I can be reached at jayaprakash@gmail.com.

“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!

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.

microsanctuary5

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!

microsanctuary3

Creating Sanctuary: Interview with Ren Hurst-Setzer of Sanctuary13

1474510_1439247792965539_41248541_n

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!

“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.