Billboards. They’re everywhere, whether you like it or not, so why not use them to help animals? Jane Casteline & Shannon Johnstone join us this week to discuss their project, Picturing Pigs, and the challenges they had to overcome to get their message onto billboards in the home of factory farming and why this is a form of activism that we can all get involved in.
ABOUT OUR GUESTS
Shannon Johnstone’s photographic work deals with themes that reclaim what has been discarded and make visible that which is hidden. Her project, “Landfill Dogs,” was featured on ABC World News and CNN. Her newest award-winning work is entitled “Roadside Zoo.” She is a three-time recipient of Creativity Grants from the Culture and Animals Foundation, most recently, along with Jane Casteline, for the billboard advocacy project “Picturing Pigs.” She is also a tenured professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and a PhD candidate in Human-Animal Studies at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Jane M. Casteline’s photography explores the nuances and unique qualities of the natural, human, and built environment through photography, including her current project, “Mushrooms in Raleigh,” and a documentary photography series currently in development on the journey of homeless Turkish dogs from abandonment to rescue to adoption. She is also a research administrator at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC.
- We Asked Women If Vegan Men Give Them the Ick
- Scarlet Spark Workshops
- Picturing Pigs website
- Picturing Pigs on Facebook
- Picturing Pig on Instagram
- Jane C Photography on Instagram
- Shannon Johnstone on LinkedIn
Mariann Sullivan: Welcome to Our Hen House, Shannon and Jane.
Jane Casteline: Thank you so much for having us.
Mariann Sullivan: We're thrilled to have you because I really love this project. I've always loved this kind of advocacy and when I heard about what you were doing, I just, it's exactly the kind of thing I love to talk about. Just people who decide to do something on their own and just do it.
One of the reasons I love it is because it's about billboards. I've always thought that billboards were unappreciated. They're just right there and we ignore them, but we don't actually ignore them. So, what made you start thinking about billboards as a good place to do animal advocacy?
Shannon Johnstone: So, Jane and I were talking about how pig caricatures are so ubiquitous, and I think we were thinking about the way pigs are depicted in advertising. So billboards, which are kind of like white noise, just seemed like a perfect place to counter what was already out there, which were these depictions of pigs with knives and happily roasting themselves and stuff.
So we thought we could offer real pigs who have been rescued and that would be a really good counterpoint to the caricatures.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, and you're not just coming out of the blue. You're both photographers. You both know a lot about images, and I assume you put a lot of thought into what images would be the most, I was gonna say powerful, but maybe you were going more for just effective, because you only have two seconds.
You don't have a lot of time with a billboard, and you're not getting the top of somebody's attention, you're getting the very rim. But, you know, I look at them all the time. So, you already went there a little bit, but, more specifically, what did you decide about the images that you wanted to put up there?
What would they convey to people in that two seconds that you've got their half attention?
Jane Casteline: I think that when we were first talking about this project, definitely one of our goals was to convey compassion. We didn't want to show images that showed the pigs having been through the harm that they had been, and there are many images of those out there. And even when they enter rescue, they're often injured physically and emotionally shut down.
And not that we don't appreciate how traumatic that is for them. We really feel that this project is a project of compassion and that reaching people with compassionate images that show pigs in their natural state of emotion and physical environment where they're happy and settled was really important.
So that was the overarching 20, 000 foot kind of where we were coming from and picking the specific images that we did.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, and I want you to describe the images. When you were saying it, it made me think that I think sometimes animal advocates have been moved by horrifying images, and think that other people will be too, and don't realize that not everybody comes at this in the same way. A lot of people shut down, and whereas we didn't, perhaps, if that's the thing that brought you into this, or it didn't shut you down, you know, it made you want to do something, but other people are not necessarily going to have the same reaction.
So I think that you were really onto something. Can you talk a little bit about what images you decided you wanted to put onto the billboards?
Shannon Johnstone: Yeah. We're working with two vegan sanctuaries, here in North Carolina. One is called Blindspot, and the other one is called Sisu. And, we really admire the work that they're doing, so we wanted to feature pigs who were basically victims or survivors. I think it's probably a better way to say it.
And we didn't know exactly what we wanted the pictures to look like before we started, to give you a direct answer. But, once we went to both places, we met the pigs and we just kind of naturally let them come to us and photographed. And then we looked at the photographs afterwards and thought, what would be captivating within that two second frame that you described. And we selected the picture.
One of them is of Daisy, who is a very large pig.
Mariann Sullivan: As they tend to be!
Shannon Johnstone: Exactly. Yeah, she's more of like what you would tend to see in a farm. She came from one of these free range farms with her sister and her legs had atrophied so bad that she has chronic arthritis right now, but she's just a beautiful soul, and she was just basking in the sun, and she just came over to say hello, so she seemed to be a really good fit for what we were thinking about, and just a really great... not that she was a good fit, that sounds like... not that she's an interchangeable part, but she has a charisma to her that we really found beautiful.
And then, Breanne and Iris are featured in the other billboard. They come from Blindspot and they are actually part of a larger family who were mistreated. Breanne was hit on the head with a baseball bat and now has a permanent head tilt. They're both what we would call pot bellied pigs, although people do eat them as well.
I feel bad that we didn't feature the rest of their family in the photo, but we wanted to just call attention to the bond of the two. So...
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, I don't think you should feel bad about everybody that you had to leave out because, you know, what are you going to do? You know, as I was thinking about it too, I feel like the position we're in now as advocates is different than people were 20 years ago, where people really didn't know about factory farming, people really thought it was old McDonald's farm.
Do you feel like now that you're talking to people who know something's wrong. They don't want to know, they don't want to think about it, but they kind of know something's wrong. So featuring these lovely pigs, and people love pigs, people have a fondness for pigs, in happy circumstances, people know this is not a farm I'm looking at.
Jane Casteline: Yeah. I mean, definitely. You know, the images we have are not on a farm, but where they came from was not a farm either. And, especially in North Carolina where pigs outnumber people, but they're never seen because they live in these CAFOs, that is not what is conveyed by the industry. It's conveyed that they live on farms and they're happy until they're slaughtered and everything is fine.
The images on the billboards are... I guess they come more closer to looking like the images that people really think that pigs live, which, now that I'm saying that out loud, I'm thinking, wow, I hope we're not having people misinterpret, like, you know, these pigs are not from the farm that then became your bacon.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah. But as I was saying before, I think that people know now that that's not true. They don't want to think about it, but maybe not everybody, but I think people know there's something wrong out there.
Jane Casteline: Yeah, in Eastern North Carolina, while it's the industry that runs the economy, there is a lot of voices out there now. I've only been here for 15 years and I've seen the difference in 15 years of people advocating for changes in the system, even if not becoming vegetarian or vegan.
They want changes in the system after two horrific hurricanes that came through and decimated eastern North Carolina and caused the death of hundreds of thousands of pigs, possibly. People saw those images, so they are more aware of what's really going on.
Mariann Sullivan: And what verbiage did you do? So, I mean, I assume that also has to be quick cause you don't have a lot of time. So what verbiage did you put in there just to like punch home that we're not looking at your dinner?
Jane Casteline: Well, we were, besides having images of compassion shown on these billboards, we were also strategically timing the billboards. We wanted them to be up in the summer when we knew millions of people were driving that route to the coast of North Carolina.
And so we wanted it to kind of have a summer theme. And so, you know, we played around with, what do pigs love to do, and what do people love to do? And try to make that connection between what people like to do in the summer, and pigs like to do that too. So people love sunshine, pigs love sunshine too.
So that's the one billboard. Shannon, help me with the other billboard verbiage that we used.
Shannon Johnstone: The other one is about friends, pigs need friends too. I think another really important component, in addition to what Jane mentioned is that, with the text, we wanted to also discuss things that were lacking for pigs in CAFOs. So like, they're in the dark, they don't see sunlight.
Most of the time, their first time they see sunlight is that trip to the slaughterhouse. So, we wanted to highlight the things that were missing in their life without pointing out that they live in darkness, that they are isolated, or if they are together, they're put in these unnatural groups that they did not form, that are usually quite stressful for them.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, no, I can see that, like, just saying pigs love sunshine could get at least some people thinking, you know, people who have seen a CAFO. The way you did it is so subtle, but I think really so effective. I can see why you chose these counties, but it does seem like the two hardest counties in the entire country to get these billboards up, so that would be a negative.
And you actually did have a lot of trouble getting them up, didn't you? Can you tell us about that?
Jane Casteline: Yeah, so we started... well, Shannon did the hard work of calling a lot of billboard companies, and just trying to get estimates, like, as we all do for anything that we're working on. And so, I don't know, something in the back of my mind said I wonder if we should show them the images first, like send that in an email, or we should wait, and we decided to wait, and we got to, I think with at least three different companies to the point where they were ready to sign with us, and then we sent the images.
And they just said, no, we saw your images and no, we're not doing this. And after a little bit of digging, with the one company, we figured out that they were actually a subsidiary like LLC of Murphy Brown.
Mariann Sullivan: Which is now owned by Smithfield.
Jane Casteline: Exactly.
And that family is a political giant. They wield so much power, not just in eastern North Carolina, but up here in Raleigh at the State House. When they don't like something in the law that may be even hinting at breaching what they feel like is their right to... property rights, then they drive right up to the Capitol and say no, or we're not going to give you money.
So that was very infuriating. I mean, we were just like, are you telling us that we can't put up a billboard of pigs in the sunshine when you have billboards up about like, you know, very contentious issues?
Mariann Sullivan: And advertising pork for dinner, that's for sure.
Jane Casteline: Exactly.
Mariann Sullivan: You can have dead pigs up there.
Jane Casteline: Exactly, they absolutely would have. There are signs, billboards up and down the highway of come to our barbecue restaurant and it has a picture of a pig in a butcher apron and you know,...
Shannon, you can add a little bit more because you were the point of contact for all of the companies that we reached out to.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah. And, and Shannon, tell me, did they have any idea what your billboards were going to be? Do they ask that up front at all? And what kind of money are we talking about?
Shannon Johnstone: Yeah, that's really good question.
Mariann Sullivan: I have no idea how much a billboard costs.
Jane Casteline: We didn't either!
Shannon Johnstone: Well, the prices vary widely. It depends on the time of the year and the location and the company themselves. But Jane and I had the idea for the billboards... I should back up and also say that none of this would have been possible without the Culture and Animals Foundation grant that we got.
We received 5, 000 dollars from them, which we are so grateful for. This would not have happened without them. So, the Billboards on I 40, which is the Interstate, are a lot more expensive than the smaller highways, and there's also a price for the rental and a price for the printing and a price for the installation.
So altogether it can be anywhere from 2000 to $5,000 just for one billboard, depending on what you can negotiate.
Mariann Sullivan: And for how long would that be?
Shannon Johnstone: That's for a month or two months. So, when we put together the application for the Culture and Animals Foundation, I wrote to... am I allowed to say the names of the companies?
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah. I don't care. .
Shannon Johnstone: Fantastic. Admiral Outdoor, who are the ones that are owned by Murphy Family Ventures. I had contacted them because they have a plethora of billboards on I 40 in Duplin County since they're a Duplin County business. Duplin County is the county in the United States that has the most concentrated amount of pigs anywhere.
So they top any place in Iowa or anywhere. I think the statistic is that pigs outnumber humans 29 to 1 in Duplin County. So I selected that billboard company specifically because I thought we'll go local. And they were wonderful, super accommodating, gave me quotes.
I just said, you know, we're going to apply for a grant and we would like to put up billboards. I didn't tell them what it was about. And then, when we got the grant, we moved forward. I said, we have the money. They were going to give us three billboards. I think two of them for two months and one for one month within that 5, 000.
So, that's a handsome deal, so we were all systems go. We signed a contract and actually this is when Jane's antenna went up. She's like, let me read the fine print and see if there's anything in here where they can just back out for no reason. And, lo and behold, there was that. So as soon as we sent the artwork in, the woman we had been in contact with emailed back and said, we are not going to be able to fulfill your contract. It was very curt and very short, and there was no explanation, which was a marked difference in tone in the past.
And both Jane and I wrote her and we're like, what just happened? Why? What's going on? I was really naive. And then Jane did a little digging. She's like, look who they're owned by. And I was like, oooohhh... so we wrote to them multiple times. I told them I was writing an article and wanted to make sure I was telling their side of the story. I said, would you like to make a statement? Nothing. Silence. Absolute silence.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah. Well, none of that surprises me, but you know, really just because they're not saying anything doesn't mean that you didn't make some people within that company feel pretty uncomfortable. Everything makes people think. Unfortunately, you only got to get a few people to think.
So, everybody turned you down, not just the Murphy folks, but everybody else turned you down too, ultimately, until you found one. But that also turned out to be very disappointing. Can we just tell that story? You did get them up. And the cost that you're talking about, does it include your cost of producing the billboard?
Do they produce the billboard, or do you produce the billboard out of your images?
Shannon Johnstone: They print and install the billboard for you.
Mariann Sullivan: Alright, so you don't have to do that separately.
Shannon Johnstone: No, so that figure I mentioned involves all that. Yeah.
The company that we did go with, we did get resistance from them in the beginning, but I do want to acknowledge that he did not agree with our billboards, said that he didn't understand them, but he still allowed us to rent space.
Mariann Sullivan: They weren't that hard to understand.
Shannon Johnstone: Haha!
Mariann Sullivan: It's a couple of pictures of pigs.
Shannon Johnstone: I actually asked, because he's actually the one person who asked what we were advertising before...
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, well, good for him. Sounds like a little bit more of an honest businessman anyway.
Shannon Johnstone: Yeah. And when I told him it was pigs, he said, well, okay, so you're supporting farmers. And I was like, no, we're supporting pigs. And he goes, is this a joke? And I was like, I'm dead serious. And he goes, I don't get it. He's like, why would you want to do that? And I was like, well, I just don't think there's enough positive images of pigs out there.
And he's like, I don't get it. And I'm like, do you have to get it to rent to us? And he goes... he said, no, but, and I was like, okay, and then... so, in any case, though, the billboards that we selected, I think the photographs that they sent of where the billboards were, they were taken in winter, or they were taken at a time when there was no foliage whatsoever.
And so, when the billboards went up, they're not visible from I 40 because of overgrown trees and foliage.
Mariann Sullivan: This seems like a dishonest business practice. Like, you can't sell a billboard space that nobody can see. I mean, I saw the pictures of it and there are actually trees in front of this billboard, like who would have a billboard and not cut down the trees in front of it? Like, do they normally trim the foliage and they didn't for you?
Or do you know if anything was going on behind the scenes? So much for the guy being an honest businessman, by the way.
Jane Casteline: So when we reached out about, do you have billboard space and where is it? So they send you a document with pictures of the billboards and a PDF and, like Shannon said, they were probably taken in the winter, after the leaves had fallen.
That wasn't very transparent. This is not something we do normally. If we were to do it again, that would be the first question I'd ask, but this is not our bread and butter, so to speak, in terms of you know, we're not advertising people. So we did not think to ask that kind of question.
Mariann Sullivan: Jane, I think you're being too self effacing here. Who would ask that question?
No, who would ask it? Like, of course, if you rent a billboard, it's supposed to be visible! I mean, that's what you're paying for. Like, I don't think anybody would ask that question. Oh yeah, I'll pay for your billboard, but tell me, are there trees in front of it? Like, I think you had a right to assume there would not be trees in front of your billboard.
Jane Casteline: Yeah. Yeah. And so, this was I think in March or April when you started reaching out and so, then they went up the end of May, we wanted them up from Memorial Day through Labor Day, or whatever that time, I think it was two months or whatever. So in the summer period, and then we went out there and we were just so disappointed.
Mariann Sullivan: I can't even imagine.
Jane Casteline: Yeah, so, we reached out and he said, that is a problem and we recognize that, and we asked can you please keep them up, because he said, we actually don't own the land underneath the billboards, the Department of Transportation does, the state DOT does, and so we have to put in a request, and who knows if they put it in or not.
They said they did, and everybody's under resourced. They were not trimmed. The request was not fully granted or whatever, I don't know. Trees were not trimmed. Branches were not trimmed. So they were all summer up that way, where you could barely see them. Now, he did say, we'll keep them up there longer than your contract.
As it currently stands, they are still up there as of at least two or three weeks ago. And they are more visible because there are no leaves. Now the message is a little, you know, who knows? You got 20 seconds when you're driving by. And they're summer themed people love sunshine, pigs love sunshine too.
It wasn't our thought to have them up in the winter, but they're up there, you know, more people seeing them the better, I guess.
Mariann Sullivan: Now that makes me feel so much better because I did not realize in preparing for this, I didn't understand whether they had been taken down or not. I don't think it matters whether they're summer themed or whatever. Like that's not a big deal. Pigs still love sunshine in the winter.
Jane Casteline: Yes, yes, they do.
Mariann Sullivan: And, even though I was the one saying people only have 20 seconds, people do.
I mean, I look at billboards all the time. I mean, I imagine everybody else does too, or else why would people pay to put them up there? And I bet a lot of people have seen them. I mean, the traffic might not be as heavy, but if it's an interstate, you've probably reached a lot more people than I had imagined.
So that makes me really happy.
Jane Casteline: Yeah, we're pretty happy that they're still up there for sure.
Shannon Johnstone: They call this period in the billboard world, they call it ride time, which is the time after your contract ended to the time someone else rents it. Because it costs them more money to take it down to just leave a blank billboard there.
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, right. And yeah, blank billboards are really unattractive. I mean, I hadn't thought about the fact that it costs money, that's probably a better reason. But yeah, nobody wants a blank billboard up there. Well, maybe you'll be up there for a while because who's going to rent these stupid billboards with trees in front of them?
Shannon Johnstone: Exactly.
Maybe we were actually really smart to rent them when we did.
Mariann Sullivan: Exactly. Well, I hope a lot of people have seen them and I was going to ask you about lawsuits, but I guess you don't really need to do a lawsuit because you feel like he did give you at least a little bit of what you paid for.
Jane Casteline: Yes.
Mariann Sullivan: And now people driving, I feel like just running down to Duplin County, North Carolina and seeing these billboards.
Shannon Johnstone: Oh, we'd be proud to host you.
Jane Casteline: Yeah, we'd be happy to take you on a tour.
Mariann Sullivan: As I mentioned in the beginning, I really liked this project. I think billboards are a great idea. They're expensive. Obviously this isn't free, but compared to a lot of kinds of advertising, for the amount of people they reach, I bet they're not that much, but so much of the money in animal advocacy right now, and there's more money in animal advocacy than there used to be, that's for sure, but it's influenced by effective altruism, and funders frequently really want numbers.
They want, you know, how many people are you reaching? How is it changing their behavior? And I have no idea how you would pull that off with billboards. Have you given some thought to that?
Jane Casteline: It's funny you say that, and I haven't given thought to it for a little while, but when we were looking into the different billboard companies, it was amazing to me how data driven this industry is. I mean, they have so much data about cars driving by certain times of the day. And the one person that really actually was happy to work with us, loved our images, the company and her were very excited to kind of promote this project.
Unfortunately, they didn't have any billboards on 40, where we really, really wanted them to be. And she sent us all this information because she was trying to convince us it doesn't matter that it's not on 40. We know that at this location, you're getting a thousand drivers a day that are at the stoplight, looking at the billboard across the street. So there actually is data out there that they collect. And it's something that Shannon and I probably could follow up with the company we're using and ask for information if they have it. I mean, I guess not every billboard company runs the same way and they just may not even care.
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, if they're in competition with each other, I bet they all have to have the same kind of stats. And I think that funders really, you know, want to see that. They want to know that their money is going for something that's effective. The other piece is how effective is your message? And that probably could be done within an animal advocacy organization or even on your own, like you could bring together a focus group and show them different images and ask them how they felt after them.
And I think funders like to see that sort of thing too. So I think there's a lot of potential for really coming up with some effective billboard advertising and reassuring funders that this is a good use of money. I think you've started something big.
Jane Casteline: Aw...
Mariann Sullivan: Well, not that you started it. I mean, PETA does ads and billboards too, but... credit where credit is due.
But, but for just doing it on your own as grassroots activists, I think it's very powerful. So how did you guys meet and how did you start working together?
Shannon Johnstone: Jane and I were both volunteers at the Wake County Animal Center. So we both have this love of dogs and cats, but dogs in particular, and so we met volunteering there. Jane and I are both pretty outspoken about trying to end puppy mills in North Carolina. And, one of the reasons we don't have any rules or regulations around puppy mills or advocacy for dogs is because the pork industry lobbies against it.
Mariann Sullivan: Of course. Yeah.
Shannon Johnstone: And they say it's a slippery slope, so if you start caring... giving puppies food and water, then you're gonna start coming for their pigs. And both Jane and I were like, what are you doing to those pigs if giving food and water to puppies is a problem? So, we bonded over that.
And then we both also had a loss of a parent and we were both kind of small, fiery women, so I think we just kind of gravitated towards each other as volunteers.
Mariann Sullivan: I am a big fan of people finding at least just one other person to work with. And you get ten times as much done, I think, when you have somebody to work with. Would you say that finding each other has been a huge boost to your activism?
Jane Casteline: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. We really have such energy that I am so grateful for. And, I mean, this project came to be because I was going to help dog sit for her dog while they were both traveling. And they came over to our house and we were just sitting, chatting, having some beer or whatever.
I don't know how we got on the topic of Piggly Wiggly, which is a grocery stores chain in the south and how their brand is a pig in a butcher suit and all that. And I was like, it's so crazy. Like, why would you use that? And she had had similar thoughts for different caricatures.
And we just started bantering around back and forth on the couch about how absurd this all is. And, absolutely having a partner, creative partner, and a friend, and someone that we feel the same way about animal rights, and the homeless pet situation in North Carolina is just horrible due to not having spay and neuter laws because the pork industry won't let it go anywhere near them at all.
So, yeah, absolutely, collaborating has definitely yielded a lot more ideas and energy to what we both believe is so important for animal rights. So yeah, absolutely.
Mariann Sullivan: I always feel that about Jasmin, my co host, and me, neither of us would have started a podcast on our own. We have totally and completely different talents, so it just helps in so many ways. All right, tell us about the movie. This isn't just about billboards, it's about film too, so tell us about the movie.
Shannon Johnstone: Absolutely. Yeah, sure. This is a really good segue in from what we were just talking about too. There's an artist and bookmaker who I really like, his name is Daniel Milner. He said to me once, always work with people who are better than you. And I just love that because it makes you better and it makes ideas come together that you would never think of. It's like you're stronger together and I think that that's such a true thing. You know, if you work with people you admire, they make you better, they make you rise, and I love that.
So, I love working with Jane for that reason. And then also we recruited two friends. One is a writer. Her name is Terry Saylor. And the other is a filmmaker. Her name is Camden Watts and she just does beautiful work and I have worked with her before. It's really interesting, she's one of my former students.
I taught her 20 years ago, it was the first year I was full time, but she has since become a wonderful artist in her own right. But anyway, we are working with them on a documentary film, so when we started running into all the problems with not being able to get the billboards up, Terry, the writer friend of mine, said this would make a really great documentary.
She said let me reach out to Camden, and so that's how we started working together, and it is fabulous to be working with them.
Mariann Sullivan: And, what state is it in? Are we going to see it soon, or is it still in post production, or...?
Jane Casteline: It's still being developed, but there's a trailer that's being released very soon, and we're actually going to be having a trailer release, I don't know if you want to call it a party or whatever, but a trailer release event in two weeks, I believe. We're still getting footage, we still need to get more footage, so it's still in, I'm not a filmmaker, pre production? We're still gathering video.
Mariann Sullivan: Okay. So it'll be a while before we can see the whole thing, but we can see the trailer pretty soon.
Jane Casteline: Yes, we're very excited about that.
Mariann Sullivan: You know, I've been talking about how much I love billboards. And, I'm not sure whether you have any intentions to continue this project, but I really want you to. So maybe I won't even ask you.
Jane Casteline: Oh, we would love to continue it.
Mariann Sullivan: Okay, great. It's such a different project because the thing I love about billboards is that everyone sees them. Nobody has to opt in. Nobody has the opportunity to say, no, I don't want to hear about that. But with films, you really have to draw people in. You have to get people to agree or want to see it.
So, how do you get people to opt in to thinking about animals? One of the things I think that you mentioned right at the beginning is don't show them horrible things, because people don't want to see horrible things, and I think we all know that. But what are some of the other things that you would like to include in the film that will engage people and make them say, all right, I'm not vegan, but maybe I can watch this movie... go vegan!
Shannon Johnstone: I mean, there's some things that kind of have come up even this summer that are not related to factory farms that are just kind of like crazy stories. So I'll give you two examples. One is that... and actually Jane, I should always listen to Jane just so you know she's the sensible one between the two of us.
So, we were going to take a drive down, the four of us, Terry, Camden, and Jane and I down to visit the billboards. Jane's like, you know, the weather doesn't look good. Are you sure you want to do this? And she sent that a day before, so she was already like looking ahead.
I didn't see it until later, there was a tornado that came
Mariann Sullivan: Oh, that's bad weather.
Shannon Johnstone: Jane was driving, and she's like, I'm just gonna go back home, and I'm like, no, it'll be fine.
Jane Casteline: We drove through a torrential storm and, I was like, we can't film in this because Camden was with us and I was like, we can't film in this. Well, my pragmatism got the better of me. They drove through the storm because these are like very isolated, narrow storms.
They drove through the storm, past the storm, and got to the billboards and it was sunny out. So I had gone home. I mean, it was a very scary drive down there.
And so, they got to the billboard and it was sunny. Shannon being very motivated and determined to get film drove the car as close to the billboard as she could possibly get.
And I'll let Shannon take over from there.
Shannon Johnstone: Yeah, since the billboards aren't visible from the road, I thought, well, we'll go around the side, down this small dirt road, but you had to drive through a manure pasture, and the car got stuck in the manure pasture.
Mariann Sullivan: I saw that coming, Shannon, I have to tell you.
Shannon Johnstone: Yeah. It's kind of funny that everybody did but me, but then the car started to sink in the manure pasture and the storm passed back through again. Thankfully Camden had her little GoPro, so she's filming the whole thing. So we had to call somebody to get us out.
And I was like, is this fixable? And the guy's like, Oh, I can get you out, but how much do I charge you? And I'm like, I think you have the upper hand here.
Jane Casteline: How do we get people interested in coming? I mean, certainly, Shannon has a social media outreach that far and away exceeds mine, and I think most of the people that follow her, follow her because they have similar animal views and compassion for animals.
But this is not my bailiwick at all, in terms of self promoting or promoting this project. That's not my skillset, but we want this story to be heard and seen. So we're advertising across some different platforms, but we really think the story of getting the billboards up and keeping them up is a story that people will be interested in, so we're just hopeful that it gained some ground.
I don't know if you've heard of or seen the documentary The Smell of Money. It's very, very good. It's very good. And it's based on a book, Wastelands, which is an excellent book on this topic of pigs and CAFOs in Southeast Carolina and the lawsuit on the nuisance law that was brought all the way to the federal court. Following that trajectory, it's not that we think it's going to get there, but knowing how much work she has put into this project, 10 years in the making. She filmed people and animals and everything going through the courts.
As a really corny analogy, Shannon is also an excellent runner, long distance runner. We know we have to pace ourselves in terms of what the product will be and when it will be able to be seen and all that kind of stuff.
Mariann Sullivan: Well, I'll be looking forward to it. Tell people where they can follow your work, which will include this film and, hopefully I have to say, more information on billboards because I'll be looking forward to that. So, where can people find you? Apparently, Shannon, you're easier to find than Jane from what she says.
Shannon Johnstone: I just have a bigger mouth. We have a website called picturingpigs.com, and that has all of the information on it, probably more than anybody would want or need, but we also have a Facebook page, called Picturing Pigs, and that has the social media stuff on it. I'm not the biggest Instagram user, but we do have an Instagram page as well.
Can I say one more thing about why somebody might care, even if you're not that interested in pigs, and that is the two rescue groups that we work with, the people that run them are the most amazing, compassionate humans that I have met, and their stories and their personalities and the way they interact and the way they've dedicated their lives to the animals they care for is absolutely inspiring.
Sisu's story is incredible. They are actually a vegan sanctuary in Duplin County, so their neighbors are CAFOs. And their motto is they're not interested in, like, shaming their neighbors. They're just like, we will take any animal you don't want. Give them to us, we'll take them.
And so they work with the local animal control, so that if a pig comes through there, or a chicken, or a rooster, they'll get them. And they bring them vegan meals. Their idea is to spread goodwill, and I find that absolutely inspiring. And Blindspot is the same.
Alicia and Alex, who run Blindspot Sanctuary, their motto is they want to give every animal in their care the same treatment and the same medical care and the same life they would for any family member. I'm completely inspired by both of them. So I think that their stories are, are... they're radical, and they're interesting, even if you don't care about pigs.
Mariann Sullivan: Yeah, and I'm always fascinated by the fact that so many people who aren't vegan do go to sanctuaries and do absorb that information. And I think that's a good point that your story about the billboards is kind of this catchy way to frame a much bigger message, which would include what these sanctuaries are doing.
So really looking forward to hearing more about it. You guys need to get to work!
Jane Casteline: We need to be on the same continent and in the same hemisphere for more than a month to do that.
Mariann Sullivan: Well, that's, that sounds like an interesting story, but I will have to leave you here. It's just been great to talk to you. I am really excited to find out about your work and I want to hear more from you in the future.
Thanks for joining us today.
Jane Casteline: Thanks for having us.
Shannon Johnstone: Thank you. It was wonderful talking.
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