This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting one of the two keynotes (alongside Jon Camp) at The Humane League of Maryland After the Holidays Party for the Animals. I will talk more about my experience speaking there on this Saturday’s podcast episode — #210, which, by the way, marks our podcast’s Four Year Anniversary! — but for now I will tell you this: the bottom line of my talk, as you probably gathered from the title of this piece, was that the fact is, virtually the only thing standing between us and total animal liberation are lies. This is a good thing, actually.
Today, just for you, darling flock, I am sharing my speech, in its entirety. I should add that my partner, compatriot, and muse — Mariann — helped me shape this piece, and I feel pretty confident that it encapsulates a lot of how our feelings about the state of animal activism, and the state of the industry, have evolved lately. I look forward, as always, to your comments.
xo jasmin #PRIVATE#
So here’s the good news. Everyone, well almost everyone, agrees with us. People care about animals. In fact, a lot of them care deeply. They hate to see cruelty to animals. They know that animals are sentient, that they suffer, that they have emotions, that they don’t want to die. Some of the things that we struggle with the most in thinking about how we’re going to convince people to stop exploiting animals — those are things we’ve already won.
There’s virtually no other movement for change that can make that claim. On a fundamental level, we’ve already got their hearts and minds.
Unfortunately, as we all know, we don’t yet have their stomachs and pocketbooks.
So why, if everyone agrees with us, don’t they change? Why doesn’t everyone go vegan? Why doesn’t all the exploitation stop?
Because of lies. It’s as simple as that.
The fact is that virtually the only thing standing between us and total animal liberation are lies. This is good news, actually. All we need to do is to get accurate information to people. And believe me, the animal exploitation industries know this. And that’s why anxieties are rising out there. They know we’ve got the truth. And they’ve got nothing, except people’s willingness to hide from the truth. And while we all know that that’s a pretty strong impulse, the fact is is that it’s starting to fade.
We all have a role in trying to uncover these lies. One of the reasons my partner and I founded the non-profit Our Hen House is because we feel that everyone can find their own, particular, fabulous way to bring people the truth about what is happening to animals, and how easy it would be to fix it all.
Let me just briefly tell you a bit about Our Hen House, which you can find online at www.ourhenhouse.org. My partner, animal rights law professor Mariann Sullivan, and I founded it four years ago almost to the day. Since then, we have produced a podcast episode every single week, without fail. So today marks the 209th consecutive weekly episode — meaning, you’ve seriously got to clear your schedules because you have a lot of listening ahead of you. Our M.O. is to be “indefatigably positive,” which is something we also bring to our online magazine, which you can find at ourhenhouse.org. We produce daily content there — columns, reviews, articles, blogs, photos — all with one common goal: to change the world for animals. We also have a breaking news ticker full of current events from the world of animal rights. And we are just about to start an ebook publishing arm, a webisode series, and — not to spill the beans too much — but let’s just say you might be hearing an announcement in the imminent future about a TV show. There’s a lot going on, and the reason that Our Hen House resonates with people is because they are eager to find out how to change the world for animals in a way that makes sense for them, for you, which is at the core of what we squawk about. There is indeed a way in for everyone when it comes to changing the world for animals — whether we’re students, or teachers, or media makers, or lawyers, or doctors, or office workers, or artists, or, you name it. Our Hen House is a multimedia hub of opportunities for anyone who wants to create a new world for animals. Something tells me that’s each of you, and that is why it’s such an honor for me to stand in front of you tonight speaking here at this event honoring the Humane League. It is really an honor.
Since I trust that after you go home tonight, get your stack of a thousand leaflets out and prepare to hand them all out tomorrow morning before 9 a.m. — or, heck, why not tonight — and then promptly go home and explore Our Hen House. . . Since all of that is clearly going to happen, I want to take a step back and reiterate something I just said, because it’s something I think about quite frequently: that virtually the only thing standing between us and total animal liberation are lies.
So what are the truth gaps that we need to address? Let’s break this down.
#1. For one thing, the vast majority of people still don’t know what’s going on.
Animal exploitation goes on behind closed doors. But, as you all know, that’s changing. And changing fast. The undercover investigations and the work of groups like the Humane League and Vegan Outreach that are getting the word out, person by person by person, are exponentially increasing the number of people who know the truth. But we all know that just telling people what’s going on on factory farms, or in other places where animals are tortured, doesn’t work for reaching everyone. And that’s because of other lies. So while we desperately need to get this information out, it’s not enough on it’s own.
#2. Another lie people cling to are the bizarre health arguments — the idea, crazy to us, that veganism isn’t good for you.
With all the vegan athletes popping out of the woodwork, you would think this lie just wouldn’t work anymore, but it does. People not only still think that meat, dairy and eggs aren’t bad for them, they actually believe they’re good for them. They actually believe they’re necessary to good health! The Paleo diet, with it’s very popular manifestos, like wheat belly and grain brain, are just the latest scientific frauds convincing people that meat needs to be at the center of the diet. But, as more and more vegans thrive, this argument just can’t stand up.
#3. The taste arguments.
The fact is, that looking around at the way most people eat, it’s clear that they’re not eating for health. People may talk a really good game about health, but what they really care about is taste. And decadence. But, as you all know, and as is evidenced here tonight, we’ve got that covered, in spades. To taste good vegan food is to love vegan food. The problem is that too many people have never tasted good vegan food. But that’s changing at lightning speed too. The single most important thing we can do for animals is to let people know that caring about animals doesn’t mean the end of pleasure. The single most important thing we can do is to feed them delicious food.
#4. The “humane” arguments.
Oh, please! But people buy into this nonsense. They really do. They don’t do their homework, they don’t look behind the labels, they don’t find out how the animals actually live and die, they buy into the ridiculous dairy and egg lies, and they don’t even apply whatever standards they think they’re following all the time. This is an area in which people are truly ignorant — ignorant about what the label really means, ignorant about how impossible it would be to scale up any kind of non-intensive animal food production to feed the world, and willfully ignorant about why it is wrong to kill when we don’t have to.
#5. The “I have other issues that I’m working on, so I don’t have time for animal rights.”
Our job here, first and foremost, is to point out to people that the bottom line isn’t to devote their life to saving animals. (That comes later, but don’t mention that yet.) The bottom line is to stop contributing to their suffering. To stop paying for it. If they do that, they can work on whatever other issue they want. Or they can be as silent as they wish. They can devote their lives to twiddling their thumbs as long as they stop funding the death machine. (Of course, I like to believe that as soon as they do begin to wrap their head around the issue of animal cruelty, they will not only end their support of it, but their silence about it won’t last very long either. They will soon understand the moral imperative of speaking out for animals, for those less lucky. But first, they just need to change the way they eat.)
#6. Then there is the, “I don’t have to change until everyone else does” argument.
I think this is a major one. One of the biggest things stopping people from effectively changing their eating habits is the nagging voice telling them that our individual actions are really not that important. So they think, “My effect is way too small to have any impact. They will keep raising billions of animals for food regardless of what I do. This will never change.” And that’s a good point. The sheer scale of animal agribusiness is so staggering (more than a million animals are killed every hour in the US alone — that’s 286 per second!) that it doesn’t seem possible for one individual to have an effect. So why should you have to turn your life upside down, when no one else around you is changing theirs, when it can’t possibly have any real effect?
But this argument is starting to fall apart too. As more and more people become vegan, people feel less as if they would be out there on their own, and more as if they are part of a movement that is changing the world. They come to see that, when they change their eating habits, it affects everyone around them: friends, family, waitstaff, chefs, the person who overhears them order lunch, the person in the supermarket who they ask where the tempeh is, the people who read their status update talking about where they had dinner — they’re all noticing. Humans are an intensely social species, and social change still happens person to person, and by example. And even if they can’t see the big picture yet, the fact is that even tiny changes in the consumption of meat can have a real life effect because each and every single life saved matters.
So how are these arguments going? Well, the fact is is that we are winning. I know that seems ridiculous, given the sheer numbers. But don’t forget. It’s all built on lies. It can all fall apart like a house of cards, once those lies are uncovered. And while activists are the only ones uncovering them now, at some point — and soon! — veganism will reach a tipping point where enough people are living a vegan life that everyone will know that it’s possible, it’s healthy, it’s delicious, it’s accessible, and it works. It makes the world a better place for animals, for people, and for the earth.
One of the things we love to chat about on the Our Hen House podcast is what we find when we root around in the nonsense written by the meat industry. Believe me, they’ve got nothing. It’s very reassuring. I mentioned before that their anxieties are rising, and that’s exactly what we like to call this segment of our podcast — “Rising Anxieties.” Because the fact is that there are only two groups of people who really know what’s going on, and that’s the animal activists and the industry. While it’s obvious to all of us that the industry is huge, the movement is small; the industry is wealthy, we’re on a shoestring; and the industry can still count among its customers the vast, vast majority of people in this country, while we’re growing fast, but — let’s face it — still seeking mainstream attention — in spite of all this, the fact is, is that they’re getting very nervous. They spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about animal activists. They are doing everything they can to come up with ways to prop up all those lies.
Which is also very reassuring.
Some of our favorite comments from the industry of late include:
From Emily Meredith over at MeatingPlace (get it “Meating Place”? Oh my god. . .)
Referring to farm animals as a “who” and not a “what” or “it” is a popular activist tactic that’s, unfortunately, nothing new. By changing the way animals are referenced, activist groups help to further reinforce any comparisons consumers may make between their pets and barnyard animals — an extremely effective tactic in a country where more people have pets than children.
[…] At the June Animal Rights National Conference, noted activist speakers told attendees that chickens have the foresight to see into their future and that fish have the power to self-actualize.
[…] These types of comparisons ignore a simple reality: if you make the choice to survive, other things have to die. Whether you eat alfalfa or chicken — everyone and everything has to eat. Humans, since the dawn of the hominid, have made the conscious decision to survive at the detriment of other living things.
Seriously, that’s all she’s got? Do you have any doubt that we are winning when that’s the industry’s argument? “We have to eat?”
Another recent favorite — the incident involving famed vegan comedian Myq Kaplan’s joke making fun of vegans. Have you heard about it? The joke (again, from a vegan comedian) goes, “Vegans live 15 years longer because they aren’t invited anywhere fun or dangerous. Instead they stay at home crying and drinking, being careful not to cry into the drink because tears are a product of animal suffering.” (It’s much funnier when Myq says it.)
But anyway, did you also hear about the Canadian butcher shop that stole that joke and put it in their window, without any attribution, just like they wrote it themselves, and then the whole thing went viral?
What can we learn from this? First of all, meat-eaters have to steal jokes from vegans ‘cause they’re too slow-witted to write their own. But more important — even in heavily meat-eating societies, butcher shops feel the need to make fun of vegans. And when they do, meat-eating bloggers and tweeters can’t wait to pass it on.
We’re getting to them, folks. As Gandhi is quoted as saying, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” They’re well past ignoring. They’re trying to laugh at us but they have to steal our jokes to do it. And the only thing they’ve got to fight us with is lies.
Recently, Jon and Vegan Outreach experienced some Rising Anxieties on the part of the industry when animal ag industry spokesperson Dan Murphy wrote a series of absolutely outraged columns about how Vegan Outreach was clearly lying on their website because they couldn’t possibly have distributed the number of booklets that they claim to have done. I guess they’re so used to lying, they figure we are too.
They just don’t get it, but maybe they are starting to, and that’s why they’re so anxious. We are smart, we’re committed, we’re everywhere, and we are never giving up.