Posts Tagged ‘Mercy for Animals’
I knew it was coming. I could actually feel my anxiety level rise as I sat in the back row and listened to Nathan Runkle open his talk at Veg Fest Colorado. My discomfort had nothing to do with Nathan himself, the boyish-looking, natty leader of Mercy for Animals. Instead, it was because I knew he’d show a clip from MFA’s invaluable underground work, the footage of brutality that characterizes life on factory farms, the horrific “data of experience” (my phrase) that we have, as Runkle explained, an obligation to “bear witness” to. I knew it was coming. And it did. It came. And it was awful, more awful than I’d imagined.
It’s worth looking around the room when a video is playing of animals being terrorized. Some people walk out. Others hang their heads, more in shame than out of a wish to avoid the hard imagery. People cry. Veg Fests have as many, if not more, “veg curious” attendees than they do vegans or vegetarians. So these images, horrific as they are, were critical for people to see. I commend Runkle for bringing utter darkness into a talk that many expect to be all sunshine and light. That takes guts.
The other highlight from the festival, aside from the irony of it being located on rodeo grounds, was the cooking demo by JL Fields (of the blog JL Goes Vegan). I will confess to once being slightly dismissive of cooking demos. I would think: “is this why we’re here?”
Watching JL, I realize that, for hundreds of attendees, the answer is in fact yes: that really is why we’re here. JL, whose new book Vegan for Her (co-authored with Virginia Messina) is hot off the press, gets this. She provides home cooks with a wealth of fast and accessible ways to eat healthy vegan food. She’s not doctrinaire, she trusts her well-honed instincts when it comes to sensing what people need culinarily, and, perhaps best of all, she is a natural in front of a crowd—funny, self-deprecating, at ease, and full of genuine personality. Get this woman a TV show! She could be the Julia Child of vegan cooking. No joke.
Other highlights worth noting: a gorgeous trail run at Red Rocks, led by a new friend; a quick but rewarding visit to Nooch Vegan Market in Denver, and solid vegan meals at City O’ City and Watercourse Foods. And don’t even get me started on the beer. IPA heaven in the mile high city.
Imagine hiking 42 miles in a single day. Imagine doing it over the toughest terrain, be it vast stretches of merciless desert, cragged mountainsides, or raging rivers. Throw in a 30-pound pack and a few rattlesnakes to dodge. Now, if you can get your head around such a challenge, imagine doing this for 63 days in a row, over 2,655 miles, from Mexico to Canada. Ridiculous, you would think. Impossible.
Not if you’re Josh Garrett, a 30-year old track coach and exercise physiology teacher at Santa Monica College. Garrett will not only leave sometime this week to hike the famed Pacific Crest Trail, but he will do so as a relatively new vegan aiming to break a relatively new record: the 64 days, 11 hours, and 19 minutes it took Scott Williamson to hike the trail in 2011.
Garrett is no novice. He has hiked the trail before, in 2009, and recalls the journey as “one of the greatest experiences of my life.” It took him 88 days. Between then and now, however, two experiences have braided into one to make his current record-breaking quest an inspiring reality.
First, he went vegan. This change was instigated in 2011 by getting to know a couple of turkeys rescued by a friend. After coming to know (and adore) these animals, he watched a Mercy for Animals undercover video of a slaughterhouse employee using live turkeys hanging from a conveyer belt as punching bags. “I was sickened,” Garrett explained, “and my own consciousness started to change.” The fact that a plant-based diet had the added benefit of providing Garrett unprecedented reserves of energy was equally critical to his decision to reconquer the PCT.
Second, last year Garrett met a friend who also happened to be an avid hiker and vegan. This person recognized Garrett’s considerable talent and encouraged him to go after Williamson’s record, offering to sponsor Garrett by providing not only moral support, but food, water, and hiking gear. That friend was John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO. Mackey said, “Josh is not only a very nice person, but is also the strongest hiker I have ever had the privilege to hike with.”
Mercy for Animals, the organization integral to Garrett’s vegan awakening, is backing the venture as well. Through its website it will give updates on Garrett’s progress, a map of the trail, and opportunities for supporters to donate financially. Nathan Runkle, executive director of Mercy for Animals, said, “We hope that Josh’s selfless journey inspires others to take steps in their own lives to help prevent the horrible suffering of animals on factory farms by adopting a healthy and humane vegan diet.” Garrett is eager to raise awareness of MFA’s mission.
For all his verve and optimism, though, Garrett recalls having “mixed feelings” when Mackey first floated the possibility of breaking the PCT record. “I loved the idea of the challenge,” he said, “but didn’t want to let anybody down if I didn’t make it.”
I think Garrett can rest assured on this one. The fact that he can even conceive of accomplishing a physical and mental feat that is beyond most of our imaginations elevates Garrett into yet another model of vegan compassion and inspiration for future vegans to follow. Plus, his motivation is, as Runkle noted, so “selfless” that, in a way, it’s beyond failure. “The more I learn about animals used in the food industry,” Garrett said, “the more I want to help.” He added, “I walk because they can’t.”
I for one plan to cheer him on the whole way. And beyond.
Last week I wrote about what I thought to be a poor decision on the part of HSUS to give Burger King the Henry Spira Humane Corporate Progress Award for the company’s progress in ending the extreme confinement of farm animals in small crates and cages. My issue was not with the improvements, however nominal, for factory farmed animals (that still end up celebrated and consumed as Whoppers). Instead, it was with the implication, via an award in honor of Henry Spira no less, that less confinement was enough to warrant a public accolade. In other words, my problem was the ongoing failure to explicitly identify a vegan worldview as the ultimate end goal, something I suggested was all too common.
It generated feedback.
This came from Matt Rice, director of investigations at Mercy for Animals:
Big fan of your writing. Not sure if you have ever expressed this sentiment with Mercy For Animals, but one of the many reasons I am proud to work with MFA is because we do make the end goal clear (an end to all animal exploitation), even when praising companies or individuals for making positive strides in the right direction.
You may notice that at the end of any MFA blog post about an incremental welfare improvement, we say the best thing people can do to help animals is go vegan. Example:http://www.mfablog.org/2013/04/breaking-news-canadas-top-grocery-chains-ditch-gestation-crates.html
While we do encourage companies to make welfare improvements, our first suggestion for people who want to help animals on our Get Active page is to go vegan:http://www.mercyforanimals.org/action-center.aspx
On our ChooseVeg.com website, we have an entire page devoted to explaining the humane myth: http://www.chooseveg.com/free-range.asp
At the same time, we realize that our message has to resonate with mainstream, omnivorous Americans. So we are strategic in our messaging. For example, we often start the conversation about veganism with the word vegetarian, because that word is more accessible to most people. More on that here: http://www.mercyforanimals.org/v-word.aspx
My point is I think it is possible for organizations to praise companies that make some improvements, in the same way we may praise someone who takes the first step toward veganism by exploring Meatless Monday, but still be clear that the goal should be to end the exploitation of animals. Although some vegans seem to think we have to say “go vegan, go vegan, go vegan” all the time or it is implied that some forms of animal exploitation are okay, I don’t think that is the message most Americans take away. For example, here is an interview I did with an Ag News Radio station about MFA’s campaign to ban gestation crates in which the host seems to think he could call me out on our “secret” vegan agenda. He was surprised to find I had no problem admitting we want people to stop exploiting animals full stop:http://brownfieldagnews.com/2012/07/19/mercy-for-animals-works-to-abolish-animal-agriculture/
Anyway, I guess I am just saying that it is possible to be strategic with our messaging, but also clear about the end goal. And I think MFA is a good example of that.
HSUS was in touch as well (privately).
They note—and I’m summarizing— that Henry Spira frequently praised companies that thrived on animal exploitation for making progress in animal welfare. The source of the Spira award–or at least the idea of it—came from none other than Peter Singer, who knew Henry Spira well and still oversees the group Henry founded (ARI). HSUS added that Ethics into Action (Singer’s biography of Henry) paints a clear picture of the pragmatic advocate that he was. They go on to add that BK has made very real progress, so much so that it’s been condemned by a number of Big Ag groups. All of this strikes me as quite important, evidence of HSUS effectiveness, and a good reminder that methods of advocacy will never be perfect and that there is no avoiding some level of engagement with the enemy.
But, for the record, I still think a corporate award is going too far, Singer notwithstanding.
This undercover video was just released by Mercy for Animals. It’s from Bettencourt Dairy, an Idaho operation that supplies dairy products to Burger King. The fact that it supplies BK indicates that it maintains a broad reach into the supply chain, and is likely on the shelves at your nearest grocery store. According to an e-mail I got from an MFA rep, this was “some of the most abusive treatment of animals MFA has ever seen, which says a great deal.” People often ask me: “I can see why you don’t eat meat, but what’s wrong with milk?” This video provides a bitter taste of my answer. And if you think that cows that live on smaller farms and are allowed to spend a lot of time outdoors are any better off, consider this video. On a personal note, it was my own self-education about the milk industry in particular that led me to go vegan. Almond milk, anyone?