Part II – Kathy Stevens
Kathy Stevens, Founder and Director of CAS, spent her childhood on a Virginia horse farm. Kathy moved to Boston for graduate school, and after a decade of teaching high school English, she was asked to head a charter school. Instead, one year later, she opened Catskill Animal Sanctuary, one of the country’s leading havens for farm animals and a center for raising public awareness of their sentience and their suffering. She is the author of two critically and popularly-acclaimed books, Where the Blind Horse Sings and Animal Camp, a blogger on farm animal issues for the Huffington Post, and a frequent contributor to books and articles on farm animals, vegan living, and related issues. Kathy is an avid reader, loves to hike, swim, and bike, and spends rare quiet time with her close friends.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. We’re back. It is May 14, 2013 – and I want to say that it really is May 14, because it’s the first half of this show I prerecorded yesterday, so it really wasn’t May 14… But now it is! Unless you’re listening sometime in the future. But it’s a beautiful Tuesday, a spring day here in New York. And it’s good to breathe. Really nice with everything going on. How are you today? Well, let’s go on to the next part of the show – I can’t wait, really, so let’s just get started! I’m bringing back Kathy Stevens, founder and director of The Catskill Animal Sanctuary. She spent her childhood on a Virginia horse farm. She moved to Boston for graduate school, and after a decade of teaching high school English, she was asked to head a charter school. Instead, one year later, she opened Catskill Animal Sanctuary, one of the country’s leading havens for farm animals and a center for raising public awareness of their suffering. She’s the author of two critically and popularly acclaimed books, Where the Blind Horse Sings and Animal Camp, a blogger for the Huffington Post, a recent and a frequent contributor to books on farm animals, vegan living, and related issues. She’s an avid reader, loves to hike, swim, and bike, and spends rare quiet time with her close friends. Hello, Kathy.
Kathy Stevens: Hi, Caryn. I’m so happy to be back with you. How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m great, and I’m glad we got everything all lined up here and everything is working. I hear you, you hear me, and everybody hears us.
Kathy Stevens: Oh, technology!
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. I got your book after much ado and I didn’t realize this at first, but this is a revision for Animal Camp.
Kathy Stevens: This is a revision of Animal Camp; the publisher said they wanted to do a paperback a few months ago, and I responded with an enthusiastic, “Oh no!” Because it was three years old, the hardback, and a) we are having a different conversation about veganism, as you know, than we were just three years ago and b) Catskill Animal Farm is only 10 years old, and so much has happened in the last 3 years that I felt like a paperback, the same book, would just be dated and stale. So I asked if I could do a revision, and I did a very major revision. It feels like, essentially, a new book, so I’m very pleased that they let us do that.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, well, what’s important about this book, among other things, are the individual stories about so many of the animals that you’ve gotten to know – and those never get old, those never change. We need to retell those stories and reread those stories. I was happy to reread some of them because I read them when they first came out and they were lovely then, so I was glad to reread them.
Kathy Stevens: Thanks.
Caryn Hartglass: People – we throw out the numbers, we throw out all kinds of information just to get people to think about what we’re doing to animals. And a lot of it has to do with “you’ll feel so much better if you don’t eat them, if you eat plant foods, and it’s better for the environment” – and it really makes me wonder about humanity when they don’t connect the dots and they don’t realize what they’re supporting. But this book is really important, and telling stories is really the way, I think, we change people.
Kathy Stevens: Caryn, I agree. I feel like we’ve gotten really good for a whole lot of reasons, a whole lot of people working so hard at this that deserve credit – you included – but we’ve got podcasts, we’ve got blogs, we’ve got documentaries from undercover footage to people just out there with their individual flip cams. You’ve got protests and the tremendous work of organizations such as the Toronto Pig Save who are protesting and doing peaceful vigils outside slaughterhouses every day. You’ve got all the medical information out there, you’ve got all the information on global warming…so I feel like, again, far more than just three years ago, there’s so much more awareness of these three very compelling reasons to move toward a plant-based diet – human health, suffering of the animals, and the environmental reasons. But the fourth reason is not discussed, and that is who these animals are.
Caryn Hartglass: Yep.
Kathy Stevens: So I feel like that’s the important work of sanctuaries and that’s what I try, more than anything else, to have my books do.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I think when people look in an animal’s eyes and have that opportunity to connect, I think they are moved, but I think that it’s still a part of of this human evolution, because we definitely have a long way to go. Not only do we treat animals terribly, but we treat ourselves terribly. We treat our friends and families and neighbors and countrymen and foreigners and knock ourselves all the time. We really need to evolve and come from a place of love.
Kathy Stevens: Yeah, we sure do. And yet, despite all that which you just said, which I agree with, I also believe that there is an inherent goodness in all of us, and that being among these animals draws it out. The challenges for us at CAS is to really just back up enough – people don’t need the statistics, they just need the moment with the animals, to get in touch with that humanity again, which we leave behind sometimes in our drive to succeed.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I reread your stories and read some new ones, and I couldn’t help but thinking that all of these animal characters are so much like people I know in one way or another. And the only thing that’s really different, aside from the fact that they look different, is that they communicate in a different way. We can learn so much from being with animals and communicating with animals to learn how we really should communicate with each other.
Kathy Stevens: Oh my goodness, we have a T-shirt that says, and I use this sentence a lot when I speak: “In the ways that truly matter, we are all the same.” I don’t think that that’s true; I know that that’s true. I know that the differences between myself and a pig or myself and a chicken are about as meaningful as the differences between myself and a Latino or myself and an African American or myself and an Orthodox Jew. You know, they’re superficial differences. Absolutely, they’re communicating all the time, and the more we’re around them, the more we….
Caryn Hartglass: Learn their language.
Kathy Stevens: Yes, learn their language.
Caryn Hartglass: I keep thinking of this Dr. Doolittle song, “If I Could Talk To The Animals.”
Kathy Stevens: Yes!
Caryn Hartglass: I mentioned that because we recently included that song in our new Swingin’ Gourmets project, and it’s this ridiculous song, but I really started thinking about it.
Kathy Stevens: Well, here is the really interesting thing that I don’t think I was consciously aware of this until I started this work, and certainly, a decade into it, it’s perfectly obvious now – if you are paying attention to an animal and communicating with an animal that you want to understand what he or she is trying to say – I don’t care what the animal is, I don’t care if it’s a pig or a chicken – they figure out a way to tell you what’s on their mind. Whether it’s a sound or stepping on your foot or rubbing up against you or a growl, they’re nuanced. Sheep are remarkably communicative animals, for instance. So we just need to slow down a little and listen and watch and learn from them.
Caryn Hartglass: What you just said, what was opening this whole paragraph, was “If we pay attention, and if we really want to communicate and understand” – those are two big mouthfuls right there. We need to be mindful with everyone, human and nonhuman. If we really want to understand, we can.
Kathy Stevens: You just have to want to.
Caryn Hartglass: So three years have gone by since Animal Camp came out, and a lot of changes have been taken place at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Can you give us a little virtual audio tour of what’ new?
Kathy Stevens: Sure! When we first opened, we had 80 acres, and we converted a very, very forlorn, neglected property, and we now have 80 beautiful acres with 30 barns or outbuildings on it, 2 big ponds, nice big, spacious pastures with lots of shade trees. The greater expansion, though, has come in our programming. In the last 3 years or so, we’ve started a day camp for children called Camp Kindness. We’ve got a wonderful certified humane educator coming up from the city to spend the summer with us, so we’re really excited to launch a new camp program this summer. We have a program called Compassionate Cuisine that wasn’t around three years ago; this is its third year. We feel like so many people, way more than 3 years ago, are willing or eager to begin or accelerate this journey, and just need to have their hands held. So our classes range from everything, literally the simplest, most basic, Veganism for Dummies, Vegan 101, I Don’t know What To Put On My Plate If I Take the Chicken Off – the most basic classes like that – to the classes for pretty accomplished vegan chefs who just want to expand their repertoire. We’re reaching out even more to the schools – I know you and Rip mentioned, so exciting, the first public school in the country to go all vegetarian, PS 234, well, they are coming here for the day.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh wow! That’s awesome! Everyone is getting involved with that school!
Kathy Stevens: I wept when I read it online and Amy Hamlin had spoken here before. I thought, these kids need to know that they…well, my dad would say…”Like they feel like a million bucks.” That would be the expression my dad would use. Because they have done something,participated in something extraordinary, and we want to make them feel that. So I just, I’m so excited, we’re busy designing the day. I’ve got four former teachers showing up to help us and it’s going to be really special.
Caryn Hartglass: I like it, I like it very much. I’m very curious to see what’s going on with that school, and I’m just hoping that it goes viral, that other schools sign up.
Kathy Stevens: I hope so too.
Caryn Hartglass: One of the things in your book, I had a little smirk on my face about. You compared statements about veal farming and you gave your commentary – and if only we could do that all the time when we see commercials and media, from the stuff that spewed out by a variety of different people.
Kathy Stevens: Right, the dairy council and all those. I don’t even know how I found out about that website, but I did find out about vealfarming.com, and they’re lying. There’s no polite way…
Caryn Hartglass: They’re lying! They’re lying! They’re lying!
Kathy Stevens: Right, I can’t even remember the specifics in my book, but my jaw dropped, and I thought, I’ve got to put this in the book, just for people to see how distorted these marketing campaigns are. I also have been thinking a lot recently about how successful that anti-veal campaign was. I don’t know if you remember, Caryn, I have the vaguest recollection of this, the Humane Farming Association too out full-page ads, playing on public sympathy because these animals are slaughtered as babies. Well, guess what? Chickens are 42 days old. They are 7 weeks old. They are babies and they still have their little baby peep they still have their blue eyes when they go to slaughter. Pigs are four or five months old. They’re babies. But the big guns, the PETAs and the HSUSs, the people who would really have the dollars to get behind a campaign like that on behalf of pigs and chickens, for whatever reason, haven’t done that. I think that’s something that needs to be exploited, for the benefit of the animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, any kind of clever advertising is going to sway people. I don’t remember the ad specifically for veal, but I remember it being powerful, because people still today say ,”Oh, i don’t eat veal,” because they remember, those were the babies.
Kathy Stevens: Exactly. Veal consumption has dropped by 75%.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember reading that in your book and I asked myself this question, so I’m going to ask you – and I know the dairy industry is linked to veal production because we can’t have milk unless we make a cow pregnant, unless the cow is brutally raped and artificially inseminated and made pregnant and she has a baby – so what are happening to all those babies, because we’re making a lot more milk?
Kathy Stevens: Well, people don’t know it was in part because of the success of this campaign that we assume that veal calves are grown in crates, fed a diet that makes them anemic, all the stuff that was talked about in this, probably the most successful animal welfare campaign in the history of the country – but what people don’t know is the majority of calves who are turned into veal are slaughtered almost immediately after birth, within a couple weeks of birth. For some reason, that’s not talked about or understood, but it is referred to as “bob veal.” So that’s what happens. There just hasn’t been a whole lot of attention to it.
Caryn Hartglass: Bob veal. Lovely. Calves that are slaughtered when only a few days old. Wow. Okay, let’s go back to happy stories in the book, because I can’t spend a moment there… One piece of good news I saw today was that the governor in Tennessee vetoed their “ag-gag” rule that they had there.
Kathy Stevens: Yes, good job. I saw that too. That’s heartening.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, so we have to really celebrate those wonderful things.
Kathy Stevens: Yep, we sure do.
Caryn Hartglass: There are some celebrity characters throughout your book like Rambo and Tucker – Rambo of course is no longer with us – but who are some of the newer characters that we don’t hear about in the book? I imagine there might be some new characters that have just joined you.
Kathy Stevens: They arrived in time to be photographed for the cover, but not in enough time for me to include a chapter. There’s a little guy named Zeke who is a lap sheep. We took in 14 sheep from an illegal slaughter operation – a guy who was not licensed by the USDA and was slaughtering animals in his backyard. We took in 14 sheep and we couldn’t get within a couple hundred feet of them . They were absolutely terrified, and for good reason. They have become like golden retrievers. They follow us around, they insist on draping their heads over our shoulders, they nibble at our faces… This, I think, goes back to my strongest desire to use this place and my books to help people experience animals in a new way. And Caryn, one thing, I was talking with Kris Carr today, I’m sure you know her name -
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I saw the post you put up this morning, you’re busy -
Kathy Stevens: Busy days! You know, when a book is just coming out… But her audience, and I suspect the same is true in a large part about your audience – people who want to eat well are conscious people, and conscious people, I think, in general, are trying hard to be good people, to be kind people. We don’t intend for our meat and dairy-based diets to be an act of cruelty; it’s certainly a very uncomfortable way to look at eating. And yet, when we eat a meat and dairy based diet, you’re subjecting an animal who is very much more like you than different. Ten chickens are as individual as ten humans. Ten chickens will pick their friends just like we choose our friends; they play; they have a wide emotional range, pain and suffering feel the same to them as they do to us. So you go down this path in the sanctuary and you learn about these animals and the way that people – we know these animals in the way that people know their children. We’re with them every single day. So I don’t think what I just said is true, I know that what I said is true. So I encourage your conscious, educated people trying to live a life of kindness and integrity to look at what I just said and to consider that they’re subjecting animal after animal when they eat a meat and dairy based diet to a life that you wouldn’t wish upon the vilest human being you could conjure up if you tried.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s just take that in, and think about it one more time. Yep, I’ll consider it. I’m doing it!
Kathy Stevens: You’re doing it! And you’re helping lots of other people do it, so good on you!
Caryn Hartglass: For most of us, once we’re at this place, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. That’s part of my challenge in sharing this information with people, is that I just don’t understand why people do what they do.
Kathy Stevens: You don’t? I do!
Caryn Hartglass: You do?
Kathy Stevens: Yeah! Look – for some people, food is an addiction, and there’s big marketing dollars behind it to make sure that it is. For some people, you know, it’s part of our family knowledge, part of our traditions; it’s a lack of knowledge about how to cook differently. It’s buying into the myth that you have to have animal based protein.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s like you said earlier that there’s all this good in all of us – and I believe that there’s greatness in all of us, this great good. And that’s what akes it hard for me, because I know that every individual has this power to be spectacular and kind and compassionate.
Kathy Stevens: Yeah. And if we could just sort of stay focused on the fact that one day, all of us are going to be in our rocking chairs looking back and don’t we want to know that we gave it our best shot? Isn’t part of that being the kindest person that we can be? I always joke that, “You could have been a rock. You could have been algae; you could have been a dandelion.” The greatest gift once can receive is to receive a human body. So don’t waste it; don’t throw it away – use it to do good. Get clear about what drives you, get clear about what speaks to your heart, and do good in this life.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that just about sums it up, Kathy; that’s the end of the show. Thank you, Kathy, for joining me. Your website, again, is…
Kathy Stevens: …Casanctuary.org. The book is available on the website, on Amazon, and it can be ordered through your independent bookstore.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, and I hope to see you up at the sanctuary this summer!
Kathy Stevens: Caryn, please com visit! I want to talk about Swingin’ Gourmets! Thank you for your great work.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you!
Kathy Stevens: Chao!
Caryn Hartglass: Bye! You’re listening to It’s All About Food, and I am Caryn Hartglass. Thank you for joining me. Send me emails at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear from you. And remember, have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Sarah Brown, June 13, 2013