Robert Grillo is an activist, author and speaker. He is the director of Free from Harm, which he founded in 2009 to expose animal agriculture’s impact on non human animals, vulnerable communities and the environment. As a marketing communications professional for over twenty years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts through which he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. Farm to Fable is his first book. He lives in Chicago. For more information, please visit: http://www.freefromharm.org.
Caryn Hartglass: And now let’s move on to part 2 of our It’s All About Food program today because I understand my guest is on the line. Robert Grillo is an activist, author, and speaker. He is the director of He is the director of Free from Harm, which he founded in 2009 to expose animal agriculture’s impact on non-human animals, vulnerable communities, and the environment. As a marketing communications professional for over twenty years, Grillo has worked on large food industry accounts through which he acquired a behind-the-scenes perspective on food branding and marketing. Farm to Fable is his first book. He lives in Chicago and more on Robert when you get a chance visit FreeFromHarm.org. Robert, how are you today?
Robert Grillo: I’m doing great, how are you Caryn?
Caryn Hartglass: Good! So we spent the last half hour kind of setting the scene, talking quite a bit about fictions in culture.
Robert Grillo: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Which you talk quite a bit about in Farm to Fable.
Robert Grillo: Indeed.
Caryn Hartglass: Indeed you do, so my first question is did you vote yet?
Robert Grillo: I did, I got that over with this morning. I go in and out of there pretty easily.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, good. It was a very emotional experience for me.
Robert Grillo: Is that right?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I wasn’t expecting it to happen but I was in the voting booth and I just started to well up with tears and I could barely read the ballot.
Robert Grillo: What do you suppose is behind that?
Caryn Hartglass: Well I just felt like a culmination of history of decades, hundreds of years of activists and people working for rights and some kind of empowerment and getting rid of exploitation. You know, women didn’t have the right to vote and now we do and hopefully we’ll have a woman president. And so many things in the last few decades have changed in terms of racism and homophobe-ism and I’m just seeing the next big thing is specie-ism and kind of clearing the veil from the eyes and seeing non-human animals for what they really are.
Robert Grillo: Yeah that certainly is our last great struggle I think. Of course the others continue and still need our attention too because you know we’re not living in a perfect world, right? But yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Can we laugh about that for a minute? Yeah my partner Gary he likes to say sometimes that humans are a poorly designed prototype. We have a lot of flaws. So let’s talk about Farm to Fable and the arts are very important to me. The creative arts I feel like they are one of the best means that we have to get points across. And so one of the first things you mention in the book is the movie The Matrix.
Robert Grillo: Yeah!
Caryn Hartglass: Which when I first saw it I think my jaw was hanging during the whole film. It was so profound and the person I went to see it with, I don’t think he even got it. But there was so much in that film, so powerful, just in terms of how we perceive the world around us and how it isn’t real.
Robert Grillo: Right, that’s why that movie makes such a great metaphor for the subject of my book. And I have an interesting little anecdote to tell you, the Wachowski brothers who are actually from this neighborhood that I live in, and you know they made Sense8 the Netflix series…
Caryn Hartglass: Which I love!
Robert Grillo: …now they’re making a new episode of Sense8 apparently. They opened a studio like right behind my house, like across the alley. So I have the Wachowski brothers right there, and I started seeing this woman with, well, what to me looked like a female with all multi-colored dreadlocks, and she was walking her dog every morning. It didn’t occur to me, and then I finally realized, that was Lana Wachowski. And so the next time I spot her I’m going to go running after her, I’m going to say, “you know, hold on I got to say hello, I need to introduce myself, I love what you guys do.” And one of these days I’m going to catch her in the neighborhood.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, well give her a hug for me!
Robert Grillo: Will do. So yeah The Matrix is all about humans losing control of their own destiny and they become oppressed by the intelligence, the artificial intelligence that they created in a way, and they don’t even know it in The Matrix, a lot of them don’t even know it.
Caryn Hartglass: There are many myths that we have been able to overcome and understand are myths and not realities, through education, through knowledge, through science, through research. What was so moving for me today is voting for a woman for President of the United States and it was not that long ago here in this country where women were perceived as incapable of making decisions or having the ability to vote. Men used to say, “Why do women need to vote? They wouldn’t know what to do.”
Robert Grillo: Yeah, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: And, you know, unfortunately that’s still true in some other countries but it’s the power of education and knowledge to get rid of these myths, and there are so many myths that are tied to non-human animal exploitation.
Robert Grillo: Yeah, in fact you know the one you talked about how women were viewed, there’s a section of my book where I talk a bit about misogyny and how the same kind of attitudes about females of other species, the same kinds of humor and negative attitudes about them are very familiar to us. You know, like there’s a series of ads in this trade journal, or trade magazine, for a pharmaceutical product that helps dairy cows produce a lot more milk. And the headline for the ad reads, “If she can’t stay pregnant, what else will she do?” So it’s like, this is their role in life, their role is to produce babies and milk, and if they can’t do that then what value could they possibly have?
Caryn Hartglass: Produce babies and produce milk for humans, not even for their own kind. And then if they can’t do that they are of no value to humans. On the same subject of cows, there’s been a lot in the news with this presidential election that has to do with sexual harassment and groping and most people have no idea the liberties we take in dairy farming in terms of abusing animals with artificial insemination. Every time I read how we accomplish that, it is obscene, it is bestiality, it is pornographic, and yet it is routine and accepted.
Robert Grillo: Oh yes, and it never wears off. I mean you see a lot of different footage of that, and it’s not just the dairy industry but it’s just breeding in general. Like if you look at how they arouse the female pig so that they can insert semen into their vagina, excuse my blatant language, but I mean that’s what they’re doing, they’re arousing them so that they can receive the semen. And they’re ejaculating males, they’re doing this to turkeys, it’s how turkeys are reproduced. Males are ejaculated, their semen is collected, and then it’s inserted into the female vagina and they take the bird and they turn her upside down and they put her into this lock. And birds hate being turned upside down like that, it’s totally disorienting to them. It would be inefficient to let them reproduce on their own even if they could, and the sad tragic case of turkeys of course is they’re too big to mate.
Caryn Hartglass: You just hit on a word, inefficient. And efficient is one of my most hated words these days. We do so many things in the name of efficiency, and it’s another myth. Efficiency is not always what’s better.
Robert Grillo: That’s right, that’s for sure. And I kind of look at the word effective that way to. I think effective has a kind of marketing jargon kind of tone, which I think we should think about more because of course we want to be effective in what we do but we also want to be truthful, we also have other qualities that we need to convey and they can empower us in our message. Those are things that I hope, you know, I have touched on in the book.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I want to talk about humane farming, humane agriculture, free-range eggs; this kind of terminology that is more appealing to some people. And I think a lot of my listeners, because I know a lot of my listeners are not vegan or vegetarian, and I appreciate them listening to this program and wanting to eat more plant foods, but many of them justify because they are kind and caring that they want to choose animal foods that are produced more environmentally sustainably and in a kinder way. You book breaks all of that down. Can we just touch on that a little bit?
Robert Grillo: Yeah. As a precursor to humane watching, I devote a chapter to humane watching in my book, but before I talk, you know the reason why I introduce consent as a fiction before is because consent is the precursor. It’s the foundational fiction that we need to believe in, in order to then have discussions about humane treatment. So consent is the idea that animals are willing participants in whatever it is we’d like to do with them, and if we believe that then it’s just a matter of how we treat them, abuse is no longer an issue, it’s off the table. So that’s the assumption today, the discourse is not about whether use is a problem, but just how we treat them in the time that they’re allowed to stay alive. So that’s something that, you know, we need to break down for people too, that the reason why we even believe in something called humane or some forms of humane treatment is because we’ve assumed that animals don’t mind being used and that’s a terribly problematic thing right there.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup. When you used the word willing participants it’s just chilling to me because humans do that to each other too. You know when we talk about the rapes that are going on college campuses there are some people that believe that other people are willing participants in a sexual activity when they’re not, and they just believe it and just go, even they’ll get violent about it, but they believe in their mind that the other person really wants to do what they are doing. It’s a myth.
Robert Grillo: I look at that as kind of sometimes blaming the victim, like you know there’s a section in the book where I talk about different kinds of victim fictions and one of them is of course blaming the victim and well the victim that’s what they’re here for, that’s what they were born into this world for. Or even just the other day when it comes to human groups that have been exploited, I listened with disgust to the video from the Young Turks that interviewed this Trump supporter, this arrogant young white boy, man, that said that it was a proven fact that African slaves were better off being slaves here than where they came from. I was flabbergasted.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s a lot of lies that people believe right now and this presidential election has exposed a lot of that, and what people want to believe once they hear it. They don’t even want to look further to see if it’s real or not, you can easily go to Snopes.com and debunk so many things that are out there but people don’t even want to do that, they want to believe. You brought up in the book you talk about replacement versus reduction. Can you explain that a little, and is one better than the other?
Robert Grillo: Well in an age, I think, when placement is just as easy or easier for people to follow in terms of a transition to a plant-based diet, to me reduction no longer makes, it pretty much makes reduction absolute to me because if we can introduce people to products that are just replaceable products and recipes and meals that they already enjoy, then where does reduction come into this? It seems like we should be focusing on the products that are easy to replace.
Caryn Hartglass: You know in some ways we do that with technology, with other countries that are, you know I don’t know what the right words are to use anymore because there are no good words but we use developed versus developing, and for some countries that are not as advanced as we are technologically as they get into the technological world they tend to kind of jump to newer technologies right away and skip some of the steps, because why not? And yet when it comes to food and diet, the western world is exporting an unhealthy animal-based, junk-food based diet to the rest of the world and I keep asking myself, why can’t we just skip all of those bad steps and get right to what’s best and replace with what’s best and not with what’s not good?
Robert Grillo: Yeah, that would save an enormous amount of suffering on so many levels. I think about that too.
Caryn Hartglass: So I found, towards the end of the book, you talk about non-profit organizations and marketing. And I really enjoyed reading it because I think about these things all the time, and you know as a small non-profit we think about what our approach should be, fundraising is exceptionally difficult; my partner Gary and I, we do not want to sell our souls to the devil, we’re really rooted in what we believe in and want to share the truth, but that doesn’t do very well financially. And very often different organizations may dilute their message in order to make it more powerful, dilute their campaign in order to reach a broader audience, and I’m glad that you discussed that a bit in the book although I don’t know if there is an ideal or right way to go or what the solution is.
Robert Grillo: Well what I basically point at I think in my book is that marketing is not really a tool that serves us because first of all people are so weary of marketing. People are already distrustful of marketers, and mainly because the animal exploitation industries have used marketing and deceptive tactics as their principal tool of deception. So for me I try to point at strategic communications, which I think is just a term I use that points to something broader. I don’t think we need marketing and I don’t think we need to get our cues from corporate marketing. I think we have incredibly powerful stories for the work we do. Our cause has incredibly interesting people and wonderful stories, and if we become better storytellers and better communicators we can accomplish what we want to do and what we need to do.
Caryn Hartglass: You brought up a really good point about metrics, and this is another thing that really frustrates me. You know I come from an engineering background, I come from a corporate background, I understand metrology and metrics and needing to quantify your yields in order to show that your process is improving and your methods are improving but it’s hard to do that with the work that we’re doing. And many of the grants that are out there to apply for want measurable, tangible factors that you can show that your work is valuable. Donors like to see that, and it’s difficult. That’s all I have to say.
Robert Grillo: Oh yeah, it is, it’s definitely some things are more easily measured and other things are of course far too difficult, I think, to use a corporate or business kind of model to measure. And so if it’s a matter of measuring how many conversions you have on your website, how many subscribers become donors, that’s a usual measurement to tell you something about the success or impact of your organization. But in terms of trying to measure this approach over that and saying that we can tie this approach with certain results, it can be a far more difficult task and it’s problematic because of all the different variables that have to be considered, it’s almost an impossible task.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup, anyway, we press on. I’m just one person and I’m doing what I am doing because I at this point can’t do anything else. It’s not that I’m not capable, I mean there are many other things that I do, but in terms of my advocacy this is what I have to do. And that is to educate continually about veganism. I got into this decades ago, almost 30 years ago as a vegan and even longer as a vegetarian because I simply didn’t want to kill animals, period. And it’s been a long journey to discover that it’s much more than that, it’s not even the slaughter, it’s the abuse, the exploitation, there’s just so much horror. Yeah, okay. Who’s this book for Robert?
Robert Grillo: What’s that?
Caryn Hartglass: Who should be reading this book? Who did you write it for? Who’s your audience?
Robert Grillo: Who did I write it for? I look at two different audiences. I think that in one sense you know you talked a little bit about the closing chapter, you know the closing part of the book, that was definitely for people like you and I that care about the issues and are kind of struggling, grappling, exploring different ideas and approaches and looking for ways to have a stronger impact and make more of a difference. I think overall the book is for animal advocates or activists but also for the general public because the way I look at the book is it’s needed because there’s so many books on why vegan and answers that question and so many great speakers and authors and books about that and we need those but there’s not that much out there that shines the light on the rest of society and says well why not, you know why wouldn’t you be vegan. These are the reasons; I mean the fictions that are perpetuated out there are keeping us on track with consuming animals and regarding them as commodities. So we need to really examine and challenge that I think, and shine the light out there so that people can see what’s wrong with all of these stories that we’re being told.
Caryn Hartglass: The last thing that I wanted to talk about is the idea of perfectionism with respect to being a vegan. I’ve heard so many people, and I know that they respect me, I know they look up to me as friends and colleagues and family, and they come to me sometimes for recipes or advice, if they’re in a health crisis what they might do, but so many of them will say, “I could never do what you do. I can’t be like you.” I am not a perfect person, and no one has to be.
Robert Grillo: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I mean that’s one of the most damaging fictions I think out there for us, is the idea that we’re perfect because we’re not. I mean living a vegan life is a wonderful step in the right direction, it has an immense advantage considering proportionate to the difficulty, which it’s not for most of us. I mean the benefits are incredible, the step isn’t that big. Most people think that that’s the most you can do for the planet and animals, and I say that’s the least we can do. The least we can do is not inflict suffering, gratuitous suffering on animals, when we could easily avoid it. The most we could do would be a lot more than that, you know, we have so many other issues that have to be addressed like pollution and plastic bags and things that are a lot more complicated to solve that would reduce suffering in the world. But going vegan is the logical first step to me, it’s like the least we can do.
Caryn Hartglass: And it’s not difficult, and it is so delicious. So just before I let you go, tell me or share with me some of the delicious things that you’ve been eating lately.
Robert Grillo: I recently finally discovered that I should be using the cashew parmesan on almost everything, like whenever I make a pasta now or any kind of dish I’m sprinkling this stuff on. It just makes everything taste ten times better.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. Now is this one you make yourself?
Robert Grillo: Yeah, I found it’s like nutritional yeast and raw cashews and salt of course. I’m kind of like using a mortar and pestle sometimes just because I want a certain consistency so it’s not too fine.
Caryn Hartglass: Ah, beautiful. Robert that’s a great way to end the show! Cashew Parmesan. Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food, Robert Grillo, the author of Farm to Fable. I really appreciate you joining me today and writing this book. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food, thanks for joining me, visit us ResponsibleLivingAndEating.com, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, go out and vote if you haven’t in the United States, and have a delicious week. Bye bye!
Transcribed by Lydia Dearie, 12/5/2016