Bruce Friedrich is senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization. Bruce has previously worked as a public school teacher in inner city Baltimore, as vice president for policy at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C. He has been a progressive activist for 25 years. He is the co-author of The Animal Activist’s Handbook.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass, and welcome to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today. This is a really important show and I want your attention right now. Put down those iPads, those Blackberries, and anything else that’s distracting you because I believe the guest we have on today has so much information that you are not going to want to miss and will require all of your attention. Today I will be talking with Bruce Friedrich. He’s the senior director for strategic initiatives at Farm Sanctuary. Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization. Bruce has previously worked as a public school teacher in inner city Baltimore, as a vice president for policy at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and at a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in inner city Washington, D.C. He has been a progressive activist for twenty-five years and is the co-author of The Animal Activist’s Handbook. This is the tip of the iceberg as far as a biography and we’re going to hear a lot more from Bruce. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Bruce Friedrich: Hey, how’re you doing this morning?
Caryn: I’m great. I really am great and I am very excited to be talking to you.
Bruce: Well I’m very excited to be talking to you. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Caryn: You’re welcome. Okay, let’s start from the end, or the current. So you’re at Farm Sanctuary now.
Bruce: I am indeed.
Caryn: That’s really exciting news.
Bruce: Yeah. I’m enjoying it. Farm Sanctuary has had me speak at their hoedown a couple of times in the sort of big, annual party that they have at each of their shelters, and I’ve spoken there probably four or five times in the past. The hoedown this weekend will be the first one where I’m speaking and employed there at the same time, so I’m pretty jazzed.
Caryn: Yeah. Is your work different there than it was at PETA?
Bruce: It’s a little different. At PETA I worked on all animal rights issues. At Farm Sanctuary I’m going to be working exclusively on farmed animal issues. I’m pretty convinced that the real stumbling block that we have as an animal rights movement, in terms of convincing people to stop eating animals, is that people don’t know them. Ninety-seven percent of Americans, according to Gallup in both 2003 and 2008, said that they want to see animals protected legally from abuse. Even the libertarians want laws against cruelty to animals. Ninety-seven percent of Americans don’t agree on anything—except that animals should be protected from abuse. And yet, they’re more on the order of ninety-seven percent of Americans, when they sit down to eat, they pay people to inflict abuse on animals that would warrant felony cruelty charges if these animals had any legal protection. There’s this significant disconnect, this cognitive dissonance, and I’m convinced that it’s that people don’t understand how interesting the range of personalities, all of the really cool stuff about farmed animals. What I’m excited to be doing at Farm Sanctuary is helping people to get to know farm animals better so that we can sort of repair that disconnect. I think once we do, for the same reason most Americans wouldn’t think of eating a dog or a cat, we can help people to understand that there is no difference between eating a dog or a pig, a cat or a chicken. I’m really excited about that.
Caryn: I didn’t realize for a long time what a powerful impact a farm sanctuary has, and you’re at the Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading one. I recently was at the Catskill Animal Sanctuary and really made that connection myself about how important it is for human species to connect with the other animal species on this planet. I really think this is our biggest problem or our biggest challenge, this disconnect. We’re disconnected from everything that’s so important in life. Even though I love the Internet, it’s kind of encouraging this disconnect we have between people.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. The Internet has a lot of good and it has a lot of bad, and the question is how do we sift through the bad and focus on the good? I do think that we are in a unique position as a movement right now in that the Internet allows us to reach people directly in their living room in a way that is deeply personal. At Farm Sanctuary, we have some thousands of people who come every single year. Our question is, how do we… Getting people to the sanctuary is difficult, and it has been even more difficult, obviously, to get the Sanctuary to people before the Internet because you can’t just pick it up and move it. But now with the Internet, we are able to reach out to people with the message that they get from coming to the Sanctuary. Probably visiting the Sanctuary is an experience that can’t be precisely replicated, but we can get them some of the information and some of the experience that they have coming to the Sanctuary, now on the Internet. I’m very, very excited to be looking at how we can do that because VegNews Magazine, maybe about a year ago, they did a piece on, I think it was called Power Vegans or something like that (“The Rise of the Power Vegans”) and they looked at half a dozen people like Bill Clinton and Steve Wynn and Biz Stone. Some of these vegans, who are also extraordinarily high-power, and two of them had adopted a vegan diet after visiting Farm Sanctuary. It was this bonding experience where they realized that chickens and turkeys and pigs and cows are individuals and have personalities and they’re unique in the same way dogs and cats are unique. They made that connection by visiting the sanctuary and they thought, “I wouldn’t eat a dog, I wouldn’t eat a cat. I can’t justify eating any animal.” In figuring out how to help people make that connection, I think the Internet is going to be absolutely invaluable.
Caryn: Oh, absolutely. I love it. But I do believe that we need to have more real community with animals. I keep telling people that they need to grow more food. We need to be connected with the earth and the soil and where our food comes from. There’s just this giant, giant disconnect, and as a result we’re miserable. People are depressed. I think we know that relationships and love with our fellow humans as well as with animals is what nurtures us.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. If all people do is sit on their couch talking to their “friends” on Facebook, that is going to be a sorry replacement for actual community and actual friends.
Caryn: We can’t live that way. We’ll just die out.
Bruce: Yeah. I absolutely agree. But I’m optimistic and I’m hopeful. I think there are an awful lot of people like the two of us who are making these sorts of connections and making these points and using the Internet to build real community, which I think you can also do that.
Caryn: Yeah. Well I found it’s just such an odd balance because there are all of these friends on Facebook that we talk about and it is really quite superficial, but at the other end I’m also blown away because there is such a large animal-friendly community out there. It’s just so comforting to me that the community is big and getting bigger.
Bruce: I completely agree. It’s one of another sort of pitfall for a lot of people who adopt a vegan diet and then feel somewhat alone in their workplace or family or whatever. They realize that paying people to abuse animals is wrong, but society’s not there yet. It is nice that they can go to the Internet or they can find a vegan meet-up and they can get some moral support from other people on the Internet. That’s definitely another one of the very useful ways that it can be used.
Caryn: One of the great things about the Internet are all these videos that we can watch. We can go to farmtankstory.org and see some wonderful videos. Some of the content in the videos that the animal rights movement has been putting out is very, very difficult to watch. I was recently communicating with a fifteen-year-old boy who’s related to a friend of mine. He—I’m not exactly sure what his motivation was, but he forwarded me a video that he had been watching. It was about some guys that were cooking up a lot of bacon and chicken and dipping it in some really crazy unhealthy sauce and wearing it around them. I’m—again, I don’t know what the motivation was, but I told him that I watched the video, I found it interesting, and I wanted him to watch this other video and I sent him a Mercy for Animals video about what goes on with pig production. I’m not exactly sure what the right way is to handle it, but it’s just interesting what is out there. It concerns me that teens today are amused by certain things without making the connection.
Bruce: I don’t know. I think a fifteen-year-old boy is going to be amused by the video that you sent, no matter what. I was fifteen in the mid-eighties and I would’ve been watching it on VHS, I suppose, rather than watching it on a computer. I don’t think that that is cause for too much concern. I taught for two years in inner-city Baltimore. I was teaching fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds and I showed them “Meet Your Meat” and “Earthlings” and other animal rights videos and they were appropriately horrified. An awful lot of them took the videos back and showed the videos to their families and entire families were adopting vegetarian and vegan diets as a result.
Bruce: Yeah. I had multiple families, as well as other school administrators, as well as other teachers. An awful lot of people adopted a vegetarian and a vegan diet as a result of the videos. I think you might make the argument that the craziness of the Internet is inoculating people to suffering. I don’t think so. I think we’ve got, as I mentioned earlier, ninety-seven percent of people opposed to cruelty to animals. As you just mentioned, the videos that the animal rights community are putting out. They are intense and they are hard to watch, and I don’t think that’s going to change because they’re reality. I don’t think reality, when it is depicting something bad, I don’t think people are going to be inoculated from the suffering because we are naturally empathetic. We don’t want to see others suffer, whether those others are animals or human beings, and I think the videos are going to continue to pack a very powerful punch. Then you get the positive of the Internet: that we no longer have to get on Sixty Minutes or the Super Bowl. We can now reach millions and millions of people while they’re sitting on their couch surfing YouTube.
Caryn: Now in addition to having an opportunity for people to meet with animals at the Sanctuary, Farm Sanctuary’s now doing a lot, lot more. I imagine you’re involved in some of those policy issue campaigns.
Bruce: We are. We’re doing a lot with legislation, we’re doing some more with litigation, and we’re doing a lot more focused on policy and education. These are all things that Farm Sanctuary has been doing for all of its twenty-five years, but as we get bigger we’re able to do more of it. It’s very exciting. At our heart, we are, at our core, we are a sanctuary for abused, harmed animals, and then we use our understanding of them as individuals to fight for all of the ten billion animals on modern farms who are being so gratuitously abused. Back on the video for just a second, I think it was great that you sent him the Mercy for Animals video, and I think that anybody who eats meat or who doesn’t eat meat really should challenge themselves to know what’s going on. They should watch the Mercy for Animals video “Farm to Fridge”, which they can see at mercyforanimals.org, or they should watch the PETA video “Glass Walls” or “Meet Your Meat,” both of which are available at meat.org. Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” and I think that’s a powerful concept for all of us.
Caryn: Can you repeat that?
Bruce: Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” All philosophy really for the last twenty-five hundred years has been a commentary or a variation on that theme: helping people to lead examined lives. I think that when we sit down to eat or the rest of society sits down to eat if we’re already vegetarian or vegan, we should understand the implications of those choices. We should know. We should have examined lives in which we know what’s actually going on, especially for people who are not vegetarian or vegan. If you don’t want to know, it’s worth asking if you want to pay people to do things you don’t even want to know about. Because as I mentioned earlier, these abuses of these animals, they would warrant felony cruelty charges. Alice Walker calls eating chickens eating misery because every moment of these farmed animals’ lives, every moment of it is categorized by unmitigated misery. Their deaths, they’re bloody, violent, and cruel. If dogs or cats were being similarly abused, everybody involved would be thrown in jail on felony cruelty charges. That’s what we’re paying for. That’s what anybody who eats meat, that’s what they’re paying other people to do for them.
Caryn: It’s interesting you mention Alice Walker. I love her writing and everything that she’s done but she, like the rest of us, is a human. I don’t believe she’s vegetarian, although she’s close.
Bruce: Yeah, I think she’s been back and forth on vegetarianism.
Caryn: The point is that all of us have challenges and it can be so difficult, especially since we’ve been grown up with eating meat in this society. Anyone that realizes that it’s wrong is still going to have challenges and that’s okay.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. Alice Walker said—I think she wrote the introduction—and she said one of the more powerful things that anybody has said as a commentary on animal rights. She wrote the introduction to a book called The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel, in which Spiegel compares the slave trade from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries of human beings to what’s happening to animals today. Alice Walker wrote the introduction, and in the introduction she said the animals of the world were not made for human beings any more than black people were made for white people or women were created for men. I think it’s a powerful concept and that’s sort of the philosophical version of it. More recently Richard Dawkins, probably the foremost living evolutionary biologist, has denounced what he calls “species-ist” arrogance, this idea that human beings are the pinnacle of creation and that only our suffering matters. Just a couple of weeks ago he wrote a piece on humans and animals in which he said that morally, scientifically, philosophically, we should value other species’ suffering as equally repugnant to our own. Castrating a pig is, from an ethical standpoint, of no less moral significance than would be castrating a human being. We’ve got some pretty big minds coming on board in recent years, making what I think are basically scientifically irrefutable facts.
Caryn: Absolutely. You just describing that castration, the images flash by and the squeals and the sound. It gets to me very deeply and it’s hard doing this work and not sinking down into the reality of what’s going on all the time because I think a lot of us that are working for making this world a better place are really aware of what’s going on. I think one of the things that humans are really good at is denial and tuning things out. When you’re acknowledging what’s going on, it can really be painful.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. I think the goal, the trick, is to strike a healthy balance wherein we don’t deny what’s going on, but we also don’t get mired in it so that it causes us to crawl into a fetal position and not get up.
Caryn: Yeah, we’re not effective in that situation.
Bruce: That’s exactly right. Not that that would be an unreasonable response to either the human or the animal suffering in the world. You look at what’s happening in the Middle East or you look at what’s happening in the Horn of Africa with human beings or you look at what’s happening with animals in vivisectional laboratories or on factory farms. It can be overwhelming. But we do need to know what’s going on in order to effectively denounce it. We need to remember the words of Dorothy Day who said, “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” The great champion of the poor who founded the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day. She saw the suffering of humanity up close and personally every single day and her challenge was get up and do something about it.
Caryn: Gosh, whenever someone says that they’re bored, you just wanna say there’s no time for that. There’s so much to do.
Bruce: I don’t think I hear “I’m bored” very much anymore other than out of kids. I think we may have a bit of the opposite problem among adults.
Caryn: Where they have too much to do? Yeah, people are pretty overwhelmed.
Bruce: Yeah, the Internet age. Maybe somebody is so overwhelmed that they don’t know what to do next. At least among the people who I spend time with, I haven’t seen boredom in quite some time.
Caryn: One of the strategies that people use is distraction. We have some really big issues that we’re involved with and then so often what goes viral in the media—on the television, in the newspapers, in the magazines—are such trivial little items. Just drives me nuts. It’s not just with animals, it’s with everything. People get into the sensational and want to focus on something that’s just practically meaningless. I’m a big picture person. For me, things are white/black, on/off, yes/no. For me, it’s just you do it or you don’t do it. But I know for many people it’s the little steps that help them get to a final destination. What I’m getting at here is focusing on animal welfare versus animal rights. I know that Farm Sanctuary and PETA have promoted different campaigns working towards improving the situation for animals in factory farms. Do you believe this is the way to go?
Bruce: Well, I believe it’s one way to go. I don’t think there’s anybody in the animal rights movement who supports the incremental reform who thinks that it’s the only thing people should be working on. But we do think that it’s one thing that people should be working on and that it both is good for the animals involved to have their conditions improved and so people who believe in animal rights absolutely have to be supporting something if it’s good for the animals involved in the same way that if these were human beings in these conditions, we would support things that made their conditions less bad. We also think that it pushes the envelope and it moves us closer to—animal rights—closer to animal liberation. Once you shift the playing field from a field on which animals have no interests or concerns that matter societally to one in which they have some legal protections and society has, at a very high level, said, “Yes, chickens have some interests that matter. You can’t starve them for two weeks to shock their bodies into another laying cycle, you can’t cram them into a cage where they can’t spread one wing for their entire lives,” that moves us closer to a point at which society can recognize, “Hey if they have some interests that matter, probably we shouldn’t be eating them at all. We shouldn’t be abusing them at all, using them in labs at all,” or whatever else. The incremental reform moves us closer to the world that we all want at the end.
Caryn: Do you see factory farming ever coming to an end?
Bruce: Oh, I absolutely see factory farming coming to an end. I see all animal farming coming to an end. I think about if we had had a conversation about slavery two hundred years ago. So this is 2011. If we’d had a conversation about slavery in 1811 when nobody—well, not nobody—but the abolition movement was not especially robust and there wasn’t somebody who was likely to be successful in Congress or running for president who was going to be an abolitionist, and people might have said, “Can you see slavery being abolished?” or having the same conversation in 1811 about women being in Congress. That’s two hundred years ago.
Caryn: Which is not very long ago.
Bruce: Exactly, it’s a finger snap. 2300 years after Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” there was still a belief among most of humanity that holding one another as slaves was the natural order of things, biblically ordained, and that women should be seen, not heard—again the natural order of things, biblically ordained. Those are still the rationalizations that are being used for this idea that we would eat the corpses of other species. Just in the last fifteen or twenty years, we’ve gone from a scientific belief that denounces what’s called anthropormorphism, the idea suggesting that other animals are particularly like us, to pretty much everybody reputable in the scientific community now finally recognizing what Darwin said, which is that differences between human being and other species are differences of degree. They’re not differences of kind. We have science on our side and we have ethics on our side. We have from the finest minds in both camps who are absolutely one hundred percent in support of animal rights. I think it’s only a matter of time.
Caryn: Amen! I really appreciate you going through that because it gives so much hope when we look back and see what we’ve accomplished. People can do that just in their own personal lives when they’re feeling so ineffective. If they look back and see what they’ve already accomplished, it may not—in the moment things can seem so overwhelming but we need to just stay on the path and do what it is we believe in.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. A little bit of historical perspective looking at just veganism as one example. If you’re looking at the health issue or the ecological issue, the environmental issue, or you’re looking at the basic ethical scientific issue comparing human beings to other animals, in all three of those categories we are in a very different world from the world that we were in just thirty years ago. Again, thirty years is kinda nothing. It’s easy to become dispirited if you focus on what we’re up against now or you watch the latest Mercy for Animals investigation, but it’s also easy to get very pumped up and excited if instead you focus on the arguments that we have—the irrefutability of those arguments and where we’re going with them. I’m extraordinarily optimistic.
Caryn: I definitely think that education and empowering children is one of the most important things that we can do today. You were out there for a couple of years teaching these teenage boys. What did you learn from them and how has that changed, if it has at all, your approach to the work that you do?
Bruce: It was teenage boys and girls, of course, it was boys and girls, and not surprisingly, the girls were easier to reach, as a general rule, than the boys, although some of the boys were very powerfully impacted as well. You’ve got what you experienced with that fifteen-year-old boy who sent you the sort of disgusting video. He didn’t think it was disgusting, he thought it was awesome, probably. I know when I was fifteen I also would’ve, the video you described, I would’ve thought it was fantastic.
Caryn: I find that hard to believe, but okay.
Bruce: Even now, I’m sorry, it sounds a little hilarious. Just not animal torture, it’s just something that’s sort of disgusting and weird. Disgusting and weird continues to amuse me.
Caryn: “Gross” is the word that’s used.
Bruce: Well, I think that may be the male-female thing here. In any event, I think whether you’re talking about kids or you’re talking about adults, the conversation that we need to have with people can really, I think, be summed up—I love what Percy Bysshe Shelley said in explaining his vegetarianism. He said, “I want no part of anything I can’t write a pleasant poem about.” Which, I can’t write a pleasant poem about anything, not being a poet. Applied to integrity, the idea is that all of us can take part in every aspect of getting plant-based foods to the table. There are no ethical qualms involved inherently. There are a lot of problems with the way things are farmed now, but there are no inherent ethical qualms with beans, grains, fruits, or vegetables. There are huge inherent moral qualms with all aspects of animal food production, especially with meat because at the end of the day, the animal has her or his throat slit open, which is something that most of us wouldn’t do personally. The challenge, I think, to listeners who eat meat, and the challenge that we as animal rights activists should be focused on when we’re having conversations with meat eaters is would you want to spend an afternoon slitting these animals’ throats open if you didn’t have to? So this isn’t that whole, you’re on an island and it’s you or the pig. This is, you’re on an island, it’s you, a pig, and abundant plant-based foods. Do you slice the pig’s throat open? For most people the answer to that question is no. So then you move to, why are you paying people to do that for you? The mercenary is no more morally culpable than the person who hires the mercenary. This relationship that we enter into every time we sit down to eat if we’re eating animal products is a mercenary relationship wherein we are paying people to do things to animals that we are morally opposed to. It is a deeply empowering thing to move from that to every time we sit down to eat, living our values. Every time we sit down to eat, choosing mercy over misery, compassion over cruelty, taking the side of the oppressed and not the side of the oppressor. That, for most people, is not a refutable argument. No matter what they say in response—what about the screaming broccoli or what about abortion—it’s all diversionary tactics. If we keep focusing on, “You oppose cruelty to animals. You’re paying for cruelty to animals by eating that. Why are you entering into that relationship?” I think we’re going to make significant progress, because people don’t want to live out of integrity. They don’t want to live out of alignment with their own values. There’s an awful lot of stuff happening and stupid videos and things to divert people, but the more we can focus people on the fact that consuming animal products is already out of alignment with what they already believe, the quicker, I think, we’re gonna get to animal rights, animal liberation.
Caryn: I’m speechless right now. I just listen to you and it’s almost hypnotizing. You just have a way of getting right to the point and being very articulate about it. I want to talk about this some more, but we’re going to take a break in a minute. What I want to know next is the people that argue with you, what their arguments are because I can’t see that there are any, but we have to take a quick break, so can you stay with us and we’ll be right back?
Bruce: Yeah, absolutely.
Caryn: Okay, great.
Caryn: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I am here with Bruce Friedrich, who is the Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives at Farm Sanctuary. Bruce, we’re talking about all the arguments to not eat animals and they are so compelling. Yet, people still argue and find reasons to continue what we’re doing today.
Bruce: It’s absolutely true, and it’s interesting too. I think that goes back to the cognitive dissonance that we were talking about earlier. It goes back to the heart of what it means to be a human being, you’ve been doing something your entire life. You need to come up with some justification for why you’ve been doing it, because the alternative is that you’ve been doing something immoral for your entire life. I think that at the end of the day, we’re going to win that argument and people will change, but we can also cut people a little bit of slack. At its base, that’s a tough thing to accept, especially for people who have been adults and continuing to eat animal products for a long time. Of course the implications are also, your parents raised you in a way that’s unethical, your grandparents raised you in a way that’s unethical, so wrapping your mind around that can be a little bit tough and it’s worth being kind to people rather than browbeating people. When I have conversations with people, I try not to browbeat them with the argument that I just made. I try to actually use the Socratic method in my conversations with people because I think it’s gentler and it’s more effective. People will, to a degree, turn off if what we do is say, “boom, boom, boom, boom! Here’s what’s happening and here’s why it’s wrong.” Instead say, “Have you thought about what’s happening? Would you slit animals’ throats open? What do you think about the fact that you’re paying people to do that?” and actually waiting for people to answer so that they have the opportunity to seriously think these things through, rather than trying to ram the information down their throats because we don’t have to convince anybody to change the ethics that they already have. We don’t have to convince them to believe anything that they don’t already believe, other than that three percent of people who apparently are just fine with cruelty to animals. The ninety-seven percent will agree with us that cruelty is wrong.
Caryn: Let’s work with them.
Bruce: Our role is not to change anything they believe. Our role is to help them recognize that if they’re consuming animal products, they are already living out of alignment with their values. As I was just saying, all of the arguments in defense of consuming animals, none of them are good, all of them are rationalizations, and none of the people making them even is convinced that they are a good reason to consume animal products. If we just keep bringing the discussion back to “You are paying people to abuse animals. You oppose the abuse of animals. Is that really such a good idea?” Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a series of debates for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is where I was working until recently. I went to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, like most of the Ivys, most of the top colleges and universities, a lot of the really big ones too, like the University of Florida, University of Georgia, University of Texas—
Caryn: Places where we think some of the best minds are.
Bruce: Yes, exactly. And debated the debate teams, so the people for whom their extracurricular activity is to figure out how to win an argument. The topic was “Is eating meat ethical?” People who want to see the debates, you can very easily YouTube them if you just punch in my name and Yale, and my name and Harvard, or even my name and debate. You’ll see a whole bunch of different ones. The argument is not winnable. It was not particularly difficult for me because there isn’t much of a response. What most of the debate teams were left with was, what about organic? What about small farms? What about so-called humane meats? What they didn’t realize is that although those things are less bad, even places like Polyface Farms, the one that Michael Pollan glorifies in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, there’s still mutilating animals without pain relief. Joel doesn’t, but he buys from suppliers who do mutilate animals without pain relief. They are shipping their mammals, their pigs and calves, to the same factory slaughterhouses that Smithfield uses, often times all weather extremes, many hours or even days to these incredibly violent slaughterhouses. The birds are slaughtered on the farm. They’re still completely conscious when their throats are slit open, and an awful lot of them are actually boiled alive. The male babies for laying hens are still tossed alive into grinders; the females still have their beaks mutilated because the conditions are still bad. They’re not as bad, but they’re still bad.
Caryn: This is in “humane farming.”
Bruce: Excuse me?
Caryn: This is what’s called “humane farming.”
Bruce: Exactly, and it’s not. With all of these debates—I probably did more than forty of them—almost every debate team said, “Yes, it’s unethical to eat the ninety-nine percent of meat that is produced by the Smithfields and the Tysons and the Purdues. Yes, all of that is unethical.” Which is pretty remarkable, that we started from a position in which everything in the dining hall and everything in all of the restaurants around there, the debate teams, once they investigated the issues, they said, “Yeah, all of that is unethical, we can’t eat that and call ourselves moral.” Then all they were trying to defend was this one percent. Even that is indefensible because it still involves paying people to do things to animals that you morally oppose. It’s not as bad, but it’s still indefensible.
Caryn: I love that you did that, and I do hope that all the listeners go and watch those videos. I’m just really curious as to how it impacted all of those students that you debated with.
Bruce: It’s tough to say. Every time a vote was taken, the vast majority of people who came… The reason we moved from lectures to debates was that we went from audiences that hovered around sixty to audiences of two hundred or more every single time.
Caryn: Sure, people love to see the back-and-forth.
Bruce: Exactly. We went from audiences where most of the people who came were already convinced to audiences where the vast majority of people who came were trying to figure it out. We had more than a thousand people at a few of these debates, which is really great. The goal of the debates was to help people to recognize exactly the conversation we’ve been having: that when they sit down to eat, they’re probably not leading an examined life. They’re probably not thinking about it. The challenge was that they think about it and then align their beliefs and their actions. We got—could I say thousands? We certainly got over a thousand emails from people who came to the debates and had not thought about it and had not adopted a vegetarian or a vegan diet. In addition, most of the debates ended up covered in the campus newspapers. The coverage was terrific. You can easily find that coverage as well by doing an online search. The coverage reached entire campuses with the debate. There really isn’t much of a debate. The argument in favor of paying people to abuse animals is pretty much nonexistent. That’s why, if we keep it focused on that and not focused on some of the diversionary questions, it’s inevitable that people will begin to wake up.
Caryn: I agree with you and I think part of it is just continually putting the information out there. Many people need to hear these things over and over. It’s like a seed. Habit. Be planted and then nurtured and fed and grown until finally it can express itself. I’ve seen this over and over and I’m just thinking of just one silly example. Not silly, but there was a time when I was organizing dinner lectures here in New York and you were one of my speakers at one event. I think that was one of the more successful ones where people were really blown away because you are so articulate and so focused. People get it. I remember my mom and her best friend. They both swore off meat and it lasted about a week. Over time they got back into it. They both are doing so much better in terms of their food choices and over time they’ve listened to other people. My mom’s friend’s husband is now a near-vegan. He got a hold of T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study and it’s just been an evolution of the information and then getting it again and getting it from somewhere else and then making the choice.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right. I think some people will just do it and stick to it because the argument is so extremely strong. Some people will do it and then society will creep in and they’ll fall back and then they’ll be reminded and they’ll do it again. Again, it’s one of the areas where we have to cut people some slack and be compassionate about what it means to be human. Another point that came up for me in what you said, we touched on earlier, and that is the fact that in addition to the fact that we have an absolutely unassailable ethical moral scientific argument about animals and humans, we do more and more have the health argument and the environmental argument, both of which can only be denied for so long. I’ll be very excited to see Sanjay Gupta’s special on August 22 on CNN at 8 PM. It’s focusing on Bill Clinton and I think it’s called something like “Heart Attack-Proof” or “No More Heart Attacks” or something like that (“The Last Heart Attack”).
Caryn: Oh, great.
Bruce: As I’m sure you’re aware, Clinton has adopted an almost vegan diet on the basis of the work of Caldwell Esselstyn and his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. We’re making strides on a lot of different avenues toward creating this compassionate world that we want. I think all of it is good.
Caryn: I want to say that something that’s really important is our upbringing and being raised with kindness, compassion, support, encouragement. That makes us so much effective as adults in doing good work. I just wanted to talk a little bit about you and your upbringing. I notice that you use a lot of quotes and I know that that’s something your mother had done quite a bit. Can you talk about some of your early life that made you who you are today?
Bruce: I think I might use too many quotes.
Caryn: I remember reading somewhere that your mother had like forty-four pages or something of her favorite quotes.
Bruce: She was a big fan of quotations, Bartlett’s quotations and just erudition in general and looking for how other people have said things effectively and then creating a variation on what other people have said. I think she got that from just the concept of the Renaissance person. You read somebody like George Will or William Sapphire or other people whose—obviously I’m not a big fan of their politics, but the way that they write is just captivating and they often times build on what other people have said. I certainly grew up in a household in which reading was important, a household in which I was allowed an hour of television a day. I usually spent my full hour on a three-hour sporting event, which meant that I could not watch anything the day before or the day after because I was watching a football game with my dad. We spent a lot of time reading. We had communal meals and we would read a chapter of a book and then eat our meal and then read another chapter of a book and spend a lot of time talking about the books that we were reading. My parents also instilled in me a belief in compassion for those who are suffering. Some of the things that I remember doing in the ‘70s and the ‘80s, my parents would bring me to rallies for feminism, rallies for gay rights, rallies and defense for progressive politicians. The explanation that surrounded all of that was we need to be working politically for a kinder world, and that’s certainly something that I have owned to this day.
Caryn: I definitely give your parents a lot of credit and I know that your mom passed about five years ago. That was really difficult and unnecessary because she was so young, but I am so grateful for them because they created you.
Bruce: That’s very sweet of you. Thank you. They’re wonderful, wonderful people. Actually, their forty-ninth wedding anniversary would’ve been tomorrow.
Caryn: I’ll just celebrate their joining then, tomorrow. I really love the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I was in the middle of it and got to this chapter and it didn’t take too many lines before I went, “Oh, this is Bruce talking.” You are a voice in one of the chapters talking—we kind of hit on it a little bit before—about humane farming, where some people are choosing now to grow animals humanely. I love that you’re in that book and it was really great that this book came out. We certainly need more of them.
Bruce: Jonathan Safran Foer is a very powerful voice and it’s fantastic that he would use his prestige and his cachet to focus on something ethical. It obviously is not something that was going to be a career builder for him. He is a novelistic wunderkind and his first two novels, extremely loud and incredibly close with the second one, everything is illuminated with the first one. Both could not have been more critically acclaimed. Then he moves into doing a rumination on eating animals. It was really, really fantastic and bold that he did that, and I was very pleased to be able to take the side that said there is no humane, which is to say compassionate, way of consuming animals’ corpses. I thought it was interesting. It’s sort of a dialog between Bill and Nicolette Niman and me, Bill and Nicolette saying you can compassionately consume animals, somewhat ironic because Nicolette is actually a vegetarian for the past thirty years, but she still argues that that’s her personal choice and it’s where she comes down, but that you can have integrity and come down in another place. I have a lot of respect for Bill and Nicolette. I think that less suffering is better than more suffering, which is the reason that Farm Sanctuary continues to work on campaigns to alleviate the worst abuses. But I think at the end of the day, when you sit down to eat, the question you ask yourself is, “Who am I in the world? Am I somebody who pays other people to slice animals’ throats open so that I can eat their corpses? Is that humane or is that not humane?” While what Bill and Nicolette are doing and what Joel Salatin and Polyface is doing, and other people with these smaller farms, where it is a significant decrease—and it’s a huge decrease in abuse—at the end of the day, for those of us who are making decisions about what we’re going to consume, that still involves eating someone. It still involves paying people to slice the throats open of someone. Other animals are not something, they’re someone. If we can make a choice to eat beans and grains and fruits and vegetables, that’s the compassionate choice. That’s the merciful choice. That’s the ethical choice.
Caryn: For many people who are just putting the ethical choice aside for one reason or another or just being numb to it or tuning it out, the thing that bothers me about the humane farming is it’s really skirting the issue because what people need to know is there’s not enough landmass on this planet to humanely raise the animals that are being consumed today for food. If everyone was going to be “ethical” about it and humane farm all these animals, they’d still need to eat a lot less of them.
Bruce: I think you’re absolutely right about that. To be fair to people like Michael Pollan and the other people who are carrying the banner of so-called humane meat, his catchphrase is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Anyway, he’s got the “mostly plants” in there. He does suggest that people should eat a fraction of the amount of animal products that they’re currently eating, and I would imagine that Bill and Nicolette and Joel and other people would agree with that. That’s one of the reasons that I think they are our allies, not our adversaries right now to a significant degree. I think that raising animals in order to eat them is not humane, but I think that people who make the decision to go in that direction are more likely to make the decision to take that next step. Once you have done something, it becomes easier for you to do more. I know that a lot of people do go straight from meat every day to vegan, but I think more people—it’s the nature of human nature—that we make steps. I think that what they’re doing is providing people with a step from which they can take another step.
Caryn: Let’s get back to what we said in the beginning as we wrap up the last few minutes, and that is the beauty of Farm Sanctuary is that people have the rare opportunity to meet other animals and get to know them and see that they are feeling, kind, caring individuals with a wide range of emotions and tremendous intelligence. That’s really an important thing. One of the things I know I’ve read that you like to do is you wear your T-shirt, “Ask me why I’m a vegetarian.” It’s that connection, that one-on-one connection, either one-on-one with people having a conversation back and forth or one-on-one with a human and another animal that I think we need to do so much more of if we’re going to make tremendous change.
Bruce: Yeah. That goes back to the importance of being an effective advocate, because you and I as vegetarians, we’re going to cause a hundred animals a year not to be raised and killed. But each person who we have a successful conversation with, and they decide they’re also going to adopt a vegetarian diet, in the moment of that conversation, we double our efficacy as vegetarians which is deeply empowering because it means that we can do exponentially more good. At least for me, I feel very excited and pleased when I sit down to eat that I’m able to live my values. But I can create an exponentially better situation for animals in the world by having effective conversations with people, so I actually have more than a dozen of the shirt that says, “Ask me why I’m a vegetarian.” There are now three different versions of it and about to be a fourth version of it—Farm Sanctuary’s going to produce one also. People do ask. The conversations used to be that it would suddenly be like a data dump from me to them, and that was not particularly effective. It actually was pretty effective, but it’s more effective because the information is so powerful. The data dump method does work to a degree, but conversations work a lot better. I just have so many conversations with people, and I’m deeply heartened by the fact that nobody ever says, “I don’t care.” Nobody ever says, “They’re just animals.” Everybody, once you have the opportunity to bond with them and actually have a conversation about values, everybody cares. Not all of them convince people to adopt a vegetarian diet, but all of them turn people from people who have not been thinking about this to people who are thinking about this. That’s really what we need. As you just said, we need these connections. One of the conversations that I try to have with people is also who these animals are. The fact that most people now share their lives with dogs and cats who they would never think of consuming to being able to tell some of the stories about chickens and pigs and turkeys. That’s stuff people are not thinking about, and when they sit down to eat, I’ll bet that a lot of these people are making different choices as a result of the bonding that we’re doing with people.
Caryn: We just have like a minute left, so tell us where we can go for more information and any last favorite phrase that you’d like to quote.
Bruce: I think that people should look at the videos and view, have an auto signature, put a video on your auto signature, read some of the stories about animals at farmsanctuary.org so you can tell the stories. Watch the Paul McCartney video or the Alec Baldwin video at meat.org. Order vegetarian literature from Farm Sanctuary or PETA or another organization and carry that literature around with you, because in addition to having conversations with people, you want to be able to hand people recipes or a leaflet or literature that they can take back so they’ll remember your conversation later and maybe go online and learn a little bit more about it. Those are a couple of tips. If you want an “Ask me why I’m vegetarian” T-shirt, there are two that are really fantastic. One of them is Compassion Over Killing, they’re cok.net online. The other is Mercy for Animals, they’re mercyforanimals.org online. It is, I think, just a fantastic T-shirt.
Caryn: Great. Well, I think you’re fantastic and thank you so much for this hour. There are no words to thank you for all the work that you’re doing, exponentially impacting so many people.
Bruce: Absolutely mutual, Caryn. Thank you so much for having me on. I’m thrilled that you are there, compassionately raising these issues with so many people. Thank you so much.
Caryn: Thank you. I hope to see you soon and give you a hug.
Bruce: Alright, thanks Caryn.
Caryn: Okay, bye-bye.
Caryn: I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for listening. Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by JC, 8/22/2013