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Winner of the Vegan of the Year Award 2015!
James Aspey is a 28-year-old vegan, animal rights activist from Sydney, Australia. In 2014, he embarked on an unprecedented and life changing challenge. James took a 365 day VOW OF SILENCE to raise awareness for animals and promote peace over violence. He did this while traveling around Australia, and also whilst cycling 5000 kilometers from Darwin to Sydney, in his popular campaign, Voiceless365. He then ended his vow, live, on Australia’s most popular morning TV show and now he’s sharing what he’s learned with the world! Find out more at www.jamesaspey.com.au.
Hey everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s part two of It’s All About Food. I want to bring on my guest James Aspey. He’s a 28-year-old vegan animal rights activist from Sydney, Australia. In 2014, he embarked on an unprecedented and life changing challenge. James took a 365 day vow of silence to raise awareness for animals and promote peace over violence. He did this while traveling around Australia, and also while cycling 5000 kilometers from Darwin to Sydney, in his popular campaign, Voiceless365. He then ended his vow, live, on Australia’s most popular morning TV show and now he’s sharing what he’s learned with the world! Find out more at www.jamesaspey.com.au. Good morning James.
James Aspey: Good morning Caryn. How’re you doing?
Caryn Hartglass: Good. Thank you for starting your day early to talk to us up here in New York as you’re down there in Australia.
James Aspey: I actually started it earlier yesterday because I thought it was yesterday so it’s two days in a row now.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sorry about that. That’s because it’s Wednesday for you, right?
James Aspey: Yeah. I always struggle to keep up with what day it is. My weekends and my weekdays all blur into the same thing really.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, it’s all made up.
James Aspey: That’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: And there is no time.
James Aspey: Time is but an illusion.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes but in order for us to have these programs we have to have a method so that we know when we’re going to talk to each other.
James Aspey: It does make it a bit easier.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have quite a story and we’re going to touch on some of that today. I was actually watching earlier the video of your first words after not talking for one year. I’ve been thinking a lot about choices. Many of us are fortunate to have so many choices. We don’t even realize what our choices are as we whine and whine, complain about all the things we want and don’t have. Whereas if we just shifted a little perspective and realized “Wow! We have so much. Our lives are so rich.”
James Aspey: We really do. I saw that in every talk I do.
Caryn Hartglass: This is a little bizarre. I was just talking about bowel movements so why don’t I just keep with the potty talk. I wake up most nights and I have to go to the bathroom. Most of the time I wake up and I think “Oh, I don’t want to get out of bed. I’m tired. It’s so warm and cozy. I don’t want to do this.” And I get up and then I feel better. Last night I woke up and as I was going to the bathroom I thought, “Wow! I’m so lucky to be able to do this. I have freedom and I can take care of whatever it is that I need to take care of in a moment.” And then I think about those who are imprisoned—humans and non-human animals—who don’t have that kind of freedom or luxury for the simplest basic needs.
James Aspey: That’s something that I never thought to be grateful of—that I could use the bathroom in the middle of the night. I’m the same, “Oh I don’t want to get out of bed. Why did I drink so much water before bed.” Yeah, that’s a great point. We just have to walk a few meters there to just do that which some people and non-human animals stuck in their cages don’t have that luxury. I think it’s pigs that they actually make their own spot to go to the toilet. When they are out in the world and that they do it away from their bed. The pigs that are kept in xxx [4:37 ?] stalls and those cages, for example, they don’t have that opportunity to be able to do what they would in nature. They have to defecate right where they stand, where they lie, where they do everything because they are in a cage so small they can hardly even move. That’s the vast majority of pigs who are killed for the vast majority of pork products that us humans or some of us humans, most of us humans are still consuming.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes and there are so many bacon lovers out there that just celebrate the privilege of eating bacon. It’s very difficult because, as you probably know, in your face vegan activism, screaming at someone and telling them what to do is something that doesn’t work. Although you may want to shake them and slap them around it’s not effective but that’s what I want to do.
James Aspey: I guess for me it has its place. Do I think it’s the most effective way to create change? No I definitely don’t but then again I do think that there’s some people who, for example my personal method which is coming from a peaceful, respectful, understanding place—I’m sure there are some people out there who it won’t resonate with and some people do need to be yelled at for them to respond and go “Oh, hang on a second.” I agree, I think that type of activism is going to be effective for a minority where the vast majority of people might…they are going to respond to an approach that is… I have this quote which I like to say, “Don’t blame and shame. Inform and explain.” Just by telling people the facts which most people have never even thought of before and teaching them you can survive and thrive and not even survive but be healthier on a whole foods plant-based diet and live longer and reduce your chances of so many diseases while saving so many animals lives. Not putting animals in such pain and torture and exploit them or kill them for food and drugs we don’t even need and it’s better for the environment and we can save…there are so many people starving every day of hunger. We can do so much just by going vegan. What you were talking about a minute ago, having luxuries and having the choice to be able to do so much…we had everything we could ever want. We have so much and then we have so much more. We have all the basic necessities. We can drink out of our taps. We get food out of the fridge. We’ve got a place to sleep that’s under covers. We have all the base needs and then we have on top of that just so much more. We are so blessed and so lucky. Isn’t the least we could do, the very least we could do, stop enslaving and exploiting and killing innocent beings who feel pain and suffer just like us for food and products that are easily avoidable, that we don’t need at all. That is really an abuse of our power, of our, I don’t know if you even call it, privilege. An abuse of what we can do. We dominate rather than try and live in harmony. I mean clearly it’s not working. Now we’ve got an epidemic of disease and illness. The planet is being destroyed and we’re taking along 1.5 trillion innocent beings with that. We’re killing them every single year. So things need to change. It starts with each and every one of us.
Caryn Hartglass: Each and every once of us and for those of us who are there it’s so hard to understand why others haven’t joined us yet. Especially those who know about what’s going on. For some reason it’s hard for people. I can’t speak really too well of that difficulty because I gave up eating meat when I was a teenager and I’ve been doing it for decades. So it’s just had for me to understand. It’s easy, it’s easy, I’ve been doing it all my life practically. Why can’t you do it?
James Aspey: It’s definitely easy. I think I understand a little bit why. I think it’s because mainly of all the lies we’ve been told and have believed for our entire lives. For me, particularly on animals and their sentience I’ve been wracking my brain… I didn’t used to care about animals really at all and I’ve been wracking my brain, why is that? Why didn’t I care about them? I’ve just kind of figured it out—because I didn’t think they could care about themselves. I didn’t think a chicken had the capacity to care about his or her own life so why would I care about their life? That’s what I thought. And then there’s the lies, “we need casein from dairy”, “we need protein from flesh”. There’s free range. There’s humane ways to kill someone who wants to live, is humanely slaughtered. We believe so many lies because that’s what’s fed to us from when we’re young. We have to eat animals to survive and be healthy. I think an important part for helping someone to go vegan, which is what they really want to do inside because almost everyone is against animal cruelty and hates animal abuse and wants to be a good, positive, kind, loving person. You’re not convincing anyone of doing something they don’t want to do. It’s helping them realize why what they’re doing now isn’t in alignment with where they’re at and then help them get rid of all the myths and all the lies they believe by telling them one by one actually you can get casein from all kinds of different foods. Consuming dairy products is actually acidic and leaches casein from your bones and you can explain the world record holding strongman is a vegan. So he’s obviously not having a problem from not getting enough protein. That’s what I think’s important—just helping people cross each and every one of the myths or lies off. And when you’ve done that—because one of the best things about being a vegan—is there is an answer to every single one of these lies. So when you learn them and you can help other people by teaching them the truth as well, by the end of that…you only might be able to get a few excuses or a few lies done each conversation you have. But whatever, you just do what you can do and in the end there, when they’ve got no excuses left, they’ve been told the truth about everything they didn’t realize before. Veganism is the only thing that starts making sense. Then you go, “Why aren’t I doing this now? This seems better in every way.” Which it is. I think that’s why people start going, “OK. This is definitely something I’m going to consider or move into now.
Caryn Hartglass: You mentioned that at first you weren’t aware or you didn’t acknowledge that animals had feelings and they could think and you weren’t relating to them in any way. When we were talking about pigs urinating in their stalls, they are very sensitive to smell and it’s painful for them to live in these confined environments with so many other pigs because of the odors. It’s just something that…I don’t know…do the farmers acknowledge this? They must know but don’t seem to care.
James Aspey: That’s probably right at the bottom of the list of things to care about when it comes to pig farming.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes and making money.
James Aspey: That’s right at the top there. When we’re valuing profit over somebody’s life and someone’s wellbeing we’ve made a serious problem somewhere along the way. There’s no taste more valuable than somebody else’s life. That’s what we’re doing every choice we make that’s a choice that isn’t vegan. We are valuing our own comfort, our own taste or pleasure or entertainment over somebody’s life. When you really realize that and realize what you’re doing, it hits home. For me that’s why what I spend most of my time doing now…is trying to help people live in alignment with the kind, peaceful, respectful person they are. Being vegan is so easy for us yet for them those small changes we make to our everyday life which are so easy to do that has just such an incredible positive effect on the animals and the planet. How could we not do something so easy which stops so many beings from being in such suffering and such sadness and misery. It’s one of the greatest things you can do and it happens to be one of the easiest things you can do.
Caryn Hartglass: James, you don’t seem to have any problem talking. You seem to have a lot to say and it’s all good. How is that it you took a vow of silence?
James Aspey: So hard honestly. It started I took a ten day vow of silence for meditation called vipassana. That’s where I had the idea to do a vow of silence for a year. So when I started the vow of silence for a year I communicated with writing things and then I met someone who does sign language and I noticed that they communicated also by using their mouth with their words they made the mouth movement, as if you were speaking. That’s kind of how I communicated. I was expecting it to get easier throughout the year. I thought I’d get more used to it. I’d figure out other ways of communicating. It got harder and harder and harder, right up until the end because I was learning more and more. I was a really new vegan. I went vegan the day I started my vow of silence. I was still…I used to say “slipping up”. I wasn’t slipping up, I was deliberately choosing animal products on occasion before that. That’s it, I’m done now when I did my vow of silence. As I took that year of silence I was learning more and more and more about some of the things we’re talking about which made me have more to say and want to express this more to everyone I came into contact with. It was a really, really challenging thing actually. I was just so happy it was over by the end of it because I wanted to just start being able to talk and use my voice which is a far easier way and more effective way to communicate. Taking the vow of silence raises awareness. Throughout the year every person I came into contact with they wanted to know, “why are you voiceless?” I wrote in my blog every day or so on Facebook and online which thousands of people were following. The real awareness raising happened when the interview I did on television when I spoke for the first time with a very clear vegan message to the world which I spent ten days in meditation figuring out exactly what I wanted to say. That interview spread all over the world. It was shared thousands and thousands of times. I caught just two of the shares that had a large number of views. One was 250,000 and the other was 780,000. So that was just two views out of thousands of shares and had been seen over a million times. Who knows how many times it’s been seen altogether? Not having my voice for a year gave me a voice that potentially millions of people listened to for that three minute interview and what I said in that three minute interview was very clear, very direct. If you love animals and you’re against animal cruelty then by your own beliefs you are morally obligated to come vegan which is easy and healthy and happens to be delicious.
Caryn Hartglass: When you were doing that show and you were speaking for the first time in one year, you could see how moved you were in your face. I know that when I talk about factory-farmed animals I can get choked up very easily because I know the horrors are out there but as soon as I express it it’s a very emotional thing for me. I kind of have to push back down inside me. So you’ve had a number of things going on. You’re on national television and big audience and you hadn’t spoken for a year plus you were talking about this terrible situation that we’re in. What was going on inside you?
James Aspey: The main thing…those things were a little bit nerve wracking, having the cameras on and not having spoken in a year…that was all on my mind but the main thing that was on my mind was that I wanted to do the cause justice because it’s not often that a vegan gets to talk about veganism live on national television. I really wanted to do the cause justice so that’s why I spent those ten days trying to figure it out…what I was going to say, to get it really right, really kind of cover it all as best I could in just a few minutes. I was nervous but…because I’d never been on TV before, never really been in front of a camera before. The bottom line was that was going to be the best thing to raise awareness for animals. Although a big part of me didn’t want to be there on TV doing that, a far more important part of me said this is the best way to raise awareness for them. That’s what I just kept in mind. After that interview I received messages from people all over the world, countless messages, constantly for weeks from people who never thought of it like that, many people who saying they wanted to go vegan now after just that three minute interview. It was all worth it. The whole vow of silence was worth it to go and express that thought and what I put together to end my vow on it was all worth it just for that three minute moment.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s back up even further. What was it that made you go vegan?
James Aspey: I went vegetarian for a week after meeting someone who told me that eating animals is bad karma. He was a very, very wise man so I thought there’s probably something to it. I’d been a personal trainer for 8 years. I thought, it’s bad karma, you could be right. I don’t want that for myself. I want good karma so obviously I’ll just go vegetarian, just for my personal benefit. But then I felt so amazing after just a few days of just cutting flesh from my diet that I decided there must be something to it. So I looked into it. I started researching more and more. I expected to feel so weak and tired, all the usual wrong beliefs you think, like you need meat for energy and blah, blah, blah. So I started looking into it because I felt so good. I thought what’s going on here? Then I learned that not only can it be healthy. I’ve always believed there’s no such thing as a healthy vegetarian after a mentor of mine in the health industry told me that. So I started looking into it and I realized you’re reducing your chance of heart disease and cancers and diabetes and osteoporosis and obesity and you’re increasing your longevity. And I just thought, “What! How did I not know about this?” This is shocking. Not only can it be healthy but it’s healthier. Through learning more and more about the health side of things I started coming across the things that happen to animals before they become this neatly wrapped package on the supermarket shelf. I decided, well hang on a second, I’m no animal lover by any means but I know when something is wrong when I see it. I know injustice when I see it. I know oppression when I see it and this is not something I’m ok with. So, I’m no animal lover but I don’t despise animals. I don’t hate animals. What I was seeing done to animals is something I wouldn’t even want done to my worst enemy. And I had a whole new reason to be vegetarian then—for the animals. Then looking into it further and further—because I was just blown away by all of this—how had I never thought of this before. I start learning it’s not just about flesh. It’s about eggs and dairy and leather and places that exploit animals for entertainment and products that test on animals and animal products. All these things, right? And I thought it’s not just about flesh. It’s about all the ways we use animals. All animal use is abuse. That’s all wrong. All of a sudden, I heard about veganism before, a little bit. I had one friend who was vegan. I didn’t know anything about it. My friend came to me and told me one day that Grant has gone vegan. I was like, “What’s that?” He said, “He doesn’t sit on leather couches any more.” That’s what he told me about veganism. I was “What the hell is that about?” It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. That’s all I really knew about it. In my research I started seeing vegan pop up more and more. I didn’t think it was a moral obligation of mine. I thought it was just more of a lifestyle choice because I thought, “Why wouldn’t we not need to also use all those other things.” I didn’t understand there was cruelty in a glass of milk. I didn’t understand there was cruelty in eggs. After learning more and more I decided, “Hang on, veganism is actually not as extreme as I once thought. In fact when did not wanting to exploit and kill animals become the extreme way of living?”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I think meat-eating is extreme.
James Aspey: Yeah, what’s extreme is saying you love animals and you’re against animal cruelty while you’re paying people to mutilate and torture and slaughter them for food and products that we don’t need. That’s what’s extreme.
Caryn Hartglass: I wanted to say when you were talking about not being an animal lover. I’m not an animal lover either. I don’t live with non-human animals. I don’t have a problem with those who do. It’s just not something for me but many people who do live with dogs and cats and birds and turtles and whatever and they say they’re such an animal lover—they don’t think twice about what’s on their plate.
James Aspey: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: That doesn’t make any sense at all. We just have like three minutes left. What do you eat, James? What things do you like to eat?
James Aspey: I mean for breakfast I have banana ice cream every morning when I can which means… This was the best recipe I learned when I went vegan. You freeze a few bananas. You put them in a blender, add a splash of almond milk or rice milk or oat milk or soy milk or coconut milk or whatever plant-based milk that didn’t kill any cows. You splash that in over your frozen bananas and you blend it and you’ve got banana ice cream. You throw in some berries with that, peanut butter or something…delicious. I really love rice paper rolls with tofu, marinated tofu in there. I love potatoes. I eat so many potatoes…those big sweet purple potatoes. I like the Hawaiian potatoes. I have brown rice with stir fry, veggies or with a curry. I love Mexican food. I love tacos. I love burritos. What else do I love? I eat better food now than I ever have. That’s good vegan food now. I love my vegan food. I just wanted to touch quickly on one thing you just said. People don’t think about where their food comes from and that’s so true. It’s not our fault. We’ve been born into this world where exploiting and killing animals is the normal way. Loving these animals like dogs and dolphins and cats is normal and killing and eating pigs, cows and chickens and fish is normal. That’s the norm. We’ve been born into this. It’s not our fault that we’ve been conditioned to think this way. The good news is that we can easily change. As Einstein said, “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” And by acting you’re not only helping animals you are helping yourself. You’re reconciling something inside of yourself that was at first a conflict with one of your core values—the core value of nonviolence. You can reconcile that and become a kind, peaceful, loving, compassionate, respectful person by going vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow! What a mouthful and a good one and I agree. It may be naïve but I think it’s the way to solve all the world’s problems. Once we realize we don’t need to exploit non-human animals then we don’t need to exploit human animals then we don’t need to exploit then we find ourselves in a very peaceful place.
James Aspey: The world has a lot of potential. The more peace we increase the better things will be. It starts with each and every one of us. This isn’t something happening in another country. This isn’t something we have no control over. This is something we have total control over. What we put in our mouth. What we wear or products we use. This is something we have total control over and together we can make this world a far better place.
Caryn Hartglass: Whoo-hoo! Amen to that James. It was such a delight to talk to you. I’m glad you’re on the planet. Thanks for doing what you’re doing down under in Australia. We need you there. Thank you!
James Aspey: If anyone wants to check out my stuff online go to jamesaspey.com.au. I’m on Facebook. I’m on Instagram. I’m on YouTube. So check it out. Send me an email and say hi as well.
Caryn Hartglass: James Aspey, a delight. Thank you.
James Aspey: It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thanks for having me on your show. Keep up the good work.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 10/9/2015