Jenny Brown, Lucky Ones
Jenny Brown is the cofounder and director of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary—a not-for-profit organization and farm animal shelter—a vegan animal rights activist, and previously worked as a television producer until 2002.
Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass you’re listening to It’s All About Food. I talk all the time about food, about how plant foods can be delicious and literally save your health, save your life. I talk about the environment and about how factory farming of animals is so devastating. But there’s one real reason why I talk about eating plant foods and I don’t talk about this real reason all the time. The real fundamental reason is because of the horrific cruelty that goes on every day to innocent animals. That’s really what drives me. More and more people are doing more to help these innocent precious beings and I want to bring somebody on the show today who is doing more than most. She’s come out with a great new book. Jenny Brown is the co-founder and director of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, a not for profit organization and farm animal shelter. She’s a vegan animal rights activist and previously worked as a television producer until 2002. She’s the author of a new book The Lucky Ones.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Welcome to It’s All About Food.
JENNY BROWN: Thank you so much for having me on, Caryn.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Thank you. I just finished reading the book. Everyone needs to read this book.
JENNY BROWN: Well, thank you.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Everyone needs to read it. There’s a number of key books that have come out over the last twenty-five years I think that talk about animals and factory farms and why we need to eat plant foods. Some of them have been groundbreaking and others have not been so good but the people have been motivated to write them and this is one of my favorites.
JENNY BROWN: Well, thank you so much. It was an incredible opportunity first and foremost to be a voice for farm animals.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You have a real special story. There are a number of elements that make your book unique and powerful. So one is obviously where you share this intimate story about your health as a child: The bone cancer that caused you to lose a leg. Very profound, that grabs everyone’s attention right away. And then you tell this beautiful story and then you really get to the hard issues. It’s a string that works really beautifully. There’s something that I have been thinking about reading the book and that is we are so much more than our bodies. It’s not just humans. But we’re always judged by our physical vehicle.
JENNY BROWN: Right.
CARYN HARTGLASS: And it’s the same with animals. They are more than their bodies. They’re more than what we see.
JENNY BROWN: Right. In this case it’s about making the invisible, visible. Because I think people very easily look at their dogs and their cats and see them as individuals with personalities. If you believe in souls you assign that to your companion animals as well. It’s all about trying to raise awareness and taking a look at farm animals and questioning how we’re able to justify the divide that we create in our culture and in our consciousnesses. We look at Korea and we just are disgusted by their consumption of dog meat. We need to take a look at ourselves and realize, really, when you ask yourself “can you in an articulate and informed way tell me the fundamental differences between farm animals and companion animals?” If people are faced with that, you get those who consider themselves religious and that might adhere to doctrines in their written book, those who use that as an excuse and really believe that those books are the word of God. That’s a valid excuse, culturally that’s a valid excuse but the sad thing is, you know I grew up Southern Baptist… These scriptures that talk about the consumption of animals has been interpreted and re-written by man for centuries and centuries. There’s translation that’s lost in there.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Absolutely.
JENNY BROWN: There are a lot of scholars who can debate the scriptures and talk about how you can take other meanings from those scriptures. To evolve morally and consciously and sustainably as a planet this is the next evolution. We have got to look at how we treat the animals we eat. The importance of it is because farm animals are the largest group of beings—consider us all beings—they’re the largest group of beings that are exploited and slaughtered and confined and who live miserable lives. The most number of animals that are affected are farm animals and that’s why my passion is to try to raise awareness and lift the veil off of animal agriculture that many of us refuse to consciously even peak under.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It definitely is a veil. I’m not a religious person so…
JENNY BROWN: I’m not any longer either. I consider myself spiritual. I do like to … Because honestly I can’t believe in a God that would allow us to mistreat the other living beings on this planet.
CARYN HARTGLASS: When you look at it that way it doesn’t make sense.
JENNY BROWN: To me our dominion is a self-appointed dominion. Our self-appointed dominion has led to oppression and moral bankruptcy when it comes to sharing the earth with other animals.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We know that the Bible was used to make excuses for human slavery for a long time and now most of us know that’s not a good thing even though there are many people that are still enslaved in one way or another. Unfortunately humans can do very cruel things. If we’re going to go with religion, go to the ten commandments: “Thou shalt not kill”. I always ask “What does that really mean?”. Does that mean we shouldn’t kill people we don’t like or we shouldn’t kill white people or black people or men or women or how about anything?
JENNY BROWN: For those who believe in a god, whether it be Allah or Jesus Christ or Buddha or whoever, wouldn’t you want your God, and the reason you are following that god, to be a compassionate god. Now take a look at factory farms and animal agriculture in general, are your beliefs really in line with your values? That’s just one part of this. We started out on a really serious note here. The book really goes into the various issues in agriculture and I don’t just talk about factory farms. There’s inherent cruelty and suffering … the small local or organic—which by the way has nothing to do with animal welfare—or whatever, one of these happy meat farms. Not only is humane slaughter an oxymoron, we’re taking their lives to satisfy our taste buds. And there’s really no other way to say it. There’s a wonderful animal sanctuary in Australia. The woman who started that organization puts on her t-shirts which I think is so well said: “If we can live happy and healthy lives without causing harm to others, why wouldn’t we?” And do it with gratitude. Wouldn’t we rather be a peaceful people and extend that peace and that circle of compassion to all living beings? Violence begins on our plate. It trickles out. If we can acknowledge the violence that we are a part of every day in terms of our food choices perhaps that could be a starting point for looking at violence in other aspects of our lives and in the world in general.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You’ve had that epiphany, I’ve had that epiphany and we know many others who have and yet there are still many more who haven’t and it’s that challenge to find that one key to lift the veil on each person which can be really mind boggling to me.
JENNY BROWN: It’s not easy because we are so disconnected as a society from how these animals live and die. We never see them. Here at the Sanctuary they are no longer abstractions for me. I’m with them every day. I am with the victims I am fighting for. They are not abstractions. But in the public mind they are abstractions. Unless you live in Iowa or live down the street from some big old farms, usually feedlots, factory farms. Oftentimes people that live in these states where there is an abundance of animal agriculture you would pass by massive factory farms that are housing tens of thousands of animals and never even know there are animals inside because it is completely hidden from public view. It’s time for us to demand that we see inside of these places. And that we strip the power from big agriculture that just bombards us with images of dancing happy chickens that are going to be eaten and people having a good time and high five-in while they’re chomping down on a burger and the chicken McNuggets and the bacon and why isn’t bacon called dead pig fat?
CARYN HARTGLASS: I don’t know if it would even matter to some people.
JENNY BROWN: Maybe not but what does matter is how disconnected we are. I often talk about this because I grew up watching “Little House on the Prairie”. I loved that show. Oh my God, when Pa would cry, my Mom would immediately break out into tears. Pa was such a sensitive man. I remember an episode where Pa—they loved their animals—this can be of course debated, but they raised their animals with care and compassion. They gave them the closest thing to a normal life that they could have but then sometimes the dairy cow would have to be slaughtered so that they could feed themselves through the winter. Gone are those days. We pay somebody else to do the dirty work in terms of looking an animal in the eye and slashing their throat or putting a gun to their head. This is why I also often talk about how science fiction it is. It’s all done in these massive industrialized factories. We are so disconnected.
CARYN HARTGLASS: You have probably seen the illustrations in the book by Sue Coe in her book Cruel. It looks so sci fi. You’re absolutely right about that.
JENNY BROWN: Yeah, Sue Coe is amazing. Of course I’ve got Dead Meat and Cruel, the recent ones and it’s heartbreaking. For those who refuse to see with their eyes what these animals are enduring perhaps even just looking at illustrations, where you’re not looking at graphic, photographic, images, at least look at the drawings that somebody who was allowed inside and was able to take sketches of what she was witnessing.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Now speaking of allowed inside, you did some undercover work before you created your sanctuary and you went inside and saw some of the horrific things that happened at a number of different slaughtering facilities in Texas.
JENNY BROWN: No, it actually wasn’t slaughtering facilities. These are stockyards. Stockyards and auctions are almost synonymous. Basically they are out in rural areas. I spent a week. I was sent out there back in 2002 to get into stockyards and document downed animals which are those animals that are too weak or sick to stand. They are non-ambulatory. At the end of the day when the slaughterhouse trucks come, some of those animals end up leaving and going to other farms. For instance the veal calves. My very first day that I was there, one of the very first things I witnessed was a whole truckload of veal calves being unloaded from a local large-scale dairy operation. Some of them were still slick from their mother’s birth, umbilical cords hanging, limbs that had been pulled from the joint from being yanked out of their mother’s womb, or being rough-handled to get them onto the truck. Many of these little guys could hardly walk into the pen so they’re dragged by their ears, they’re dragged by a leg, they’re kicked, electric prodded, and they’re babies. It was at that moment that I said to myself “I have just witnessed the exact reason why I can no longer say oh but I love cheese and what’s wrong with cheese.
CARYN HARTGLASS: Few people make that connection between the veal calf and dairy products.
JENNY BROWN: I’ve been vegetarian for a long time but I was just exposing myself to the atrocities of the dairy and egg industry which now here at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary when we do tours we talk about how there’s actually more suffering in the dairy and egg industry than there is in just eating a chicken or a steak. And I know that’s bizarre but in this country… Another thing people don’t realize, is that there are different breeds that are used for dairy than for the breeds that are used for meat, same thing with the chickens. There are commercial egg layers and then there are commercial broilers, which are the ones that are so genetically manipulated. They grow to a profitable slaughter weight at 45 days of age and therefore have all sorts of debilitating problems if they live beyond that slaughter age and weight. Even my husband…. So many people come up from New York City and visit here and they didn’t even realize that cows have to become pregnant and produce a calf in order to produce milk yet we’re mammals and our bodies act the same way. It kind of makes sense but it needs to be laid out for you. These are not things we talk about in school at all.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We need home economics back in the schools, maybe updated a bit. People don’t know where their food comes from, they don’t know how to make food. They know so little.
JENNY BROWN: What classroom is saying in order for us to drink the breast milk of a cow, there’s a calf that’s not allowed to drink her breast milk, which was by nature intended for the calf? And each calf, year after year, is torn from her, from her heartbreaking bellows. And that little calf either goes and lives in a fiberglass hut if it’s a female and she will later replace her mother on the dairy line. And all the boys… and you think veal is terrible and you haven’t eaten veal in twenty years because it comes from a baby… but do you not realize that every time you choose to have milk in your coffee, a yogurt that’s supposed to do the body good, a piece of cheese…do you not realize that’s exactly what you’re supporting? It’s heartbreaking.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I’m kind of curious about that veal campaign that happened maybe 20, 30 years ago that moved people so much to not want to eat veal and yet they don’t realize what goes on with any other animal to the same degree.
JENNY BROWN: I don’t know whether or not there was mentioned in those campaigns that tried to get people to look where veal even comes from. And that veal is a by-product of the dairy industry. Of course these animals, these precious calves, shouldn’t be considered a by-product no more than animals should be called commodities or livestock. But using these terms to apply to these animals makes people aware that we use these terms even in the animal rights movement. These are the unwanted male calves that were born to the dairy cows only in order for us to drink her milk. And no it’s not true that a dairy cow produces, has one calf and then produces milk forever. She’s impregnated year after year. I don’t think those were issues that were even raised in the veal campaign because I think the strategy was trying to get people to focus mostly on crated veal and I don’t know the percentage off the top of my head. There are some veal operations that serve more of the finer restaurants of New York City who love to tout their humane, sustainable, grass-fed… yes, these animals that are coming from those places but by and large veal comes from male baby calf who lived his entire six months of miserable life in a crate and fed a diet that kept him border line anemic to constitute the very pale, tender flesh that typifies veal.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I’ve been hammering lately on this concept, which I think is really important and that’s the big picture. People need to understand the big picture so I appreciate people who go out and protest specific issues, circuses and fur and not eating this and that and making cages bigger, etc. but for me it’s the big picture. Humans need to evolve and get to a higher consciousness.
JENNY BROWN: Absolutely, in so many ways but especially in this way. Where we refuse to even look at it. For myself, I couldn’t respect myself. I couldn’t live with myself knowing what I know now and continuing to support the violence, the misery, the cruelty of animal agriculture. And I’m not trying to call people bad. It’s really the USDA and the FDA and Big Ag and our politicians who allow money to be funneled into their pockets by Big Ag…that are promised lucrative jobs once their term is over. It is a broken and corrupt system. That’s where it needs to begin. And demanding that we have education in the classrooms about these issues and that we pull the subsidies from the meat and dairy industry and give them to the vegetable and fruit farmers and the seed and the nut and the grain farmers and focus on optimal health for humans, not the quickest fastest buck, not the good old boys clubs but what is optimal nutrition for animals. As I’ve said a number of times and you’ve heard it said as well, something is wrong when it costs more to buy a head of broccoli than to get a full on soda, French fries and Big Mac at McDonalds. Something is wrong.
CARYN HARTGLASS: We are living in a truly B-grade, sci-fi movie. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
JENNY BROWN: A horror film, a science fiction horror film.
CARYN HARTGLASS: I do blame our government and the subsidies and the policies that we have but the only way it’s going to change is with individuals making informed choices. People say “oh I would do it if it were easier.” No, it doesn’t get easier, you make it a priority then when you shift your perspective, it becomes easy. When I walk into a supermarket, most of the things I see I don’t consider food.
JENNY BROWN: Right. It’s so heavily processed. We dump corn syrup into everything. We produce all this crappy corn that’s really intended to feed the animals we call livestock. When people are starving, sixty million people every year, and when we’re turning a third of the world’s grain supply—in the United States it’s higher, sixty-five to eighty depending on if you’re talking from soybeans primarily—but world wide a third of the world’s grains supply goes to feed animals that our society calls livestock. What is happening? People often attack animal rights activists and say why don’t you take that energy and focus it on human causes. Well guess what? We are. And we’re trying to tell you that you can help those human causes as well just by making more compassionate, healthier, sustainable choices three times a day when you sit down to a meal.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s very obvious to me that people moving towards a plant-based diet is really the only solution we have on this planet.
JENNY BROWN: Right.
CARYN HARTGLASS: It’s just very obvious to me that any time there’s opportunity for profit, there’s opportunity for exploitation. I just wanted to touch on one more bad news story and then I want to get to some good news.
JENNY BROWN: Yaah good news!
CARYN HARTGLASS: (laughs) Those sheep that are grown for wool. I remember reading about them a really long time ago when I made my choice to go vegan and reading in your book reminded me and actually added some more horrific details that go on with sheep that are sheared. The most horrific part I guess was the image I had of what they do to their backsides.
JENNY BROWN: Right, it’s mulesing, it’s not done in every country but Australia where I think it’s 40 percent of the world’s wool comes from there, a lot of it is merino which is so popular and it’s specifically the merino sheep that…think of a Shar pei dog…so there’s all these layers, folds of skin…when you stretch that out, that’s more product, that’s more coverage. So they came up… sheep eat grass, they are ruminants. The cheapest way for a farmer to feed his sheep, is to have large swaths of land. In this country we do a lot of wildlife killing so that we can deforest, open the fields to feed the cattle or the sheep or whatever. So they’re allowed to graze. They eat mostly grass. What we do here because we can’t offer them grass year ‘round, we supplement hay every day. That’s not economically feasible for a farmer to do that. It just doesn’t make economic sense. So what they do, they rotate them. They’ll eat down a pasture down to the ground and then they move them to another pasture. When you do that oftentimes sheep will get a little diarrhea because there’s moisture content in the fresh grass and instead of pooing the pellets, they’ll have some runny poo. Sorry I could use fancier words… And then what happens then they get what’s known as fly strike. Flies will come, they are attracted to that runny poo. Flies will lay their eggs in the runny poo and then they’ll get what’s known as fly strike where basically, maggots will start eating their back ends away. It ruins the wool, it can make the sheep of course very sick. They just see them as a production unit. It’s not about the welfare of the animals. They want the wool. Eventually they are going to sell the lambs and the older sheep for meat regardless. So what they created was this very cruel technique called mulesing where they flip each…once a lamb I think is about six to eight months old to prevent this problem of fly strike, they flip them over, tie their legs together, takes like what looks like the equivalent of crude garden shears and basically cut the skin off of their rear end. If it were us…it’s basically like their cutting off all the skin that covers our butt cheeks, our buttocks. They do that so that it’s going to scar tissue over, create a smooth surface, so that when it rains or if they’re sprayed off, they can easily get that poo off instead of it getting embedded in their wool.
CARYN HARTGLASS: That’s pretty horrible. But you know what, we have two more minutes left so I want to talk about the wonderful Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.