Part I: Priscilla Feral
Priscilla Feral is the Friends of Animals President, who works out of FoA’s International Headquarters in Darien, Connecticut.
Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food. It is February 8th, 2012 and as you know on this show we talk about things related to health, environment and animals. I always try and mix it about a little bit and today we are going to focus on the first part of show with animals. We are all animals; people and all the other species on the planet that we share everything with, the air, the water, the soil. I am going to bring on Priscilla Feral, who is the president of Friends of Animals. Friends of Animals is a nonprofit international animal advocacy organization which was incorporated in the state of New York in 1957. Friends of Animals works to cultivate a respectful view of nonhuman animals, free living and domestic. Their goal: to free animals from cruelty and institutionalize exploitation around the world.
Caryn Hartglass: Welcome Priscilla to It’s All About Food.
Priscilla Feral: Hey there, how are you? Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Good. I just want to know everything that we can possibly talk about Friends of Animals. You do so many amazing things and I didn’t even know that you’ve been around for so long, since 1957.
Priscilla Feral: Absolutely. I feel like I started there when I was in grammar school, but seriously I was in Connecticut, the office for the cooperation was in New York City and I was going through some early career counseling, sort of what the hell do I do with my life. As a career I want to do something beyond taking stenography and typing and I was a member of animals having had my cat spayed there. So I took a train to New York and interviewed with the president and her assistant was leaving and after a very short interview she just said you’re hired and make sure you show up on time. I said, well what’s the job, and she said stir up a hornets nest. That was November of 1974. I worked there 38 years and have been president 25 years. What I think I am most proud of is trying to maintain the kind of rigorous style that I was attracted to that she showed all of us and that was independent thinking. A medium to smaller sized group that worked hard and wasn’t anxious to be part of somebodies flock and I think that serves us well through the years.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, absolutely. Now did it start out as an organization to spay and neuter?
Priscilla Feral: It did, but that was kind of a secondary effect because what Alice Herrington, the president, did was she said she always loved cats and she tried to start an adoption group of sorts and she told me for every cat I adopted out in New York City another one came back. She realized that the burden of trying to have an impact on the homeless crisis was going to require affordable spay/ neuter surgery. She started out then a program we maintain today, is a nationwide program that attracts people to a network of vets that we have. We’ve produced 2.6 million surgeries at this point. We have spared a lot of cats in dogs in existence where they end up in a miserable situation.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, did Friends of Animals always have a vegan focus as well?
Priscilla Feral: No, but the first focus on animals is food and certainly the first factory farming expose was ours and it was crafted by both Peter Singer and Jim Mason back in 1974. They did that work and did the investigation and produced those books in our library there on the spot. I became educated about factory farming through Friends of Animals and the vegetarian advocacy really followed. For all of us in the office it was kind of a program where the more we were aware. We really weren’t aware of the vegetarian movement per say, but we were aware of conscious why and we’d stop eating animals. It was kind of a reaction to the information that was gathered for the campaign.
Caryn Hartglass: The movement that you talk about, it’s certainly a movement today. Certainly the internet and social networking kind of enabled us to get that message out far more actively than ever before, but you have been doing this a really long time. Two questions: What do you see as the things that you are happiest with, proudest with about the vegan movement? Where are the frustrations still today?
Priscilla Feral: What I am happiest with, the vegan cooking shows, now designed for television. Vegan mash up is one that we are going to sponsor, I’m just wild about a cook book author and a member of Friends of Animals, Miyoko Schinner.
Caryn Hartglass: We talked to them a few weeks ago on the show, great stuff.
Priscilla Feral: She is brilliant. Brilliant in person, what she produces is brilliant; her new book is going to be perfect. I see her as a breakthrough cook and artist. I think she is going to inspire a lot of people to move away from cheese and dairy and she is just lovely on top of it all, but I am a cookbook junkie and a food channel junkie. I love to watch people doing demonstrations of food, prepping food, plating food. I’ve got two vegan cookbooks that I authored and I like cooking so to me this inspires people. If you are in a leadership role in anything, it’s not about motivating people that produces change, it really is inspiration. I think showing people how to do it in such an attractive way by people who are savvy, bright and have good social skills. This is the way to get really get great ideas to evolve. So I am thrilled about it. I am happiest about that. I am the most disappointed perhaps with a trend among some large groups that try to obtain concessions from animal exploitation industry. I understand that it is more lucrative to try and work that way because people are more agreeable and are inconvenienced less. I think it’s the wrong way to build veganism as a social movement. If we are going to have it slide as a social movement, meaning it’s working around the globe, you really have to renounce domination and systematic sowing, that is not cracking a deal with industry.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I was going to bring that up, this concept of animal rights vs. animal welfare and the organizations that are trying to get whatever they can rather than focusing on the real point. Is torture okay if it’s a little less torture than more torture?
Priscilla Feral: You are right, you’re absolutely right. I just got back from West Africa because we have a re-introduction project in Senegal. I could tell you how demoralizing it was, really shocking for me to travel 3,000 miles in three days on land, so I saw a lot of landscape, in Northern Senegal and the landscape was really saturated with livestock, with goats, sheep and cows. This is an arid area of Senegal, it’s not tropical, it’s not rainforest; some of the jungle habitat that they really do have elsewhere. It’s where farming is animal farming; if you look at that in all the trees cut down for firewood; the lack of electricity and poverty. All these people really think about is eating meat as some form of status. Of course we set that example here in the United States. What we think status is about, a steak or some such thing. The crime in that so much is not only our indigenous animals were replaced with this livestock grazing and how miserable it is for animals. There is no factory farming involved, it’s not that animals are confined in close quarters, it’s that they are betrayed. They are betrayed right in front of your face. They also head to the same slaughter area that any animal has to that is considered food. So whether the animal can be out in open space or whether it’s confined and has so many days of living and then its head is cut off, it’s truly the same at the end. Yet, as an animal rights movement, so many of us are left to try and litigate these miseries along the way and I think it’s a giant mistake. What I saw in Senegal was deeply depressing on several levels, but to come back here and to have this chatter about, it’s factory farming and so all you have to do is put a different fix on that and it will all be okay. Peter Singer and Jim Mason started doing that in 1974, in the year 2012 we are in the same place? Good lord.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, good lord. You are doing great things and what are you doing in West Africa? You have a project there.
Priscilla Feral: About a week ago I was on 60 minutes for a segment on this project actually. The upshot is we are keeping three species that were prized at Texas hunting ranches, that brought the industry there about a billion dollars a year, out of these hunting ranches. The way we got there was to not only start a re-introduction project in Senegal, that’s what we did in 1999. That gave us the standing to make the fish and wildlife service list these three animal species as endangered. They were rendered extinct in their African homeland. To stop the fish and wildlife service from giving up blanket exemption to the hunting ranches in Texas, meaning they could breed them, trade them, sell them, shoot them and call it an act of conservation; if you can believe that? These Oryx antelopes or gazelles lived a year maybe two years max before they became a trophy for somebodies wall. These are wealthy tourists who rode on the same plan as I was every month, going in there to shoot on these hunting ranches and pay maybe 5,000 dollars to 10,000 dollars to shoot one of these animals that is half tame, they are not particularly afraid of people and they are trained to go to a certain area for water and trained to come to a bell and there is corn to feed them, what have you and they call that a safari club adventure and depending on the quality of the poor animals head they get points from safari club international in their trophy book. These are demented things that people call hunters here in the United States. In Africa, where I went, they are trying to re-introduce some of those animals that were wiped out by French trophy hunters many decades ago. Right now the animals that we’ve brought there and we have established and protected reserves, about 175 individuals from one and few dozen of the other are protected. If you are trying to observe the rights and interests of an animal within an ecosystem and you are protecting that habitat, that approach is conservation. Not that hunting scheme and tactic.
Caryn Hartglass: That is just incredible. I’ve heard about this kind of “hunting”. There are so many crazy things going on in the world you can’t really rank them, but this one is so shameful. These people have no idea of what they are doing and they are just bored or something. I don’t know.
Priscilla Feral: The contingent of people that call themselves males have pride involved here; involving some sense of power of stealing a life of another. When someone shoots a deer in some areas of the country, that body is put on top of the car to get some kind of applause or gee that looks like quite a feat, you with the gun and the animal with nothing. Really, what is obscene, even though there are just 12 million of these people in the United States left, is that they have a strangle hold on so much of the government policy. It includes the Obama administration and a few administrations before that. When you get back to Bill Clinton, then you see some real positive changes there. There is so much to do and there are pundits among the animal rights community that think all you have to do is talk about what we consider food and that cures every other ill. I think that is selling a lot of animals short. There are indigenous wild animals that are also afforded rights or they ought to be. That means you have to care about the space you are living in and sharing. If you continue to consume animals from big flocks and farms, that’s land that is off limits to wild horses and wolves and coyotes and lots of other animals that deserve a place on this earth too. I am thrilled to talk about food and encourage the right trends, but I think there is a broader perspective that perhaps like-minded groups, I would hope, would begin to embrace and use as educational points for their members.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with you. The thing about food is that it is a way to crack open the door and make people pay attention. I find that a lot of people who realize they don’t need meat to survive all of the sudden at some point during their journey have this epiphany and they realize what’s going on around them and they realize that all of these other animals that they are not eating are individuals and deserve a life. Food is so close to us and we use it almost every day. I think it’s the easiest way to get people to realize what’s going on all around them. There are so many issues and I am sure you have heard this people say why do you care so much about animals you don’t care about people. We treat people just as horribly as we do animals.
Priscilla Feral: Well yeah, and you create the body that you’re living with by the way you care for it and how you feed it. It really does get back to how we view domination how we view our treatment of everyone else around us. Whether rights advocacy is doing the appropriate thing, which I think is to urge people to opt out of exploitation and all its forms. Embrace human rights just as much as animal rights and certainly there is a relationship.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, absolutely. You are involved with Primarily Primates Sanctuary in Texas?
Priscilla Feral: Yes, sometimes over my head.
Caryn Hartglass: These are all huge things. This is something that I think a lot of people don’t have any idea about what’s going on.
Priscilla Feral: Well thank you because that’s my obsession. It is true that for many years, while we were just donors to this sanctuary we also tried to establish, within Africa, an island project for chimpanzees. Knowing that there are lots of orphaned chimpanzees needing sanctuary and it doesn’t mean yanking them out of Africa and bringing them to the United States. The upshot of all of that today is that we sponsor an island project for chimpanzees in the Gambia. The Gambia is a country that runs through the middle of Senegal in West Africa. That’s thrilling to go there in this remote area of the world and see these tree islands. I guess we have 97 chimpanzees that are monitored and looked after there now and the government is in a partnership with the foundation and Friends of Animals so it’s a cooperative arrangement and we provide the financing. 97 chimpanzees have baboons to have little battles with and other monkeys, gorgeous varieties of birds, but a life as close to what is normal as possible. The boundary of the islands is really their perimeter because they don’t swim. They are on an island and they are not going to stray into the water. They consider water a hazard. In addition to that, back in October of 2006, I got a call that the Texas attorney general in Texas, of course, has raided the sanctuary Primarily Primates in San Antonio and that they had a suggestion of PETA obtained allegations about neglect and abuse there and therefore all the assets were frozen. The staff didn’t know what to do; they were turned out of the place. For a while some other people were in there with a court appointed receiver. Six months later, after I hired a law firm to try and defend the sanctuary and sort out the mess because we didn’t want to see the place dismantled with hundreds of monkeys and apes without homes or without decent care. We were asked by the AD’s office to head up a new board of directors and I agreed. That was taking on a lot because it meant the first year, to try and improve the infrastructure of the sanctuary; we had to come up with a million dollars to do that. The year after that another million and then we had to build the reputation back. It’s been since May 2007 we worked very hard, we have tripled, quadrupled the staff, brought in an onsite veterinarian. Today the sanctuary is just gorgeous. I am very proud of it. It’s a place of, what we hope, of security for animals that are trapped in animal exploitation industry. People will rally outside the primate labs and say stop torturing monkeys or some such thing or tell someone to stop using chimpanzees in commercials for super bowl. There are lots of good people rally against the exotic pet trade which makes lemurs, monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans and whatever trapped in people’s homes for absurd purposes. The truth is if they are going to be released from those industries they need a place to go. The place to go is usually the unheralded sanctuary. Those people really are on the front lines, but they’re not getting the headlines. They are not getting the bulk of any national group attention for the most part and they are not getting the donations they need to really secure a future. We are managing Primarily Primates we are doing their administrative work, their fund raising work, I travel there every month. I help sometimes with hiring people. I certainly interfere constantly, I am sure they tell you that. I have learned a lot from them because I think the staff is excellent at; is to be involved with the individual animals, the four hundred or so, they know them, their observations are excellent, all that is a dream. Raising the money is a challenge. To run a place like that with four hundred residents, you need a budget of a million dollars or so a year. A habitat for spider monkeys can look wonderful for a few years and then you need lots of repairs. The minute you take chimpanzees into any given area they start banging on it. They figure out a way to loosen up everything that’s in perfect shape before they get in. Any sanctuary for primates or any animals constantly needs improvements and changes. We are devoted to that for the rest of our lives here too, to help this place. It really needed that kind of rescue and has survived to keep it of all odds.
Caryn Hartglass: I have just been holding my breath listening to all of this. There are just some many things going on in this world that shouldn’t be and we hear all the time that there is so much money out there and so much of it goes to such ridiculous projects. It is good to know a certain amount is going to do really good things.
Priscilla Feral: It’s through hard work. I think if people can devote themselves to breathe taking, to stretching themselves, to doing things that aren’t easy, that would be a boom to our civilization and this movement.
Caryn Hartglass: I like to that, when we read that the economy is struggling that is when some of the greatest inspiration and the greatest work happens. I am hopeful that something good can come out of our economy being in the toilet at the moment and that people start to really think about what it is they want to do and why they are here on this planet and that most of that energy will go to be doing some really, really good things. Do you have an opportunity to be close with any non-human animals?
Priscilla Feral: You mean like at the sanctuary? We have 3 cats and 2 dogs and 2 of the dogs come to work here every day. We’re closer than close. At the sanctuary, I have to confess I have favorites. Absolutely, I have spider monkeys that are just dear to me, in fact a string of them and gibbons there and lemurs, one lemur named Jordon who I am just head over heels over. At my house, my home, I watch squirrels, who look like they are terrified of me, go up and down the tree and use the nesting box. I am thrilled out of my mind. Animals give me a deep sense of joy. It’s just true. I’m hard wired for the confrontation involved in this work and at the sense that these animals deserve. I am very, very lucky to work here and to be able to express all of this.
Caryn Hartglass: I think that those who are involved with close relationships with animals realize the joy that they get from this silent sort of bonding and communication. We see it in so many different ways, that there are different ways to heal emotional issues that animals can do things that we cannot do.
Priscilla Feral: My dad used to say the dog doesn’t talk back. If you grow up and you get to reach a grownup stage, you can appreciate this, the forgiveness. I think I am forgiven for a lot.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, Pricilla, thank you so much for talking with me today and I love the work you are doing. Please visit www.friendsofanimals.org and I hope that you continue to be energized and inspired and work hard for a very long time. The animals thank you!
Priscilla Feral: You’re wonderful, thanks so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Take care. I am Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s all About Food and we are going to take a quick break and get back to talking about genetically modified food. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Mary Schings, 4/25/2013