Part I: JC Corcoran, Rae Sikora
Jim (JC) Corcoran co-founded and served as president of VegMichigan, the state’s largest vegetarian organization, for seven years. He is a retired fire captain/paramedic/training officer, has a BS in Emergency Medicine and is certified in the Living Foods Lifestyle. Jim also is a certified fitness instructor and former softball champion/all-star. He has been leading life altering programs on health and the environment for over a decade now. His talks empower people to make informed and lasting changes in their lives. Since retiring from the fire service, Jim has been busy starting and developing several other successful outreach organizations. He co-founded Plant Peace Daily; founded Santa Fe Veg and co-founded VegFund, an international organization which helps vegan activist spread the word through food and other means.
Rae Sikora has been a spokesperson for animals, the environment and human rights for over 30 years. Her programs have been changing people’s vision of what is possible to create in our lives and in the world. Rae has worked internationally with participants ranging from teachers, students and prisoners to businesses and activists. As co-founder of the Institute for Humane Education, Rae created interactive critical thinking tools that are now being used by people around the globe. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin. Rae draws from years of experience to help individuals and groups discover how implementing changes personally/locally can bring about positive change globally. She is co-founder/co-director of Plant Peace Daily and VegFund.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Hey, how are you doing today? It’s kind of a cool, cloudy thing happening here in New York City on May 23, 2012, but I’m liking it. It’s a good time to relax and put on some cozy clothes, make a nice pot of tea. I like organic, fair-trade varieties. Pour in a little soymilk creamer and sit back and listen to me and my guest talk about my favorite subject, and maybe one of your favorite subjects: food. And, as you know, on this show, we often link together the environment, people’s health, animals… We talk about a lot of different subjects on this show. Today I just want to make it easy, joyful, peaceful, lovely, because so many people have food issues. And what I like to do is let you know that you don’t have to feel guilty about your food. If you choose fresh, organic, mostly locally grown, delicious plant foods, and there are so many things to do with them, and that’s all we talk about on this show, there’s no guilt. It’s good for your body; it’s good for the environment; it’s delicious.
Ok, so let’s just spin a lot of joy today. I’m going to be talking to two, very lovely, lovely people: JC Corcoran and Rae Sikora. I’m going to read a little bit about them. JC Corcoran co-founded and served as president of Veg Michigan, the state’s largest vegetarian organization, for seven years. He is a retired fire captain, paramedic training officer and has a B.S. in Emergency Medicine and is certified in the Living Foods lifestyle. Jim is also a certified fitness instructor and former softball champion all-star. He has been leading life-altering programs on health and the environment for over a decade now. His talks empower people to make informed and lasting changes in their lives. Since retiring from the fire service, Jim has been busy starting and developing several other successful outreach organizations. He cofounded Plant Peace Daily. He founded Santa Fe Veg and cofounded VegFund, an international organization which helps vegan activists spread the word through food and other means.
Then, we have Rae Sikora, also. She’s been a spokesperson for animals, the environment and human rights for over 30 years. Her programs have been changing people’s vision of what is possible to create in our lives and in the world. She has worked internationally with participants ranging from teachers, students and prisoners to businesses and activists. As cofounder of the Institute for Humane Education, Rae created interactive critical thinking tools that are now being used by people around the globe. She holds degrees in Cultural Anthropology and Environmental Education from the University of Wisconsin. Rae draws from years of experience to help individuals and groups discover how implementing changes personally, locally can bring about positive change globally. And she too is cofounder, co-director of Plant Peace Daily and VegFund. Welcome to It’s All About Food, you two!
Rae Sikora: Hey, Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, how are you doing? I love reading all of this stuff. You two have done, like, so many different wonderful things
Rae Sikora: We love doing it. We were just laughing because you were talking about this chilly weather and ‘put on something cozy’ and we’re in New Mexico and we’re stripped down as far as we can be, because it’s really hot.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that crazy?
Rae Sikora: I love it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the world we live in. There are some places where they’re hotter than they typically are and colder than they typically are. Never assume anything. The weather has been really spectacular the last year in New York and New York City. You know, I don’t like to say global warming is the cause of it. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Whatever it is, I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve taken advantage of it. It’s been very moderate and lovely.
JC Corcoran: We heard you had a warm winter
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yeah. I was just at my co-op annual meeting yesterday, and they were talking about all the money they saved on fuel over the winter because it was a very mild winter. So, it’s been really lovely here. But it’s hot where you are?
JC Corcoran: We’re enjoying it, though.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. So, what’s going on? What kind of peace have you been planting lately?
Rae Sikora: Doing our usual 24/7 activism. A little bit of sleep mixed in and lots of eating mixed in and lots of hiking.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, now we don’t want you not to get enough sleep, because you have to be healthy and strong in order to spread this beautiful message.
JC Corcoran: Absolutely.
Rae Sikora: [Chuckles]
Caryn Hartglass: So where have you been, most recently?
JC Corcoran: We are in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we are busy working to veganize Santa Fe, because that’s the kind of town we want to live in.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmm. What’s that going to take?
JC Corcoran: Well, we started a group. We’ve got already 70 members and we’re doing all sorts of education and outreach, and we’re going to be doing — demos and just the usual fare that we do whenever we settle into an area.
Rae Sikora: We’ve had some really great film and discussion events with… we showed Vegucated, we showed Forks Over Knives. Did we show any other films yet?
JC Corcoran: Not yet.
Rae Sikora: Yeah, more to come.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the exciting thing. I know that you’ve been doing this for a long time, as I have, decades and decades. But there’s so much out there now. Many cookbooks and there are more films to show, and the internet is there 24/7 with all kinds of great information. Does that make it any easier?
JC Corcoran: Oh, yeah. In fact, Rae was just saying the other day that when we first started in the movement, we thought we knew every single vegan in the world.
Caryn Hartglass: Me too!
JC Corcoran: And now, we can’t keep up with all the books, the blogs, the websites, the authors. There are just so many of these things going on.
Rae Sikora: You know what I think, Caryn? I think that it makes it easier both personally, it makes it easier because you feel like there is sort of this trend toward compassion and healthy eating and caring about other species, like the whole thing, caring about the environment. There’s already a trend going that way so it makes it… Personally, it’s nice. It’s like, “Oh good, a community…” But also in terms of our work it makes it easier, because they were doing a program and they had already heard some of the information from watching Ellen Degeneres or one of the other popular places where they are going to hear about this. Not having to plant the first seed all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. The thing about change, especially changing our diets and changing our lifestyle, we need to hear the information over and over and over, packaged in many different ways for it to get nourished and grow and finally go from our subconscious to our conscious and enable us to take action. It takes a long time.
Rae Sikora: Right.
JC Corcoran: For many people.
Rae Sikora: I think for anyone when there’s new information at first you can’t take it all in. It’s almost like the information is around the corner, and you haven’t even walked to the corner yet. So, you’re on your way and eventually you go “Oh! Yeah, I’ve heard that before, five times.”
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so hard to understand what makes us tick as human beings, but I think so much of it is so ingrained in all of our cells. We have 53 trillion or more cells in our bodies. There’s so much fascinating science information about what goes on in our cells all throughout our bodies, not just in our brains, how cells all throughout the body have memory, our organs have memory. There’s all kinds of just intense, interesting things. We’re at the tip of iceberg in terms of comprehending. You know, when we’re babies, we take in all of this environment around us and things become a part of us, really. So, when somebody comes along and says, “No, that’s not a good thing,” we have these 53 trillion community of cells that don’t know what to do with that information.
Rae Sikora: Exactly, exactly. It’s like a foreign language. I’ve often thought that there should be like a travel guide to veganism because it is like this foreign culture. It’s different food, different language; it’s just a different culture. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the Fodor’s Guide to Veganville or something like that.
JC Corcoran: Don’t tell her that. That’s your next book!
Caryn Hartglass: What is that? Tell us? So, has your approach changed over the last three decades?
Rae Sikora & JC Corcoran: Oh, yeah.
JC Corcoran: Absolutely
Rae Sikora: We both say “Oh yeah!”
Caryn Hartglass: What are some of the changes that you’ve made?
Rae Sikora: Yeah, I think we can probably answer this separately. We’ve both been doing this for so long, and we’ve come from two very different paths. JC, you’ve been doing activism and outreach for a long time and I have… We have had very different venues and ways of doing it. And now we’ve come together and always have a lot of overlap now. In a way, it’s sort of like we brought together those… That’s why we wrote our book, Planet Peace Daily, because it was like “Ooh, you have all those outreach ideas. I have all these. We can be more than the sum of our parts, which is great!” [Caryn: Yeah.] Mine started out, I think it was… when I first started out, it was much more in-your-face. It was much more “I know the right way to do things and I don’t care how long it took me or how much my experiences led me to where I am, I want you to understand this in five minutes, what took me however many years. That’s how I used to be, like, how can you not get this in five minutes? And now I really realize that everybody has their own path to it. I’m just one little part of their path to it, if they come across me, and they’re one little part of my path toward learning more about what they do. And it’s impossible for someone to get inside what took me 56 years of my experiences to get to. So, much more now, I do the inviting instead of fighting. I invite people to this very joyful possibility that they could feel good physically; they could be making choices, in all of their lifestyle choices, they could be making choices that support animals and the earth, other cultures, their own health and do it in a way that satisfies whatever it is that they love, comfort food or all those things. It’s all there now. So I love inviting people to this possibility. It has a lot more joy for me now than it used to. It still has the dark parts of knowing what’s going on behind closed doors. There’s a lot more joy now
Caryn Hartglass: I agree with that. I know, I understand how people are angry, and there are people that finally have that epiphany and are angry and start where we started so long ago. The numbers, I can’t say the numbers are getting better. As the population grows, we hear how more animals are being killed every year for food. The last thing I heard was 65 billion land animals, I think. It just gets bigger and bigger. And, of course, our health costs are going up for all these unnecessary, chronic, reversible, preventable diseases, if people would eat healthy. And then, we’ve got this environment that’s not looking very good, and it’s really hard to just, like, want to smile. But, I really believe that that’s the way to do it. Invite and not fight. I like that. I might steal that from you.
Rae Sikora: You can steal it. It’s all yours. If you think about it, like, think about the community you would want to join. Would you be more attracted to a community of angry or unhealthy people, or would you be more attracted to a community of people who seem really joyful and very grateful for their lives and are strong and healthy? That’s much more attractive community
Caryn Hartglass: I know what I want. It’s what I’m living. What about you, JC? What’s changed for you?
JC Corcoran: Well, a lot I have learned actually in the last six years, having lived with Rae, and that is, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that when you speak with people, rather than presenting your own point of view, to question theirs, and ask them questions about why they take points of view that they do. Just be inquisitive and by opening up the conversation and making them the focus of conversation, they’re much more apt to be agreeable and willing to make change.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, you’re working there in New Mexico. What’s your style these days of getting people interested in what you want to talk about? Just wondering what are the big bullet points for you when you’re talking to people about, what…
JC Corcoran: Almost always, when you are doing a tabling event, people will come up to me and in many cases they are open to the idea, because they wouldn’t have come to your table otherwise. But there are some people who actually come up to your table and want to be confrontational about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely.
JC Corcoran: That’s when you want to be able to, instead of reacting angrily to somebody who’s come to you in an angry fashion, is to turn it around and question why it is that they feel what they do. Rae’s got some really wonderful stories and success stories of people who really turned around as a result of just being inquisitive and finding out what’s important to them and asking if these things are in alignment with their own personal beliefs.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t it amazing how powerful love and respect can be?
JC Corcoran: Yeah.
Rae Sikora: Mm-hm. We had this woman who came up to our table and she said “Oh, I’m kind of a vegetarian. Well, I am a vegetarian, but I eat chicken.”
Caryn Hartglass: Oh! The feathered vegetable. That’s right.
Rae Sikora: Exactly. And I said, “How did you choose chicken as the animal who you would eat.” She said, “Well, you know, chickens.” And I said, “Yeah, what do you mean? What about chicken?” And she said, “Well, you know, they’re really stupid.” And I said, “Oh, I have a really different experience of chicken, you know, that they’re not at all stupid. So tell me about your experience of chicken.” And she just stopped in her tracks and she looked at me and she said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, you know, what’s your experience with chickens?” And she said, “Well, I don’t have any experience with chickens.” And I said, “Do you want to hear about some of the chickens who I know?” and she said, “Sure.” So I told her about some of my favorite chicken friends, and they’re not only brilliant, but they’re caring, they’re loving mothers, they’ll give their life for their kids, just like a lot of humans we know, and they’re just brilliant. So I told her about some of my favorite chicken friends, who I’m close with, and I told her this and her face kind of changed, and then she looked at me and, real quiet, she said, “Oh. I guess I don’t eat chicken anymore.”
Caryn Hartglass: Aww.
Rae Sikora: Just that sweetness, that she was even open to it. I just think most people, given the environment to really look in their heart, they don’t want to be making violent choices or cruel choices, or choices that hurt the environment. So just asking people a few questions it’s really… for me it’s helpful for me because I understand them more. And for them, it gives them an opportunity to kind of clarify for themselves, “Oh. I wonder why I do that.” I was tabling for Earth Day and a woman came up. I was showing, you know the ‘Farm to Fridge’ film? The four minute one, from Mercy for Animals. Well, I was showing that, playing it on a loop, and an older woman came up to the table and she said, “This is awful. It’s awful. We do it the kind way.” And I said, “Oh, what is the kind way?” And she said, “Well, they send the women and children into the house and then the shoot them in the head.”
Caryn Hartglass: Well, there you go.
Rae Sikora: I said, “Oh. So if it’s the kind way, why do they have to send the women and children into the house?” She couldn’t really take in, well, she did take in that question, and then I think she got it, how maybe it’s not the kind way. She kind of kept muttering, “This is awful. We do it the kind way.” And I said, “You know, my family decided to do it the kind, what we think is the kind way. We decided we don’t have to kill them unnecessarily. That’s what we’ve done as our ‘kind way.’” She took some literature and wandered away, and she was still muttering, “We do it the kind way.”
Caryn Hartglass: Aw. Well, those were her 53 plus trillion cells that were confused and were responding, because for decades that’s what they’ve been told.
Rae Sikora: Exactly.
JC Corcoran: Mm-hm.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. I was sitting at lunch today with my partner Gary. I think we’ve been together about the same amount of time as you two, about six years.
Rae Sikora: Oh, exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: So we should celebrate sometime together with some good food.
Rae Sikora: I would love that.
Caryn Hartglass: We were just reminiscing about when we were both really young, and we used to like to prepare food. We were not vegetarians a long, long, long time ago, and I remember making Cornish hens, and I liked them because they were cute, they were little. I did not connect the dots at all. I just thought they were miniature versions of this larger thing that we would eat and it was cute. Some people when they see that they make the connection ultimately, but it wasn’t my time.
Rae Sikora: Isn’t it like that? When I was a child, I was known as the animal lover, in our house, in our community. One day we were at my aunt’s house, and I am making a tongue sandwich. Tongue.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, tongue.
Rae Sikora: Like a lunch meat. So I’m making the sandwich and my brother says don’t eat that. It’s tongue. I said, “No, it’s not really tongue.” He said, “It’s tongue. It’s tongue.” And I said, “Mom would never feed us tongue.” He said, “Go ask her.” So, I go to my aunt’s kitchen and mom is in there and I said, “Mom, what’s tongue? She said, “It’s tongue. It’s a tongue. I said, “Whose tongue?” Like, I couldn’t believe they were feeding us tongue! And then she said, “It’s a cow’s tongue.” I said, “No! I’m eating a cow?” I can’t tell you how many tongue sandwiches I ate before I could hear, I finally heard it, and I was like, it is. It’s tongue. There’s a reason they would call it that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I remember tongue, and I don’t know if I ate it or ate many, because the thought of it was really repulsive, but then, why is it that we except eating some body parts and not others?
JC Corcoran: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s just cultural.
Rae Sikora: Sometimes I see that in an advertisement, “Breast or thigh.” And I think, well that’s right out there, that’s pretty blatant. But not if all your trillions of cells are used to hearing it.
JC Corcoran: For almost 38 years of my life I was eating everything, probably, except tongue.
Rae Sikora: Every one, too.
JC Corcoran: And everyone. Yeah, everyone, I’m sorry. I was 38 years old when I finally woke up and realized… there’s so much misinformation and just a lack of information, too, of good information out in the world, and that’s beginning to change, particularly with social networking now. And I think that may be responsible for the number of vegans having doubled in the last three years.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I really think so. I’m really banking on this internet, social networking thing to exponentially make improvements. We really need… we don’t have time on our side, and things need to happen quickly. I was just reading about smoking recently, and thinking about how long it’s taken to get improvements in smoking. So, when the Surgeon General in 1964 put out his first report linking smoking with cancer, it’s taken 50 years or more to go from half the population smoking to 20% of the population smoking. Fifty years.
Rae Sikora: We’re not the brightest species. We’re kind of slow learners. It was so funny. I was just working in the Middle East, and I was working with Arabic teachers, there, and principals, on compassionate living and bringing it into the classroom. And one of the principals said to me, “Rae.” It was right when we were starting, “Rae. You’re not going to be saying that animals are superior to humans, are you? Because humans are superior,” and I said, “Well, I am so open to that idea, but I haven’t seen proof of it yet.” And then he said, “Well, it’s everywhere.” And I said, “Do you see this pile of trash I have on this stage?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “That came from the beach in Netanya. I collected that off the beach yesterday, and no other species left this trash there. This was all humans leaving plastic and nylon and tar and, just the kinds of trash was amazing, Styrofoam. I had this huge mountain of it on the stage. So I said, “It’s things like this that make it a little bit hard to prove our intelligence.” I said, “Maybe over these next days, you can find a way to prove to me that humans are intelligent and you can be open to the idea that other animals are intelligent.” He said, “Ok, Rae.”
Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Well, why do we have to be better?
Rae Sikora: Right, right. And why is intelligence a measure of worth anyway? It’s really impossible to measure the intelligence… we were just talking about it today. If you don’t share culture and language, you can’t measure intelligence, and it’s not a measure of worth anyway.
Caryn Hartglass: There are so many things we don’t understand about animals. We have so much to learn from them. How do some of the sea animals navigate in the water? How is it that the birds navigate the way they do? I was recently in Costa Rica, and I am so fascinated by all the life that’s there, especially the leafcutter ants, just watching them. So focused and they’re communicating on a level that I don’t understand. They’ve got some special wi-fi thing going on there.
JC Corcoran: Yeah.
Rae Sikora: Exactly! I just did an experiment with them. I was hiking in Utah, and there is this ant expert whose name is E.O. Wilson, and E.O. Wilson says they communicate by chemical trails. And I thought, I think it’s more than chemical trails. I think they have some sort of telepathy. So I put, we were camped in this one spot in Utah, and I put little pieces of bait down and then one little puddle of water, and where I put it down I watched what their reactions were. The ants far away started to move really, really fast, but they had not passed any chemical trail. They started to go crazy, moving fast, and they are all charging toward the bait, and I thought, wow, look at this. I just pulled up a chair. I watched them for hours until it got dark, to watch what is their communication, like with the different hills, different holes and they were communicating with each other with no chemical trails for sure.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not an expert about them, but I was told that when you kill the queen ant, they all die.
Rae Sikora: Oh, I’ve never read that. I’ll have to check that out.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, check that out, because that would be extra proof about this telepathy thing, but the point is there are millions of different species out there, and we could be learning so much if we weren’t so arrogant.
Rae Sikora: Exactly, exactly. Also, there’s a thing called zoo pharmacology, and it’s about how the animals know how to find the right medicines in the wild. There’s a book called Wild Health, and now humans are finally going, “Ok.” Beyond tribal people, who have always known to watch other animals to see what they choose for their diseases, now other people, other than tribal people, are going, “Oh, these animals know. They know what plants to eat when they’re in labor, when they’re sick, when they need minerals. Let’s watch them.”
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, before we destroy them, let’s learn something from them. Ok, we have just like less than a minute left, so what do we do? We should go to PlantPeaceDaily.org, read everything there.
Rae Sikora: Yes, before you do anything else.
JC Corcoran: We also have our book, for free as a PDF, on our website. We want people who want to make change in the world to get the book and start making some changes.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, where do I find the book?
JC Corcoran: You go to PlantPeaceDaily.org and go to our Shop and on the shop page, there is a link to the book in PDF form, or you can get it as a Kindle download for 99 cents. You can buy the book online on Amazon.com as well, if you want a hard copy
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, great. Thank you, JC and Rae, for being you and doing all this love stuff
JC Corcoran: Thank you, Caryn.
Rae Sikora: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I love it.
Thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. So, guess what we’re going to do now? We’re going to take a little break and then we are going to be talking about what I love most, which is delicious food with Dreena Burton, author of the new book Let Them Eat Vegan. We’ll be right back.
Transcribed by Maggie Rasnake, 1/27/2013