Part I – Ruby Roth
Ruby Roth is an acclaimed activist, artist, former teacher, and author whose children’s books have been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Huffington Post, The Washington Times, Change.org, Glamour, and Wired as well as on The Today Show, FOX, ABC, CNN, and other major media outlets. She first discovered children’s interest in veganism while teaching art at an elementary school. Complementing her degrees in art and American studies, she has researched animal agriculture, health, nutrition, and the benefits of a plantbased diet for nearly a decade. Her first book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, was published in 2009. A vegan since 2003, she lives in Los Angeles.
Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. Here we are, it’s August 13, 2013 and what I love about today here in new York City is it’s a rainy day. It’s not raining right at the moment, but what’s really nice about these summer days is that I find they are quiet. I live in an urban area right next to a playground, and though it’s nice to see the kids having fun, screaming and laughing, making a lot of noise – when it rains, all of a sudden everything gets so peaceful, and I really appreciate the contrast. Today is one of those nice days. And it’s always good to find something nice about rain, right? Some people call it liquid sunshine. I just think it’s a good time to be peaceful. Okay, let’s bring on the first guest today. This is Ruby Roth, and it’s her third time on It’s All About Food. She has a new book out, V is for Vegan: The ABCs of Being Kind. She’s an acclaimed activist, artist, former teacher and author whose children’s books have been featured in the Huffington Post, The Washington Times, Glamour, and Wired, as well as on the Today Show, FOX, CNN, and other major media outlets. She first discovered children’s interests in veganism while teaching at an elementary school, teaching art. Complementing her degrees in art and animal studies, she has researched animal agriculture, health, nutrition, and the benefits of a plant-based diet for nearly a decade. Her first book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, was published in 2009. A vegan since 2003, she lives in Los Angeles. Hi Ruby, how are you today?
Ruby Roth: I’m good! I’m so happy to be back with you!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you’re here too! I know we’ve been having some cyberspace challenges here, so I hope we don’t have any during this hour because that would not be fun. Let’s just press on! So… one of the reasons why I like having you on the show – and this is not one of the important reasons – but I always read the books of authors I talk to, and yours are very easy to read.
Ruby Roth: I always say, “So easy, even adults can understand them!”
Caryn Hartglass: But that gave me time to enjoy the pictures and kind of ponder the concepts. Okay, so – you write children’s books, but they’re not your average children’s books. There is a special message in here, and I think it is a very important message. But I’m sure you get a lot of controversy behind these books.
Ruby Roth: Sure, they’re the first vegan and vegetarian books for children that address factory farming and the environment and the emotional lives of animals – how our food affects that whole world. And yes, they have definitely ruffled some feathers, industry feathers. But they are definitely finding the people they are meant for, and the population of vegans and vegetarians has just grown exponentially in the past few years.
Caryn Hartglass: Are there any other children’s books that talk about factory farming?
Ruby Roth: Not that I know of; I’ve never been able to find one, and that’s how my books came about. I was searching for one to share with my students who were very curious about my eating habits, and I couldn’t find one. Everything that I found was about a talking animal or a talking vegetable, and I knew these kids just weren’t going to relate to that. That’s not how I spoke to them, you know, in the sugar-coated voice. So that’s how these books came about.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Well, I want to talk a lot more about that. I just pulled up Goodreads a little while ago and searched for books for vegetarian and vegan kids, and this list of 77 came up – yours was number 2. The Lorax by Doctor Seuss was number one. Great book, but the next one is yours, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals.
Ruby Roth: Good, because I feel that by sugarcoating and avoiding speaking to kids directly about what’s at stake with animals and the environment, I think we’re just putting off what we should be learning as young people.
Caryn Hartglass: Here’s the crazy thing: there’s so much violence out there. There’s so much violence in children’s media today. So why is it okay to have all kinds of shoot-em-up videos, all kinds of superheroes out there saving the world again from evil – so many different dark concepts, and yet we cannot expose the darkness in what’s really going on.
Ruby Roth: I think it’s because those video games don’t push us to make any changes with ourselves. And I think change can be very scary for people – especially when we’ve been born and raised and bred to think that the Standard American Diet is endorsed by doctors and healthcare professionals, and that it’s totally normal. It’s a real shock to a lot of people to realize that they’re been a tool in someoneelse’s game, and that we haven’t actually made a conscientious decision about our food most of the time. So the other part of that is that veganism is still pretty new to the mainstream, and I think that a lot of people think the vegan diet is the Standard American Diet minus meat and dairy, which leaves nothing upon nothing. The fact is that people throughout history have practiced plant-based diets and thrives. We have our own pyramid, per se, and everything we need in it.
Caryn Hartglass: One thing I believe in is telling the truth, being honest, empowering our youth with the truth, but also showing them as adults that we’re doing what we can and we expect them to do the same – that we’re working to make this world a better place, it will be their responsibility to make the world a better place, and they need to know what the issues are so that they can work toward those things.
Ruby Roth: I think that a big issue at school, or even with parents, is that we tell kids, “You can change the world, you can be anything you want to be.” And we don’t give them any solid foundation of what either of those really means. So I think we need to discuss the motives and what’s really at stake, and I think that kids are totally open and capable of understanding. My experience in the classroom proves it. They are not only eager to learn why someone would not eat animals, because they love animals, but they are eager to take part in something that creates solutions.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. This isn’t exactly the same subject, but I was raised with honesty. My parents always let us know what was going on: the good things, the bad things. If there were money issues during different periods, we were aware of those periods. There was nothing discussed in hushed tones that the children shouldn’t hear. I think that’s really important, because kids perceive everything, and when you’re keeping secrets, that just breeds distrust and fear. So I really commend you for being honest in your books.
Ruby Roth: I think that kind of education lasts a lifetime, no matter where you apply it – the building of critical thinking and questioning – lasts throughout a child’s life, in their professions and in their family life. There’s a much bigger, broader spectrum of benefits than just the practical aspects of health and animals in this lifestyle.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t have children; I don’t know what books they are reading today; all I remember are Dick and Jane and Spot. But I have a feeling that some things have not changed, and I have an idea that some of those idyllic images of animals and farms are probably still the same.
Ruby Roth: Sure, and not only have they lasted throughout the years, but meat and dairy industries know they must reach children in order to maintain their status quo in the marketplace. One of the responses to my book coming out, I’ve heard in trade magazines that they want to come out with their own books targeted at schoolchildren, to make sure that meat and dairy are normalized with children. So it’s active, it’s intentional, and it’s organized.
Caryn Hartglass: Well one of the problems is money, and many schools don’t have enough, so they accept free materials, and they get a lot of materials from these big food companies who want to promote their products. They do it in a very covert way, almost. So I imagine if they do create these children’s books that it’s only going to make things worse.
Ruby Roth: Yeah, and those will get right into the schools for that reason.
Caryn Hartglass: I was at the Book Expo in New York a few months ago, and one of the great things about being at a book expo is that there are so many free books you can get. It was my first time, and a friend of mine said, “You absolutely must bring a suitcase, a wheelie.” So I thought, okay, this is a great opportunity for me to collect children’s books! I thought I would get a whole pile for them because they love to read. I grabbed a lot of books, and before presenting them to them… well, I ended up not presenting them with any of them. Because in all of them I found something that was offensive – either it was violence, promoted some sort of darkness or had the kids eating foods that I don’t think kids should be eating.
Ruby Roth: I think it’s interesting to use those materials anyway and then use them to make a discussion. Kind of like how your parents did with you, how you said they included you. I think that way you are exposing them to this other side, but they are going to be exposed to all these issues as they grow up anyway. So this way they are getting the opportunity to think critically and maybe to read between the lines of messages that are directed at them. So I think it makes a difference, even when you go to the grocery store and you’re shopping with your kid, to point out why all the junk food and the candy and the cereal are on the low shelves – they’re at kids’ eyeballs. They’re placed there by companies to trick you into wanting it. So then kids try to wrap their brains around this game that is played in the marketplace that they play a role in.
Caryn Hartglass: So in other words, teach your children critical thinking at an early age.
Ruby Roth: Yeah, I think we shouldn’t avoid difficult issues or topics, but rather invite them and use them to teach our children.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m still trying to teach some of the adults that I’m around about these issues. I’m like, “Look at what you’re being marketed to buy! Think about it!”
Ruby Roth: My newest book, V is for Vegan, is only 26 sentences long, so it’s the shortest read yet.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s see, I wanted to talk about a few of those sentences…like this one: “I is for insects not happy in jars.” That brought back so many images to me. Unfortunately, as a kid, I wasn’t too supervised, and I think it’s good that children have a certain amount of freedom, but I used to play a lot in the backyard and in my friend’s backyard. We would do horrible things to insects. We would take the alcohol out, I would dissect them… and I’m really sorry I did all those things. But kids are encouraged to collect insects in jars.
Ruby Roth: That’s true, and I think that even before they are encouraged, they are really interested in this animal. But I think it’s so common. Even one of my last book signings, this boy came and he had a moth in a box; he was so excited to show me. Actually, Rory Freedman of Skinny Bitch was there too, and we explained to him that the moth might be happier if he let it go, and that he needed to let it go. I think he got it.
Caryn Hartglass: I was recently at a young child’s birthday party, and one of the gifts he was given was a jar to look at insects. It was actually a toy that was packaged that way.
Ruby Roth: I think, I was saying before, that we need to take that interest and make them think critically about it. This is an animal and it wants to breathe and live and be in nature where it’s supposed to be. I think that education in childhood, that normalcy and thinking from someone else’s point of view, will make a big difference later on.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t make a big issue about honey. But in your book, you say, “H is for honey, food for bees when temperatures freeze.” That was something I didn’t think about before. I mean, I don’t eat honey, but what happens there with honey in the wintertime?
Ruby Roth: Because the bees are pollinating during the summers and the springs and when it’s not icy cold out, they take the food that they make, the honey, and it’s not only used for food but also to insulate the hive, so that they don’t freeze to death. I made this issue more about the bees than the honey. I know that there are some vegans out there who call themselves “beegans” because they do eat the honey but no other animal product. But in any case, I think the bee colony death crisis that we’re having all over the world is a real issue everyone needs to be aware of. Bees need our special protection at this time.
Caryn Hartglass: Absolutely. Clearly, we’re doing a lot of bad things, and it’s like the canary in the mine shaft with the bee. I think we’re going to see this more and more with different species. The more we put toxic chemicals out into our world, into what we’re growing, the little animals that are feeding on those things are going to be negatively impacted faster than we are.
Ruby Roth: Yes, and the bee death is definitely a measure of what we’ve done, the mistakes we’ve made, and the fact that it’s time to turn around.
Caryn Hartglass: I was going to say it’s funny, but it’s not funny – they are impacted in more ways than one with our mistakes. Not just the toxic herbicides and pesticides, but we see them very often in these big bee compounds. We take away the honey and we put in high fructose corn syrup.
Ruby Roth: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Another bad thing. And I think the total effect is what’s getting to them
Ruby Roth: I always tell people, “Any time you’re exchanging money for animal products, their best interests are not at stake at all.” When you really look into bee farming and how the queens have to be artificially inseminated even, it’s such a strange process.
Caryn Hartglass: Who thinks of these things?!
Ruby Roth: It’s crazy, really. It’s crazy. Why don’t we just let the bees do what they’re going to do?
Caryn Hartglass: So I’m just thumbing through this little book that was enjoyable and easy to read, and so important, there’s, “K is for kitchen, so let’s help cook and clean.” It doesn’t take much to really get to the point: cooking and cleaning, both so important.
Ruby Roth: I think we just have to invite our kids into the kitchen – make cooking and food and the collecting of food really enjoyable and social – we just have to make it a happy part of your family. Don’t make it worrisome and a bunch of rules. This is a joy in my life and in our family’s life, and I think that’s how you get kids interested in it. That’s how kids are interested in other countries like France, for example. They eat everything the adults do by the time they’re in kindergarten, and meal time is just treated as a joyful and sociable event during the day.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s funny; every place has its advantages and disadvantages. I live in the south of France for four years in the 90s and it was an incredible time. I did see how children are raised with an appreciation for all foods, and that whining like “I don’t like this, I don’t like that” is just not tolerated.
Ruby Roth: It’s not. And it seems like they don’t make a big deal if the kid doesn’t want to taste it; they just whisk it away and say they’ll try it again some other time. There are no alternatives or special kid’s foods made.
Caryn Hartglass: On the other hand, they did put out a crazy law last year where meat or animal products have to be served as mandatory protein for lunch.
Ruby Roth: Yes, it’s unbelievable.
Caryn Hartglass: So they’ve got some work to do, as we all do. We can all learn for everybody else. So you probably heard that in Queens, New York, in Flushing, New York, we have the first public school that serves all vegetarian lunches.
Ruby Roth: I did hear that. It’s fantastic.
Caryn Hartglass: So they might enjoy your books!
Ruby Roth: I was thinking the same thing.
Caryn Hartglass: They might enjoy having you come and chat with them! I think every school is perfect, but at least I think that would be a very receptive audience.
Ruby Roth: I think it’s very hard to get into schools in general, just because the rule, in general, is that they can’t officially “endorse” any one diet, of course they do. But I think it’s a really great lesson to see how much the parents had a hand in that and how the community came together on this issue; I think we’re going to see more and more of it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I just realized this, but last week, I had a guy on the show, Rob Poe, who goes by the name of Broccoli Rob, and he has a musical program to encourage kids to eat vegetables. He’s a vegan, but he doesn’t push the vegan thing, he just pushes the vegetable thing – because it’s like you said, the schools cannot endorse one particular diet. Right. But who know, maybe Broccoli Rob needs to meet Ruby Roth and do some musical, artistic vegan promotion.
Ruby Roth: Yeah!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m all about networking and connecting the dots here. We definitely need to do more for kids.
Ruby Roth: It’s such a great international community, the vegan and vegetarian population.
Caryn Hartglass:It is. We are family! Or vamily! Or something like that. We just have a few minutes left… I’m constantly surprised by things that come out in science. And this is not necessarily kid-related, but I just wanted to talk about this. I was just reading, some studies have been done with farmed fish, where they’re discovering – there’s all kind of problems with farmed fish, all sorts of illnesses and filth, and plus, it’s not environmentally sustainable, because we take all this sea life from the oceans to feed the fish that are being farmed, so it’s not like we’re not touching the oceans, because we totally are. But anyway, this study said that these farmed fish do better on a plant-based diet, and rather than feeding them fish, it would be good to feed them a plant-based diet. And I’m just thinking that they’re missing the whole point. Can’t we just eliminate the whole fish farming thing – don’t you realize that humans do better on a plant-based diet?
Ruby Roth: Skip the middle man!
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly! There was somebody who said, “Skip the middle meat.”
Ruby Roth: Exactly. We just need to eat more of what the fish in the ocean are eating.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now I forget – is there a fish in your book?
Ruby Roth: I cover it in “Use and reuse – please don’t waste” because the ocean is in there. But in the other two books, yes, I definitely cover the oceans and fish and their emotions, their sensitivities.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of people overlook fish because they’re so different. We can sort of relate to mammals – and yet we treat them horribly – but fish are even beyond what most of us can imagine as thinking and feeling. But we know that they do.
Ruby Roth: I think it’s very important that people check out the footage of mass commercial fishing boats and what that looks like. Because that is really impactful, just to see the mass quantity that we’re pulling out of the ocean. I think that visual hits you on a gut level. You can feel within your human instincts that it is not right.
Caryn Hartglass: Just how these trawlers go and scoop literally everything up for miles – and they don’t even use everything they are scooping up.
Ruby Roth: It is so wasteful – you can visually see that the fish are suffering. Speaking of purposeless scientific studies, we don’t need to see it. We just need to feel and see that it’s wrong. We’ve made such a mass mistake on this way of living and this way of eating.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m on your website wedonteatanimals.com, and you have a blog. I just wanted to talk about a few things I read there. I loved your most recent post about Where the Wild Things are by Maurice Sendak, and how you were referenced in an article about him.
Ruby Roth: It is against him.
Caryn Hartglass: I know, and it’s so funny how people don’t even know what they’re talking about.
Ruby Roth: Maurice Sendak was a very dark and complicated individual, and he believed wholeheartedly in telling kids the truth. The journalists pitted me against him, saying that they were very sentimental about those picture books from the past that weren’t so “politically correct” and left politics out. But if you look at Maurice Sendak’s work and his beliefs, we’re actually more similar than different.
Caryn Hartglass: I believe so. Absolutely. And I’m glad you mentioned it. I remember watching the movie Where the Wild Things Are, because there are some very dark and troubling images in them.
Ruby Roth: That book was actually banned by some librarians when it came out for being so disturbing and dark, which is quite familiar to me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, another post – you posted this video with little Antonio which kind of went viral a few months ago. I just saw the video, I don’t know anything about it, but it was incredible.
Ruby Roth: You get to witness the moment a child realizes that he’s easting animals. Somehow this was caught on tape, a mother and a son’s interaction with one another, and he had quite an impact on his mom. You can see the wheels turning, you can see the revelation, and it’s just amazing.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m just amazed that they caught it on camera, I don’t know if they planned it. This child is just so young and so full of wisdom and just quiet, calm peace.
Ruby Roth: I think that’s what makes kids so capable, much more capable than society gives them credit for. They have an understanding of the world around them. I think it’s time. Industry leaders across the board are saying that we lack critical thinkers and people with passion and drive in all sectors of industry. I think that some of the greatest benefits of veganism, as we talked about this whole half hour, are the benefits beyond the animals and the health. I think a veg-education gives you those things. It take grit and passion and empathy –
Caryn Hartglass: – and courage. A lot of courage.
Ruby Roth: A lot of courage, to stand up for what you believe in even when you’re the only one. I think it’s just a solution on many levels for us as a society.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that says it all! Thank you, Ruby Roth, for joining me on It’s All About Food. I’m a big fan of your books, so keep writing. The children need you!
Ruby Roth: Thank you again for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, you’re welcome. Bye! Again, Ruby’s website is wedonteatanimals.com. Shall we take a break? When we come back, we’re going to talk with Brian Patton, the Sexy Vegan. We’ll be right back!
Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 8/26/2013