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Part I: Jeffrey Cohan is the Executive Director of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), an international organization which encourages and helps Jews to embrace plant-based diets as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health, and care for the environment. He is also the author of The Beet-Eating Heeb, the leading blog on the theology of veganism. Prior to joining JVNA, Jeffrey worked in print and broadcast journalism in four states and three Latin American countries. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Berkeley and his master’s in public management from Carnegie Mellon.
Part II: Steven M. Wise, Nonhuman Rights Project
Steven M. Wise is President of the Nonhuman Rights Project, Inc. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for 30 years throughout the United States and is admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Steve teaches “Animal Rights Jurisprudence” at the Vermont, Lewis and Clark, University of Miami, and St. Thomas Law Schools, and has taught “Animal Rights Law” at the Harvard Law School and John Marshall Law School. He is the author of four books:
* Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals (2000),
* Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights (2003),
* Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery (2005), and
* An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River (2009).
He is also working on a fifth, which will be a memoir about the Nonhuman Rights Project. He has authored numerous law review, encyclopedia, and popular articles. His work for the legal rights of nonhuman animals was highlighted on Dateline NBC and was the subject of the documentary, A Legal Person. He regularly travels the world lecturing on animal rights jurisprudence and the Nonhuman Rights Project, and is a frequent guest on television and radio discussing animal rights law and the Nonhuman Rights Project.
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food here on a hot July 8, 2014. How are you today? Let’s see, we’ve got a really big show for you today, I just felt like saying it like that. We have a great show and let’s bring on the first guest, Jeffrey Cohan. He’s the executive director of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, an international organization which encourages and helps Jews to embrace plant-based diets as an expression of the Jewish values of compassion for animals, concern for health and care for the environment. He’s also the author of The Beet-Eating Heeb, the leading blog on the theology of veganism. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Jeffrey.
Jeff Cohan: Great to be with you. Not quite as good as being with you and Gary in New York as we were a couple months ago but this is the next best thing.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I’m so glad we got to meet at one of my favorite vegan restaurants, Simple Veggie Cuisine, in my neighborhood in Queens which just really opened in February. I’m glad we were able to meet there and I want them to survive and thrive.
Jeff Cohan: Me too and it’s great to see the growing number of vegan restaurants and vegan food products in our stores. I would say the future looks bright for that restaurant and vegan restaurants all around the country.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, the future. We have to say it looks bright because it feels good and we’ll just see what happens.
Jeff Cohan: Well I’m not just saying that. I know this isn’t the topic of our conversation today but in real economic statistics, the number of vegan establishments and vegan products available in the marketplace today is growing exponentially. It’s really remarkable.
Caryn Hartglass: Now let’s talk about the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA). Now you are the new executive director
Jeff Cohan: Right, also the first executive director.
Caryn Hartglass: New and the first, ground breaking. Okay so how come all these changes took place and what can we expect?
Jeff Cohan: Well the organization has been around for about forty years but up until a couple of years ago, it was strictly a volunteer-run organization. They actually did some amazing things considering they didn’t have any professional staff or any serious fundraising going on. But about two years ago, I was working with the Jewish Federation which is a big Jewish organization and was gaining a Master in Public Management in grad school. When I found out about JVNA between the tools I was getting in grad school and the knowledge that was gained about the Jewish landscape, it occurred to me that the time was right for JVNA to become much more than it was and to have much greater capacity to get the message out.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Jeff Cohan: So that in a nutshell is the story.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a good one. Well the time is right and I’m hearing that all over the place with a lot of different organizations. We have to thank a lot of people that have come before us who have been working so hard as activists for so long without the internet, trying to be heard. Richard Schwartz, of course, is one of them who I’ve had on the program a number of times and he’s part of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America.
Jeff Cohan: Yes he is. When you’re talking about Richard Schwartz, you should probably mention in the same breathe Alex Hershaft.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, Alex Hershaft. Okay.
Jeff Cohan: Who is also on our board of directors and is actually the first person to organize an organization devoted to farm animal advocacy.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, now look at that. I didn’t know that.
Jeff Cohan: Yes, he’s a real pioneer and he’s going very strong, thank God, as is Richard.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, well his organization, the Farm Animal Reform Movement, has been spearheading the two animal rights conferences on both coasts, the east coast in Washington D.C. and Las Angeles.
Jeff Cohan: Right and in fact I’m leaving for Las Angeles tomorrow to speak at that conference.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh great! Okay, so I’m always looking for any group that finds reasons to stop killing animals. From a religious perspective and I always like to say I’m not a religious person although I was raised in a Jewish background. I respect anybody who wants to promote plant foods. You know we had Stephen Kaufman on recently talking about the Christian Vegetarian Association. I know, from talking a little bit with Richard Schwartz about Jewish Vegetarians of North America, some things about why, from a Jewish value, plant-based diets are important. So, maybe you can touch on that a little bit.
Jeff Cohan: Actually Caryn, if your rabbi or Sunday school teacher had taught you what the Torah actually says about these issues, you might be a religious person today. I actually mean that quite sincerely because a large number of Jewish vegans and vegetarians feel a bit disaffected because they don’t feel the religion really embraces them. This is really crazy because the Torah, which is what we call the bible, not only explicitly directs us to adopt a plant-based diet, at virtually every turn where the subject comes up, it casts meat-eating in a very negative light. So we’re on a very solid theological footing.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve heard people say that the bible or the Torah commands them to eat meat and that they’re supposed to eat meat.
Jeff Cohan: No. Actually, I’m going to say just the opposite. It is true that the bible, unfortunately, does permit meat eating but in the places where it does permit meat eating, it makes it very clear. This is not God’s preference or God’s will. This is God making the concession to human lust. So by no means is meat-eating ever presented as an ethical act or as an ideal in the Torah which is why, Caryn, that so many leading rabbis, both in the United States, Europe and Israel, that’s actually one more than “both” – all of these places endorse vegetarianism or veganism as a Jewish ideal.
Caryn Hartglass: But it’s not the majority, it’s just a handful of them.
Jeff Cohan: Well no, I would say look, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who just resigned, just retired actually as Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and Rabbi David Rosen who was a Chief Rabbi of Ireland. Tomorrow in fact I’m meeting with Rabbi David Wolpe in Las Angeles who is on our Rabbinate Council, who was named by Newsweek to be the most influential rabbi in America. I’m talking about people like Rabbi Abraham Kook who was the Chief Rabbi of Pre-State Israel in the early 20th century along with all of his disciples. So this is not some marginal fringe idea in Judaism, this is an idea endorsed by many top rabbis.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Now are all these guys that you mentioned, are they vegetarian? Or do they just endorse it?
Jeff Cohan: So all the guys that I mentioned are either vegetarian or vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Well not in the circles that I’ve been in. Meat has always been a tradition. Pastrami, corn beef, briskets; how could you be Jewish and not eat those foods?
Jeff Cohan: Well, I would say two things about that. If you go to our website, www.jewishveg.com, you will see meat-free versions of most of those foods, if not all of them. I know you have a great recipe for vegan gelfilte fish.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Jeff Cohan: I never liked it, even when I was a meat eater, real gelfilte fish. I saw your recipe in the San Diego Jewish Journal, right next to an article, beautiful spread on our organization in the San Diego Jewish Journal.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, I was excited that they found out about both of us.
Jeff Cohan: And do you know what’s so cool, Caryn? If you were to go to the website of the San Diego Jewish Journal, I confess I haven’t checked today but it’s probably still the case because this is the most recent issue, the top item on the homepage where your eye immediately goes to is the article about us that says should Jews be vegetarians? So the word is getting out.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. Well like I said before, any angle and group, it’s important. Did you know Rynn Berry?
Jeff Cohan: I didn’t know him personally. I was just at Vegetarian Summerfest and there was a beautiful memorial service for him there.
Caryn Hartglass: Well yes, he wrote quite a bit about religions and how he believed from what he had researched that they all started out with a vegetation premise.
Jeff Cohan: There is no rabbi today or ever who would dispute that. The first thing God says to human beings is that you will eat a plant-based diet, Genesis 1:29. So there is no dispute among rabbis that the original plan was to be – well if the word existed back then, they would have said vegan.
Caryn Hartglass: But we’re imperfect and we got off the path.
Jeff Cohan: Right. Here is the issue. There are a number of causes for that and of course it’s something in my job that I had to think about very deeply but the number one reason is this, Caryn. Let’s face it; everybody in our society is bombarded every day, almost 360 degrees, by pro-meat messages. It’s in the media, it’s in our institutions, it’s in our schools, workplaces and even our homes, often. So rabbis, believe it or not, are people too and they are susceptible to the same bombardment of messaging.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Jeff Cohan: But fortunately, many leading rabbis have overcome that and stuck to what the Torah actually instructs us to do.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, let’s just talk for a minute about The Beet-Eating Heeb and how I mentioned in one of our lasts emails, I didn’t realize that you were the beet-eating heeb.
Jeff Cohan: My alter ego.
Caryn Hartglass: Who is The Beet-Eating Heeb?
Jeff Cohan: The Beet-Eating Heeb is a blog persona I created and it all started with my own vegetarian journey, if I could describe that in a minute. My wife and I actually became vegetarians because we were sitting in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah seven years ago and they were reading the creation story, the first chapter of Genesis. When they got to verse 29, it said you will eat a plant-based diet, in so many words, we looked at each other and said I guess we’re supposed to be vegetarians. Just like that, we did it. Then I started wondering well, why aren’t all Jews vegetarians if this is what it says? So I started looking into the rest of the Torah, this merged story and the rest of the Torah, it is kind of a story, and what I found is yes, that actually is the consistent thrust of the Torahs at the goal message. We’re supposed to have a plant-based diet and meat eating, we can do it, but God would really prefer we don’t. So I started a blog to disseminate what I was finding in my own reading of the Torah and my own study of what other rabbinic scholars were saying. And The Beet-Eating Heeb is going strong today.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m reading your last post where someone asks you if there’s a blessing for kale?
Jeff Cohan: Yes and that’s the amazing thing. There’s blessings for vegetables, there’s blessings for fruit, there’s blessings for wine and there’s blessings for bread. But where is the blessing for meat? There is no blessing for meat.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s an odd thing. Even the Indians had some sort of grace that they would say, thanking the God for the animal that they had hunted and they were going to use every part of it.
Jeff Cohan: Well I will say this. The ritual slaughterer in Orthodox Judaism is sort of the Jewish version of the Native American hunter and of course, in theory, they do. There is some ritual and prayer associated with what they do but the reality is, because meat consumption has increased so much, ritual slaughter in Judaism has been industrialized like the rest of animal agriculture. So the slaughter is occurring at speeds and the quantities that make it impossible to bring the original intention to the act.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s talk about kosher for a moment.
Jeff Cohan: Sure.
Caryn Hartglass: So just tell us briefly what it is and how perhaps it isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
Jeff Cohan: Thank you Caryn for that important topic. The Laws of Kashrut, as they’re called, actually imply very strongly that there are some moral problems with meat eating, right?
Caryn Hartglass: Yes.
Jeff Cohan: Because in Jewish law, you can eat any fruit, you can eat any vegetable, you can eat any grain but when it comes to meat, there are sever restrictions, placed on not only the animals that you can eat, but mixing meat and dairy products. Right there, there is a very vivid distinction between meats in the rest of the food that we’re actually supposed to eat.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember as I child, learning that we weren’t supposed to mix in the same meal, the milk from the mother with the flesh of the child or something poetic like that. But when you think about it, it’s like “gulp”.
Jeff Cohan: The Laws of Kashrut – one or both what I am about to say are true. There’s no doubt that the Las of Kashrut make it difficult, as we say in Judaism, a pain in the tuchas, to eat meat, right? You have to have separate dishes and in often cases, separate sinks and kitchen appliances. You can only get your meat at a certain store. You have to time carefully so you’re not eating meat to close to when you are eating dairy. It’s actually a pain. People adapt to it but it’s a pain and it was meant to be a pain. It’s also understood by many rabbis, including some of the ones I named a few minutes ago, that the Laws of Kashrut were designed to wean Jews of meat altogether and to get back to the ideal of Genesis 1:29.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jeff Cohan: And in case you doubt that, when God was in control of what the Jews were eating, which was the case when they were in the dessert after leaving Egypt and before getting to Israel, when God was in control, they were on a vegan diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, manna from heaven. What was it?
Jeff Cohan: It’s described in the Torah as like coriander seed.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jeff Cohan: So there’s no dispute it was a plant food.
Caryn Hartglass: They ate that for forty years and nothing else?
Jeff Cohan: Except for one story which I think I might have shared with you when we had dinner a couple months ago. I really commend your listeners to read Numbers chapter 11 in the bible which is a very dramatic story in the bible that rabbis and ministers and Sunday school teachers tend to gloss over because it makes them very uncomfortable if they are a meat eater. But in Numbers 11, when a group of the Israelites in the dessert complained about the manna and demanded meat, God gave them meat alright and then killed them in a plague. If that message wasn’t clear enough, the Torah said they were buried in the graves of lust.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. History repeats itself.
Jeff Cohan: Yes, it was certainly a pre-cursor of the heath issues that the standard American diet is producing today.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, we have these facilities today that are growing and then slaughtering animals that supposedly meet the kosher laws which are not supposed to cause any pain or suffering, to my understanding. They seem to cause it.
Jeff Cohan: As an organization, we do not support efforts to ban kosher slaughter which has been attempted and actually done in a few European countries because kosher slaughter these days may be no better but it’s no worse than conventional factory farming slaughter techniques.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, but it’s a factory.
Jeff Cohan: One thing I want to stress to your listeners because this is a common misconception about the kosher slaughter laws. Those laws only apply to the last seconds of an animal’s life. Anything that has happened before the animal’s whole life in a combined animal feeding operation or a warehouse crammed with fifty thousand chickens, none of those are governed by the Laws of Kashrut. The Kashrut only applies to the slaughter of those last couple of seconds. So for the people who think that this kosher meat is more ethical, try telling that to the animal.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay well that really is an important point. They lead a pretty horrific life and then the last few minutes they are killed one way or another.
Jeff Cohan: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Which brings us to delicious plant foods. Now do you know what’s been going on in Israel with respect to vegetarianism?
Jeff Cohan: Yes, it’s really amazing and we use the example of Israel to tell Jews in the United States, this is the example we should be following. The vegan movement, specifically the vegan movement in Israel, is exploding. It’s really an amazing thing to see. Even the Prime Minister who we would think of a Republican, they call it the Likud party in Israel, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly endorsed meatless Monday and at home he’s mostly vegetarian. So can you imagine President Obama doing that?
Caryn Hartglass: No, if only.
Jeff Cohan: Unfortunately, no.
Caryn Hartglass: I always wondered about some of the presidents and what they were eating because I know his trainer for awhile was a vegan and you just wonder. It’s just impossible for leaders to really, even if they wanted to be vegan or wanted to promote a certain message that was not mainstream, it would be impossible.
Jeff Cohan: And frankly the same thing applies to Pope Francis. I know a lot of people in the animal rights movement were very excited when Pope Francis became Pope because Francis was the patron saint of the animals but he’s also facing similar constraints. There’s an awful lot of Catholics who are heavily invested in animal agriculture and factory farming. So you’re never going to see Pope Francis endorse plant-based feeding or seriously criticize what’s happening in factory farming.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I brought up Israel before because I think it’s one place it’s easier than most to go vegetarian or vegan. I think I told you this, but I was working for an Israeli company back in 1988 and I decided that when I was spending my three months in Israel on business, I would go vegan. It was easy there because number one, back then, and I’m sure it’s still the same, everyone knew what was in the food. Here in the United States, people don’t know how to prepare food and they don’t know what’s in their food, they just eat it. They knew you could go to a dairy restaurant or you could go to a meat restaurant. So if I went to a meat restaurant and asked for something vegetarian, I knew there wasn’t going to be dairy in it. Now there wasn’t a guarantee that an egg wouldn’t be in it but I was narrowing down the very ability to go wrong and people were very respectful of my requests. It was always easy. You could live forever on hummus on ful and Israeli salad and the Lebanese lentil salad. There were just so many different combinations of beans, grains and vegetables. It was fabulous.
Jeff Cohan: And don’t forget the falafel which is a vegetable food made from chickpeas.
Caryn Hartglass: The falafel! That’s right, the original veggie burger.
Jeff Cohan: Right and you know this actually hearken back to the Torah, Caryn, because the seven sacred foods associated with Israel were all vegan. And it was repeated in multiple places in the bible.
Caryn Hartglass: What are the seven sacred foods?
Jeff Cohan: I was afraid you were going to ask that. Let’s see, I’m going to go off of memory here. Olives, dates, pomegranates, honey, wheat, barley and… what am I forgetting? Six out of seven is not bad. That’s a B+.
Caryn Hartglass: Well first of all, I love olives, especially good olives like the ones from Israel or even Turkey where they know how to marinate the olives. I don’t like the smooth black olives you get in a can here in the United States. And then dates. There are all different kinds of dates but dates are a delicious food and it’s nature’s candy. Sweetening your dessert recipes with date sugar for example which is just evaporated dates ground up, of all the sugars, is the most nutritious sugar.
Jeff Cohan: In fact, back home, that’s what we use as a sweetener in tea and anything else. That’s exactly what you’re talking about. Date paste, it’s simple to make and it’s a sweetener that’s amazingly actually good for you.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, when people talk about sugar and they say what’s the best sugar, I usually say all the sugars are the same. Cane sugar or corn syrup or honey, they don’t come with a lot of nutrition and they just come with a lot of sugar like maple syrup, they’re all pretty much the same. But date sugar, when it’s actually from the dates, it comes with a lot of bang with its sweetness. That’s really at the top of the list there and I can see why that’s one of the seven. Now wheat and barley, I like them both. But for people who have celiac disease, that’s problematic in today’s society.
Jeff Cohan: No, it was gluten free.
Caryn Hartglass: It was not a gluten free seven best foods! But no meat there.
Jeff Cohan: No meat or animal products of any kinds.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now is the Jewish Vegetarian – are you planning any events?
Jeff Cohan: Yes, we actually have Victoria Moran, I don’t know if you’ve ever had her on your show.
Caryn Hartglass: I have and I’m going to be on her show, I think next week.
Jeff Cohan: Oh great, I’ll definitely be listening to that. She actually gave us a great plug at Vegetarian Summerfest which just wrapped up over the weekend in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She called this event historic and it truly is historic. There’s never been an event like this in American history or possibly anywhere. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, along with JVNA and the largest congregation, are co=sponsoring a program where Alex Hershaft, when mentioned earlier, is going to talk about how is personal experience in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust led to him to becoming an advocate for farm animals.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jeff Cohan: So it’s a very exciting event because an organization, we really don’t invoke analogies to the Holocaust because it creates a huge distraction when you do that.
Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s what I was just going to ask you because people don’t like it when we say that the factory farming of animals today is like…
Jeff Cohan: Right, and actually, when you really think about it, it’s an imperfect analogy to begin with because the Nazis were trying to wipe Jews out where as farmers are perpetuating farm animals. They’re not trying to wipe farm animals out. So it’s an imperfect analogy but beside that, the bigger problem is when you – I really encourage veggie advocates not to make analogies to the Holocaust because it creates a distraction and distracts the listener from the point you’re trying to make. So many people, especially Jews but not just Jews, really react viscerally to that. However, Alex Hershaft is a Holocaust survivor and nobody can deny him his lived experience and how it affected him.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow.
Jeff Cohan: So that’s why we are so excited about it. We have found a legitimate and authentic way to invoke the Holocaust for the sake of farm animals.
Caryn Hartglass: And when is this event going to be happening?
Jeff Cohan: It’s going to be Monday, August 25th, Monday night in Pittsburg at Rodef Shalom. So anybody who is within – this would be worth driving several hours to attend. It’s really going to be a historic event.
Caryn Hartglass: And is it on your website?
Jeff Cohan: It will be soon. We just chose a name for the event today.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay.
Jeff Cohan: Victoria heard me talk about it at another event and we weren’t intending to start marketing it just yet but since Victoria gave it a nice plug, we’re not going to wait any longer.
Caryn Hartglass: That sounds good. Okay. Well I’ll look forward to that and the website that we’re going to be looking for that information is www.jewishveg.com.
Jeff Cohan: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: There is a lot of other information as well.
Jeff Cohan: Right, because really, in the time we have today Caryn, we are just really scratching the service of what the Torah has to say about these issues but on the website, there is lots more information.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. Well, Jeffrey Cohan, thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food and I look forward to breaking bread with you again sometime soon.
Jeff Cohan: I hope so Caryn. Thank you so much for having me on, I really enjoyed it.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, me too. Thank you Jeffrey.
Jeff Cohan: Okay, you too.
Caryn Hartglass: We have two minutes left before we take a quick break. You know what I’m going to do. I’m going to remind you about a few things. Number one, at responsibleeatingandliving.com, we are airing our seventy minute documentary, Preaching to the Fire. I’ve heard comments from all around the world. It’s been really inspiring but I need you to watch it and I need you to let me know what you think. My email is email@example.com. It’s seventy minutes, it’s free and I think it’s pretty inspiring. So I hope you do get a chance to watch it. Let me know about it, let me know you watched it and let me know what you think about it.
And the other thing I wanted to mention – I talk about distilled water from time to time. I’m a big proponent of the AquaNui water distiller. I don’t have an official date yet but I’m working with the AquaNui people to have a water webinar. We will be getting all our questions answered about water and distilled water, and I know I have a lot. So if you’re interested in that, I’ll be talking about it at some point here on the show, but you can also send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put you on the list for that.
Okay, what else can I tell you about? My next guest who will be coming up on the second part of the show is Steve Wise. This is going to be a really important moment. He’s doing incredible work with the Nonhuman Rights Project. He’s got some cases here in New York, trying to get rights for chimpanzees and I’m really excited about it and really looking forward to speaking with him. Let’s take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
Transcribed 1/6/2015 by Stefan Pavlović
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello, everybody; we are back. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and thanks for joining me today. My next guest is Steven Wise. He is the president of the Nonhuman Rights Project. He holds a JD from Boston University’s Law School and a BS in Chemistry from the College of William & Mary. He has practiced animal protection law for thirty years throughout the United States and is admitted to the Massachusetts bar, and we are going to be talking a lot more about all of that right now. Welcome, Steve Wise; thanks for being on the show again.
Steven Wise: Sure, thanks for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: I had you on about five years ago, and I have to tell you I was so moved and impressed with your book that came out back then, An American Trilogy, and I love that book. I read a lot of books. I interview a lot of authors, and that is my top all-time ten list. It was an incredible piece of work, and I am sure not enough people really know about it or appreciate it. But I tell everybody about it, and I loved what you were doing. Two of the things we want to focus on, one is: one of the things you’re doing in the book is connecting the dots between the way we treat humans and the way we treat animals. So maybe we can jump in right there and talk a little bit about that. I know a lot of people when I talk about-my focus is food, and I am always talking about eating plants and not animals-and a lot of responses are “Why don’t you care about humans?”
Steven Wise: I guess the way I would respond to that is of course I care about humans. Human rights are animal rights; so I’m not sure if I have ever run into an animal rights lawyer who doesn’t care about human rights. There’s nothing that we are going to get for animals, for nonhuman animals, that humans don’t already have. Part of my work has always been human rights work, as well as non-human rights work. I guess it’s hard for me sometimes to even understand the question, unless it is “Why don’t you spend all of your time just working for humans and none of your time working for nonhumans?” and for that I say there’s an awful lot of people working on human problems, working on how to solve human problems, working on human rights issues. There’s only a very small number of us, who are working for a much larger population of nonhuman animals.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a reaction kind of statement when people don’t really know what they are talking about.
Steven Wise: Sometimes I then ask, “Exactly what do you do for humans?”, and usually I don’t find that they are doing too much.
Caryn Hartglass: Exactly. The other thing is we live in a hierarchical society, and when you want to get benefits for animals or, like in your book, An American Trilogy, you compared the way we treated human slaves in this country to the way we treat animals in that region in North Carolina, Tar Heel, and people get offended when you compare pigs with African-Americans.
Steven Wise: Well, I’m really comparing the way we treat those who are legal things, those who our legal system does not recognize as having the capacity for even a single legal right, and when we treat them as things, part of what happens is that they are seen as not existing for themselves, but are seen as existing solely for the sake of us legal persons who have the capacity of rights, and one of the rights we have is the right to own and control them. I am not comparing pigs to African American slaves. I am simply saying that there have been a lot of beings who have been within the category of legal things, and one by one Western law, certainly, has over the centuries begun to remove entities from the category of legal things, and one of the most prominent long struggles was the struggle for blacks, whether it was in the US or South America or England, and it was a long, long struggle of human slavery, and not just for blacks, black chattel slavery, but Arab slavery. You know, there are all sorts of slavery.
Caryn Hartglass: Women, for a long time, were considered as property, too.
Steven Wise: As were handicapped people, people who were deaf, children, and it is a long, long process, and it just so happens that there are a lot of long cases around the legal issue of black slaves, both in England and the US, where black slaves were once in the same place where nonhuman slaves are now, and so we look to that kind of law.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it was in the beginning of this year when your work came to my attention again. I was reading the New York Times, and I found out about the cases you have going on in New York, and I was so excited to read them. Let’s focus on that now. You are getting a lot of attention, and this is exciting work.
Steven Wise: Well, the Nonhuman Rights Project has been focusing on trying to figure out how to solve the problem of right now. All but only human beings are seen as legal persons, are seen as having the capacity for one or more legal rights, but on the other side of that wall is the rest of the animal creation. We think that is an entirely arbitrary line, that there are many nonhuman animals, and we are willing to have the courts deal with them one by one, but there are many nonhuman animals who we think are entitled to legal personhood, that is the capacity for one or more rights. We would like to be able to struggle to find out which rights, courts and others think that different sorts of nonhuman animals should have, and it all depends upon what sort of being each kind of animal is. The Nonhuman Rights project has now spent, we estimate, about thirty thousand hours preparing for these first cases of 2007 until 2013, and we filed three requests that judges issue writs of habeas corpus in the lowest courts of New York, which are the Supreme Courts, on behalf of four captive chimpanzees, who were all the chimpanzees that were still alive, as far as we knew, within the state of New York. When we decided to file suit on behalf of chimpanzees in New York, in March of 2013, there were seven of them, and three of them died just in the nine months before we were able to file our first suit in December, 2013. What we have been doing, is the courts refused to issue the writs of habeas corpus, which is what we expected they would do. We thought we ought to file the case in the lower courts and then begin to move our way through the Appellate courts of New York and begin to introduce the Appellate judges of New York and also the public and the judges and the lawyers and the legal profession throughout the United States and throughout the world to the arguments that we are making, which we think are very powerful, and you can see them. We post all of our legal papers and the judicial decisions on our website, which is on www.nonhumanrights.org. You can see the petition for the writ of habeas corpus that we filed. You can see that we filed a hundred pages of affidavits of nine very well respected ape cognition experts from all over the world from Japan and Sweden and Germany and Scotland and England and the US. You can see the 80-page memorandum of law we filed in each case. You can see transcripts of the argument we made in court. You can see what the judges did, what our briefs were in the appellate courts; you can kind of follow the whole process along with us.
Caryn Hartglass: Now for us laymen folks out here, habeas corpus is getting relief from unlawful imprisonment.
Steven Wise: Yes, habeas corpus really means produce body, and it is oftentimes called the great writ. It is seen as the most fundamental sort of right that we have, which is the right to bodily liberty, because, we argue, that is a protection of our autonomy, that the autonomy really lies at the basis of our personhood and as well as bodily liberty. So, when someone is unlawfully imprisoned, you can use the common law, and sometimes the statutory, a writ of habeas corpus to make the person who is imprisoning you produce your body and give a legally sufficient reason for imprisoning you, and that is what we have done on behalf of all the chimpanzees. The book that I wrote before An American Trilogy, was called Though the Heavens May Fall, and it was really part of the work that I was doing for the Nonhuman Rights project. It told the story of a black slave named James Somerset, who would been kidnapped in Africa, sold as a slave in Virginia and eventually taken to London, and in the very widely publicized case in which his lawyers had brought a common-law writ of habeas corpus on his behalf, Lord Mansfield, who was Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench in London, finally ruled that slavery was so odious that the common law would not support it and ordered him free. That book, Though the Heavens May Fall, was really a blueprint for what the Nonhuman Rights Project was already working on and a metaphor as well.
Caryn Hartglass: I love what you are doing, but I can imagine what judges are thinking when they see this come across their desk, “What am I going to do with this?” I want you to be successful, but when you are successful, what does that mean for chimpanzees and other animals?
Steven Wise: I think the first time that we will be successful, and we will; we don’t know whether it is going to be these first cases, or it is going to be the fifth or tenth or a hundredth, we simply don’t know, but we think our arguments are very powerful and that it is almost impossible to rule against us without being rather arbitrary and without undermining the values that the judges say that they indeed believe in. So we also understand that it is a novel issue, and that many judges will not have ever thought about this, and we need to have them be able to take the time to really think about it, to test our arguments, to discuss them, to give people chances to write law review articles, to have what we are doing taught in law schools, and we understand that judges may not want to stick their neck out for the first time, or the fifth time, or the tenth time. But eventually they will see that we are making arguments from justice, and that these sorts of arguments have been made before and successfully, and there is no reason why this line that separates all humans from all nonhumans should be where it is, and it needs to be moved, and we begin to need to litigate where that line should be, even temporarily, which animals based on current scientific knowledge ought to be legal persons with the capacity to have one or more rights, and that is really the first step in what is going to be a long struggle. So for me, I’ve been working for twenty nine years just to prepare for the first step and it has taken a long, long time, but I think the world is ready now to take the first step. I think we have thought about the issue, debated the issue thoroughly, researched the issue and although it took us a long, long time, we now think we are ready to go, and we have already taken the first steps in what is going to be a long, strategic litigation campaign.
Caryn Hartglass: So what would we not be able to do with chimpanzees that we are doing today?
Steven Wise: Well, if you are a legal person that means you have the capacity for one or more rights, so the question is which rights then are going to be recognized. So the one that we are looking to is bodily liberty, that you could not imprison a chimpanzee. If a judge recognized that a chimpanzee, because she is an autonomous being, has a fundamental right to bodily liberty, and in the way that we do, then you could no more imprison her than you can imprison me.
Caryn Hartglass: So that means no vivisection on chimpanzees.
Steven Wise: Unless you could do it without imprisoning them. Bodily integrity is another issue, but I think it is a closely related one. I think essentially the chimpanzees would be moved to a sanctuary in which they would be able to live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees in a way that approximates as best as we could the way they would be living in the wild in Africa. So part of our case was to bring in the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, which has a series of sanctuaries. They all agreed that any chimpanzees who were freed pursuant to our writ of habeas corpus would then be evaluated by the folks at the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance and then placed in the appropriate sanctuary where they would live out the rest of their lives with other chimpanzees in the best possible way for each of them.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I’m sure people are thinking “Okay, we give chimpanzees their rights, you are opening a can of worms, who is next after that?”
Steven Wise: Well, we are about ready to file a suit on behalf of elephants.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, they need so much help, before they are extinct.
Steven Wise: Elephants are next. We are looking at this, let me see how the best way of explaining this is, it is that our argument is that autonomy is a fundamental value in Western law, and the reason that we think it is, is that judges say it is and legislatures say it is, and people who write treaties say it is. So what we are saying is that we believe what you are telling us, that the protection of autonomy is a supreme value in Western law. Now we are going to show you some nonhuman animals who have autonomy, and they should be also protected in the same way we are. Right now, we know that the scientific evidence shows that all four species of apes are, bonobos and chimpanzees and orangutans and gorillas, that the two species of elephants are, African and Asian, that certain cetaceans are, orcas, other whales and dolphins, perhaps such animals as African Gray Parrots, and we say you have to follow the science. Before we ever file a lawsuit we bring in, as we did in the chimpanzee cases, there we brought in a hundred pages of affidavits setting out what the latest science is showing, that these chimpanzees are indeed autonomous, and we are going to do the same for elephants, we’d do the same thing for orcas, and then that’s where it goes. We are beginning, at least, with those animals that we think that we have very strong scientific evidence that they are autonomous things and that their autonomy should therefore be protected.
Caryn Hartglass: How did you choose New York?
Steven Wise: We spent six years going through; we came up with about sixty different legal issues, and we ran them through all fifty states. So we had to make about three thousand separate legal judgments as to how we might rank the states on each of the legal issues, and then we sat back and looked at all of them and in October or November, 2012 we narrowed it down to either six or ten, and then we met on Easter day in 2013, and we narrowed those down to one. I think there are five or six that we feel are very close to each other, and New York for one reason or another, we thought was going to be the best. One thing also is once we narrowed the states down, we then turned to our science folks and asked, “Which of these kinds of animals actually live there? Are there chimpanzees here, are there apes in these states, are there elephants in these states are there cetaceans in these states?” So we thought we wanted to begin with the chimpanzees, and there were some states that we were very interested in that simply didn’t have any captive chimpanzees, so we decided to hold them back for orcas or elephants or something like that. So New York was potentially the most favorable state that had chimpanzees.
Caryn Hartglass: Yay, New York. Well, I hope they act fast and act on the right side.
Steven Wise: Well we want them to act on the right side; we don’t care so much about speed right now. I’ve been in this for a long, almost thirty years I’ve been preparing for this, in order to just get the first suit filed, and now we know we are on a decades long struggle afterwards. But we are pushing as hard as we can, as much money as we can raise, we are then using it to . . .
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, that was my next question. Who is funding this? This is a tremendous amount of work.
Steven Wise: Well, we have to get to donors who will give us money for staff attorneys, for office help, for fundraisers, for social media folks, for science folks, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and we are filing those suits that we think we can afford, and as more money comes in, we bring more people on. What really helped, I don’t know if you are even aware of it, but we were the cover story for the Sunday New York Times magazine on April 27th, so that brought us a huge amount of attention worldwide, and it still is.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great.
Steven Wise: One of the things that donors are coming forward and saying is, “I didn’t know you existed. What can we do for you?” Well I know what you can do for us; and I go up and give them our budget and say would you like to fund this position or that position. We can file these suits or those suits. So that is what we do. We are a 501(c)(3). We ask people who believe in what we are doing and think that we are competent to give us the funds to do our job.
Caryn Hartglass: That is great, and the last thing I wanted to ask you or talk about is you are flying all around the world, teaching young lawyers about animal law.
Steven Wise: I am doing that. Not only am I teaching young lawyers, but the Nonhuman Rights Project is also reaching out to legal organizations and lawyers right now in seven other countries, and we are trying to work with them so that they can do the same or similar things as we are doing in the United States, in their countries. So we are working with folks, and I visit all these folks, and I give talks there, in Brazil and Argentina and Spain and Portugal, in the UK, in France, and Switzerland. So I have been spending a lot of time going back and forth, back and forth. I also teach there as well. In fact, I am leaving for Barcelona, Spain tomorrow afternoon, and I was just there five weeks ago.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a long trip.
Steven Wise: I know, and when I come back, then I’m going to Sweden three weeks after that. I think in the span of four months I am taking four trips to Europe and two to South America.
Caryn Hartglass: The good news is that you are planting seeds, and people are nourishing them so that they can grow.
Steven Wise: They are very interested all over the world in what we are doing, and they are inviting us to come. When we tell them that we would like to work with them to try to reproduce the same thing in their country, they are leaping at the opportunity, and we are very, very pleased.
Caryn Hartglass: I was so excited to see you in the New York Times, and I am glad that they printed it, because they don’t print a lot of things that I like.
Steven Wise: Well, Charles Siebert, who you know wrote the article, did a fantastic job. He worked on it for two or three years, and we also have a film coming out in 2015. D.A. Pennebaker, who won a Lifetime Oscar in 2012, and his wife and fellow filmmaker Chris Hegedus, have been following us around for three years. They have had complete access to everything that we do; whenever they want to film us they do, and all of those hundreds and hundreds of hours of film is going to be boiled down to a ninety minute or so film that should come out sometime in 2015.
Caryn Hartglass: That is good news. I am sure it will be very, very powerful.
Steven Wise: They are going to have to Photoshop me in there.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad you still have a sense of humor because you have been working for decades doing some very difficult work that moves very slowly, unfortunately.
Steven Wise: It has now begun to move a lot faster than it ever used to.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s see some great action in New York. I can’t wait to read.
Steven Wise: Thank you for helping us spread the word, I appreciate it very much.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re welcome Steve. Keep doing it.
Steven Wise: Okay.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks for joining me, and all of the best.
Steven Wise: Okay, okay, bye.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, bye. That’s all for this week. Have a very delicious week. I’m Caryn Hartglass, and this has been It’s All About Food. Bye bye.
Transcribed by Tre Le 7/18/2014 edited by Rebeka Putera 8/11/2014