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OUR MAY 2021 PRESENTATION: VAUGHAN WILKINS
On May 2, 2021, Living One hosts Vaughan Wilkins, PhD, an ecopsychologist, applied animal behaviorist, and cultural traumatologist.
A skilled and inventive educator, Wilkins has spent the last decade working with human and nonhuman animals, families, schools and organizations to incorporate trauma responsive learning. He currently serves as department chair at Summit Public Schools and also works directly with parents, educators and trauma specialists looking to build the resiliency of young people during uncertain times. Wilkins holds an MA degree in the psychology of animal behavior from Hunter College and a PhD in psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies.
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Geri Vistein is a Conservation Biologist whose focus is carnivores and their vital role in maintaining the biodiversity of our planet. Her work centers on educating the Maine community about carnivores, their ecology, their complex cultures and history, and how we can coexist with them. She achieves this by working closely with farmers who wish to learn coexisting skills, by creating outreach projects with artists, musicians, and puppeteers, experiential programs for children, giving support to educators of children, and by presenting various programs on carnivores and us to diverse audiences across the state of Maine.
She is the Founder of Coyote Center for Carnivore Ecology and Coexistence whose mission is to share with community members the science we know of our returning carnivores and the skills to live well with them. Listen to Coyotes below, and visit her two educational websites: www.CoyoteLivesinMaine.org and www.FarmingwithCarnivoresNetwork.com.
Linda Fisher is an artist and tribal member of the Ojibwe Nation belonging to the Catfish clan. Her passion for animals began when she was barely old enough to walk. Her animal intuitive abilities became apparent shortly thereafter. What Linda came to learn and understand about the true feelings of animals, prompted her to be a lifelong vegan and animal advocate.
“My animal intuitive work is different from most other animal communicators. Rather than an anthropomorphic vision of animals’ feelings and thoughts, I sense their primal essence. Animals don’t see or feel the world as we do. They operate on a much higher frequency and are far more intellectually and energetically connected to all things.
“I often sense what animals are feeling, both emotionally and physically. However, it’s not an anthropomorphic-like connection that some animal communicators claim, rather for me, perhaps closer to what some scientists explain as a biological radio when explaining the way animals communicate with each other, and to me.”
Linda’s second passion since childhood is painting visionary images that convey messages of compassion for all species, as well as respect for Mother Earth and the Indigenous. Although Linda attended art school, she considers herself to be self-taught and has her paintings hanging worldwide.
In 1989, Linda co-founded a non-profit organization to teach school children humane education. She also founded The Will of Wings Foundation to provide adult classes about the exotic bird crisis and the suffering and mortality that befalls a massive percentage of parrots who fall victim to the pet trade. Linda also serves as an advisory board member for Sea Shepherd Conservation society.
Linda practices meditation daily and when not in her art studio with her rescued dog and rescued parrots, she enjoys being outdoors with nature, and helping people better understand animals.
Creative by Nature: Does Art Offer an Alternative to Science for Understanding Nature?
Historically, science has been the de facto expert on the nature of Nature. But as “the” authority on Animals and the rest of Earth’s family, other relational ways of understanding Nature have become marginalized. In this special Living One webinar event, Creative by Nature explores the role that the Arts play in our understanding of Nature. Artists Maggie Campbell, Karen Silton, and Deke Weaver sketch out their visions of how creativity can inform—and transform—how we understand the world around us. Tune into the lively discussion covering everything from the co-creative power of artistic expression to the relationship between arts, science, and a holistic sense of self.
CREATIVE BY NATURE: PANELISTS
Maggie Campbell – Maggie Campbell is an artist and performance-maker, inspired by futures that include, and make peace with the nonhuman.
Karen Silton – Karen is the founder and executive director of Communities Create.
Deke Weaver is Professor of New Media, School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Olivia Crossman is an Environmental Studies junior at Loyola University Chicago in the School of Environmental Sustainability. She is also minoring in Spanish and is a member of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. Over the past two years, she has been involved with the school’s Student Environmental Alliance, working on the “Plastic Free Initiative” to promote a zero-waste lifestyle on campus.
As a senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School Olivia took Investigative Research Design Innovation (IRDI). Students spent the year designing and carrying out an original research project that aimed to fill a “gap” in the existing literature. Olivia’s focus was the Effect of Trauma on Elephant Reproduction Rate. At the end of the year, students engaged in competitions with their research in the Chicago area.
In summer 2020 Olivia completed the Animal Being Internship with Kerulos and Dr. Gay Bradshaw. In this work she utilized a cross-species lens to explore animal cognition, emotions, and experience. She also studied primary and secondary literature that detailed the series of scientific discoveries and principles that prompted a species-common approach to the study of human and animal minds and emotions. Additionally, Olivia explored the main philosophical, political, social, ethical, and psychological issues that have emerged with trans-species psychology.
Jim was born in Los Angeles, California on January 15, 1948. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and attended Brandeis University. Like many young people of his generation, Jim attended a few civil rights demonstrations and a few of the demonstrations against the War in Vietnam. He attended Boston College Law School and practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts until 1988 when he moved to Los Angeles with his wife and children. Since then, he has practiced law in Los Angeles.
Jim met his wife Deborah Elliott in college in 1966 – and they have been partners ever since, growing together into vegans and supporters of animal rights. In 1997, Jim and Deborah realized that selected feature films could assist in education. Together they founded TeachWithMovies.org which quickly became one of the most frequently used web sites on the Internet, showing teachers and parents how to use film in the service of education. Currently, the site contains curriculum materials for more than 450 films covering most subjects taught in K-12. The web site is still active today receiving more than a million visits a year.
In 2018, Jim and Deborah produced a 22-minute documentary, Cesar Chavez – Respect for All, which shows that Chavez was more than just a union organizer – he was a moral pioneer who relentlessly applied the principal of respect to all people and all sentient beings. Chavez was a vegan.
Gwenna Hunter is founder of VegansOfLA and Vegans for Black Lives Matter. She is also the Vegan Food Aid Coordinator at Vegan Outreach for the greater Los Angeles area where her team provides fresh produce and hot plant-based meals as a form of support to local POC lead organizations. Gwenna enjoys helping facilitate the food empowerment of local communities in following a vegan lifestyle. She became vegetarian in 2008, and in 2016 went vegan after watching the video, Dairy is Scary, and having a supernatural experience with a cow. Gwenna is also a co-author of the book, Voices for Animal Liberation: Inspirational Accounts by Animal Rights Activists. In 2021 Gwenna will be introducing a podcast, Vegans for Black Lives Matter.
Steven M. Wise is an American legal scholar who specializes in animal protection issues, primatology, and animal intelligence. He is founder and president of the Non-human Rights Projects (NhRP). Steven has practiced animal protection law for 30 years throughout the US and is the author of four books: Rattling the Cage – Toward Legal Rights for Animals; Drawing the Line – Science and the Case for Animal Rights; Though the Heavens May Fall – The Landmark Trial That Led to the End of Human Slavery; and An American Trilogy – Death, Slavery, and Dominion Along the Banks of the Cape Fear River. He holds a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary. Steven also teaches animal rights law at Harvard Law School, Vermont Law School, John Marshall Law School, Lewis & Clark Law School, and Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine.
Karen Davis, PhD, is founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. Founded in 1990, United Poultry Concerns is worldwide the leading organization for domestic fowl rights. UPC addresses the treatment of domestic fowl in food production, science, education, entertainment, and human companionship situations. In addition to her great depth of knowledge and experience with Birds, Karen has a PhD in English from the University of Maryland-College Park where she taught for twelve years in the English Department. Karen has published widely in academic, formal journals, and public media. She founded International Respect for Chickens Day in 2005 to celebrate chickens throughout the world and protest their suffering and abuse.
Karen is the author of numerous books, including A Home for Henny; Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless ‘Poultry’ Potpourri; Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry; More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities; and most recently, For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation – Essays on Chickens, Turkeys, and Other Domesticated Fowl.
Author and journalist Alan Weisman has worked in nearly 60 countries and on all seven continents. His 2013 book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Paris Book Festival Prize, the Population Institute’s Global Media Award, and was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award and the Orion Book Award. The World Without Us, an international bestseller now in 35 languages, was named Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 by Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, and one of The 50 Best Nonfiction Books of the Past 25 Years by Slate in 2019. It was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rachel Carson Prize, the Orion Book Award, and winner of the National Library of China’s Wenjin Book Prize. His previous books include An Echo In My Blood; Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World; and La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, Orion, VICE, Pacific Standard, Wilson Quarterly, Lapham’s Quarterly, Condé Nast Traveler, Boston Globe Magazine, on NPR, and in Best American Science Writing and Best Buddhist Writing (even though he isn’t one).
Weisman has taught journalism and writing at Prescott College, Williams College, the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá), and from 2003-2013 was the Laureate Professor of Journalism at the University of Arizona. A senior documentary producer for Homelands Productions, he is currently under contract to Dutton/Penguin Random House for his next book, Hope Dies Last, about humanity’s realistic hopes in the challenging decades to come, and about visionary people around the world who are determined to try to get us through, despite daunting odds. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife, sculptor Beckie Kravetz.
Stevan Harnad is Professor of Psychology at Université du Québec à Montréal, Adjunct Professor of Cognitive Science at McGill University, and Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Science, University of Southampton. Harnad was born in Budapest, Hungary. He did his undergraduate work at McGill University and his graduate work at Princeton University’s Department of Psychology. He completed his Master of Arts degree in Psychology from McGill University in 1969, his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Princeton University in 1992. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by University of Liège in 2013. In 1978, Harnad was the founder of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, of which he remained editor-in-chief until 2002. In addition, he founded Psycoloquy (an early electronic journal sponsored by the American Psychological Association), CogPrints (an electronic eprint archive in the cognitive sciences hosted by the University of Southampton), and the American Scientist Open Access Forum (since 1998; now the Global Open Access List, GOAL). Harnad is an active promoter of open access, EPrints. He is Editor-in-Chief of the refereed journal Animal Sentience launched in 2015 by the Institute of Science and Policy of The Humane Society of the United States. A vegan, Harnad is active in animal welfare animal rights and animal law. Harnad is the author of a 2011 open letter signed by over 60 external members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences addressed to the Academy’s President, József Pálinkás, concerning the press and police harassment campaign against Hungarian philosophers who were critics of the current Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz, and its prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Elected external member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 2001, Harnad resigned in protest, 8 October 2016.
Deborah Elliot is a connector and writer linking the worlds of human and non-human rights, art and education, and the change-makers of yesterday and today via film and film production. She is former high school teacher and life-long dancer. In 1998, Deborah and her husband, James Friedan started TeachWithMovies.org (TWM). By 2002, tens of thousands of teachers and parents were logging on to TeachWithMovies.org each month. In 2018, TWM released its first film made specifically for teachers, Cesar Chavez: Respect for All. A companion Learning Guide helps teachers develop lessons showing that Mr. Chavez was not only a leader of farm workers, but he was also an ethical pioneer who applied the principal of respect to all beings. Deborah is also on the Board of Directors of Our Planet Theirs Too and a regular speaker at Animal Rights Conferences around the world. Deborah philosophy is reflected here: “Our culture’s insistence on the false disconnect between human and nonhuman animals causes incalculable suffering and denies us all the joy of multifaceted connections. Our transformative task is to restore what has been broken.”
Molly Flanagan is a student and teacher of language. Professionally for the past two decades, she’s worked in educational consulting and taught English to people from around the world. Outside the classroom, she’s enthralled by connections with other species and seeks to elevate the voices of individuals who are often unheard. A former Kerulos intern, Molly has been involved in sanctuary and rescue work, activism in various animal rights circles, and helped to galvanize a strong community of Pigeon allies in the SF Bay Area. Finding her unique contribution to the movement is a lifelong journey and she is very much still finding her way, but grateful to be in good company!
Ecologist and author Carl Safina explores how humans are changing the living world, and what those changes mean for wild places and for human and other beings. Carl sees that the durability of human dignity and survival of the natural world will depend on each other; we cannot preserve the wild unless we preserve human dignity, and we cannot conserve human dignity while continuing to degrade nature. His lyrical non-fiction writing fuses scientific understanding, emotional connection, and a moral call to action. His writing has won the MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. Safina hosted the 10-part PBS series, Saving the Ocean With Carl Safina. He holds the Endowed Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and is founder of the not-for-profit Safina Center. He lives on Long Island, New York with his wife Patricia and their dogs and feathered friends. Carl’s most recent book is Becoming Wild; How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace.
Nigel Osborne is Executive Director of Egg-Truth, and has years of experience related to animal rights and on-line advocacy. He personally supports a variety of organizations from farm sanctuaries, animal rescue organizations and animal rights groups. Nigel’s extensive background in the publishing, outdoor advertising, printing and web design industries over the last 25 years provides him with a strong, creative acumen and business management experience. Through Egg-Truth.com and its social media channels, Nigel seeks to increase awareness among the public about global egg production and expose the conditions for the billions of hens condemned to laying every year.
For over 35 years, Corey Cohen has helped people and Dogs grow synergistic friendships based on mutual respect, trust and harmony using a mindfulness based approach. The heart of his philosophy is connecting with Dogs on an equal level—as friends—and not as owner and “pet.” He began his career with Dogs that had been deemed hopeless by others, with extreme aggression, anxiety, and trauma, and worked with several high profile cases in New York and New Jersey. Corey was the training director for the Big Apple Schutzhund Club, Behavior Director for the Vermont Center of Animal Behavior, Director of NEK Search & Rescue in Vermont and New Hampshire, and Director of Behavior and Outreach for the five branches of the Pennsylvania SPCA. In addition to working with Dogs, Corey has been a student of Mindfulness since the late 1970’s, beginning with his first Vipassana retreat and finally studying at Karme Choling in Vermont and with a Taoist Priest for seven years. He is currently a guest lecturer at the University Of Scranton world religion curriculum.
Zoe Weil (pronounced Zoh Wile) is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). At IHE Zoe created the first graduate programs in comprehensive Humane Education linking human rights, environmental preservation and animal protection offered online through an affiliation with Antioch University. Zoe is a frequent keynote speaker at education and other conferences and has given six TEDx talks, including her acclaimed, “The World Becomes What You Teach.” She is the author of seven books including The World Becomes What We Teach: Educating a Generation of Solutionaries; Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm, Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, and Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times. Zoe holds master’s degrees from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Pennsylvania and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Valparaiso University.
Susan is a depth-based eco- and community psychologist living in the Northwest. Her research has focused on arts-based methodologies for conservation communication and human-wildlife coexistence. She has over 20 years of experience working in communications in the organic food movement and has also worked as a nature guide, art therapy assistant, and program evaluator for arts programs. She currently serves as vice president of communications and marketing for the Seattle-based conservation nonprofit Forterra.
Krista Valerie Hiddema is an Animal rights activist. She holds a Master’s degree in Work, Organization, and Leadership where her thesis focused on the human costs of the North American pork industry. Currently, Krista is pursuing a doctorate on the need to utilize ecofeminist principles in matters of board governance within the Animals rights movement, with an emphasis on economic health, ecological heath, and social health. Throughout her career, Krista led more than dozen undercover investigations into factory farms and slaughterhouses across Canada, helped produce four investigatory news shows with W5, and has presented to the federal government on Animal transportation. She is the President of Happily Ever After Esther Farm Sanctuary, home of Esther the Wonder Pig and serves as a strategic advisor to Egg Truth, One Protest, and the Rancher Advocacy Program and as a reviewer for the Journal of Critical Animal Studies. Krista is also the Executive Director of For the Greater Good where she consults with Animal rights organizations across world on matters of governance and organizational development and intersectional justice.
Margo DeMello received her degree in Cultural Anthropology from U.C. Davis in 1995, and currently teaches at Canisius College in the Anthrozoology Masters program. She is the outgoing Program Director for Human-Animal Studies at Animals & Society Institute, and the past President of House Rabbit Society. She also volunteers for Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary. Her books include Bodies of Inscription: A Cultural History of the Modern Tattoo Community (Duke University Press 2000), Stories Rabbits Tell: A Natural and Cultural History of a Misunderstood Creature (with Susan Davis, Lantern 2003), Low-Carb Vegetarian (Book Publishing Co. 2004), Why Animals Matter: The Case for Animal Protection (with Erin Williams, Prometheus 2007), The Encyclopedia of Body Adornment (Greenwood 2007), Feet and Footwear (ABC-CLIO 2009), Teaching the Animal: Human-Animal Studies Across the Disciplines (Lantern 2010), Faces Around the World (ABC-CLIO 2012), Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies (Columbia University Press 2012), Speaking for Animals: Animal Autobiographical Writing (Routledge 2012), Inked (ABC-CLIO 2014), Body Studies: An Introduction (Routledge 2014), and Mourning Animals: Rituals and Practices Surrounding Animal Death (Michigan State 2016).
lauren Ornelas is the founder of Food Empowerment Project (FEP) and serves as its executive director. She has been active in the animal rights movement for more than 30 years. lauren is the former executive director of Viva!USA, a national nonprofit vegan advocacy organization that Viva!UK asked her to start in 1999.
While lauren was the director of Viva!USA, she investigated factory farms and ran consumer campaigns. In cooperation with activists across the country, she persuaded Trader Joe’s to stop selling all duck meat and achieved corporate changes within Whole Foods Market, Pier 1 Imports, and others, and she helped halt the construction of an industrial dairy operation in California.
lauren was also the spark that convinced the founder of Whole Foods Market to become vegan. In addition, she served as campaign director with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition for six years. Watch lauren’s TEDx talk, The Power of Our Food Choices and learn more about F.E.P.’s work at foodispower.org, veganmexicanfood.com and veganfilipinofood.com.
I Never Expected Revelation – The Surprising Journey of a Vegan
I never sought spiritual revelation. I never desired it. Surrounded by people who led happy and productive lives without strong religious feeling, I was surprised when revelation grabbed me, lit up my world, and gave me a new place in the universe. I was not looking for change. Indeed, before revelation, I was happy with a secular humanist outlook. Revelation has not altered those beliefs, instead it has added a profound level of emotional, philosophical, and, yes, religious experience. In revelation I have discovered a brotherhood, the existence of which I had only dimly suspected and never understood.
Before revelation took me by surprise, I distrusted the idea of life altering experiences in which people suddenly gained a new relationship with the universe. All too often revelation appeared to come from need, weakness, or an inability to accept the world as it exists; a world that can be cold, heartless and devastating; a world fraught with moral ambiguity. As shown by the cruel and bloody history of religious extremism, there are many who claim spiritual revelation but whose beliefs are so precarious and insecure that they will hurt others who do not share their ideology. I knew that spiritual revelation could come from love and caring, but I never expected to experience it myself.
My revelation came not from thought, nor in a flash of insight, nor in a flood of emotion enhanced by the swell of music. It came from the very practical everyday act of putting food in my mouth with a commitment that no animal would have died or suffered so that I could taste its flesh or drink its milk. My revelation took hold when I became a vegan. You might ask, human reader, “What does a plant-based diet have to do with spiritual revelation?” In the paragraphs that follow, I will explain. As you read, remember that revelation is true magic; it often comes from the most unexpected places; it always takes its own time; and it frequently takes you unaware. Revelation is an opening of the heart.
My parents, confirmed meat eaters, taught me the Golden Rule. It has many formulations: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” This was the first step toward a destination far different from anything my parents had in mind.
When I married, I had the good fortune to find a young woman who would take the journey with me, sometimes as partner, but more often as leader. One of our first joint realizations occurred some 45 years ago. On holiday, influenced by the fiction of Ernest Hemingway and seeking the romance of Spain, we attended a bull fight. We saw a magnificent animal facing a matador in a stadium full of cheering fans. Enraged by the picadors and taunted by the matador, the bull repeatedly charged toward his death. But my wife and I noticed that he was urinating continually. We started to think about the scene from the bull’s perspective. The walls of the arena gave him no escape. Thousands of people screamed and trumpets blared. Men on horseback kept poking at him and the matador waved the red cape. This magnificent powerful animal was bewildered and scared. There was no escape; he died in confusion and agony. That was our first, and last, bull fight. The journey to revelation would stall for years at a time, but as life went on, my wife and I gathered pieces of information, scattered here and there. Animals, especially the mammals people prefer to eat, love their offspring and suffer grief when their babies are taken away. A cow will search for a missing calf and, if she can, she will fight for her baby.
Have you ever noticed that animals cry, bellow or squeal in fear when they are led to slaughter? Probably not, because the meat industry hides it from us and we cooperate – most of us hide from the gruesome death that was the fate of our food. For about twelve years, recognizing the brutality of factory farming, I ate neither meat nor fowl, consuming only seafood, dairy, and plant-based foods. I realized that the way I ate was a small step toward reducing the burden of pain suffered by animals and I was glad for that. But there was no revelation in this half-way measure. I had no inkling that it was just a step in a journey to something profound.
As my wife and I learned more about the way that animals are treated on farms, especially factory farms, we realized that being caught in the machinery of the dairy industry is perhaps the worst fate for any animal. To enhance milk production, cows are kept pregnant. But for dairy cows, giving birth leads only to tragedy because their calves are immediately taken away. Baby mammals nurse, but the dairy farmer is jealous of the milk from his cows and has none to spare for their calves. As a result, the life of a dairy cow on a mechanized farm is an endless cycle of giving birth and suffering loss. In addition, dairy cows are milked relentlessly, causing them to wear out long before the end of their natural lives. When their milk production dips, dairy cows are sold to the slaughterhouse to be gutted and ground up for hamburger. Better never to have been born than to suffer that life.
These are the reasons that Cesar Chavez, an animal advocate and an eventual vegan, said that people who want to help animals should first stop eating dairy products and eggs. Chavez’ revelation was channeled through his relationship with his dog, Boycott. Pigs, it should be noted, are smarter than dogs and feel a vast range of emotions. Chickens and turkeys, it turns out, have complex social lives. Denied the range that nature intended and crammed into tiny cages, chickens will literally go crazy, pecking themselves and their fellows to death. That’s why factory farmers cut off their beaks, but this only adds more torture. To keep costs down, the “de-beaking” is done without anesthesia.
Another station on my journey occurred when my wife introduced me to philosopher Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation. Professor Singer points out that human beings can thrive on a plant-based diet. (Vegan diets are deficient only in Vitamin B-12 which is easily obtained in a supplement.) This means that we kill animals for food only because we like flesh — the taste and the texture. Professor Singer advocates a vegan diet as an ethical necessity, arguing that since a plant-based diet is nutritionally adequate, we shouldn’t exploit animals to eat meat or consume dairy products. Professor Singer advocates equal consideration, arguing that since animals, especially mammals, are sentient beings who feel pain and suffer when separated from their loved ones, it is only right to consider their interests. He points out that torturing and killing animals because we like to eat meat and milk elevates the most trivial of our interests (taste and convenience) above the most vital of theirs (avoiding misery and remaining alive).
For me, this was a life changing thought. I don’t have to go as far as the Professor when he argues for equal consideration of the interests of animals and human beings. Nor do I have to agree with some of my friends who assert that “animal rights” should be treated on the same level as human rights. The important point for me is that I can get the nutrition I need from food that is made without hurting or killing an innocent being. It is worth saying again: it’s the most trivial of our interests against the most vital of theirs. Looking to the Golden Rule: would I want my life made miserable or even taken away, just because someone or something liked the way I tasted?
It took decades for me to grasp the full meaning of the ideas in Professor Singer’s book. I felt contented with my modified vegetarianism.
The final stage of my journey to revelation began when a restaurant served me an entire fish, battered and fried. As I looked at the dead eye of what was once a swimming, shimmering beauty, I realized that I had to stop being a party to death just to eat a tasty meal. Over the next few weeks, troubled by my inability to justify killing any animal merely for food, I resolved to eat a fully plant-based diet. This does not mean that I wouldn’t kill and eat an animal if I were starving and there was no other food. It doesn’t mean that I ignore the lessons of evolution and that I would not protect myself, my family and my species from animals who threaten us. Obviously, mosquitoes, termites, flies and rodents should be strictly controlled, if necessary, by killing them. But we live at a time when humanity so dominates the earth that there is no species that can compete with us. Certainly, the animals that most people eat, the cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and fish, pose no threat.
Opening My Heart – and then Soaring
My wife says that the suffering of people and other animals has a weight that drags at our souls, but that we have learned to ignore its burden. When we view animals as commodities to be killed or living machines to be milked, we deny the fundamental similarity of the life in all animate beings. In order to taste flesh or eat cheese, we cut ourselves off from a natural fellow feeling with other sentient earthlings. And what do we do to our children, most of whom have a natural empathy for animals? When we insist that they eat meat, we make them bury their feelings in some walled off portion of their brains.
At first, my thrice daily ritual of eating food that wasn’t tainted with suffering and death was merely a discipline. However, after a few weeks I realized that a tremendous weight, a weight of which I had never been aware, had lifted from my shoulders. For days, I felt incredibly light, no longer carrying on my emotional back the suffering of sentient beings killed for my food. I didn’t realize it, but revelation was coming.
And then, a month or so later, my heart suddenly opened up to all living creatures. I realized that my loyalty lay with all the striving, wriggling, mass of living things, in all our incredible diversity, in our adamant denial of entropy. The thought came to me that I was no longer separated from my fellow travelers in life by the willingness to torture and kill for food. Heart and soul were united saying, “There is enough pain in life and in dying. I won’t add to it by eating my brothers and sisters in living.” No longer separated from other animals, I was pulled up by revelation and my consciousness seemed to explode and expand throughout the universe. My entire relationship with the world had changed. There was joy and happiness, just in being. The quantum of love that I could give had expanded a thousand-fold.
Looking back, I think I understand the psychology of what was happening to my mind in the weeks leading to my epiphany. Even when I had eaten only dairy and fish, I had relied upon the psychological defense mechanism of denial to protect myself from the painful history of what I put into my mouth. That denial, as denial always does, had obscured reality and precluded insight. Denial separates a person from others and stunts development. And, denial is very expensive psychologically; it requires enormous amounts of mental energy to ignore the effects of inflicting pain on sentient beings. Despite the fact that, as a pescatarian I was helping to reduce the number of farm animals slaughtered for food, the act of eating fish or dairy required immense mental energy to block out what I knew was happening to my food before it was killed or milked. When I became a vegan and no longer ate fish or drank the milk of cows, the mental energy formerly devoted to denial was liberated to course through my mind and body. In a physical sense, that was the source of my new-found happiness.
Philosophically and logically, I can pick holes in my position. Does a slug or a mussel feel pain like mammals do? I don’t know, but I have to draw the line somewhere. Regretfully, I am no Mahatma Gandhi, that gentle soul of steel who showed how to defeat an empire with respect and love. He agonized over killing a single mosquito but I am willing to eradicate billions of these insects. I will poison termites that eat the wood in my house. And what about the indirect effects of development, when animals are displaced for farms, houses, roads, factories or parks? And then there are the moments of weakness, when fatigue and the lure of milk chocolate defeat my discipline. These are issues that I worry about, but I’m not smart enough or pure enough to avoid being inconsistent. In my seven decades I have learned that life is seldom a matter of absolutes. I don’t know of any animal that can exist without impinging in some way on the lives of others. However, despite the unanswered questions and the moral compromises with which I have to live, eating with compassion has allowed me to achieve an escape velocity that has taken me to a state of expanded consciousness beyond anything I had ever thought possible.
Think about finding love and a home, all in one; but this revelation is better than that. It gives me a joy that suffuses my life. It gives me perspective and contentment. The fear of death is somehow mitigated because I know my place in the universe. I am reconciled to an end of my own consciousness by a sense of profound brotherhood, not only with that magnificent bull who died in the ring some 45 years ago, but also with the slug that oozes across the grass, the slaughtered pigs, and the poor de-beaked chickens in their billions. The birds that fly, the magnificent elephants, the fish that swim in the ocean, and the beautiful butterflies — are all in my family.
I have heard people complain that they don’t feel well on a vegan diet. Almost everyone in developed countries takes a vitamin supplement of one kind or another. With just some Vitamin B-12 and the wonderful variety of plant-based foods, virtually anyone can eat a healthy and satisfying diet free of animal products. All it takes is a little imagination and effort. And guess what? Many vegan dishes are delicious, and new vegan recipes come out every day. You might miss the taste of meat, cheese and milk, I certainly did for many years, but it’s a small price to pay for the epiphany of a lifetime. Over the years the first rush of feeling and amazement, this opening of my heart to life, has settled down to a pervasive feeling of happiness. As much as I may be tempted to eat meat or drink a glass of milk, the wonder of life pulls me away from the food of torture and death.
This is the revelation that has grabbed hold of me and which carries me along from day to day and year to year. I cannot imagine ever letting go.
James Anthony Frieden March 15, 2009; revised October 26, 2019 and December 27, 2020
Maggie Campbell is an artist and performance-maker, inspired by futures that include, and make peace with the nonhuman. She designs and creates artwork for live performances, film, and installation. Her work investigates themes of queer ecology, biophilia and otherness. Maggie is the co-founder and artistic director of collective Petri Delights. The collective creates dance performances, with design as the catalyst for narrative. They make experimental costumes and sculptures, inviting performers, choreographers and sound/AV artists to collaborate. Maggie is working towards a zero-waste practice as a creative freelancer, and runs stage design + sustainability workshops for young people. She graduated in 2019 from Central Saint Martins, where she was nominated for the Mullen-Lowe Nova Award for Outstanding Creative Talent. Maggie has since shown work around the UK and internationally at festivals, venues, and online platforms.
Karen Silton is the founder and executive director of Communities Create. She has been a professional artist and educator in Los Angeles for over three decades. Prior to founding Communities Create, she worked as a volunteer in diverse communities that were experiencing homelessness. As a Los Angeles native and a graduate of the UCLA Sociology Department, local social justice issues have been a focal issue for her all her life. Her experiences with vulnerable communities galvanized the founding of Communities Create as a potent mechanism to address the pressing issue of homelessness. One of the most seminal projects in developing Communities Create was organizing and offering free monthly art workshops to families staying at Comunidad Cesar Chavez, an emergency family shelter in Boyle Heights owned and operated by LA Family Housing. Karen has recently completed her Master’s in Community, Liberation, Indigenous and Eco psychologies, and is a doctoral candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute.
Deke Weaver, Professor of New Media, School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a writer-performer, director, experimental theater, graphic, and media artist. His interdisciplinary performances and videos have been presented throughout the U.S. and abroad in experimental theater, film/video, dance, solo performance, and broadcast venues such as the Sundance Film Festival, PBS, Channel 4/U.K., the New York Video Festival at Lincoln Center, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Berlin Video Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art/LA, the Moth, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and many others including livestock pavilions, wildlife refuges, backyard sheds, national parks, and living rooms. A Guggenheim Fellow and Creative Capital grantee, a resident artist at Yaddo, Isle Royale National Park, the Taft-Nicholson Environmental Humanities Center, a three-time resident at Ucross, and a five-time fellow at the MacDowell Colony, he has been awarded commissions and grants from the city of San Francisco, the states of New York and Illinois, and other public and private foundations. MONKEY and ELEPHANT are the first two performances from his life-long project, The Unreliable Bestiary—a performance for every letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered animal or habitat—are included in Animal Acts: Performing Species Today (edited by Holly Hughes and Una Chaudhuri, 2014, University of Michigan Press).