Moby, Russell Simmons And Others Speak Out On An Issue That Needs Our Immediate Attention

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Featuring remarks from Gene Baur, Jenny Brown, Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, Bill Maher, Moby, Kathy Najimy, Ingrid Newkirk, Alicia Silverstone, Russell Simmons, Tracey Stewart

One morning my two teenage daughters announced that they were becoming vegan after watching a powerful documentary called Unity. To be honest, I personally had not thought much about it before. But with my daughters’ decision to live a vegan lifestyle, I was compelled to educate myself and support their passionate convictions about animal rights, until eventually, gradually they would become my own. Once my eyes were opened to the horrors of factory farming, the purposefully hidden reality of what these innocent animals go through, the tortured life and death that billions of animals experience every day, I could no longer look away and not do something about it.

It has been an eye-opening experience and one in which I find I am continually learning, through reading about the issues, talking to both experts and advocates, adopting a vegan diet, visiting animal sanctuaries, and just generally being more aware of the choices I make in my day-to-day life. I learned about the many ways that animals are tortured and exploited for human use that is considered normal—not just factory farming but animal testing, domestic breeding, hunting, entertainment in zoos and circuses… the list goes on.

I struggled with some ethical questions: How is it that humans have come to think that we are the most important life form on earth and that as such we can abuse or exploit animals for our own use and pleasure? How is it that we have become so disconnected with their suffering? Why are we so reverent of certain animals, like cats, dogs, and horses, but not other animals like cows, chickens, and pigs? Why is there so little awareness on this issue, and why is the abuse of animals so under the radar?

As part of my learning, since my journalistic niche is interviewing well-known figures about the issues and causes they are passionate about, I recently interviewed Russell Simmons for BUILD Series about his new book Happy Vegan, which is an inspiring book full of guidance and information. To get even further information and inspiration, I decided to reach out to other well-known public figures who have long been advocating for animals’ welfare and veganism to get their insights and wisdom on this issue.

What I came away with from this personal and professional journey is a much larger understanding of our interdependence with the beautiful diversity of animals and our inherent responsibility to take better care of our fellow animal inhabitants on this Earth. This means becoming more conscious and taking responsibility for our choices and taking steps to reduce the exploitation and abuse of animals—not just to alleviate the extreme suffering we cause these sentient creatures but for the sake of our health and environment too.

I am an advocate for many issues that receive a lot of mainstream support and attention—women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, racial justice and civil rights, environmental issues—so I admit I am perplexed about why alleviating the suffering and exploitation of animals is not a more prominent cause. To be an authentic advocate for those causes, I believe we need to stand for love, compassion and freedom not just for human beings but for all sentient, living beings who share this planet with us. We are all interdependent on this planet Earth, and we will thrive or falter together.

Whether you are someone who has never really given much thought to this issue (like I was) or have been considering making a lifestyle change that would help alleviate the suffering of animals, I invite you to read these responses from others who are passionate about the welfare of animals and just start where you are—with just becoming more aware and taking whatever action you can in the ways that feel most natural to you. Because, as Jane Goodall told me and all of the people I interviewed echoed, “Cumulatively our small decisions, choices, and actions make a very big difference.”

In alphabetical order: Gene Baur, Jenny Brown, Sylvia Earle, Jane Goodall, Bill Maher, Moby, Kathy Najimy, Ingrid Newkirk, Alicia Silverstone, Russell Simmons, Tracey Stewart

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

Farm animals are among the most abused creatures on earth, and when humans mercilessly exploit and slaughter them, we lose our empathy, which is a very important part of our humanity. Most people would prefer to act with compassion rather than causing unnecessary suffering, and they can be empowered to do so. Treating animals with kindness is good for animals, and it’s also good for us. The vast misery that farm animals endure on factory farms has been called one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

I am passionate about creating a kinder world and a big part of that is reshaping how our society views and treats farm animals. I hope people increasingly come to regard farm animals as friends instead of as food. Most of us grow up eating animal products and unwittingly supporting an abusive factory farming system, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose to eat plants instead of animals, and to live in alignment with compassionate values. Plant based agriculture is better for animals and the planet, and human health.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

Growing up in the Hollywood Hills, near Griffith Park, I was upset to see how nature and wild animals’ lives were harmed by human activities. In high school and college, I learned about animal agriculture and the vast harm it causes to other animals and the earth, and I didn’t want to be part of it. Then, when I realized that I could live well without eating animals, going vegan made all the sense in the world. I thought, “If I can live well without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn’t I?”

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

Every day we make choices about food that have profound impacts on ourselves, the earth, and other animals. The best thing people can do to help alleviate the suffering of animals is to reduce or eliminate animal products from their diets. The book Living the Farm Sanctuary Life contains helpful, step by step, advice for people interested making a difference for animals.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

For me, going vegan in 1985 was the most important lifestyle change I made. I continue living a vegan lifestyle, and I try to be a helpful, positive, and friendly example so others will consider going vegan as well.

What first inspired your animal rights awareness and activism?

Reading about the use and abuse of animals in various industries—food, fur, animal testing, circuses, etcetera—opened my eyes to rampant animal abuse at our hands. Over time I got more involved, which led to working with an animal rights organization as a volunteer, which led to filming animal abuse undercover over the span of several years in the early 90’s and again in 2002. The last assignment was to document “downed animals” (those who are too weak or sick to walk) at five “livestock” auctions at stockyards. That experience really reignited my need to do something, anything to help farmed animals—the most exploited and abused animals on the planet.

What prompted you to open the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary?

After working over a decade in film/tv production, I chose to give it all up and work at a farm animal sanctuary to learn what it took to start my own. After visiting one, I learned that sanctuaries are a very effective form of advocacy in that you meet the victims of the food industry while learning how billions of others like them live and die on factory farms and in “production” in general.

How has humanity become so disconnected and desensitized from the widespread abuse and suffering of animals?

We’re indoctrinated to believe that some are animals are “put here” for our food and other animals are beloved companions. That’s just how it is. And sadly, we’re not taught to think critically about our food choices and how it affects other living beings, as well as our environment and health. We as a society believe that our actions are justified because “it’s always been that way,” but the same could be said for slavery and the inequality of women. That the animals suffer behind closed doors allows us to be blissfully ignorant—and we like it that way. But, as Gretchen Wyler, the late actress and animal champion said, “We must see with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies.”

What are some of the best ways that you think we can open people’s minds and create change?

Visit a sanctuary! It’s a powerful experience for many visitors especially because most people have never met a cow, pig, sheep, chicken, turkey, etcetera, and at Woodstock Farm Sanctuary animals have names, not numbers and are friends, not food.

Watch undercover videos, move toward a lifestyle free of animal products and educating yourself about the plight of animals used for food production. If the environment and/or your health are more important issues, let those be the reason that you shift away from meat, eggs and dairy.

Why is visiting a sanctuary or shelter so important? What effect can that have on people?

Thankfully we get thousands of visitors through our gates who are exposed to our message while petting the belly of a friendly pig, scratching the ears of attention-seeking cows or feeding treats to grateful chickens and turkeys.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to make a difference to help animals but doesn’t know what do to or think what they do will make a difference?

Get involved with an organization that rescues and/or advocates for animals—like us! We always need financial support, volunteers, donations of professional services and goods. Get on some vegan cooking websites and start trying new meat-free dishes. People don’t realize how easy and healthy it is. I suggest heading to a veg fest or animal rights conference where you can hear great speakers, try amazing vegan food and products and get introduced to organizations who are working on behalf of animals. There are many, and they’re growing in numbers—yay!

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

The world is far less rich if you take away pandas, rhinoceroses or any of the species of elephants or birds—we’ve lost so much so fast throughout the history the last 10,000 years. It’s not just climate change, it’s the impact of humans as predators on wildlife. Even early into the 20th century when the last of the passenger pigeons were around, or fast forward to when I was in high school when the last of the Gulf of Mexico Monk seals existed—now they are gone, gone, gone. And now we know that we can eliminate species and we’re also beginning to understand why it matters.

Anybody who has a car or rides in a car, anybody who has a computer or uses a computer, just take out one little piece. Sometimes it can keep right on going, doing what it has been doing, more or less. But you start taking out more pieces, and there comes a point when either it stops or it becomes wonky, and we’ve got a world that’s going wonky right now. You cannot pull it apart without creating a ripple in the system.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

The ocean keeps the planet and everything in it alive, full stop. The ocean is vital to life on earth. Some people believe that the sole purpose of fish is for us to eat them. They are seen as commodities. Yet wild fish, like wild birds, have a place in the natural ecosystem which outweighs their value as food. They’re part of the systems that make the planet function in our favor, and we should be protecting them because of their importance to the ocean.

If people really understood the methods being used to capture wild fish, they might think about choosing whether to eat them at all, because the methods are so destructive and wasteful. Our use of large-scale extraction of wildlife from the sea is profoundly detrimental to the environment. We’re using modern techniques capable of taking far more than our natural systems can replenish. It isn’t just a matter of caring about the fish or the corals, but also about all the things that are destroyed in the process of capturing ocean wildlife. We have seen such a sharp decline in the fish that we consume in my lifetime that I personally choose not to eat any. In the end, it’s a choice.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

I come from an omnivorous dining family and eating seafood was just a natural thing to do. First in New Jersey, where the wildlife was captured and consumed locally, then in Florida. But even when I lived in Florida, it was clear that the numbers were going down as our numbers were going up.

Now with 7 billion people on the planet, eating wildlife has to be a luxury, except for in those coastal communities that have few choices about what to consume. Today, armed with modern technologies, we can easily diminish and eliminate local wildlife. These days, our capacity to kill greatly exceeds the capacity of the natural systems to replenish. The amazing thing is that our focus is on looking at ocean wildlife primarily as food. In North America really, it is always a choice. It is never, as far as I can tell, a true necessity, given our access to other food sources.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

I choose not to eat [fish]. It’s obvious [that we shouldn’t]. It’s not a matter of me saying so. It’s not a matter of opinion. There’s no question that a plant-based diet is better for you and better for the planet.

I love the creative choices that are now available that didn’t exist when I was a child. Grains that are high in protein and have much more flavor than some of the more traditional ones like rice, and variations on the theme of legumes, eaten raw or cooked or incorporated into various recipes. People think of a plant-based diet as boring. But it’s only in your imagination, or lack of it, that plants are boring. There are 250,000 kinds of land-based plants—and then in the ocean, depending on how you count, if you include the plankton—you’re looking at maybe another 20,000 that we know about, including seaweed cultivated for the omega oils that people want. You don’t have to kill fish to acquire omega oils.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

Well, if you think there’s nothing you can do to make a difference, get over it [laughs], because think about whoever in history has made a difference. How do we have electric lights, how do we have cars, how do we have books, how do we have an alphabet, how do we have numbers? Somebody somewhere at some point discovered these and changed the world.

What are we going to do about the exorbitant extraction of wildlife in the sea? We can start with one choice at a time: “I think I’m not going to eat fish anymore,” “I could not have popcorn shrimp—I’d rather the shrimp be alive in the ocean than dead on my plate.” Ask yourself if it’s more important to you to consume fish or to think of them as being here for a larger purpose?

There are so many things that you can do. Look in the mirror and think about [this]: you’ve been commissioned to figure out how you, one person, can make a difference. Take on the responsibility of giving it some thought. Think of one thing, ten things, a hundred things, whatever it is. And then get the information out there. What do you have that is your personal power, whether it’s music, art or science? There are so many things that are now possible.

The most important thing that I can convey to anybody is go find out—go follow a trail, pick up anything and learn about it. If you want to know where that fish came from that’s on your plate, just try to imagine that fish when it starts out in life, the journey, how it got to the supermarket or the restaurant or the end of your hook, wherever it is.

Take a journey, but make it your journey. And get out there, get wet. I love the idea of—as far as education goes—no child left dry. [laughs] Get kids out in a lake or a river or stream or the ocean, and do it with an open mind. Think about who lives there and how they live and how what we’re doing affects them. Take a journey, and the information, wonderfully, is there on a scale that’s never been available before.

(note: these responses were culled from my previous piece: Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jane Goodall).

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

I think when people say to me, “Jane, I really want to help, what can I do?” If people could just spend a bit of time each day thinking about the consequences of their choices. Like what do you eat? Well, that may seem simple, I ate this or that today, but where did it come from, how many miles did it travel, did it harm did the environment, how much pesticide was used, was it child slave labor? If it was intensive farming, how did that affect the animals? How did it affect the environment, and how did it affect your health? The same with what you wear, how you travel, how you connect with people—if people would just start thinking about the consequences of all these small actions. Cumulatively our small decisions, choices, and actions, make a very big difference.

People should never give up—there is always hope. Okay, the natural world is in a real crisis situation, but all around the planet there are extraordinary people who are absolutely determined that certain animal species or plants or ecosystems shall be helped to restore themselves.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

I have to say that I attribute vast amounts of my energy to the fact that I stopped eating meat. I really, really believe that it helped me. The moment I stopped eating meat I felt lighter. I did this book Harvest for Hope, and I learned so much about food. One thing I learned is that we have the guts not of a carnivore, but of an herbivore. Herbivore guts are very long because they have to get the last bit of nutrition out of leaves and things. The carnivore guts are very short, because they want to get rid of the meat quickly before it starts putrefying and doing bad things inside them. And so we have this meat going round and round inside us, and I don’t think that can be terribly good. I think that meat has created lots of problems. In addition, the animals to be kept alive are fed all these hormones and antibiotics and we are imbibing them as well. All I know is that when I stopped eating meat, I just felt lighter and had more energy. My body wasn’t wasting time trying to cope with the toxins that the animals were trying to get rid of when you eat them.

If people would think about intensive farming, if they would think of the damage to the environment of growing all this corn or raising all these cattle. If they would think about the torture of the animals on the intensive farms. And then if they would realize about the antibiotics getting out into the environment, the bacteria building up resistance and the superbugs that we are breeding, more people would become vegetarians.

Anything else you want to say or think people should know?

We don’t think about our future—or we do think of it, it’s just we’ve lost wisdom. We’re not thinking about how our actions affect the future of our people, but we’re thinking about instant gratification or the next shareholder’s meeting or the next political campaign—that sort of thing. And so [there is] a disconnect between the head and the heart. This very, very clever brain, if it’s disconnected from the human heart to speak of love and compassion, then we get this individual with complete lack of caring, lack of foresight.

And you get the white-coated scientist who has a dog at home who’s part of the family, but then he goes and puts on his white coat and does unspeakable things to dogs in the name of science. There’s a real schizophrenia.

Bill Maher, comedian, animal rights activist, host of HBO’s political talk show Real Time with Bill Maher

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

Animals are honest and true and genuine. They are who they are—they don’t have ulterior motives, and they don’t play games. Well, some do, but in a good way.

I always say every time I come home, my dog treats me like I’m The Beatles. They give us such unconditional love. So in return, we should respect them as the thinking, feeling individuals they are. And I don’t just mean dogs and cats but all animals who are basically just trying to survive and take care of their families.

We should care because cruelty to animals is everywhere, but it’s a type of violence every single person can choose to stop being part of. And we should care because it’s our responsibility as humans not to destroy our environment, and animals are a huge and essential part of that.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

There are so many, and PETA is out there at the forefront of all of them.

Like animal testing—it’s taxpayer-funded insanity! And we have enough of that already without drilling electrodes into cats’ brains or forcing beagles to inhale cigarette smoke or fooling baby monkeys into thinking their mothers have died so we can measure their stress levels. Non-animal tests work better and cost less, and the best medical schools in the world endorse them.

And Ringling Bros. [Circus]—it’s great that they’re retiring their elephants (thanks to PETA), but they need to go a lot further and get ALL animals out of their shows. Same goes for SeaWorld and all those places that pretend to care about the animals they keep in chains or tiny tanks and force to perform. It’s disgraceful.

On a happier note, I love my dog, and I’m a big supporter of adopting from open-admission shelters and reducing the number of cats and dogs being born so we don’t have to euthanize millions of unwanted ones every year while we continue to let them breed out of control. Wait a minute—where’d that happier note go?

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes—did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

It wasn’t so much an “aha!” moment as it was a “holy shit!” moment. All anyone needs to do is read a little about what’s going on behind the scenes wherever animals are being used. Or just watch a few videos at PETA.org. I challenge anyone to look at that footage and NOT be outraged and want to do something about it.

But I’ve always been a dog person, and if there was an “aha!” moment, it was when I realized that there’s no difference between my dog and the animals cut open in laboratories and the chimpanzee or tiger who’s beaten so he’ll perform a stupid trick for a TV show. My life changed when I realized that to a large degree and in all the ways that matter most, we’re all the same.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

That’s easy. People can go to PETA.org and see what’s going on and find out what they can do to help globally or in their own neighborhoods. There’s so much to do—just do something. The most important thing is to start.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

I can think of more things that I don’t do with animal awareness in mind. I don’t go to zoos or circuses with animals. I don’t wear fur, and if I were in New York City, I definitely would not go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. (Don’t get me started…)

Anything else you want to say or think people should know?

Being comfortable is overrated. Be courageous. If you see someone abusing an animal or thinking of going to SeaWorld or considering buying a purebred, say something.

That’s probably the thing I like most about the folks at PETA. They’re never afraid to say something.

Moby, Musician, Author, Animal Rights Activist

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

First off, because animals are sentient beings with rich emotional lives. Secondly because eating animals contributes to cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Thirdly because 40% of climate change is a result of animal agriculture. Fourth: 80% of rainforest destruction is a result of animal agriculture. Fifth: if all of the food used to feed livestock was fed directly to people, we’d end famine tomorrow. Sixth: animal agriculture uses 40% of California’s water. Seventh: almost all zoonotic disease is a result of animal agriculture.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

Farm animals. I love all animals and I believe that all animals should be free to have their own lives, but the sheer number of animals being imprisoned and killed on factory farms makes it the most pressing of all animal welfare issues.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes—did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

I grew up with animals, and at an early age I realized that any creature with 2 eyes, a central nervous system, and the desire to avoid pain should have it’s own life and rights.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

Go online. All of the information you need is online. And every great animal welfare organization has an amazing online presence. Give money, give time, but most of all: educate yourself.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

I’ve been a vegan for 28 years, I neither eat nor wear animals or animal products. Also the majority of my charitable giving is to animal welfare groups. And I’ve opened multiple vegan restaurants and have published a couple of vegan books. I also named an album “Animal Rights,” and I give as much time as I can to the cause.

Anything else you want to say or think people should know?

If we all became vegan we’d live longer, reduce climate change by 40%, end famine, and save a few trillion sentient beings.

Kathy Najimy, actress, animal rights activist

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

My love of animals is probably not unique in that I had dogs that were my companions and soulmates for my entire life starting from when I was about four years old. I didn’t have the smoothest family life, but I always had a dog and I’ve connected with animals my whole life. I’m not so much the person who goes and runs with the wolves or flies to Alaska to waddle with the penguins, but I believe in compassion, and so like most people who love animals for whatever reason, if there’s a chance where I can help, save a life, or make a life less torturous or if I can help an animal avoid abuse, I’m happy to.

What particular area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

You know, that’s an interesting question because it sort of depends on the year. About five years ago my family and I moved from Los Angeles to New York, and we moved very close to Ninth Avenue on 58th Street. I saw the horse carriages going up and down 58th Street and 59th Street. I got to actually be very close and see their eyes, see all the hardware hanging from their mouths, see them harnessed up to these heavy, heavy carts filled with tourists, and it didn’t matter if it was 95 or 100 degrees outside, or below freezing, they were trudging along. And it just broke my heart.

These animals are walking with fire trucks behind them, ambulances in front of them, screeching sirens that freak them out. It’s archaic and it’s obvious unneeded suffering. The horses don’t choose it. They don’t know what the f―k’s going on. Their hooves aren’t meant to be on cement. It’s the demise of these regal, beautiful animals that’s completely unnecessary. So for the past five years I’ve been one of the major faces and voices trying to abolish the horse carriage industry. I’ve been working with New York Class on an electric car, which I think is really cute. It’s like a vintage trolley that will go through Central Park for those visitors and tourists who don’t want to walk. It can be run by the same drivers that are riding the horses right now, so we are not in the business of putting anybody out of work.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

I really think it goes back to my dogs as my sort of my saviors, my soul mates and sometimes my friends. You know, somebody once said to me that animals don’t have souls. And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve seen the souls of animals in their eyes, probably more than I’ve seen the souls of humans.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

I think one of the reasons people hesitate in participating in animal rights is because they think that they have to do everything perfectly in order to do anything at all. This is something that if you spread the word on anything, I hope you spread the word on this. You don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. Just not wearing fur. You can do everything else, just not wearing fur helps. If you decide just to not eat beef, you can try everything else, but that helps. It’s not what we would call “PETA perfect,” but it helps. Making sure your own pets are watered, fed, cared for, getting enough sun, getting enough walks. And then branch out if you want to volunteer at an animal shelter, or something like the Amanda Foundation, or a pound. I know that it’s optimum to be vegan and I get why. And I know that it’s second best to be vegetarian. But the third and fourth and fifth and sixth best help too. They help the world.

So you don’t have to do everything to do something. Do one thing. Do one thing where your heart takes you and that helps. I found that especially with the animal rights’ movement, people who say to me, “It’s just too hard for me to be vegan right now,” I say, “Great, don’t be vegan, but volunteer at an animal shelter, send money to an animal organization, adopt a pet, or try not to wear fur. Please don’t buy animals that are bred. I promise you they will live, the dogs in the pound do not. The cats in the pound do not.

What are some examples of the type of actions that you take or lifestyle changes that you made on your own life with animal awareness in mind?

I’m trying to get the horse carriages banned. I try to do as much for PETA as I can. I’ve done a lot of video campaigns and I have articles in their magazines. Also, I grew up in San Diego where Sea World is and went to Sea World, of course, not really thinking about anything, except they must be happy in there. And then in the last maybe ten years realized how wrong it is to take a whale out of it’s natural habitat and put it in a little cement swimming pool and call that a life for the entertainment of others. And so we did a poster for the San Diego Airport that says something like, “I grew up in San Diego. I love San Diego. If you love San Diego, please avoid Sea World.” And the Airport refused to put it up. So then the ACLU took up some legal proceedings against them, and when that happened, what would have been just a little poster in the San Diego airport, became an international news item. And then recently Sea World announced that they were no longer going to have [orcas] anymore.

I think it’s a great first step, and I encouraged them to go the second, third and fourth step, but I want to say “fantastic” for that first step. This goes back to my philosophy of just do today what you can do today.

Is there anything else you want to say or you think people should know?

Whether you believe in God, whether you believe in evolution, whether you believe in spirits, whether you believe in magic—animals, I don’t believe are put here for amusement that harms them. They are living, breathing beings with hearts and souls. If you can pick a location or entertainment that doesn’t involve hurting something, choose life.

Ingrid Newkirk, President and founder of PETA, author of Making Kind Choices

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

We are all animals, and just as you feel moved more by poor people than by people with funds or by the frail elderly than by athletic older people, the animals most in need of our largesse and consideration are those without power, rights, freedom, and so on. They need us desperately to help them, and surely, if we are the kind of people we like to think we are—against needless cruelty, injustice and gratuitous violence—we have to care about the animals who are “not privileged enough” to be born human.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

I care about it all, and regrettably there are countless ways in which animals are disregarded, abused and slaughtered. So I care most about instilling an overriding principle of decency in others. Regardless of the species and the situation, I want us to learn to think to ourselves, “That isn’t right. If that happened to me, I’d hope someone would intervene. I need to do something.”

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

I had a lot of different experiences because, like most humans, I am a slow learner and had a lot of bad habits, from wearing fur to fishing and eating my way through the animal kingdom. But what changed everything for me was reading Animal Liberation, in which the author, Peter Singer, posits that it isn’t good enough to make things less cruel for certain animals. We need to think of them as other nations, other cultures, as living beings just like ourselves in all the important ways—i.e. the ability to feel pain, thirst, hunger, grief, love and loneliness—and not to inflict suffering on any of them if we can avoid doing so.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

It’s so easy. I wrote Making Kind Choices to help people see how many wonderful things they can do that make a difference in animals’ lives—including eating vegan meals, choosing non-animal clothing, using an alternative to dissection, buying animal-friendly cosmetics and household products, sharing videos on social media, supporting only health charities that do not conduct animal experiments, educating others at every turn and giving cruelty-free gifts.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

Pretty much everything. I ate and wore animals, went to see animal circuses, fished, and didn’t even spay my cat until someone pointed out to me —or I read or saw something that showed—that this was all contributing to immense suffering.

Anything else you want to say or think people should know?

You can’t love animals and eat them. You can’t say, “Don’t show me because I like my fur, steak, or whatever,” as that’s an admission that you know it’s wrong. Find out how easy it is to take positive steps, to go vegan, and to really care about animals at PETA.org.

Alicia Silverstone, actress, activist, author of The Kind Diet, founder of The Kind Life

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

One of the defining moments was when I had the realization that I was an animal lover who was eating animals. I remember looking at my dog and making the connection that I could never eat him. He was getting kisses and sleeping in my bed, meanwhile other animals—who were capable of the same love and pain as my dog—were being tortured by the choices I was making. I couldn’t do it anymore.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

The best thing you can do is educate yourself—read books like The Kind Diet and watch films like Forks Over Knives to arm yourself with information and get inspired. Then have fun adventuring around your neighborhood or city checking out all the best veg restaurants. From there, start moving away from animal foods (meat and dairy) and adding delicious plant-based foods like brown rice, fresh veggies, hummus, black bean tacos—you name it! Your body will thank you!

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

Animal cruelty sadly isn’t limited to the agriculture industry. Animal-tested products and animal-based fabrics such as leather, wool, and down come from animals who live in just as appalling conditions. That’s why I opt for vegan cosmetics, apparel, and household products. There is so much out there! You can find excellent top-tier goods and materials that do not contribute to the harm of animals and the destruction of the environment. Visit my blog, www.thekindlife.com, for some of my favorites.

Anything else you want to say or think people should know?

Not eating animals because of how they’re treated by the agriculture industry is one thing. It’s also important to point out the toll that these practices take on the environment: It takes 441 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef and only 33 gallons to grow a pound of carrots. That means that just one 16-ounce steak is using the amount of water you’d need for 6 months of showers! Not partaking in meat and dairy-eating means we can dial down our insane consumption of natural resources like fresh water, oil and coal, while also helping to heal the environment by denying support to toxic waste-producing food industries.

But people should also think about the amazing effects of eating more plants. I credit them 100 percent with improving my own health and wellness—I’ve ditched my asthma inhaler, stopped my weekly allergy shots, lost weight, and found my skin and hair to be more radiant than ever. Not too bad for saving the animals AND the planet!

(Note: You can also watch our video interview for BUILD series here.)

Why is advocating for animals an issue that you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

Some people say, “Oh yeah, save the Indians, save the Eskimo, save an African. They promote saving lives and yet I find it unbelievable that their compassion doesn’t extend beyond that. People can watch a hundred billion animals be born into tremendous suffering, not only to destroy the planet and our health, and not do anything to stop it from happening. It just seems unconscionable. It seems like sometimes we block it out or take on unconscious actions. We block out things that we don’t want to see or know about and we act unconsciously and do things that are against our nature. Our true nature is to be connected to living beings and Mother Earth. When somebody bumps their head, you grab your head and go shit. When an animal is suffering, most people look away. The majority of the people can’t even break the neck of a chicken, but they can pay someone else to do it. They’re disconnected from the suffering they’re causing. They purposely, or unconsciously, separate themselves from that suffering. They don’t want to see it. They don’t want to hear about it. They don’t want to know it. But if you wake up and see it, you have to answer to it. So instead you make sure you don’t see it. Or if you see it, you block it out. If you see it and you digest it, then you can’t remain the same as you were before you saw and digested this reality.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

My effort is to wake people up to the broader picture. I admire those people that live on farm sanctuaries and dedicate their lives to the lucky ones. They make people stop. They go out and help to bring that animal sanctuary. I’m more interested in waking people up to the mass suffering. When one person saves one animal they see that animal as an individual, but in the big picture of all the suffering that we cause, all the hurt, most of it is overlooked. I don’t want animals suffering or children to die.

I think the best tool that I have for saving the animals is compassion, and as a Yogi, compassion for the animals comes first. That said, in my book, I couldn’t write about that. I thought no one cared about suffering of the animals, so I talked about other reasons why people should stop eating animals. A great number of the people who would read my book, they do care about the fact that 50 percent of women, black women over 20, have some form of heart disease. That, to them, is unbelievable and shocking to hear that statistic! Eighty percent of the people who have heart disease, black women, don’t know it and it’s mostly because of the animal products they are ingesting. What you’re eating is killing you—like it or not. So that kind of stuff is really helpful for advocating for freedom for animals.

Wherever you start, you end up getting connected to other things. You ought to listen to somebody tell you the story about the suffering involved in meat and dairy and leather and fur, and they’ll show you a video of the suffering. They will eventually get to you. They show you the video about where the earth is in its evolution, what we’ve done to destroy it. We have lost so many species and how when the ocean is gone, they’re gone. And how when the ocean is gone we are all going with it. These things that we knew about, but are not talked about. The crisis of global warming and all of these other things they then become connected. It is all related.

There’s no one reason to be vegan. There are more reasons not to participate in the process of raising and eating animals than there are to be a part of something that harms our bodies, destroys the planet and takes life away from animals by the billions. That’s the stuff that people need to know.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes? Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned or an “aha” moment?

Practicing love every day. What really made a big difference in my life was being around the Yogis I practiced with who were all vegan. That was a big deal for me, to be around so many people who were vegan for compassionate reasons and just hearing the stories about the suffering of the animals and just taking that in—really digesting it and what it looks like. When the Bible referenced dominion over the animals this is not what it meant, not this suffering, not these factory farms, not this.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals, but don’t know what they can personally do to make a difference?

The first thing you can do is not eat them. First one animal. Then two animals. What’s the number? If you don’t eat them, you can save thousands of lives by not eating them— that’s a big deal. Gently remind people of the things that matter to them. All the suffering of the animals might bother them, but the fact that they’re poisoning themselves right now, just say it nicely and watch people digest it. I know many happy vegans. A lot of my friends are still angry vegans, and they will yell at you about animals and make you think and then say to you, “Oh yeah, and by the way you’re going to die because of what you do to animals by eating them.” Just say it nicely though, alright? There’s a way to say it that people can digest it, and that’s the route I try to take.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

Not eat them. Stand up for them. Write books about them. Show up at animal rights protests. Get others involved. Get their politics promoted, whether it’s the legal issues that come up regarding the abuse of animals or some other way to be helpful. I try to make my voice as loud as I can for animals. I’ve hosted events for the dolphins in the Cove because it’s worthwhile and it’s important. I bring attention to the ivory trade and the rhinos. Some care about the one animal, some people like me bring attention to the the masses who suffer. But when you promote changing the laws on horse carriages in New York people often become conscious of a bigger issue through that process.

That’s what I plan on doing. I keep on promoting that process. I promote and support getting rid of those horse drawn carriages, retiring the horses and getting eco-friendly cars in their place. Then I do a good job of promoting a vegan diet, changing the industry. And saving the planet is a bigger and better way to use my voice, in my opinion. But it really is about consciousness, as well, so let them win on every level, on any level. Where does my energy belong? I’ve been looking at the bigger picture.

Is there anything else you would want to say or think people should know?

We’re destroying the planet and killing ourselves when we take part in this process of eating animals—that’s what I see. And we’re causing so much suffering— a hundred billion animals we’re talking about—is the worst karmic disaster in the history of the world, of humankind, the number of animals that we destroy and we kill. We must change this by going vegan.

Why is advocating for animals an issue you feel passionate about and that we should all care about?

I think most people’s very first feelings of protection, awe and compassion come when they are in the presence of animals. Even at a young age our yet to be fully developed brains can not deny that we are in the presence of something remarkable. This feeling of nurturing and understanding is one of the very first things we’re also taught to deny and to compartmentalize. It is one of the first times we’re taught that it’s okay to lessen that which is not us… to lessen another’s value, sentience, capacity for suffering and importance. By caring for animals, we stretch the capacity of our heart for feeling. By tapping back into that compassion we increase our capacity for valuing that which is not us.

What area of animal advocacy do you feel most passionate about and why?

I am passionate about all areas of animal advocacy. I love the work that Farm Sanctuary, The Animal Legal Defense Fund, We Animals and the Nonhuman Rights Project are doing as well as many others. I’ve personally taken on the plight of farm animals because it seems urgent to me that we get people to recognize these animals’ sentience and capacity for suffering and get them motivated to change their habits. Our hearts, our environment, our health and our world depend on it.

What inspired your awareness and activism to support animal rights causes. Did you have an experience that affected you, a piece of information you learned, or an “aha” moment?

I used to work as a veterinary nurse and so I was quite familiar with the issues that plagued what we call our companion animals. It wasn’t until I spent time at Farm Sanctuary up in Watkins Glen, New York, that I realized I had unwittingly been acting in a way that wasn’t in accordance with my values. I became acutely aware of how dire it was to raise awareness. Today I’m always surprised that people believe cows just naturally produce milk or that it’s a relief for them to be milked by us. Now I used to believe that stuff too and I wasn’t any less of a compassionate person. I just didn’t know the full story. And truth be told there were probably opportunities to find out more truths that I actively turned away from.

What advice would you give to people who want to help animals but don’t know what they can do to make a difference?

Do something! Do anything! Animals are all around us. We don’t need a search warrant to enter their habitat. Look around. Pay attention and recognize where you might be able to help. In moving toward what we fear to know, we end up living the way our hearts have meant us to live. Abundance not deprivation is what follows.

What types of actions do you take or lifestyle changes did you make in your own life with animal awareness in mind?

Of course my vegan diet is the easiest and yummiest way for me to act. Partnering with Farm Sanctuary to create a sanctuary in New Jersey is also fantastically on my daily to-do list. I’m so grateful that this is something I am able to do. In life I try not to be overbearing or shaming. IT DOESN’T WORK! I try to be compassionate and open to where people are on their journey. My own children help me practice this every day.

Provided by Farm Sanctuary: When you eat plant-based foods instead of animal products:

Health: You lower your risk of certain diseases and can enjoy numerous health benefits, including lower cholesterol, decreased risk of heart disease, and healthy body weight.

Planet: You decrease your carbon footprint. Animal agriculture is a major contributor of greenhouse gases, and waste from factory farms pollutes our air, land, and water.

Animals: You help animals. That’s because when you choose plant-based meals, demand for animal foods decreases. When demand decreases, fewer animals suffer on factory farms. (Learn more at farmsanctuary.org/factoryfarming)

(For more information, see these facts sheets on how we treat the animals we eat, the impact of factory farming and the environment and more on the educational literature page at Farm Sanctuary).

Marianne Schnall is the founder of What Will It Take Movements, a media, collaboration, learning, and social engagement platform that inspires, connects, educates and engages women everywhere to advance in all levels of leadership and take action. She is also a widely-published journalist whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, CNN.com, Forbes, the Women’s Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is the co-founder and executive director of the women’s website and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.

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