Thanksgiving is coming up, and if you are part of a family with vegans and meat eaters, this could prove to be a stressful time of year. Sometimes vegans, as passionate as they are about animal rights, can come off as preachy or “holier than thou.” On the other hand, meat eaters can be viewed as callous and ignorant to those who abstain from animal products. So can the two ever get along and live–and dine–in harmony? If so, what exactly is the best way to do that without adding tension between family or friends? To find out, we talked with Jenny Brown, animal rights activist and founder and director of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in upstate New York and author of The Lucky Ones, My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals.
The reason I wanted to talk with you is because I like your approach to veganism and animal rights activism. In your book and on social media, you tend to be more positive than others. How would you describe your approach to your mission or rescuing and protecting animals?
My approach is to remember that we are all indoctrinated as children to believe that some animals are simply here for our use and consumption. I was once an animal-loving meat eater which, of course, is a contradiction in terms. We strive to show people how similar farmed animals are to the dogs and cats we all know and love–in intelligence, individuality, pleasure-seeking and avoidance of harm and pain. Doing this in a way that doesn’t alienate or accuse is an art form and one that I’ll be working on until my last breath. Staying positive and inclusive is key in getting our message across effectively.
Is it hard not to respond with anger or judgment sometimes when you see someone eating meat or dairy?
I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t bother me, but wouldn’t most people be bothered by seeing someone eat cat or dog? In my eyes and those of many, there is no difference. A life is a life and when we have no nutritional need to eat animals, I mostly just feel sad for the animal that died for that meal and for the lack of compassion towards farmed animals in our society in general. But judgement and anger are not effective tools for helping animals, and it’s never a good idea to talk about eating animals while someone is eating animals. You’ll only be met with the same response.
What, if anything, do you say to family or friends if they eat animal products in front of you?
It depends on the situation and my relationship to that person. As I mentioned before, discussing the issues and philosophy about veganism is not a good idea over a meal with mixed (meat-eating) company. If I’m invited to a party where animal products are being served, I keep in mind that I had a choice to come or not. With both family and friends, I do my best to avoid hostile discussions because they inevitably end badly.
How do you feel about the approach that PETA takes, which is often shocking?
It was reading PETA literature that led me on the path I’m on today. They have done a tremendous amount to help animals and raise awareness about their plight. I don’t agree with all of their tactics because clearly it’s a turn-off to many people, but at the same time, I know many people who are animal activists because of a PETA campaign of some sort that led to their awareness. I think we can all play our part in advocating for animals without pointing fingers at others who are trying to do the same. Our time is too precious to spend time judging other organizations when that time could be spent advocating for animals in our own way.
Why do you think there is an unspoken tension between meat-eaters and vegetarians or vegans sometimes? Does it have more to do with who’s right, or is it more about education?