Compassion for Animals – PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk in Vancouver

Colleen Gray-Hewett Blog

Last Thursday, here in Vancouver, Ingrid Newkirk, founder and president of PETA spoke to a sold out crowd, myself included.  I had not heard Ms. Newkirk speak before but as an animal lover (one key reason for being vegan) and wanting to do more for the absolute horrors that billions of animals face each year, I really wanted to hear her voice and the message PETA is sending out in general in 2018.

The demographics in the room seem to reflect the vegan community in North America as a whole.  Majority early 30’s or younger.  More women than men but quite a few couples.  A clear group that is in the ‘in’ crowd in certain vegan movements in Vancouver and who are leading some of the animal advocacy movements in the Lower Mainland.  But there were also several in the 40, 50, 60+ demographic.  Long-time supporters of PETA (likely) or perhaps even some recent transitions to the plant-based movement with a growing interest in the animal compassion side of what forgoing animal products means.

Compassion.  Ms. Newkirk stressed this as the way to animal liberation.  Unquestionably, animals are sentient beings.  They are intelligent, feeling, often family or community oriented.  They have language and communication that goes far beyond what we understand.  They are observant of this crazy world around them.  They know harm.  They know fear.  Yet one of Earth’s species (homo sapiens) is choosing to alter life on earth by dominating, abusing, and commodifying any species it sees fit to do so to when, in 2018, there is absolutely no need.

Back in prehistoric times, there is no doubt that some animal killing was necessary for survival (to go along with the predominant diet of tubers, fruits, and other plants).  Every part of the animal was used.  Today, there is no need.  We can get all the nutrition, clothing, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, chemicals testing and so forth from non-animal sources. In fashion, the lead is coming from the biggest designers in the fashion world (Gucci, Prada, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, etc) to no longer use fur.  This should be the example for the rest of the world (that’s you, Canada Goose).  San Francisco has recently become the first city in the world to ban all sales of fur within its city limits.  Vancouver – our turn?  Next will be leather and feathers.  All leather coats, trim, shoes, bags, accessories can now be replaced with other quality products.  The no-skin leather-like materials that are being produced from organic matter such as pineapple and cork are amazing. Shoe manufacturers like Steve Madden, Stella McCartney (adidas), Vans, Converse, Birkenstock already put forward vegan shoes – some just by default and some with full intention.

PETA fights for animal rights through legal avenues around the globe as well as demonstrations.  It is the demonstrations that, in my opinion, have left some people – particularly in the 40+ crowd – with a negative taste for the organization without realizing the massive amount of animal rights work that is done annually by passionate and brave people.  Through the courts, through investigations, through science, and mostly through compassion, PETA works tirelessly to bring forth the facts about how the animals you eat, wear, and use by-products of every day are really treated.

Humans are born compassionate.  There is massive disconnect between what we think to be true when it comes to animals and what is actually happening.  The animal advocacy movement and the vegan movement are both, it seems, bottom-up approaches.  Not because we want it to be this way, but it seems so difficult for the facts (be it the health solutions that come from a whole food plant-based diet or the heart-breaking abuse of animals or the destruction of our planet) to make it to legislation.  There is too much money at stake.

Take the dairy industry.  Today in North American, sales of milk have plummeted year over year for the past decade.  In the US, there are millions of gallons of milk literally being dumped each year as there is no market.  The same goes for cheese – but mostly the cheese gets dumped into the school system and fast food menus.  In the United States, the dairy industry is massively subsidized by the tax payer.  The reason why dairy sales are declining is that one-by-one people are learning that milk does a body harm.  As does cheese and whey and other dairy byproducts.  So they are choosing to spend their dollars elsewhere.  Yet their tax dollars will subsidize pouring milk down the drain.  This is the type of battle that needs to be fought.  The taxpayer battle.  IF you are choosing to no longer consume dairy (which is arguably the most abusive within the cattle farming sector), you should be complaining to your elected representatives to no longer support dairy farming with taxpayer dollars.  Let the dairy farmers determine their own next move.  Many farmers have already made changes, opting to phase out their dairy herds in favour of other crops or other products altogether.  This allows the farmer to be a true farmer again or, if so inclined, an entrepreneur.  There is a reason why Big Agra is investing so heavily right now in alternatives to dairy, eggs and meat and fighting tooth and nail against all information that is negative to the meat-farming industries.  And these are industries using commodities, not pastures of happy animals happy to die to feed us something we don’t need to live well.

So back to PETA.  Here are some of the messages from the 2017 Annual Review publication:

  • We believe that animals have an intrinsic worth of their own, quite apart from their utility to humans, and should not be treated as commodities.  Therefore, PETA’s motto is “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way”.
  • The greatest cause of animal suffering is not malice.  It is ignorance.
  • The ally of ignorance is silence. (This one hits home for me…)
  • Awareness is the first step.  Change is the second.  (There is SO much we can do – right from the moment you read this.  Vow to eat less meat or phase it out altogether.  Vow to not buy another products tested on animals – the information is out there.  Vow not to drink another drop of wine or beer or spirits that doesn’t check out on Introduce one friend or family member to a meatless meal that could be as simple as a veggie burger night with homemade guacamole, sauted onions and mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, served on a vegan bun (many are vegan) or some nice leaves of romaine or collard greens.

While the younger generations are quick to adopt plant-based eating and embrace animal and/or environmental advocacy, my generation seems to be more mixed.  Some are very open-minded about alternative approaches to the way we live our lives (mediation, yoga, eating more plants while living Type A professional lives and active in sports, travel, gear, etc).  Some, though, are still entrenched in the ‘this is the way its always been’ or ‘everything in moderation’ or just plain not interested despite all the evidence to support healthy longevity, compassion for animals and environmental necessity.

What to do?  Keep providing information.  Model the lifestyle to show that it is an easy, healthy, delicious, awakening while not being so different from current day-to-day life.  Ask questions.  Research the answers.  Refer to PETA’s website which is a wealth of information.  There is a reason why so many people with fame and success are supports of PETA either out front or behind the scenes.  Including:

  • Alec Baldwin
  • Paul McCartney
  • Bryan Adams
  • Pamela Anderson
  • Gillian Anderson
  • Evanna Lynch
  • Edie Falco
  • Iggy Pop
  • Sharon Osborne
  • Cat Stevens
  • Bill Maher
  • Edward James Olmos
  • Several NBA and NFL athletes
  • And the list goes on…

In the end, Ingrid Newark’s presentation both highlighted some recent undercover operations and legal successes as well as sharing some excellent examples of animals in the wild doing remarkable things.  You could have brought your children and teens to the event without worry.  She is positive, compassionate and humble.  She is the true old guard of the vegan and animal advocacy movement yet so in touch with the generations coming up.  I find myself still mostly on the sidelines when it comes to animal advocacy.  I don’t know quite how to be out there save for wearing my Mercy for Animals or PETA t-shirts, bumper sticker on my car, this blog, trying to avoid animal products beyond my kitchen.  In short, I think the following words say it all (coming to a t-shirt near you soon I hope!):



It is that simple.

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