Brenda Sanders

Brenda Sanders

“I’m so glad that I’m such a stubborn person and nobody can tell me what to do…. If I had listened, I never would have seen how much people want this change.” ~ Brenda Sanders

Growing up in the Baltimore housing projects, Brenda Sanders didn’t know what real food was. With no local grocery store nearby, her single mother instead bought food from a converted school bus.

“I feel weird even calling it food,” she admits. “It was the most processed, most unhealthy, salty, sugary, fatty animal products that you could think of— the cheapest crap. That was what was being trucked in and dumped into our community, because that’s all that we were worth. So I just grew up thinking that’s what food was.”

In the Penn-North neighborhood, Sanders and friends transformed a vacant lot into a thriving community garden. It served as a safe haven for birds and other wildlife, and provided vegetables for residents until it was closed (after two seasons) by the city for development. Photo by: Jo-Anne McArthur / #UnboundProject / We Animals Media.

Years later, living in the low-income neighborhood of Penn-North, where the closest grocery store was two bus rides away, she stumbled across an eye-opening community meeting: University students were presenting a recent study that had compared the health outcomes of two neighborhoods in Baltimore—an affluent white community and a low-income black community. The study revealed a 20-year difference in life expectancy, but surprisingly the main factor was not stress, nor income, but diet.

Sanders had been vegan for ten years and realized that she had knowledge to share about healthy eating.

“I felt like I could make a difference. It was audacious!”

She emptied her savings account, bought an assortment of cooking equipment, and started Better Health, Better Life. She knocked on the doors of churches and community centers, and anywhere that would have her.

She was met with disbelief and told time and again that these communities did not care about their health, and they would not eat vegan food. But if Sanders is anything, she is determined.

“I’m so glad that I’m such a stubborn person and nobody can tell me what to do!,” she says now, laughing. “If I had listened, I never would have seen how much people want this change.”

She ran cooking demonstrations and shared all she had learned about the health benefits of a vegan diet, sometimes to one person, sometimes a hundred. Wherever she went, people were eager to learn, and parents wanted better choices for their children. They left armed with recipes and printouts.

In Penn-North, Sanders and some friends set about transforming a vacant lot into a community garden. It was a labour of love. They moved mattresses, bed frames, and old tires, and Sanders contracted tetanus in the process. Soon local children became curious, and came out to help weed and build garden beds. They planted kale and collard greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. As the lot transformed, wildlife came to the garden—bluebirds, cardinals, praying mantis, and squirrels—animals that the kids had never seen before. The elders followed and soon it was a thriving community.

Unbeknownst to them, however, the lot had been tagged for development. City officials began harassing the community, citing obscure regulations, and after two seasons, the garden was closed.

Sanders knows it was political.

“These cities have a plan for bringing in higher income folks and doing the whole urban development thing, and building this project that brings the community of low-income people together around a shared vision disrupts that, and they will find ways to deter you.”

But Sanders would not be deterred. It was time to go bigger.

She reached out to fellow vegan and restaurateur, Naijha Wright-Brown of The Land of Kush, and together they dreamed up a free vegan festival that would connect people interested in veganism to vendors, speakers, and educational resources.

Over 1,200 people came to the first Vegan Soulfest in 2014.

“It was way more people than were supposed to be in that building!” she confides. By 2019, the event attracted over 14,000 attendees. “It just took on this momentum— it was like a freight train.”

Sanders was helping bring healthy eating choices to Baltimore’s black community, but she still saw veganism as a health issue, not an animal one. Then one day while shopping for shoes, she noticed they were made from kangaroo leather, and something clicked.

She began searching online and discovered an animal rights movement she hadn’t known existed, especially in Baltimore. Bolstered by this newfound network, she moved from knocking on doors to establishing a dedicated vegan community center called Thrive Baltimore. Here, she could run regular classes and expand her offerings to include a four-week vegan education program, film screenings, guest chef cooking demos, and cooking competitions.

People kept coming back, they brought their friends, and it just kept growing—she estimates they’ve reached tens of thousands.

“The events at Thrive got so big, we were busting out of the seams,” she says, then smiles. “Baltimore is different now because of the work we were able to do out of Thrive.”

The more she worked, the more she realized it wasn’t just about health.

“The mission was so much bigger, and the issues were so much more expansive than these health disparities,” she says. “Now we’re talking about climate, and about animal abuse, and about environmental racism.”

In answer, she founded the Afro-Vegan Society, a project rooted at the intersection of human health, animal rights, and social justice. Their annual Veguary program, held during the month of February to encourage people to try vegan living, has helped thousands transition to a vegan lifestyle.

Baltimore was better informed than ever about the benefits of veganism, but access to vegan foods there remained a problem: with access. Vegan foods either weren’t available in the community, or they were too expensive.

Sanders describes The Greener Kitchen as a work of magic.

“It was the wackiest idea, out of all the things that I set out to do… Affordable, accessible, vegan convenience food doesn’t exist, and I thought ‘well, it should.’”

With her characteristic can-do attitude, she gathered a crew of chefs and producers to create a line of vegan foods that were just that.

 

While making healthy, real food that is as cheap as foods filled with chemicals hasn’t been easy, she has proved it is possible. The line of plant-based meats, sauces, and cheeses, all quick and easy to prepare at home, are made in-house to create employment opportunities. The key is keeping it local. Although they could grow the business and stock products at supermarkets, Sanders knows this would price people out: “Then it’ll be only for people who can afford to shop at Whole Foods, and people in the hood won’t have access to it again.”

Both Thrive Baltimore and The Greener Kitchen were forced to close during the pandemic. Not one to have her plate empty though, Sanders used the time to launch the Food & Justice podcast for the Defund Big Meat campaign.

“What I want to do with this show,” she explains, “is to expose the filthy underbelly of our food system and for people to learn everything they didn’t know so that we can start to make more informed choices and choices that are in our best interest.”

“My next goal is to reach millions,” Sanders says before breaking into a smile.

And if anyone is capable of it, she is.

Written by Anna Mackiewicz
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur

Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor

“…There is a lot of shame around needing help, being a burden on other people, on your family, on the economy, even. But we all go in and out of being dependent and live on a spectrum of dependency. We are all interdependent.”

Sunaura Taylor

Sunaura Taylor is an artist, writer, academic, and an activist for both disability rights and animal rights. Her artwork has been displayed internationally and she is currently an assistant professor at UC Berkeley where she teaches classes in animal studies and environmental justice.

Taylor utilises her lived experience as a disabled person to present new ways of thinking about disability and animals. Through each strand of her multifaceted work, she examines and challenges what it is to be human, what it is to be animal, and how the exploitation and oppression of both are entwined.

Taylor grew up in Athens, Georgia with three siblings, all unschooled, a radical form of child-led home-schooling based around the idea that children are inherently curious and naturally want to learn. The freedom bestowed by this “unique and pretty wonderful childhood” allowed Taylor’s sister to make a discovery that changed all their lives: that meat is animals.

“That initial instinct that there was something strange or uncomfortable about eating animals really led to all of us, in various ways, investigating the eating of animals as a political issue,” she says.

Today, all four siblings are vegan.

While Taylor had recognised and rejected the oppression of animals at the age of six when she became vegetarian, it was another 17 years before she connected attitudes toward disabled people with attitudes toward animals. Once she had begun to recognise how the oppressions of ableism and speciesism are “entangled,” she set out to investigate them more fully through her art and in her extraordinary book, Beasts of Burden.

Beasts of Burden examines how and why we value or devalue beings based upon the capacities they do or do not possess, or the assumptions we make about whether they possess certain capacities. Those who are seen as lacking language, or rationality, or the ability to walk on two legs, or the ability to be physically independent, for example, are devalued and their marginalisation or exploitation is excused, sometimes even justified.

Taylor explains that ableism (a term that names the discrimination and prejudice disabled people face, and the privileging of able-bodied norms), does not only impact disabled people; it also shapes our perceptions of and interactions with nonhuman animals. This, she says, not only shows through the exploitation of those deemed to be lacking certain abilities, but also through concepts such as dependency, which is fraught with negative connotations, and is often associated with both disabled people and domesticated animals.

Disability gives Taylor a different perspective from the mainstream experience and offers a unique way of living creatively outside the patterns shaped by a predominantly able-bodied society.

“We live in a country that is proud of the independent, self-made person,” she says, “the person who pulls themselves up by the bootstraps, and there is a lot of shame around needing help, being a burden on other people, on your family, on the economy, even. But we all go in and out of being dependent and live on a spectrum of dependency. We are all interdependent.”

Perhaps this is the main message of Taylor’s book: that both human and nonhuman animals are vulnerable and dependent, and we need to learn to value care and interdependency.

Dependency is just one of the issues that Taylor has debated with Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, and an influential voice for animal rights. Singer’s well-documented views on disability are not just offensive, but damaging, having driven a wedge between the animal liberation movement and disability activism. By guiding these social justice movements to embrace their commonalities and unite for liberation, Taylor’s work is helping to heal that rift.

“There is a lot more recognition that there are other ways of thinking about animal liberations,” she says, “ways that are entangled, in fact inseparable from human liberation, so that makes me really happy. And even if people don’t exactly know how to articulate that, or even if they don’t know exactly how they’re connected, there is a sense that they know that they are.”

Taylor’s influence on the animal rights and disability rights movements is profound, and yet it reaches much further. Through both her artwork and her teaching, she is challenging entrenched views right across society and offering a new perspective, an alternative future.

“I just taught a class called Thinking with Animals,” she says. “A lot of the students were science majors who did not take the class for any particular commitment to animal liberation, or even interest in animals, it just fit with their schedule. By the end they were so reflective on anthropocentrism and were critically thinking about how we think about other animals. I was blown away by the openness of the students and lack of defensiveness, and that was really beautiful and gave me a lot of hope for building thriving interspecies futures.”

Sunaura Taylor is currently writing her follow-up book Disabled Ecologies: Living with Impaired Landscapes. Her artwork can be seen at SunauraTaylor.com

Written by Kate Fowler
Photographs by Jo-Anne McArthur

Helena Hesayne

Helena Hesayne

“Animals are always the first casualties of war and economical crisis.” ~ Helena Hesayne

During the 2006 war in Lebanon, also known as the Israel-Hezbollah War, Helena Hesayne tells of how she had to remove the roof of her jeep. This was to ensure that Israeli forces in the air could see that she was transporting food – dog and cat food – and not weapons. With most of the people removed from the Hezbollah area at that time, there was no garbage for the many stray companion animals to scavenge for food. So Hesayne, Vice President of Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA), and two other BETA members bravely headed out to feed the animals. But she doesn’t feel it was bravery that guided her. It was just what needed to be done for the animals she loves so dearly.

“I grew up during the war,” Hesayne explains, meaning the Lebanese civil war from 1975-1990. “I was in the Lebanese Red Cross when I was 17 until I was 19, so we just got used to it,” she laughs. Hesayne speaks casually of war not because she feels it is a casual thing, but rather, as she often says, “it’s very hard to explain; you have to live it.”

For example, she describes, “When we were young and we had an exam, we used to pray in class ‘oh I hope today they’re going to bomb, that way we won’t have the exam,’ she laughs again. “We lived day by day.” And it appears that this strategy of finding humour in daily life in Lebanon is what continues to help Hesayne stay focused on the animals as the country now faces a major economic crisis.

“Animals are always the first casualties of war and economical crisis,” she says.

Hesayne has always loved animals.

“I always rescued when I was a kid. If I found a stray, I was always helping.”

Then the civil war started, and Hesayne temporarily moved to France to be with an aunt. Her aunt had dogs of her own and Hesayne experienced for the first time caring for them as her own pets, walking them, and having them in the house. “In Lebanon in the seventies, having a dog in the house wasn’t very common,” she says, “maybe just the little fluffy ones. Big dogs had to stay in the garden.”

Upon returning to Lebanon in 1994, after moving between France and the US and gaining her bachelor’s degree in architecture, Hesayne then rescued a German shepherd named Brooks. Brooks’s owner had died in a motorcycle accident around the same time Hesayne’s father died. She felt a special kinship with the dog in this way. He became a constant companion, accompanying her to work and everywhere she went. She then added three huskies to the bunch, bringing all to the office each day, far before dog-friendly workplaces were a thing. “And I would only hire people who loved dogs,” she laughs.

In 2006 Brooks died and Hesayne was devastated, she says, “I was so depressed.” Soon after though, something amazing happened. She attended a fair where BETA had set up a booth. At the time the group was just starting out. Upon meeting the volunteers, they encouraged Hesayne to join them. So she did, first volunteering at the shelter on her lunch breaks, then adding every weekend. When the 2006 war started later that year, she then became more involved, helping those starving strays. As she recalls, when people fled the country, many would leave their pets behind causing many to be strays.

“In the majority of cases, animals – pets – are just a commodity, not part of the family,” she explains.

By 2008, Hesayne was named vice president of BETA, a volunteer position she continues to hold alongside her job as an architect. Today the group is made up of 15 board members and 20 volunteers, many of whom are from other countries. BETA also shelters over 1,200 animals including dogs, cats, donkeys, horses, monkeys, and some wildlife. The group works with rescue organizations in Canada and the UK (also the US when permitted) to adopt out companion animals abroad (the other animals are placed in sanctuaries or remain at the shelter for life).

Today the mentality around having dogs in the home in Lebanon has changed says Hesayne; however, she adds, the problem now is the types of dogs most people want and where they are getting them from. The majority of mixed-breed stray dogs that BETA rescues are adopted by foreign families, while puppy mills, some actually owned by veterinarians, supply “designer” dogs to locals. “They also import a lot of dogs from Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, that are supposedly pure breeds and that come with health issues.”

Once, Hesayne recalls, someone contacted the shelter seeking a purebred dog, “he said, ‘It’s like I don’t want to drive a Fiat, I want to drive a Ferrari.’” This all lends to that mentality of animals being commodities, which she says continues today. And with current economical concerns in the country, dog-dumping by those who can no longer afford their dogs feeds into mounting problem with strays.

Thankfully though, Hesayne says there has been a shift in the region regarding spaying and neutering.

“When we first started, we were the only ones at the vet to do spaying and neutering and people would tell us ‘wow, it’s against God, how can you do that, poor animal.’”

Today she says it’s common to spay and neuter pets.

There is also a change in mentality around rescuing strays, she says.

“When we used to rescue a dog on the highway, no one would slow down, they would even get upset. Now not only do they slow down, many times you have people stopping and helping us.”

As Lebanon continues to cope with economic struggles, the global pandemic, and often extreme weather, Heysane says it’s the animals that keep her there. “The shelter will never be empty,” she says. Some dogs have been there all their life, for ten years or more. But, she says, the dream of finding each one of them a great home remains her guiding light.

“I just love them,” she says.

Written by Jessica Scott-Reid
Photographs by Seb Alex

Miyoko Schinner

Miyoko Schinner

“Why am I making cheese out of cashews and legumes? Because it’s all about the animals. They are entitled to a life of their own, to live life according to their wishes, and that’s a story we want to tell.” ~ Miyoko Schinner

Miyoko Schinner is the founder of the animal sanctuary Rancho Compasión and of Miyoko’s Creamery, a multi-million dollar vegan cheese and butter company.

Vegetarian since the age of twelve and vegan since the mid-1980s, Schinner has dedicated her life to advocating for animals. Her sanctuary, with compassion at the heart of its name and mission, provides a lifelong home for rescued farm animals and strives to change public perception about animals typically viewed as “food.” In the video featured here, see Schinner at the sanctuary as she proudly shows off the “Phenomenally Vegan” tattoo she got on her 60th birthday.

Continuing with her compassion-centered theme, Schinner focused her skills as a chef on bringing compassion to the table with dairy free cheeses, spreads, and butters. Miyoko’s Creamery products are all 100% vegan, lactose free, GMO free, palm-oil free, and cruelty-free. Schinner invented the category of artisan vegan cheese, and she is often referred to as the “Queen of Vegan Cheese” or as the woman on a mission to revolutionize the entire dairy industry. Schinner’s mission to create the creamery of tomorrow also sees today’s independent dairy farmers as allies who can play an essential role. Her company works with them to grow plant milk crops and thus, transition to the prosperous world of plant-based dairy. The Miyoko’s brand promise, reminiscent of her tattoo, is to be “phenomenally vegan in everything we do.”

“From our humble beginnings with four employees in Miyoko’s home kitchen, to a 30,000 sq ft. state-of-the-art facility in Sonoma, we’re leading the way in transforming the future of the creamery. In just a few short years, our products can be found in 1,000’s of stores and our ‘cheese’ wheels are on the road to global distribution in the near future. We’re changing perceptions of vegan food, to inspire people from all walks of life to enjoy a phenomenally vegan lifestyle.” ~ the Miyoko’s Creamery website

In 2021, Schinner’s company continued to attract millions of dollars in capital investments and won a lawsuit to maintain the right to refer to her products as “butter.” With food as a powerful form of activism, the Miyoko’s Creamery mission continues on, striving “to create the blueprint for the animal-free dairy food system of tomorrow, for the urgent salvation of our planet and all that we share it with.”

Video by Henry Hopkins

 

 

Erin Wing

Erin Wing

“The mother cows turned to look at me and I could feel that they were asking me for help. You may not speak the same language, but you can understand when they’re asking you for something. They started to vocalize and I interpreted it as an act of mourning.”

At just 25, Erin Wing went undercover and spent the next two years working at chicken, dairy, and salmon farms documenting the institutionalized abuse of animals in these industries.

She was attracted to the work because of a deep connection she felt with animals who were her companions through childhood experiences of household violence, and it was this history that convinced her she was right for the role. But even she wasn’t prepared for all that would follow.

“I definitely went in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” laughs Wing. “I thought: I will do one investigation that will change everyone’s perspective, and everyone will be vegan within a year.”

Now the Deputy Director of Investigations at Animal Outlook, Wing relinquished her anonymity to speak out about what she saw on several American farms, and her testimony is confronting.

Foremost in her stories is the constant presence of violence.

“Those environments are meant to take away all the better parts of yourself, all the parts that feel compassion, that feel happiness, that feel kindness, because you can’t really feel much of anything,” she says. Workers must become desensitized in order to survive.

At a salmon farm in Maine – the first-ever investigation of a salmon factory farm in America – she remembers looking into a bucket where a salmon was slowly suffocating to death. Noticing her discomfort, a co-worker tried to reassure her: “It used to bum me out, the way we kill these animals – but then you get used to it.”

It was through stolen moments with the animals – like lingering in the back area of a milking facility to show the cows a moment of affection – that Wing managed to stay connected to her humanity. When you see the animals for who they are, she says, “it’s hard to ignore that better part of yourself that says, ‘is what I’m doing right?’”

Despite the personal toll, Wing is quick to re-centre the animals. “It is all about them,” she insists.

“I describe this job as existing in solidarity with them, seeing their experiences first-hand, and coming away with the animals’ testimony.”

When asked about the worst things she has seen, Wing doesn’t hesitate – there are countless examples. She describes an injured cow being dragged and hoisted 20 feet into the air by her hips and sprayed in the face with a high-pressure hose.

In her last investigation, at Dick Van Dam Dairy, a factory farm in Southern California, the violence was visceral and constant with workers beating the cows every single day. “I was being affected in a way that I wasn’t able to control,” she remembers. “The degree of violence was pulling me back into memories, situations that I hadn’t been in since I was young. And I realized this was very dangerous for me mentally.”

She knew that her remaining time as an investigator was limited.

“I describe it as maintaining this dam inside of myself, and after every investigation there was one crack in the dam, and then another. There was no way I could keep going and keep up the facade of just being another worker. I knew that once that dam broke I would be at risk of losing a part of myself that I was afraid I would never be able to get back: that ability to connect to other animals in a way that is meaningful.”

Wing believes that the public seeing this footage will be surprised not only by the abuse, but also to discover what animals who are farmed are really like – which is precisely why footage captured undercover is such an important resource.

“We hope to change public perception of animals, and hopefully people see them as being worthy of our protection, and that their suffering does matter,” says Wing.

She recounts one night shift at the dairy farm, finding two newborn calves dead in the dirt.

“The mother cows turned to look at me and I could feel that they were asking me for help. You may not speak the same language, but you can understand when they’re asking you for something. They started to vocalize and I interpreted it as an act of mourning.”

This is one reason that the animal agriculture industry operates under such secrecy, says Wing. “They don’t want people to see that these animals are sentient, that they have family units, that they can show affection, that they are intelligent in many different unique ways.”

Sometimes footage is compelling evidence bolstering legal action against offending facilities. From the four investigations that Wing undertook, one chicken farm was closed, and the owner banned from working with animals for a year. The other three facilities are still operating.

While working in the field felt like she was shouldering the immense responsibility of the work alone, retiring from investigations has allowed Wing to feel part of a greater movement working together toward a better world for animals. “It’s what I always wanted to do with my life ever since I was a little girl.”

Looking to the future, she is excited about Animal Outlook’s new Farm Transitions program, which will help farmers transition from farming animals to farming plants.

“It’s an alternative that is offered to farmers that shows that you don’t have to participate in these animals’ suffering, you don’t need to desensitize yourself, there is another way and a better way.”

Erin Wing, Deputy Director of Investigations at the animal advocacy NGO Animal Outlook, spends time with Lola at Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve.

Erin Wing, Deputy Director of Investigations at the animal advocacy NGO Animal Outlook, spends time with Lola at Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Wing doesn’t think she could ever go back to a life outside of animal advocacy after all that she has seen. And despite the horror, she still has hope: “I see the future as being very bright.”

A big thank you to Wildwood Farm Sanctuary & Preserve for hosting Unbound’s photo shoot with Erin Wing.

Written by Anna Mackiewicz
Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur

Chihiro Okada

Chihiro Okada

“I discovered that animals are placed in far worse situations, are treated far worse than humans. So I really started to put a stronger focus on the treatment of animals.”

When Chihiro Okada was a young student in Japan she imagined she might one day work in the field of human rights, perhaps tackling world hunger. But then, as a member of her school’s newspaper, she worked on a story about pets. The story brought her to local animal shelters and pounds where she learned just how many homeless companion animals in Japan are euthanized. She was shocked, she says through an interpreter.

Ms. Chihiro Okada, Director of Animal Rights Centre Japan. Photo by Itsuka Yakumo / #unboundproject / We Animals Media.

“I discovered that animals are placed in far worse situations, are treated far worse than humans. So I really started to put a stronger focus on the treatment of animals.”

Today Okada is the director of Animal Rights Centre Japan (ARCJ), the country’s most impactful organization for animal advocacy. The work of the group, under Okada’s leadership, highlights much of the progress being made for animals in Japan in the last two decades, and a slow but steady cultural shift.

After Okada’s revelation about the ill-treatment of companion animals in Japan, she started university with a new attention on animals. She traveled and studied abroad, first to Canada, where she visited more animal shelters, then to Australia, where she recalls meeting a teacher who was vegetarian. “That was then I thought, ‘ok there’s a lot more I can do regarding my interest toward animals,’” she recalls. And upon returning to Japan she quickly connected with ARCJ and began transitioning toward being vegan.

On her first day as a volunteer with ARCJ, Okada was told to read a particular book by someone named Peter Singer. The book, Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for our Treatment of Animals, published in 1975, is of course now considered a pioneering text on animal rights, but to Okada it was new, profound and put into words all that she was already feeling.

At that time, she recalls, there were no groups in Japan focusing on farmed animal welfare. Rather, ARCJ’s eye was fixed on banning animal testing and fur fashion. The group ran campaigns and organized large protests and marches; and since 2005, when ARCJ began campaigning against fur, Okada reports there has been a 94% decrease in the importation of fur products. “We can say that is a clear sign of success.” And even better, she says, was the closure of Japan’s last fur farm in 2016, effectively ending the fur industry in the country.

Historical photo provided by ARCJ.

Today Okada has been with ARCJ for twenty years, 17 of those in the role of director, and she and her team have shifted focus.

“The biggest issue that we believe needs to be tackled in Japan today is the treatment of farmed animals,” she says. “There are no other organizations like us currently working on these issues, both to improve the overall status of animal welfare in Japan, as well as working toward the overall decrease of animal farming.”

The group does this via consumer and corporate education, and lobbying for change. Last year, ARCJ was able to stop a legal proposal to ban free range chicken farming. ARCJ also advocates for increased production and availability of plant-based foods by speaking with food producers, grocers, restaurants, and hotels.

“Recently, more major companies here have been taking action toward doing something veggie or plant-based; it’s grown into a bigger range than we ever could have hoped for,” says Okada.

And Okada has been able to fulfill a personal goal of creating a “strong, nationwide animal rights action network,” of people and groups all around the country to share information and resources. “People now know they can come to us, contact us about anything animal rights related.”

Looking toward the future of animal advocacy in Japan, Okada says her next ambitions are to see the use of battery cages and sow stalls end by 2030, and see food producers increase their range of animal-free foods, “to at least half of what they are producing,” she says, “within my lifetime.” But her greatest goal, she says, is to “pass this organization down, eventually, to the next person who can make this group into a huge social movement all around Japan that works toward the end of speciesism and the mistreatment of all animals.”

For now, Okada and ARCJ are pleased to see that the issue of animal treatment is finally permeating the popular culture, and that animal welfare is now a term and idea that the people of Japan are coming to understand.

“Five years ago when we said ‘animal welfare’ –which is an English word that we’ve made into Japanese—many people did not know what it meant. Since then we’ve been able to raise politicians’ and consumers’ awareness about factory farming,” she says. “We’ve been able to spread the fundamental understanding of what animal welfare is.”

What began as Okada’s small story on pets has blossomed into organized advocacy for all animals in Japan.

Written by Jessica Scott-Reid
Photographs by Itsuka Yakumo (with exception of the historical ARCJ photo)