Hilda Kean

Hilda Kean

Open Your Eyes and See the History All Around You: The Importance of Knowing Our Activist History

It is no exaggeration to say that Hilda Kean set me on the path I am on today. Well, to be more specific, one of her books did–it would be several years until I would actually meet Hilda Kean in person! When I was a graduate student in the early 2000s my research was situated in environmental studies but, at that time, the idea of studying and thinking critically about animals was still quite separate from the scholarship being done in environmental studies. I found this somewhat strange and a little frustrating, but then I came across Hilda Kean’s Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800. This was the first time that I had read the work of a writer who had taken human-animal relationships seriously as a subject of cultural and historical research. Her influence has been enormous, not just on my own work, but on the fields of animal studies and human-animal history.

For this interview, I arranged to meet Hilda Kean a few summers ago at a vegan cafe in Brighton, UK. When she arrived, she told me that she had almost missed her train because she had awoken to discover a fox in her house that morning! “I don’t see why some people are frightened of foxes,” she calmly said as she recounted the details of what had transpired that morning.

The fox Kean found in her house that morning.

Hearing Kean talk about her encounter with this fox reminded me so much of her writing. In both cases her narrative is framed by a compassionate yet critical inquiry. Her work is grounded by a real concern for thinking about the actual lived experiences of individual animals and she resists historical understandings of human-animal relationships that are informed by clichés or symbolism.

For instance, in one of her recent books, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy, Kean went to great lengths to learn as many individual stories as she could after the 400,000 cats and dogs in Britain that were killed by their owners at the outbreak of the Second World War. In telling these stories she moves beyond the standard tropes typical in narratives about both this war and of human-animal (and animal-human) bonds. Her meticulous research is grounded in actual events and testimonies and, as such, complicates the narratives we like to tell ourselves about our historical relationships with our companion animals. This is an uncomfortable history and Kean does not shy away from telling it.

Likewise, Animal Rights is a book that looks at the complicated history of animal advocacy in Britain. Kean’s motivation for writing Animal Rights grew out of a sense of frustration about the lack of awareness of activism in previous historical periods.

“It is important to acknowledge that in Britain campaigns for animal rights and animal welfare go back at least to the late 18th and early 19th century,” she stresses. “So, if you like you can say you don’t agree with these ideas, but you can not say that these ideas came from nowhere.”

“These things did happen and they were important.”

Kean underscores how important it is for activists of today to know that “these ideas have not just come out of thin air.” Anti-vivisection, in particular, has a long and complex history in places like Britain, and it was women who were often on the front lines of these fights. Recognizing the work of these reformers from earlier historical periods is important, Kean feels, not only to give credit where credit is due, but also to allow us to take a broader historical perspective on animal advocacy. This can help reframe some of our current struggles to change the world for animals. Kean acknowledges that as we look to this history and realize that some of the fights we are fighting today were also being fought by previous generations of activists it can be “somewhat depressing” at first glance. But Kean stresses that knowing this history also “places things in a broader context of time” to allow us to see how the “ideas and campaigns have been worked through, modified, and emphasized in different ways. They have had some successes over a period of time.”

As a historian, Kean feels it is important to take the full messy, complex narratives of animal advocacy into account. Looking to the past only as a source of “inspirational stories…implies that there were only successes.” There have been, of course, changes for the better. Kean points to the status of companion animals as an example of this, noting “that their lives are better now than they were say in the early 1800s or even in the early 1900s.” With farmed animals, however, she is concerned that things may be “much worse than they were 100 years ago, that moving animals away from fields to inside” has caused even greater concerns for activists.

While Kean is pleased to see so many people working on animal studies topics within academia in recent years, she also sometimes finds it frustrating that this academic work can often be incredibly “esoteric” and seemingly removed from actual animals. For Kean, animal studies is much more than an “academic exercise” and she finds it “quite shocking” that there are some working in this field who “apparently have no interest in living animals.”

Kean also stresses the importance of historians getting up from their desks.

“I don’t think history is all about somebody sitting in a library and writing notes and getting it published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journal. It is also important to actually look at what is going on in the world.”

Kean embodies this perspective in her own work. For example, during the time she was writing Animal Rights she remembers reading comments in a newspaper that ridiculed animal rights activists who had been protesting the selling of live lobsters. She recalls that the comments were along the lines of “Where do these mad people come from? Fancy doing this about lobsters!” As she was reading about this protest and the public response to it, she couldn’t help but think about the 1829 pamphlet she had found during the course of her research. This pamphlet was “published by what was then the SPCA. It was a campaign about lobsters and the cruel way that lobsters were boiled alive.” As she read the newspaper coverage of the protest in the late 1990s the connections between the 19th century protest and the 20th century protest were obvious to her. “When I’m reading something like that in the newspaper, I’m relating that in my head to other things I’m doing. And it makes me think ‘I have to do something.’ I don’t mean that I have to write to the newspaper necessarily, I mean, I will do that, but it is more around thinking about how to argue the importance of knowing the history of animal rights activism.”

While Kean is passionate about the history of the animal advocacy movement, she is also firmly rooted in the present moment, and keeps a sharp eye out for ways in which human-animal histories remain part of our current environments. “I just see things in the environment that catch my interest.

“I sometimes notice things others don’t because I think most people run around with their eyes shut.”

Walking, looking, and noticing details such as statues or monuments featuring cats, dogs, horses, or other animals are an important part of Kean’s research methods, and her impressive list of published writing on human-animal histories is a testament to how astute she is at this practice. She also spends a lot of time talking to people, asking questions, and thinks critically about how animals and humans would have interacted in previous spaces.

Understanding this kind of context is at the heart of the work that Kean does. For instance, she discusses the Old Brown Dog memorial, a highly controversial monument dedicated to a dog who was killed in a vivisection laboratory in 1903. During the early 20th century this memorial statue became a touchstone for ongoing debates about animal experimentation until the decision was made to remove it from the Latchmere gardens completely. In 1985 a replacement statue was placed in nearby Battersea Park, but, as Kean points out, the new statue was within the park and this was significant. The placement of the original statue was highly political. As Kean notes, it was “in the middle of a model housing estate for workers. This was a socialist area at the time. So, the location of the statue very much brought across the politics of it, the alignment of ordinary people and animals.” This historical connection is not immediately apparent with the new memorial statue having been placed there just before the demise of the socialist Greater London Council (GLC). This is the kind of attention to detail that informs all of Kean’s work.

“We need to consider these things in their social and cultural contexts.”

When I asked Kean about the kind of advice she would give other writers and scholars who want to make a difference for animals, she replied that “it is really just thinking about what you want to do, and if you want to do things that privilege the position of animals, you just do it.” I couldn’t agree more.

Thank you, Hilda, for all you have done for animals and for the field of animal history.

 

Images courtesy of Hilda Kean, Rosa Harvest and Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Keri Cronin.

Ondine Sherman

Ondine Sherman

Ondine Sherman is a tireless and trailblazing animal advocate. In 2004, Ondine teamed up with her father Brian Sherman to co-found Voiceless, which has since grown to become one of the most prominent animal protection and animal law organizations in Australia. In addition to Voiceless, Ondine is a full-time mother of three and has published a memoir about her journey with her twins who have disabilities​, as well as three young adult novels with prominent themes of animal activism.

Unbound filmmaker Kelly Guerin visited Ondine at her beautiful home in Israel, surrounded by adoring rescue dogs and former battery chickens. As Ondine is uniquely poised to share insight into balancing activism and motherhood, she shared with Unbound how she has been able to dissolve the seemingly rigid lines between the two, and continue to change the world for animals.

Learn more about Ondine’s work and books.

Filming and editing by Kelly Guerin.

Gail Eisnitz

Gail Eisnitz

“I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t have hope.”

If you want to understand what it’s really like behind the closed doors of America’s factory farms and slaughterhouses, ask Gail Eisnitz.

She can tell you about the sounds—overwhelmingly loud, a mix of whirring automation and animals’ pained shrieks. She can tell you how it smells, and about the colours, and about how fast everything goes. Now more than ever, she’ll explain, the kill line stops for nothing. Not for an injured worker. Not for possible meat contamination. Not for an animal too scared or weak to move forward on its own. Not even for one who hasn’t effectively been rendered unconscious before the cutting or boiling begins.

She can tell you how it feels to stand right next to the stun operator—so close that you’re spattered with brain as cows fall. She can tell you about the fear, which she says is instantly recognizable, no matter the species.

For decades, as the public has largely turned away from the worst of what we inflict on animals used for food, Eisnitz has chosen to look. Among America’s most dedicated animal rights investigators, for years, she acknowledges, she immersed herself so deeply that her work was an obsession. While she is best known for her 1997 book Slaughterhouse (updated edition, 2006), which exposed horrific violations of federal law inside United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)-inspected facilities, her achievements extend much further.

In the late 90s, as chief investigator for the California-based Humane Farming Association (HFA), Eisnitz documented widespread use of illegal, deadly steroids by the U.S. veal industry, leading to convictions and national television coverage. In 2000, after obtaining videotaped evidence and affidavits from workers, she exposed the routine skinning and dismemberment of hundreds of thousands of conscious cattle by the world’s largest meat packer. Eisnitz was the driving force behind a highly read frontpage 2001 Washington Post article that detailed slaughterhouse atrocities across the country, which led to Congress’s infusion of tens of millions of dollars into the USDA’s budget for humane slaughter enforcement. She played a key role in stopping construction in 2003 in South Dakota of what would have been the world’s third largest pig factory—a case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In addition to appearing in The New York Times and on Good Morning America, among many other news outlets, her work was the subject of the HBO documentary Death on a Factory Farm. Today, she continues as an investigator with HFA.

“It takes repeated pounding away at the meat industry to effectuate any change—repeated blows,” says Eisnitz, who is thoughtful, soft-spoken and lives in North Carolina with her cat, Abel.

“I always tell myself that if you keep pounding away, change will come.”


Colleagues say that relentlessness, no matter the obstacle or cost, reflects Eisnitz’s courage and her commitment to finding truth.

“She has gone after the stuff of nightmares, and kept at it,” says Patty Finch, former executive director of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. She calls Eisnitz’s investigations into U.S. slaughterhouses “one of the most impressive bodies of work by any animal activist.”

“Doing that work for so long comes at a great personal cost to her. I know that as her friend,” Finch says. “But Gail never stops.”

Eisnitz first felt compelled to help animals as a child growing up in New Jersey. She remembers watching a program on public television around age 12 that showed two orphaned polar bear cubs looking up at the film crew in a helicopter overhead. Their mother had just been shot. “The expressions on their faces were so helpless. It was seared in my brain,” Eisnitz recalls. A few years later, in high school, she wrote a research paper on endangered species and couldn’t believe the speed at which animals were being wiped away. “After that I was definitely hooked on saving animals,” she says.

She earned a degree in natural resource conservation and began writing about and illustrating threatened and endangered species for various local publications. In 1983, she took a job as a writer and lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for the Animal Welfare Institute and Society for Animal Protective Legislation. Her next job was as a writer and editor for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

But something was missing.

“You can only write about things for so long that you haven’t seen for yourself.”

“I wanted to work in investigations so desperately, but it was such a small field at the time,” Eisnitz says.

She got her chance in 1988 when she became one of HSUS’s two national field investigators. Soon she was working to expose puppy mills, auctions of badly abused horses, cockfighting, the use of “live lure” rabbits in greyhound racing, and cruelty in factory farming. Sometimes she put cases together by conducting in-depth interviews with whistleblowers or other insiders who she persuaded to sign affidavits. Other times, she got close to perpetrators and gathered evidence while posing as Carol Taylor, her undercover persona. Her first slaughterhouse investigation started with a tip from a USDA employee assigned to a Florida facility where cows routinely were being skinned alive. “He’d complained to everyone he could think of and no one was doing anything,” Eisnitz recalls.

It was a roadblock that would stymie Eisnitz again and again as she delved deeper into slaughterhouses. She says getting inside and finding workers willing to talk often wasn’t all that difficult; significantly harder was getting people in positions to help to take action, including the media, law enforcement officials and USDA regulators. Many times she convinced network news programs to run stories using evidence she’d gathered, only to have them back out at the last minute saying the material was too graphic. With law enforcement, “They’d often say we fabricated our evidence. They’d take the side of the factory farm or the slaughterhouse.” Even HSUS wasn’t interested in supporting slaughterhouse investigations or making use of her findings, Eisnitz says.

“I was definitely obsessed with getting these cases put together. I had spent so much time documenting these atrocities.”

In 1992, Eisnitz left HSUS to become chief investigator for the Humane Farming Association. It was there that her colleague, HFA founder Bradley Miller, encouraged her to write a book.

In all, she put almost a decade of work into Slaughterhouse, a first-person account of her efforts as an investigator, including while she underwent treatment for breast cancer. In addition to detailing horrendous cruelty to animals—animals routinely beaten, scalded and dismembered while fully conscious, live animals dragged around by meat hooks, animals arriving for slaughter frozen nearly solid after being transported in sub-zero temperatures—the book also explores other consequences of slaughterhouses’ lightning-fast line speeds, including meat contamination and mental and physical fallout for workers.

“I encountered people who became sadistic from working in slaughterhouses, and they took out their frustrations on the animals,” Eisnitz says, noting that many who she interviewed were relieved to tell her about what they’d done and seen. “I encountered people who became alcoholics and became abusive to their spouses.”

The book gave Eisnitz a platform to call attention to slaughterhouse violations, which she did in interviews that aired on more than 1,000 radio stations. In 2004, she was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal for excellence in animal welfare by the Animal Welfare Institute.

After Slaughterhouse, Eisnitz threw herself into the world of pig farming, finding a whole new set of horrors. When she finally slowed down, about ten years ago, she began to understand the extent to which documenting trauma eventually becomes trauma of one’s own.

“I was very troubled. It wasn’t pretty. I just tried to shut it out and not deal with it, which is not good, because it comes out in other ways.” For Eisnitz, that included trauma-induced illness that manifested itself in visual processing problems that she struggled to find treatment for.

“I wish I could say something wise,” she says about how she eventually healed. “I think it was just time and distance.”

One of the biggest lessons she’s learned from her decades of activism is that self-care matters.

“You can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first.”

While her pace may have leveled, today Eisnitz is as dedicated to helping animals as ever. She is focused now on reforming the USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program, which reimburses farmers and ranchers for animals who die during extreme weather, even when farmers make no effort to protect them. She’s also currently working to shut down a large illegal slaughter operation.

As for the sanctioned slaughterhouses she spent so many years investigating, she knows some of the atrocities she documented continue.

“The infusion of millions of dollars we secured from Congress for humane slaughter enforcement has generated much more regulatory attention to the issue,” she says. “However, I did a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request pretty recently and it showed that animals are still being shackled, hoisted and bled while fully conscious.”

The meat industry continues to push for ever-higher limits on line speeds, Eisnitz notes, and in the case of pigs, no cap on line speeds. Driving the increases, she explains, are industry consolidation—many small and medium-sized slaughterhouses have closed in recent years—and growing demand for meat in developing countries. Lax USDA regulatory enforcement adds fuel to the fire.

“The bottom line is the meat industry can’t seem to kill animals fast enough.”

At the same time, she knows her work and the work of other investigators and activists has made a difference, from hard-won media exposure, convictions and legislative improvements to the thousands of people who’ve written to her since Slaughterhouse was published to say they’ve given up animal products.

And she knows more victories for animals will come, if she just keeps pounding away.

“I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t have hope.”

 

Photos by Kelly Guerin. Interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Story by Corinne Benedict.

Dr. Charu Chandrasekera

Dr. Charu Chandrasekera

“It is going to happen in my lifetime, and it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

On a warm October day in Halifax, Dr. Charu Chandrasekera is attending the inaugural Canadian Animal Law Conference, to speak on a panel entitled, ‘Ending Animal Experimentation: New Advances.’ That same weekend, coincidentally, the Canadian Cancer Society’s CIBC Run For The Cure is also taking place, to raise funds for breast cancer research. As Dr. Chandrasekera and I sit in a coffee shop to discuss her work, participants jog by and she quips: “I wish I could tell them they are not running for a cure. They are running from a cure.”

And so began a conversation both enlightening and enraging, detailing Dr. Chandrasekera’s journey as a biomedical scientist growing increasingly disenchanted by the system within which she works, specifically due to the use of animal models in research.

Though her story lands her today as the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada, it surprisingly didn’t start with concern for animals.

“The journey didn’t start with anything to do with animals,” she says, “it was me trying to be a scientist.” In her postdoctoral training following her PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology, Dr. Chandrasekera says she actually specifically worked in animal research labs, “because it was ingrained in you that animal research is absolutely essential; and I believed it, I trusted it.”

Heart failure was her area of research, mice and rats her test subjects. “Some of the labs I worked in also had rabbit models, and I saw people working dog models of heart failure as well,” she says. Soon into the work, however, Dr. Chandrasekera says, “it became very obvious that the work I was doing was not translatable [to humans] the way I thought it was.” And though she would continue this work for a few years, she would also continue to question the purpose and effectiveness of testing on animals. “In the field that I was involved in, nothing was really reproducible; there were so many discrepancies and contradictions even among the top-notch researchers in that field.”

Today, she notes, drugs tested to be safe and/or effective in animal models have a 95 percent failure rate in human trials. Yes, read that over again.

During this period, says Dr. Chandrasekera, “while I was going through this whole experience in these animal research labs where scientifically they weren’t working, I was also going through a personal, moral journey at home.” Becoming visibly choked up, Dr. Chandrasekera speaks of her dear cat Mowgli, a grey tabby with green eyes.

“She [Mowgli] taught me all about animal sentience for the first time in my life, about who animals really are. That they are just like us, they feel pain, they feel joy, they are mischievous, they get mad, they like to enjoy, and they are conscious.”

There was a certain innocence and purity in Mowgli’s eyes, she says, that captivated her heart. “And soon enough, there were times when I would go into the lab and I would see the exact same innocence and purity in the eyes of a mouse. And to me, there was no difference between Mowgli and the mouse I was giving heart disease to.” Combined with the scientific failures of animal research, she says, “it was no longer justifiable.”

It was around this time, Dr. Chandrasekera also adds that she viewed the documentary Cowspiracy, and immediately went vegan.

But it was in 2011 that Dr. Chandrasekera says she reached a point she describes as life-altering when her father had a heart attack and required bypass surgery. After staying at his bedside for weeks, she returned to the lab where they were working on heart failure research, specifically regarding certain receptors, if activated properly during a heart attack could be protective of the heart. “We had a number of different animal models of this,” she says, “and when I came back to the lab I talked to my professor I was working for, and I said ‘Do you think these receptors were activated in my dad during his heart attack?’ and he said –I’ll never forget this– ‘How the hell would I know? We’ve never looked at this in the human heart.’”

It was at that moment, she says, “everything within me sort of froze, and I thought, ‘What am I doing this for?’”

By 2012, Dr. Chandrasekera left traditional academia. She joined the American non-profit, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes plant-based eating, as well as preventive medicine and alternatives to animal research. “It was during this period that I was exposed to this whole other world. I got to interact with big players across the globe, people who were legitimate scientists, who were regulators, who were pharma industry, who were investing and actively promoting alternatives to animal testing.” She calls it an awakening, an awakening within her, as well as within the scientific community.

“There was a huge global shift. Countries like the Netherlands just came up and said, ‘We’re going to end all animal testing for chemical safety by 2025’; all these things were happening,” she says.

“From Brazil to East Asia, there are many countries that have dedicated federally funded research to shift away from animal testing.”

Whenever she would attend international meetings however, “people always asked, ‘How come there is no centre for alternatives in Canada?’” That’s when Dr. Chandrasekera knew what she needed to do next.

So in 2016, Dr. Chandrasekera approached the Vice President of Research and Innovation at the University of Windsor with a proposal, and said “How would you like to have a centre like that here?” He was fully on board, she says, as was the new Dean of Science, and in less than a year the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods was established. With the help of a “transformative gift from the Eric S. Margolis Family Foundation,” she says, the centre now works in three main areas: biomedical research, regulatory testing, and developing courses and degrees focused on “training the next generation to think outside the cage.”

Dr. Chandrasekera says she can now foresee a future without animal testing.

“It is going to happen in my lifetime, and it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

As another Run For the Cure participant saunters by the coffee shop window, Dr. Chandrasekera concludes: “This is about animals and this is about people like my dad. Alternatives to animal testing are where the world is headed, whether the scientific community likes it or not.”

 

Photos of Dr. Charu Chandrasekera by Frank Michael Photography. All other photos by Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Jessica Scott-Reid.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian journalist and animal advocate. Her work appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, Maclean’s Magazine and others.

Rebecca Knowles

Rebecca Knowles

“Times are changing, indeed.”

Rebecca Knowles is that rare combination of gentle warmth that puts you at ease in a moment, powerful intellect that allows her to read scientific papers and pick out key messages, and fearless determination. It is a powerful mix and explains, perhaps, how this unsung hero has quietly, yet dramatically, driven up the visibility, acceptance and adoption of veganism in Scotland. And it all began many years ago with a stray dog in Japan.

Rebecca was working as an English teacher in Ibaraki prefecture where she found herself caring for three abandoned dogs and two cats. “Like most of my life, it wasn’t planned,” she says, but once she and her partner had nursed these needy animals through distemper and back to health, they could not let them go again. Rebecca had wanted to come home to Scotland, but could not bear the thought of the animals being quarantined for six months. That decided it. She and her American partner moved to the United States instead, settling in southern New Mexico at the foot of Mount Taylor – one of the four sacred Navajo mountains.

There, she trained as a Clinical Mental Health Therapist working in a variety of places including a group home for pregnant and parenting teenage girls, a large domestic violence shelter, the county jail, a women’s prison, an acute psychiatric hospital, and latterly owning her own health clinic.

Rebecca Knowles and Princess the rescue dogThey moved further south to live on the border of El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico, and their three rescued dogs became eight, which meant they needed larger premises and some land.

“I went to view a place that sounded ideal,” says Knowles. “There was plenty of land for the dogs to roam around in and it was outside the city. There were also outbuildings. I asked the owner what she used them for. She opened the door to reveal wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling cages. She bred dogs. The noise was deafening and I was horrified.”

The owner was retiring and Rebecca asked her what she was going to do with all the dogs. The woman replied that she would keep a few, but that most would be put to sleep. Knowles was shocked. “Well, no one’s going to want to look after a bunch of old dogs”, the breeder replied, and without a thought, the words “I do” came from Knowles’ mouth.

She describes that instantaneous decision as “the most logical thing in the world”.

And that is how eight dogs became 40 overnight. “We tore out all the cages to find rodents in the walls, and then spent a lot of time trying to save wee baby mice! Then we were able to let the dogs out to run around on the grass. They had never touched the earth before, and never felt the softness of a blanket either. They went crazy! Rubbing themselves, rolling on their backs, and running around excitedly.”

Inevitably some of the dogs were pregnant, and so the work to care for them was only just beginning. Despite the stress of it all, and her work caring for humans in need, too, Knowles describes these dogs as “one of life’s gifts to me”.

El Paso gave Knowles another gift: she met her first vegan. She had been vegetarian since her time in Japan, when she woke up one morning with a troubling thought:

“If I say I’m an animal-lover, and yet I eat animals, I’m a hypocrite.”

She immediately became vegetarian, but knew nothing of the suffering in the dairy and egg industries until that fateful day she met a vegan in Texas.

It changed everything and she became involved in outreach and activism for farmed animals. She was part of the lobby group (Animal Protection Voters) that resulted in cock fighting finally being abolished in New Mexico. She volunteered with the Chihuahuan Desert Wildlife Relief, and was an active campaigner with Mercy for Animals and PETA. And yet she still wanted to come home.

As her old dogs reached the ends of their natural lives, she found she was able to contemplate bringing the rest home. There were “just” 15 dogs and two cats left.

They found a rental property in the Highlands that had enough land, and her husband, Vishnu, moved to the UK while Knowles initially remained in the US to begin the mentally and physically challenging rounds of paperwork, vet visits, bureaucracy, drilling holes in crates, booking flights, and overnight drives to Arizona that would eventually bring all their dear animals home to Scotland. “It felt like the biggest mountain I had ever climbed in my life,” she says.

“I thought, if I can do this, there’s going to be nothing in life that is too difficult.”

It was springtime when they arrived, and the fields were full of lambs. It was a sight Knowles hadn’t seen for a very long time. “I would give our neighbour lifts into Inverness,” she says “and she would go on about how sweet and adorable the lambs were and in exchange I would tell her the truth: four to six months – that’s the average life expectancy of one of these innocent, fun-loving creatures.”

And that’s how Vegan Outreach Scotland started, with just one woman wanting to tell people the truth. She made a Spring Lamb flier, and hit the pavements of Inverness handing them out and talking to people about this completely unnecessary suffering. “And it is unnecessary,” she says “because we need nothing from an animal’s body to live a happy, healthy life.”

A friend suggested she start a Facebook group. And since then, in the past three-and-a half years, the sole founder of Vegan Outreach Scotland has been joined by more than one thousand members in four branches across the country, from the Borders up to the Highlands.

Knowles is a calm voice, a rational and gentle person, who is utterly determined. She wins people over with her warmth and humour, and inspires them to take action in their personal lives and through outreach. She is also fearless, taking The Vegan Roadshow into the heart of the farming world – to agricultural shows and the Highland Games, as well as to galas, fairs, festivals, libraries, university campuses, supermarkets and high streets.

Since its inception, there has been a significant shift in the public’s reaction to her message. “Initially, people would ask what veganism was. Occasionally there was some wariness or even hostility towards us and surprise when people discovered we were nice and friendly. These days, everybody knows somebody who is vegan: an aunt, a sister, a son, a friend, a colleague. People already have a level of knowledge and are interested in learning more. Many vegans approach our stalls too, which was rare three years ago. People love our food samples, which we always have on our stands, and want to know where to buy them or how to make them.”

“Times are changing, indeed.”

You might think this enough of an achievement for one woman, but Knowles has much more to do. She understands that individual change is essential but the huge shifts will come when politicians understand the threat to the environment posed by animal agriculture. In early 2019, she launched a political campaign. She set up meetings with members of the Scottish Parliament to discuss the environmental impact of the food system and how repurposing land currently used for animal agriculture to instead grow crops for human consumption would not only provide greater food self-sufficiency and food security, but also free up the majority of Scotland’s agricultural land for native reforestation and ecosystem restoration. All of this would help Scotland achieve its ambitious climate change goals.

Knowles is not a professional campaigner or a political lobbyist, and still works her day job as a psychological therapist, but only a fool would bet against her driving changes on an even bigger scale than she has to date.

“Currently, we are lobbying for a seat on the Farming and Food Production Future Policy Group which comprises producers, consumers and environmental interest groups who will inform on and recommend a new bespoke policy on farming and food production in Scotland post-Brexit. Exciting stuff!”

And this immense change all began with one woman in a faraway country faced with three dogs who needed her help.

 

Photos by Julia Fraser – a Scottish photographer who creates pictures from her observations of the people and landscape of Scotland.


Interview and story by Kate Fowler – a freelance writer and PR and media specialist.

Liz Dee

Liz Dee

“We need to be everywhere; animals need our voices everywhere.”

Liz Dee, Founder of Vegan Ladyboss

Liz Dee wears a lot of hats. As co-president of Smarties Candy Company, CEO of Baleine & Bjorn Capital and founder of Vegan Ladyboss, she credits strict time management and her very own superpower—being vegan—with helping her to do it all. “Smarties is my day job, Baleine & Bjorn Capital is my side hustle, and Vegan Ladyboss is my passion project,” she explains. And she’s killing it, all while inspiring other women to fulfill their own professional goals in addition to making a difference for animals and the planet.

Dee’s journey toward animal advocacy came about unexpectedly. While working with Smarties Candy Company (aka Rockets, in Canada) in 2011, she took on the task of putting together the company’s Frequently Asked Questions webpage. “I was communicating with our customer services team trying to figure out what the most frequently asked questions were so we could anticipate them and answer them,” she says. “And one of the questions they indicated came up a lot was regarding whether or not Smarties were vegan or vegetarian.” Dee says she knew then what the two terms meant, but wanted to better understand where her vegan and vegetarian customers were coming from, what made this particular question so important. “I was reading about why people become vegan or vegetarian, and then I saw links to videos.” After hesitating to click, knowing what she was sure to see, she eventually did, “and once I started seeing what really happens in factory farms, in slaughterhouses, I couldn’t un-see that.” Dee says the truth hit her hard, and she went vegan on the spot.

“I went into it thinking I was just going to do this task for work and then move on, and left giving away my lunch.”

That one Monday morning at the office has led Dee down a path that would find her five years later establishing, alongside her husband, Baleine & Bjorn Capital, investing in “companies creating solutions to outdated animal products,” according to their website. On their roster are brands such as Memphis Meats, Purple Carrot and Vaute. One of the companies Dee is most excited to be working with today, she says, is Good Catch, which develops plant based aquatic animal alternatives. “When it comes to the mass slaughter and consumption of animals, we talk about land animals in the billions and we talk about aquatic animals in the trillions,” she notes, “and because of that scientists are predicting there will be no more aquatic life, like there is today, by 2048.” Dee says the space for aquatic animal food alternatives, both plant-based and lab-grown, “is so clear and open for disruption. We need more plant based aquatic animal alternatives on the market, and Good Catch is one of the big players doing that. And they’re so new. So this is just the beginning. We know this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

That same year, Dee created what has today become an international sensation, featured in Forbes, and growing by the day: Vegan Ladyboss. The empowering networking events for any and all vegans who identify as female, started off in New York City, and now take place in over seventy cities across the globe. “There are still issues with living in patriarchal culture,” she says, “so I thought it would be important for women to have a space, and not just women but vegan women, because sometimes being a woman can be isolating, particularly in certain industries, and being vegan can be isolating, because we live in this omnivorous, carnist world.” Starting with the desire to carve out a space for herself to be among fellow vegan women, turns out, she says, “other people wanted that space too.” Dee is busy, to say the least.

As a businesswoman, entrepreneur, animal advocate and the only vegan in her workplace, she has sound advice for other vegan women coping with the challenges of seeking success whilst also trying to make a difference for animals and the world: “Think beyond today and tomorrow, and towards the impact you’d like to be making more strategically,” she says.

“Sometimes when you are the only vegan in your office, you can make a bigger impact by staying there than if you moved to an animal rights organization. We need to be everywhere; animals need our voices everywhere.”

 

Photos courtesy of Vegan Lady Boss. Interview and story by Jessica Scott-Reid.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian journalist and animal advocate. Her work appears regularly in the Globe and Mail, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, Maclean’s Magazine and others.