Jah Ying Chung

Jah Ying Chung

“If you want to be effective at changing people’s minds and behaviours, it’s very important to first understand how they think, and how they behave, and why.”

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, stands in a packaged food aisle of a store that is also a wet market. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers' attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

After interning with the UN in Beijing, then graduating from university in 2010, Jah Ying Chung began campaigning for the environment. Her interest in international development fed into a concern about how climate change could impact people in underdeveloped nations in Asia.

“I remember talking about Bangladesh, how if the sea level rises and there is flooding, [there is a] lack of infrastructure to ensure the wellbeing of everyone, especially those living near the coast,” she says. “These kinds of issues were very fascinating to me ever since high school.”

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, stands at the entrance to a wet market. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers' attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, stands at the entrance to a wet market. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers’ attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Though at that time Chung had not yet made the connection between animal agriculture and climate change, the further she got into campaigning for the planet, the more she learned about how much her own meat consumption was contributing to the very problem she was battling. “That’s when I started to eliminate meat,” she recalls, and it’s when she started shifting the focus of her mission.

Chung’s first project was a platform to help student groups in Asia fundraise and connect with corporate sponsors. “The mission originally was to empower students so they could do more on campus, and hopefully that leads to more meaningful things when they graduate.” But eventually, Chung wanted to do more. She sold the company after five years and began searching for her next venture.

“I was very adamant,” she recalls, “that whatever I do next it needs to not only feel like it’s a good thing [..] but it had to be concretely impactful with evidence to back it up.”

Eventually that search led her to animal welfare and the plant-based/alt-protein space in Asia, and to designing and doing market research that helps companies better understand Asian consumers.

Today, Chung is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., a market research firm “for sustainable and ethical food systems in Asia,” according to the organization’s website. Good Growth works with “alternative protein companies, animal welfare nonprofits and social impact funders to understand consumers, scope new markets and prototype products & programmes.”

“The whole idea was to help good things grow,” she says of building Good Growth Co. in 2019.

Now, plant-based and alt-protein companies, as well as animal advocacy organizations looking to expand to Asia, for example, can and do look to Chung’s important work to learn how to most effectively target people in that region, and to understand the opportunities and challenges of working in these countries.

“If you want to be effective at changing people’s minds and behaviours, it’s very important to first understand how they think, and how they behave, and why.” For example, she explains, “one interesting thing we can look at is what do advocates believe about consumers, and what do consumers actually think?”

Chung recently partnered with Faunalytics, for a ground-breaking two-phase study that asked animal advocates what they thought were effective strategies and then asked the same of consumers. According to Faunalytics: “After seeking input from members of the farmed animal protection community in China, we conducted focus groups regarding the attitudes of Chinese consumers towards meat consumption, the concept of farmed animal welfare, different types of messaging and strategies for encouraging movement growth.” What the study found was, in part, that Chinese consumers are most concerned with farmed animal welfare due to reasons around food quality and food safety. “Products labeled as higher-welfare are more trusted, while lower-quality products are associated with a range of concerns, including animals being raised in unsanitary conditions, and the use of hormones, antibiotics, and GM products on farms,” according to the study’s key findings.

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, smiles as she selects vegetables from the display inside a store that sells produce. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers' attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, smiles as she selects vegetables from the display inside a store that sells produce. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers’ attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Further, the study also found that “animal welfare was not generally seen as a foreign concept. Contrary to what some China-based advocates suspected in our Phase 1 report, we found that most participants exposed to the concept and details of provisions for animal welfare did not generally see it as something foreign, Western, or associated with foreign values.”

Chung calls the latter findings surprising but points out that cultural stereotypes can perpetuate false assumptions about certain consumer groups, thus making this kind of market research all the more important for truly understanding market opportunities.

Chung describes the work she is doing now as “exciting” and says she feels very lucky to be doing something helpful.

“From a cause perspective, there [is] quite a lot of evidence that this work is impactful.” Perhaps reluctantly, the humble researcher even admits “it’s kind of a dream job being able to combine intellectual interests while working on an impactful cause.”

But now Chung is thinking about what she calls “the last mile,” making sure people are actually using the information that is gathered, as well as making it even easier to do so. “This is why I am conducting research on research,” she adds, to design the company and its processes to make it all more usable, to maximize impact.

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, poses for a photo on an urban pedestrian bridge. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers' attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Jah Ying Chung, a food researcher and animal advocate in China, poses for a photo on an urban pedestrian bridge. Jah Ying is the co-founder of The Good Growth Co., which researches Chinese consumers’ attitudes toward food and works in the plant-based/alternative protein and animal welfare spaces. Hong Kong, China, 2022. #unboundproject / We Animals Media

Finally, when asked what her personal hope is for farmed animals in China and for the future of the plant-based food and alt-protein movement in Asia, in true researcher form Chung answers with questions: “What does it look like from the Chinese perspective?” she asks. “What does welfare mean, what does a good life mean?” She says she does not yet know the answer, and that’s what keeps her so invested in this cause.

“Discovering what good looks like from the perspective of Asian stakeholders, and trying to connect it with those from the West,” she says, “that [is] the most fascinating part of the work.”

Written by Jessica Scott Reid

 

Eva Meijer

Eva Meijer

“There is a huge amount of information about the ways in which animals express themselves, speak to each other, mourn losses, fall in love, do all of these things that we tend to think of as solely human…”

Eva Meijer is at work in her living room. She researches, writes, paints, photographs and makes music around the themes of animal and human language, politics and communication. Her PhD thesis in philosophy, titled 'Political Animal Voices' (University of Amsterdam) was awarded the Praemium Erasmianum Dissertation Prize in 2018. Currently, she works as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. North Holland, Netherlands. 2022. Sabina Diethelm / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

A philosopher, prolific writer, artist, and singer-songwriter, Eva Meijer seems to have her fingers in every pie imaginable. When I catch her, she has just returned home to the Netherlands from Poland where, she tells me with surprisingly little fanfare, she may have become the first person on Polish television to advocate for better care for animals.

She is both forthright and self-effacing, describing her role simply as “to say what needs to be said” to promote a different way of thinking about and relating to non-human animals. “I’m not afraid to use words like ‘language’ or ‘culture’ [in relation to animals],” she explains.

Growing up with animals, Meijer felt a special connection with them early on, becoming vegetarian when she was eleven. She began writing songs and poems at fourteen and studied singing and art at the Royal Conservatoire and Royal Academy of the Arts, before pursuing philosophy.

Whether academic or artistic, for Meijer each form is simply a new language through which she can give meaning to different experiences. “I’m lucky that I have many ways of ‘singing the world,’” she muses, reciting French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

“Philosophy is a lot about being critical of existing hierarchies and violence, but also about showing the world differently,” she explains, “so in that sense I think it’s not so different from art because you can make people look at things that they take for granted and reconsider it.”

Her PhD thesis and resulting books Dierentalen (Animal Languages) and When Animals Speak explore the use of language in animal groups and between human and non-human animals, making the case that animal language is, in fact, political.

“Bird Cottage”, one of 14 books written by Eva Meijer. She researches, writes, paints, photographs and makes music around the themes of animal and human language, politics and communication. She has written 14 books which have been translated into over 20 languages. North Holland, Netherlands. 2022. Sabina Diethelm / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

“There is a huge amount of information about the ways in which animals express themselves, speak to each other, mourn losses, fall in love, do all of these things that we tend to think of as solely human,” Meijer explains.

“It changes everything, because our societies are built around the idea that humans are the only rational animals, the only creators of meaning, the only cultural animals, social animals . . . [and] the other animals have been excluded from so much of that.”

Her post-doctoral research at the University of Amsterdam takes these ideas a step further. Since many animals have clear ideas about how they want to live, Meijer argues that their capacity to make decisions about that life and to maintain it should be respected and protected.

“If you have a perspective on life and it matters to you, then it should matter democratically too,” she argues.

Humans, for our part, need to engage in conversation with other animals as active participants in their own existence. This means listening to what they have to tell us about their own experience, about the kind of future they want, and what relationship—if any—they want to have with us. The recognition of animal agency, believes Meijer, “is one of the most important tasks of humanity and justice.”

Whilst this might sound idealistic or outright strange to some, Meijer emphasizes that there are already places where this co-creation is happening, particularly outside of Western social constructs.

“There are indigenous communities that have different relations with non-human animals and see themselves positioned differently with regard to them, and already accept a lot more of their agency,” she explains.

She gives the example of a community in Indonesia that hunts together with crocodiles, representing a kind of understanding around co-existence and resource sharing. In an urban environment, this might look like decolonizing landscapes, reducing the number of roads and infrastructural developments, and relinquishing land back to other species.

In developing different stories about humans and animals and how we can live together, says Meijer, “the presence of actual animals is something that matters a lot.” She currently shares her home with two dogs, Romanian strays Olli and Doris, mischievous ex-laboratory mice, and three rescued guinea pigs.

Olli in particular, she tells me, is “great to think with about these questions, because he’s been living on the streets for five years . . . It was never a question of me dominating him, he’s his own person. Even if I would want to possess him in some sense, it’s simply impossible.”

Meijer gives frequent public talks, where she meets many people who are hungry for a different relationship with animals.

“People feel that there’s something wrong with the way we treat animals, but at the same time they’re very accustomed to it, and when you speak to them about it, then it helps them to articulate that it’s not normal,” explains Meijer. “This is why I like speaking about language, because it always has this element of wonder in it.”

Despite the violence our societies enact on animals, she also holds a lot of hope in the power of activism.

“We can participate in a struggle for change, and this will make a difference,” she insists. “Even living differently is a form of activism, so my whole existence feels very activist.”

When she moved a few years ago to a rural part of the Netherlands, Meijer noticed that many frogs and toads undertaking a centuries-old migration to food sources were being hit by cars while attempting to cross busy roads. In response, she began a “frog and toad group” through which locals assist the frogs and toads to travel safely from gardens to larger ponds.

This kind of localized activism can be powerful. In the two years the group has existed the narrative in the town about frogs and toads has shifted from one of apathy to one of care.

“These are all small-scale experiments to become more attentive, more aware of the fact that we share this planet with other animals,” says Meijer.

“I honestly feel that we are not here for ourselves but that the whole meaning of life is to be a good person for others and to make a change in the world for them, and when you can do that, that’s a gift, and also humbling.”

Meijer’s most recent novel, Zee Nu, was published in March 2022 by Uitgeverij Cossee. 

Written by Anna Mackiewicz
Photography by Sabina Diethelm

Azul Cardozo

Azul Cardozo

“In Latin America we face a lot of injustices and a constant violation of basic human rights….so I started to question and connect different forms of both human and animal oppression…..we connect all of these causes because the fight for animal rights is part of the resistance against social inequality….”

Azul Cardozo won’t admit to being an animal activism trailblazer in Latin America, but the lawyer, advocate, and punk guitar player has lent her time, energy, and passion to numerous organizations, including The Animal Save Movement, Direct Action Everywhere, The Plant Based Treaty, Uruveg, The Earthling Experience, and many more. Though she remains humble about her tireless work leading and organizing others, all who have worked with her know that she has undoubtedly grown the movement for animal rights in Latin America.

About seven years ago, Cardozo started down the path of vegan activism. Inspired by punk music, she joined a hardcore punk band, which, she says, “made me start questioning everything,” including capitalism, human rights, and animal rights.

“Punk and the animal rights movement have always acted together to challenge the system,” Cardozo explains. “Beginning in the 1980s, this communion was reflected in the emergence of songs, fanzines, animal rights concerts, and the militancy of punk-influenced activists through multiple and historic direct actions. The punk movement was a pioneer in instilling animal rights practices and concepts into the collective consciousness.”

For Cardozo, connecting with the punk music community was, she says, “the start of everything;” the start of learning more about animal exploitation, going vegan, and getting active for the animals.

The cultural context of Latin America has also played a role in Cardozo’s activism.

“In Latin America we face a lot of injustices and a constant violation of basic human rights,” she explains, “so I started to question and connect different forms of both human and animal oppression.”

This context, however, is also the greatest challenge Cardozo and the animal rights community in Latin America faces, she says.

To tackle this, Cardozo helped organize the first vegan soup kitchens in Uruguay to feed those in need. At the same time, she connected with the community and spread the message about animal rights within the context of aiding human rights.

“We work with the community, and we connect all of these causes,” she says, because “the fight for animal rights is part of the resistance against social inequality in Latin America.”

When she first started organizing animal actions in Colombia, she says recruiting others to join was hard.

“The oppression that people experience on a daily basis often causes them to lose hope in the struggle. Injustice in all areas is normalized,” she says.

In fact, she adds, it could be dangerous to speak out. “Latin America is the region of the planet where human rights are most violated, as well as the region where most social defenders are assassinated,” she adds. “Colombia continues to be the country with the highest number of human rights defenders murdered in Latin America and with the highest rate of impunity.”

Animal liberation activist Azul Cardozo holds up a blue smoke flare and a photograph of a farmed pig confined inside a crate in Montevideo, Uruguay. Azul is protesting in front of a well-known shopping mall in Montevideo as part of a an action she has organized for National Animal Rights Day. Photo credit: Martina Victoria Zamudio / We Animals Media

Despite this however, Cardozo says every day more people are willing to take the risk by using their voice to help both human animals and non-human animals. “We now have a large animal rights community,” she says, noting, more generally, that a greater openness of collective consciousness regarding animal exploitation has emerged. This growing interest in animal rights in Latin America is now helping Cardozo get more people involved, including touring other countries with The Animal Save Movement and Plant Based Treaty, and helping to start additional chapters across the continent. “When you want to do something, you really put all your effort into doing it,” she says.

Activist Azul Cardozo’s favourite element is water, and here she poses next to the ocean shore in Montevideo, Uruguay after a full weekend of action and activism. Photo credit: Martina Victoria Zamudio

Looking ahead, Cardozo says the strategy is to connect with other groups fighting not just for animals but for people, the planet, and for changes to the food system.

“The movement is growing and getting stronger,” she says, “because we are making alliances with other organizations that have different approaches.”

The goal, she says, is to spread the anti-oppression message, connect animal agriculture to the climate crisis, further open up collective consciousness about how all these issues are interconnected, and seek “collective liberation.” 

Article by Jessica Scott-Reid
Photos by Martina Victoria Zamudio

Sarah Heiligtag, Founder of Transfarmation

Sarah Heiligtag, Founder of Transfarmation

“I cannot change the whole world, but I can change the world for a whole lot of living beings.”

Directed by Thomas Machowicz and Sabina Diethelm

Switzerland is proud of its image as a rural country with mountains, alpine pastures and traditional family farms. Switzerland Tourism likes to advertise with cows grazing on beautiful mountain meadows, and Swiss milk chocolate and cheese are world famous. In 2021, 48,864 farms were registered in Switzerland along with 1.5 million cattle and 1.4 million pigs. One woman who has recognised the animal suffering behind these pretty scenes is Sarah Heiligtag: she has identified how farming animals for food harms the entire ecosystem.

As the founder of the “Transfarmation” concept, Sarah works to fundamentally change the system, not to simply oppose agriculture or to close individual farms. She wants a plant-based, nonviolent, more environmentally sustainable agriculture, not one that relies on farmed animals. Together with her husband, Sarah acquired a farm in Hinteregg near Zurich and transformed it into a vegan farm and sanctuary in 2013. As of August 2022, more than 200 rescued pigs, goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, chickens, turkeys, ducks, cats, and dogs have found a new, peaceful home here.

Soon after Sarah created her “Lebenshof” (this German term coined by Sarah Heiligtag literally translates to “farm of life”), a farmer who had heard about it contacted Sarah, seeking to change his farm, too, because he no longer wanted to exploit and kill his animals. Sarah helped him to transform his farm into a successfully functioning, violence-free, vegan farm. This attracted media attention and other farmers expressed interest in Sarah’s farming methods. As of August 2022, Sarah has helped more than 100 farmers transform into vegan farms, and she is currently working with more who are in the process of changing.

While on assignment for We Animals Media and the Unbound Project, Thomas Machowicz and Sabina Diethelm visited Sarah on her “Lebenshof” in April 2022 and accompanied her to different farms all over Switzerland that she is working with and who are in various phases of their “transfarmations”.

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

“I want a future where, as a human species, we understand the interconnectedness of violence.”

Directed by Henry A. Hopkins

Dr. A. Breeze Harper is the founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, which explores how black women practice veganism and animal rights. In the course of almost twenty years doing this work, Dr. Harper has engaged with various advocates and scholars on the intersections of race and animal issues.

“We can make lives of nonhuman animals a life of non-suffering and have their own agency,” Dr. Harper explains, “but [we must] also understand that human beings are part of that and if they feel they aren’t included, if they’re not getting justice, then it’s really hard for them to do the work they need to do for nonhuman animals.”

The success of this work and the vital conversations it has facilitated has led her to create her own diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm focusing on animal advocacy organizations and vegan companies. Through this consulting and the Sistah Vegan Project, Dr. Harper demonstrates how the just inclusion of people improves animal advocacy.

Hannah Murray

Hannah Murray

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.” ~ Hannah Murray

Grantwriter Hannah Murray enjoys a little cuddle time with rescue cat Tomasito in her home office. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media
When Hannah Murray was about to turn 30, she packed a backpack and booked a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires to pursue a dream she’d spent years aching to fulfill: to travel, and maybe even live, in South America. While in Argentina in May 2003, she received an email from a former colleague at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), the California-based organization working to protect the environment and human rights.

RAN wanted to give funding to grassroots activists and organizations based in Patagonia working to combat deforestation. Would she be interested in traveling there and helping them identify candidates? Murray immediately said yes. But before she started this project, she traveled back to the U.S. to pick up her 12-year-old companion cat, Peanut. Then the two of them set off for Argentina in the austral spring, traveling by plane, bus, and car across Patagonia.

“I was sent down there with a handful of names,” Murray, 48, told the Unbound Project.

“I traveled from the northern part of Patagonia and worked my way down to the southern tip of South America. I met with all the groups and then worked with them to help them present what their funding needs were to the foundations. And they all got funding!”

Two days before she was scheduled to leave South America, Murray landed in a town called Punta Arenas in the southern part of Patagonia, Chile. She was there to meet with the last contact on her list — an occupational safety manager-cum-environmental activist named Nelson Sanchez Oyarzo. He’d later become her husband.

Besides helping her find her life partner, Murray’s time in Patagonia led her to the work she does now as grant specialist. Her most recent appointment was with the Humane League, a U.S.-based NGO, where she managed a multimillion dollar grant program for the Open Wing Alliance (OWA), a coalition of groups working to end the abuse of chickens in factory farms. During her three years and three months at OWA, Murray helped about 50 animal welfare organizations receive funding that would allow them to flourish.

“I love being able to connect people with resources to people who are in need of those resources. I focus on really listening to the grantees and trying to hear what they’re communicating — what their hopes and dreams are, what they need, what would make their lives easier.”

Grantwriter Hannah Murray sits at her desk and shares some insight on the need for trust-based philanthropy as a way to increase equity for groups who have traditionally had less access to funding. Photo by Victoria de Martigny / #unboundproject / We Animals Media

A key component of Murray’s work has also been the implementation of trust-based funding principles that incorporate multiyear funding. This type of funding has helped groups receive the resources they need without jumping through unnecessary hoops or needing to undergo tedious administrative processes that can reduce time with their charitable work.

“I feel like all my experience being a grant seeker has made me more sensitive to just the power dynamic issues. Because there are power dynamics — you’ve got someone who’s sitting on the money and someone who needs money.”

Murray says she developed an interest for animal welfare back when she was about eight years old and had gone fishing with her family.

“I just remember the fish flopping around in the bucket afterwards, and I thought, ‘That suffering is not necessary,’” she said. “It was very upsetting to me and I stopped eating fish immediately. It just made me feel sick.”

Once, when she was outside of a circus, she also encountered a group of protesters who helped her “see animals in a different way, instead of just as entertainment.”

“I’ve had a decades-long career in activism and people are always like, ‘Do you really think you can change people just standing around with signs outside? And I’m like, ‘Yes, you can!’” Murray said with a laugh. “I have been changed by several signs at different points in my life.”

Being a grant specialist isn’t the only hat Murray has worn. She’s also a forestry expert with a master’s degree in forestry from Yale. She’s a skilled cook who once ran a food business in Punta Arenas, Chile, selling vegan burgers, falafel and mayo to non-vegan sheep ranchers. She’s also fluent in several languages, including Spanish and Portuguese.

“I don’t have a very linear career trajectory, but I’m OK with that,” Murray said. “I’ve just followed what I’ve been interested in.”

But whatever she’s done, Murray has made sure her work is helping nonhuman animals, the environment, or underrepresented peoples.

“I think I’ve always had a strong sense of right and wrong and felt like I wanted to dedicate my time on this planet to making things better. Whatever that looks like, and wherever I can contribute my skills.”

After spending many years in Patagonia as well as California, Murray and her husband moved to Rockland, Maine, in 2018, with their two rescue cats, Tomasito and Emily Noelia.

“It felt like Patagonia in a way,” Murray said. “Obviously, the landscapes are different but you have this rocky coast [in Maine], you have lots of forests, and you’ve got lots of areas to go hiking.”

While she and her husband feel very settled in Maine, Murray keeps a photograph of a car cruising down an unpaved road towards the Cerro Fitz Roy mountains in Argentine Patagonia — the very mountains that became the logo for outdoor clothing company Patagonia.

“I just like remembering that there’s always an open road ahead, even if you get bogged down by your work. It just reminds me that life can be anything.”

 

Written by Elizabeth Claire Alberts
Photographs by Victoria de Martigny