Leah Garcés

Leah Garcés

“Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.”

Leah Garcés - Mercy For Animals

When Leah Garcés was in college, she wanted to be a veterinarian. She had grown up in the swamps of Florida and was fascinated by the wildlife in her backyard. She knew from a young age she wanted to help animals and, after watching PETA’s pioneering documentary “Meet Your Meat,” she became vegetarian at age fifteen. After completing college however, a mentor took Garcés aside and told her: “You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.” He was right, she says. “My whole career after that was looking at pieces of the root, at all the ways we cause suffering on the planet.” It has been that desire, to get to the root of animal suffering that has led Garcés down an impressive path of animal advocacy, working with World Animal Protection, Compassion in World Farming USA, and today, as the first female president for one of the largest farmed animal advocacy organizations in the world, Mercy for Animals (MFA).

“You don’t want to be a vet, because vets fix animals once they are broken, and you’re curious about the root of the problem.”

By age 30, Garcés had travelled to 30 countries through her work overseeing global campaigns and programs for World Animal Protection (known then as World Society for the Protection of Animals). “Stray dog control in India, bear bile farming in China, stopping dolphins being transported from Fiji to Mexican dolphinariums,” she says, exposed her to animal exploitation on a global scale from early on in her career. But while she felt she was tackling important pieces of the problem, she still sought to dig deeper toward the true foundation of animal suffering. And today, Garcés says, her work with MFA is getting her there. “It’s the place where we can have the most impact, where I can do the most good, for getting to the root of that problem, of solving and ending factory farming, ending the exploitation of animals for food.” And at that root, Garcés explains, is a complex intersection of many social justice issues.

Garcés says her inevitable move to veganism was inspired by her three kids. “I went vegan because of them,” she says, explaining how it was through breastfeeding that she finally made the connection to the exploitation of dairy cows. “I thought, that bond that I had with my son was the bond that the mother and the calf have, and – what am I doing? This isn’t necessary.” She did have fears however, as so many vegan parents do, of social ridicule and closeminded pediatricians. But now, only a few years later, she says her perspective has changed. She says she considers herself as working to change that dominant narrative in society, “the more I come forward that my kids are vegan, and they are super healthy, and fantastic. It’s consistent with my principles and morals and values, and it’s very a natural thing for a kid to recognize and understand.”

True to that nurturing nature, for Garcés, the fight to end the exploitation of farmed animals also includes fighting to end the exploitation of people. By taking an intersectional approach to animal rights as a social justice issue, Garcés believes we can all gain both a broader picture of the suffering inherent in factory farming, and a stronger united voice to fight it. “Workers’ rights is a big area, and especially latinx women who are in the [US] processing plants,” she says. “Let’s call them what they are, they are slaughterhouses; they are violent and bloody and fast and cold, and the labour force that is there is being abused as well, and they can’t speak up,” she says. “They are also voiceless.”

“And that’s America’s favourite food, favorite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”

Increased kill-line speeds in the US is one example of an issue Garcés says animal rights and workers’ rights activists can and should unite on. “Line speeds right now are sped up to 175 birds a minute. Not only is that horrific for the animal – a horrible death where they end up scalded alive – the women have to do these repetitive motions, where they can’t even leave to go to the bathroom. If they leave their station, the whole thing falls apart, so they wear diapers or pee in their pants, and that’s humiliating,” she says. “And that’s America’s favourite food, favourite protein: chicken. And it’s built on the back of these humiliations and abuses.”

Garcés takes a similarly intersectional and empathetic approach to her work with animal farmers and animal product producers. In September of this year she will publish a book entitled Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, which will detail her experiences working with farmers, suppliers, and restaurant chains to seek an end to factory farming. Listening to industrial farmers can be an important strategy for animal advocates, Garcés says. “At worst, you’re going to find out something that helps you with your movement. But at best, you’re going to find some common ground to build on.” Go in with the mindset, she adds: “that you don’t know who they are and why they made their choices, and that you need to learn that to solve the problem.” That’s how to get to the root, she says. “Why did a farmer make that choice to become a factory farmer? Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there; which is poverty in rural America, and lack of job choices. So, we need to find jobs for them, and then they won’t choose factory farming.”

“Go back and back and back, and we get to the point before they made that decision and tackle it there.”

Garcés’ holistic approach to animal protection has also led her and the MFA team to now shift focus to include much broader targets. “Institutional change is the most important use of our resources and time right now,” she says. “Thinking of the biggest target that we can move the furthest.” So as Garcés and MFA move forward, their sights are set on putting pressure on companies and government, “to make big meaningful steps, that we can hold them accountable to and we can measure.”

Seeking to find what lies at the root of animal suffering has allowed Garcés to truly see the whole problem, to empathize with all individuals exploited by institutionalized animal cruelty, and to set her sights on the powers that be. As the first female president of one of the biggest players in the global animal advocacy movement, this strategy is set to have a profound impact.

 

Photos courtesy of Leah Garcés. 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.

Lek Chailert

Lek Chailert

“One thing I love about elephants is the positive energy that I receive from them. They forgive. They never forget, but they forgive.”

 

 

Sangduen “Lek” Chailert has come to be known throughout Thailand and the rest of the world as “the elephant whisperer”. She has devoted her life to ending the abusive use of elephants in tourism and logging industries and is the founder of Elephant Nature Park, a 250 acre sanctuary for hundreds of rescued elephants and other animals.

Directed by Kelly Guerin

A Tribute to Gill Dalley of the Soi Dog Foundation

A Tribute to Gill Dalley of the Soi Dog Foundation

 

This new short film profiles the life and work of the incredible Gill Dalley, co-founder of the Soi Dog Foundation.

Sadly, Gill passed away earlier this year after a short illness. It gives us chills to see and hear how eloquently and consciously she talked of mortality and the urgency of living––all without knowing that she was living her final months. The film is dedicated to her inspiring legacy.

Hazel Zhang

Hazel Zhang

 

Meet the wonderful Hazel Zhang! After learning about the suffering of farmed animals in the documentary “Farm to Fridge,” Hazel became vegan. Shocked that there wasn’t much content on the subject of cruelty-free living in Chinese, Hazel started a blog called VegPlanet where she started translating foreign-language articles.

Hazel glows with a warmth and welcoming smile. As Unbound team member Kelly Guerin was setting up for their early morning interview, Hazel took the time to walk around the converted apartment office space to talk to each of her 17 staff personally while her rescue dog Baibai ran underfoot. Hazel said that she had never really had the chance to get to know an animal personally until she found Baibai in a village.

Becoming vegan, launching a blog, and raising a dog in Beijing had its challenges, but today Hazel carries herself with the confidence of a true activist, rooted in her commitment to end animal suffering and help promote the compassionate lifestyle that changed her life.

Today, Hazel’s blog VegPlanet employs a full-time staff and publishes daily original content aimed at promoting veganism in China as a conscious, positive, and happy lifestyle to a following of nearly 300,000 subscribers.

Lina Lind Christensen’s Story

Lina Lind Christensen’s Story

“I reach out to a worker and receive five panicking birds. The five in his other hand get stuffed into a machine. Five set free, five for the machine.”

Meet Lina Lind Christensen, the courageous and fascinating woman from Denmark who rescues animals from the brink of death and gives them sanctuary at her home. A new short film produced by Jan Sorgenfrei for the Unbound Project.

The Ada Cole Story

The Ada Cole Story

 

One of the threads running through the Unbound Project is a celebration of women who have made a difference for animals in previous eras. So often their stories are forgotten over time, and we want to change that. We want to celebrate these women and share their stories with the world. We were absolutely thrilled when we received a grant from Brock University that allowed us to hire Brittany Brooks to make a short animated feature about Ada Cole, an English woman who fought against the cruelty of the live horse export industry in the early 20th century.

Ada Cole did not set out to be an activist, but once she came face-to-face with the cruelty of the live export industry she knew she had to do something about it. She was an ordinary citizen who took matters in to her own hands. She witnessed cruelty and refused to look away. Cole used photography and film to document what she saw and hoped that the resulting images would get others to join her campaign against these cruel practices. As one might expect, she did not receive a warm welcome from those working in the live export industry and her efforts to take pictures were often thwarted. Cole hired a painter named Kurt Peiser to go undercover dressed as a dock worker so that he could sketch and paint what he was seeing as horses were unloaded from the ships that had sailed from England to Belgium.

Given the prevalence of visual encounters (witnessing, photography, film, art) in this story, we knew that we wanted to tell it in a very visually appealing way. We think that Brittany’s work is a perfect fit for The Unbound Project!

Brittany created over 100 hand painted water colour pieces for this animation and those paintings were then animated in Adobe After Effects.

We asked Brittany to tell us a bit about her involvement with this project.

 

Was there something about Ada Cole’s story that really stood out for you when you were doing the research for this project?

I was immediately drawn into Ada Cole’s story because of her ambition and determination. In a day and age when women did not even have the right to vote, Ada was driven to better the world for animals. I also found her story very inspiring because she used her camera as a tool of social justice. As a visual artist, it was exciting to see Ada use photographs and paintings to show the truth that people chose to ignore.

What did you learn by doing this project?

Before this project I had never heard of Ada Cole so I was very keen to begin researching her. Not only was I unfamiliar with her story, but I was also unaware of the way in which animals were being treated in the late 19th century. I learned how important activists like Ada were at this time who chose to question vivisection practices and were interested in animal welfare.

From a technical perspective, I learned many new animation techniques that I had never experimented with before. I used a process that required both analogue and digital methods. I began by using the research I had conducted to create a storyboard outlining the key points of Ada’s story. I then hand-painted all of the characters, backgrounds and scenery using gouache and scanned them into Photoshop where I separated each element from it’s background.

Using Adobe After Effects I was able to digitally animate the elements by layering and mapping their movement paths. Since I had never used a digital technique like this before I relied heavily on After Effects video tutorials and online forums. Combining my previous analogue animation experience and these new digital techniques I was able to create this work using an entirely new approach.

How important is art in connecting viewers with the past?

I think that art actualizes the past and is an invitation for viewers to look at a historical moment through a new lens. With Ada Cole’s story, information was not very easy to find and this required me to do some deep research. Hopefully this artwork will make Ada’s story more accessible and present viewers with a snapshot of her life and work in a via visuals and sounds.

What do you see as being the connection between art and activism/social justice?

Both artists and activists question boundaries and challenge cultural issues. Art becomes even more powerful when it is used as a tool of social justice as it acts as a vehicle that empowers individuals and communities. Art belongs to everyone and helps give a voice to those who want to share the truth and advocate for what they believe.

Why was this a project that you wanted to take on?

There were many reasons I signed up for this special project. It began by being very inspired by the mission of the Unbound Project and my desire to help celebrate these women who are interested in animal welfare.I listened to Jo-Anne McArthur give a lecture on her work and was absolutely taken by how powerful her photographs are. I also enjoyed that Unbound was a multimedia project and was open to using a variety of mediums and art forms to share these stories. I am so excited to be a part of Unbound, as it was a huge learning opportunity and a wonderful new challenge for me as an artist and activist.


Brittany BrooksBrittany Brooks is a multidisciplinary artist who splits her time between St. Catharines and Toronto, ON. Her practice includes, but is not limited to; visual art, performance and music.

Brittany recently earned her undergraduate degree from Brock University, majoring in Studio Art. She has participated in residencies at Spark Box Studios, White Rabbit Arts, and The Green Belt Gallery which cultivated her solo exhibition Rutabager and her original handmade layered projection show The Fireside Book of Fictitious Folk Songs. Her band Creature Speak released a full length album Shadow Songs, which has since drawn international praise from Bandcamp, Bitch-Media, Exclaim, Folk Radio UK and more. She is a Jr. Programmer for the In the Soil Arts Festival and is currently working at the Art Museum at The University of Toronto.