“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.
We’re at the end of Carole Noon Lane on the grounds of Save the Chimps, a 190-acres sanctuary in the Florida Flatwoods. The grounds here are divided into twelve three-acre islands, one per ‘family.’ Each parcel is outfitted with hurricane-proof concrete dwellings and what look like oversized park playground structures. During our time on the grounds, some of the chimps have taken an interest in our presence and our interviews, watching bemusedly from their far off perches.
This sanctuary would not be here without the tenacity of its founder, Dr. Carole Noon. It doesn’t take long into interviews with friends and staff before a very clear image comes to light – Dr. Noon was a force of nature who would not take no for an answer.
Dr. Carole Noon hosing down the enclosure that houses the rescued chimpanzees at Save The Chimps. USA, 2008.
Dr. Carole Noon providing a drink to a rescued chimpanzee at Save The Chimps Sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida. USA, 2008.
In 1997, the US Air Force was set to ‘retire’ the 141 chimpanzees in its space program. With only $150,000 and no sanctuary to speak of, Dr. Noon submitted a bid to purchase these animals, unsurprisingly, to no avail. Instead, most of the chimps were sold to the Coulson Foundation, a medical research lab in New Mexico. The chimps would be sent to live in isolation in the dungeons of Coulston, suspended in 5’x5’x7’ metal cages while awaiting the next experiment.
And so, Dr. Noon sued the Air Force in 1997. In 2001, after four years of legal battles, the first chimps arrived at their new home in Florida. Dr. Noon succeeded in her mission and spent the final years of her life dedicated to her cause. In 2009, she passed away at her home on the sanctuary grounds.
Dr. Noon’s legacy lives on in the over 250 chimpanzees who have been rescued from research, entertainment, and the exotic pet trade and who now call Save the Chimps their home.
Dr. Carole Noon touches the fingers of a rescued chimpanzee at Save The Chimps.
Save the Chimps founder Dr. Carole Noon with staff and her dogs.
Dr. Carole Noon, founder of Save the Chimps
“One thing about Carole is she did not take no for an answer. If someone told her she could not do something, that was the guarantee she was going to make it happen.”
Film and story by Kelly Guerin. Photos by Jo-Anne McArthur.
A pioneer of animal advocacy & trailblazer in women’s rights
Writer Carol J. Adams at her desk. USA, 2015.
From her study near Dallas, Texas, tucked within stacks of notes, files, and various translated editions of her books, author and activist, Carol J. Adams, talks of a time when her work was not so well-received. Between faint barks from rescue-dogs Inky and Holly, Adams speaks of how her now-famous book, The Sexual Politics of Meat, was widely ignored upon first publication, and how “80% of the reviews were negative,” she says. “I mean really, feminist vegetarian theory,” she jokes, “what does that mean?” Of course Adams, and much of the rest of the world, couldn’t know then just how much her work would come to mean, in both the women’s and animal rights movements.
And today, Adams is being celebrated for the 30th anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Meat, as a pioneer of animal advocacy, and a trailblazer in women’s rights.
Carol on her front porch with rescue dogs, Holly and Inky. USA, 2015.
Long before Adams was a well-known author, she was a child of the fifties and sixties, one of three sisters, living in a small village in western New York State, along with some dogs, cats, a horse and a pony. In her tween years, Adams says she and her friends were very involved with their equestrian companions. “During that time there was so much pressure [for girls] to conform, and we suddenly had a group of girls who were all riding ponies and horses,” she says. “It was very physical engagement,” during a time when female athletics were not so supported. And on hot summer days, Adams says she and her friends would lay on their animals’ backs beneath the shade of a willow tree, “and we would just talk,” she says. “I think it was such a deep experience.”
Though raised a feminist and nurtured to be an activist, Adams points to one distinct incident that started her down the path of merging movements. It happened after she returned home from her first year at Yale Divinity School in the 1970’s, in what she describes as an unsuccessful search for her life’s purpose. “I was unpacking, and there was a knock at the door. It was someone I had never met before, and he said ‘someone has just shot your pony.’” Barefoot, Adams ran through an apple orchard to reach her pony, Jimmy. “We could hear gunshots in the distance,” she says. “It turns out there were two teenagers target practicing in the woods,” who she believes accidentally killed Jimmy.
Adams calls the incident traumatic, but says it was that night when her world truly shifted. Her father suggested she go to a local grocer to have hamburger meat prepared. “We went and got the hamburger made, then we came home and cooked the hamburger. And when I went to bite into the hamburger, I stopped and thought: what am I doing? This is a dead cow. And Jimmy’s lying dead in the pasture, yet I’m going to eat a dead cow? So is it only animals I don’t know that I would eat? So aren’t I a hypocrite?” At that moment, Adams says she put the hamburger down, and knew she had to become a vegetarian.
Through her continuing years in academia, studying feminist theory in the 1970’s, Adams lived among other feminists who were vegetarians, and soon she says, started seeing connections between the two schools of thought. “I thought ‘Wow, look at all these connections. There are all these feminists who were vegetarian; and look at these novels, look at Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy; look at these theories, books about patriarchy and violence,” she says. She then put it all together:
“There is a connection between patriarchy and eating animals, and feminism and vegetarianism.”
In that instance of realization, she says, while walking down Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Adams nearly levitated off the ground.
After penning an essay on the topic, which was later published, with much fanfare, in the Lesbian Reader anthology, it was then suggested to Adams that she turn it into a book. She then spent time interviewing, connecting and writing, but after completing her first draft, was not satisfied. “Something was lacking,” she says. Though the connection was established, she had yet to come up with a theory. “I said to myself, ‘Carol, you’re really only going to have one chance at making this claim.’” So she withdrew the draft. Then once again, she went home.
Adams joined her mother working in various grassroots advocacy endeavours, fighting racism and housing discrimination, starting a hotline for battered women, a soup kitchen and a second-hand store, all while continually trying to write the book. “And what is so clear,” she says, “is that all that activism helped me be a better writer,” in particular, she says, “to recognize overlapping oppressions.”
But it wasn’t until Adams then read the book, Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing, by Margaret Homans, that she was finally led to the theory she was seeking. “She introduces this literary concept of the ‘absent referent,’ and I thought, well that’s what animals are, they are absent referents in meat eating. That’s what happened when Jimmy was killed. The cow was no longer an absent referent to me. I didn’t understand that. But I experienced it.” And the next morning, Adams woke up and realized, “and that’s what women are too, in a patriarchal culture, the absent referent.”
The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams.
The Sexual Politics of Meat has now been translated into nine different languages.
Adams was then ready to write her final draft of what would become The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory, which would later be translated into nine different languages, and is today considered more relevant than ever. Adams has also since published dozens of other highly regarded books, including Burger, Protest Kitchen, Neither Man Nor Beast, The Pornography of Meat, Prayers for Animals, and others.
As for the evolution of The Sexual Politics of Meat over time, Adams says, the book is now an entity all of its own.
“The book was within me, and now the book is not within me. For thirty years it’s been out in the world doing its work. And every once in a while it’s like the book writes back to me in the form of a human being who has read it and been touched by it. But the book is something separate from me now.”
“However that book works to help people move along in consciousness,” she says. “I want it to continue to do that, until it is not needed.” And when asked what a world no longer in need of her book might look like for women, Adams replies: “There would never be a need for a ‘Me Too’ moment again. Patriarchy would be eradicated.” And for the animals: “Western, racist, patriarchal culture and ethics create the environment for seeing other beings as disposable, usable, edible. So then if we eradicate that racist, patriarchal, western mindset, we will have eradicated the instrumentalization of other animals.”
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.
“I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”
Zoe Weil is one of the world’s revolutionary thinkers. As a leader in humane education – a model that centers around sustainability, humanity, and justice – she advocates a bigger vision for schooling that shows care for people, for other animals, and for the environment. As Weil sees it, students – or, as she calls them, Solutionaries – can be empowered with the knowledge, skills, and will to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
Like all revolutions, it doesn’t come easily. The education system in Weil’s home country of America is in dire need of an overhaul. It centers on traditional curriculum models and standardized testing, which values how much a student knows over their ability to apply learning. Insecure funding causes public schools to steer away from “controversial” topics and unconventional teaching methods. Subjects are taught separately, presenting challenges to multidisciplinary teaching methods that could be more relevant to real-world topics such as climate change or factory farming. Teachers themselves are frustrated and the passion that brought them to teaching is waning.
But Weil’s work is making waves. As well as being the co-founder and president of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE) for which she has developed multiple humane education graduate programs, she has delivered six TEDx talks, and authored seven books for youth and adults on humane education raising a generation of solutionaries, both in the classroom context and at home.
Weil grew up idolizing Dr Jane Goodall, and dreamed of following in her footsteps to work with animals. But, like many of us, by the time she entered university Weil had stopped imagining that future for herself. Instead, she studied English literature before enrolling in law school and promptly dropping out. She couldn’t have known it then, but just as she felt she was at a loose end, a new path was laying itself before her.
Weil began volunteering with a researcher who was working with chimpanzees. Though she couldn’t have been closer to her childhood dream, she found it wasn’t all she’d imagined. “While the research wasn’t painful or invasive, the chimps were still imprisoned, and their futures seemed bleak,” she recalls.
She then worked as a teacher and naturalist at a wildlife centre for injured and orphaned animals, and while she loved teaching young people about animals, she was again confronted with the ethics of the programs, which brought wild animals to schools for presentations.
By this time Weil had been instilled with the love of teaching and returned to university with the aim of becoming a professor. Discovering a program at the University of Pennsylvania that offered weeklong courses to middle school students, Weil saw the opportunity to reach students and, in so doing, change the course of history. She proposed several courses, including one on animal issues and another on environmental issues.
I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.
To her surprise the animal issues course turned out to be the second most popular of the sixty courses offered that summer, and Weil taught a class full of enthusiastic 12- and 13-year-olds. She found humane education deeply rewarding and felt heartened by the impact she was having. She taught a class about product testing and the animals who suffered severe pain, injury, and death for household and beauty products; the next morning a student came to class bearing homemade leaflets. “While the rest of us were having lunch, he was standing on a Philadelphia street corner handing them out,” she remembers. “He’d become an activist overnight.”
This was Weil’s ‘aha’ moment: “I realized that this was the work I wanted to do, and I just had to figure out how to do it.”
After graduating, Weil began working as a humane educator with a local SPCA, but again she felt that something wasn’t quite aligned. She was only allowed to teach about companion animals, but wanted to extend her compassion-driven brand of teaching to all animal issues. Soon she moved to the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), where she became their Director of Education, developing a humane education program that she began teaching in schools. It addressed global ethical issues relating to animals and the environment, from product testing and pollution to factory farming and climate change. Animalearn reached 10,000 students across several US cities, and Weil soon began training others to become humane educators, expanding the reach of humane education across the country.
Education is the root system underlying all other systems.
Despite this success, Weil yearned for systemic change. She saw a need for the education system to embrace humane education programming, and for students to have access to ongoing learning on these issues. The obvious access point was the teachers, who could be trained to deliver humane education in their classrooms, as a framework connecting all subject areas.
With this new vision, Weil left AAVS and in 1996 co-founded the Institute for Humane Education. She began creating the first graduate programs, and even a Ph.D. program, in comprehensive humane education. IHE started to offer workshops for teachers around the U.S. and Canada, and now offers online courses and free downloadable resources on a broad variety of issues ranging from compassion, ecology, conservation, extinction, and ethics, enabling teachers to do this work in classrooms on almost every continent.
Most recently, IHE created the Solutionary Program, a comprehensive set of tools that teachers in middle and high schools can use to support students in solutions-focused learning. The program has seen such success that in 2018 the Office of Education in San Mateo County began implementing the solutionary approach as the core educational philosophy for their curriculum. This program will reach over 95,000 students across the county.
Explaining her philosophy, Weil says: “Education is the root system underlying all other systems. If we nurture compassion in children and provide young people with the knowledge and skills to create meaningful positive changes, we will witness the unfolding of a more humane, just, and healthy world for all beings.”
In the time that Weil has worked in humane education, she has propelled its expansion from a field associated with the welfare of companion animals, to a comprehensive and intersectional field that embraces and champions the interconnections between human rights, animal protection, and environmental preservation. Weil’s revolutionary work has carved out a place for compassion, ethics, and responsibility in students’ learning, and has challenged educators to imagine a bigger and more meaningful purpose for schooling. And she shows no signs of slowing down: she is currently writing her eighth book with the bold title, How to Solve the World’s Problems.
It hasn’t been a linear path, but Weil has created a version of that future she imagined for herself as a child, working to improve the lives of animals on a global scale.
L-R: A Well-Fed World Founder Dawn Moncrief, IFA Founder Seble Nebiyeloul, and IFA School Health and Nutrition Program Coordinator Nardos Alemayehv, surrounded by children at a school outside Addis Ababa where IFA plant-based lunch programs are delivered.
As Dawn Moncrief sits down for this interview, she is tired and jetlagged from a long intercontinental flight. Even so, she is eloquent and thoughtful. It’s obvious that her knowledge of the food system is immense and that her dedication to reforming it formidable. Moncrief is the founding director of A Well-Fed World (AWFW), a non-profit hunger relief and animal protection advocacy organization based in Washington, DC. It’s a job that takes her all over the world, working with local partners on a strategy to tackle some of the biggest global challenges.
“I was very attuned to issues around hunger,”
Over one hundred children enjoy nutritious plant-based meals provided by IFA at this school.
The organization is unique in its dual mission to tackle two of the world’s most complex issues: world hunger and the suffering of animals used for food. It’s no small feat, but Moncrief hasn’t let that stop her from working to change the conversation about food justice, and proving that the same foods that are best for people, are also best for animals, and the environment.
Moncrief moved to Washington, DC in the mid-90s to attend George Washington University, where she earned two master’s degrees in international relations and women’s studies, both with a focus on economic development. In DC, she had the benefit of exposure to key policymakers, and the headquarters of major development organizations, providing her with vital insights into the food policy landscape. She had wanted to work on poverty issues for as long as she could remember. “I was very attuned to issues around hunger,” she reflects.
It was at grad school that an acquaintance first introduced her to veganism. Moncrief had been vegetarian since she was a teenager. “I wasn’t politicized around it,” she explains, “I just knew I didn’t want to hurt animals.” She had never heard of veganism, but as she began to research the global impacts of meat, egg, and dairy consumption, she realized that it perfectly aligned with her ideas around food security and hunger. Moncrief could see that meat consumption hurt low-income communities, especially women and children. Her work began to focus on the ways in which the production and consumption of animal-derived foods increases disparities, exacerbates global hunger, and negatively impacts communities’ access to natural resources.
“It’s important to be authentic, to inspire people.”
On sanctuary tour after conference presentation at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY.
Moncrief began to unpack the system that enabled food to be unjustly distributed, with staple food crops being diverted to high-income countries that were able to outbid low-income countries for crop availability. She saw that this put upward pressure on prices, forcing low-income countries to export large quantities of food – both crops and animal products – at high prices, even though their own people were hungry. She learned about animal agriculture companies “land-grabbing” in low-income countries so that they could establish factory farms, which pollute the environment and harm local farmers’ ability to grow food, further increasing hunger. But looking at the organizations working in international development, or even in food policy, she was surprised to find that they wouldn’t advocate meat reduction (not even as “part” of the solution).
After finishing grad school, Moncrief began working with women-in-development organizations, but she felt complicit working within a framework that used meat and dairy in their food programs, while these products caused such devastation.
Fortunately, she chanced upon a presentation by Pattrice Jones discussing animal agriculture and its connection to global hunger. Inspired by jones and other activists connecting the dots and deconstructing the global food system, Moncrief began working within the animal advocacy movement. Eventually she was able to make the Plants-4-Hunger educational campaign that she had started developing in grad school into a gift-giving campaign that helps alleviate world hunger using plant-based foods, a unique take on the traditional ‘animals as food’ gifts programs. When her passion for global food justice eventually called for a dedicated organization, Moncrief founded A Well-Fed World, utilizing the Plants-4-Hunger as their flagship program.
Climate-Diet presentation organized by UN Green Group. Dawn Moncrief, speaker with Wendy Werneth organizer. United Nations, Geneva Switzerland
With many organizations focused on technological “fixes” to reduce the negative consequences of meat consumption (such as improving feed conversion inefficiencies or decreasing the inherently harmful environmental impacts of rearing animals for food), reducing consumption through behavior change was dismissed or ignored. Reduction of animal products was unpopular and, importantly, challenged big business. So Moncrief decided to address the issues by connecting with NGOs and influencers to put plant-based hunger and climate solutions on the agenda.
“It’s important to be authentic, to inspire people.”
AWFW addresses the harm done by development programs using animals, and dispelling the myth that animal products are a superior option for people in need of food. Moncrief created the Humane Facts campaign, which unpacks misleading food labeling and exposes the true meaning behind the language of “humane” meat – words like “free-range,” “cage-free” and “grass-fed,” which are used to make consumers feel that they are making healthy and ethical food choices.
Through its partnerships and global grants program, AWFW provides vital funding to organizations to support vegan feeding and farming programs for low-income communities, both in the United States and internationally, as well as farmed animal care and rescue programs Their most significant partnership is with the International Fund for Africa in support of their vegan school lunch program in Ethiopia. “For some of these kids, it’s the only meal they’re getting,” explains Moncrief.
“Not just the overconsumption of meat, but meat itself as a form of overconsumption; so that every time you’re eating it, you’re thinking about how resource intensive that is.”
Dawn Moncrief with Erica Meier presenting awards to the 2018 winners of Hall of Fame, Grassroots, Youth and Celebrity Activist winners Animal Rights National Conference Awards Banquet. Los Angeles, CA Picutred L-R (Daniella Monet, Ellen Erikson, Erica Meier, lauren Ornelas (lower cap L), Brenda Sanders, Genesis Butler, Dawn Moncrief Photo credit: Ally Hinton
Through these international partnerships, AWFW is reframing what makes a ‘healthy’ diet and challenging the dependence of the international development industry on animal products to feed people. Instead, it is highlighting the benefits of plant-based food choices for undernourished populations, and proving that veganism can offer a more sustainable solution to world hunger and food security issues.
By shifting to plant-based foods and using veganic farming practices, the impacts of livestock on resource scarcity, environmental pollution, land degradation, and climate change can be avoided. Where animals overgraze and degrade the soil, growing plants helps build health back into the land. Plant-based farming empowers communities, who can feed themselves high-density nutritious foods that also strengthen, rather than pollute, local ecosystems and natural resources. It’s a win-win.
AWFW advocates veg-friendly policies at local and federal levels, working with think tanks and policymakers to incorporate plant-based food strategies into their programs. The organization analyzes research and communicates the food security benefits of plant-based food and farming, thereby advancing structural change that supports its vision of a just food system where all people have enough of the right kinds of food, and in which people are nourished, animals are spared, and the environment is protected.
Children enjoying the nutritious, plant-based lunches provided by IFA
IFA and AWFW team members with some of the chefs for the IFA-sponsored plant-based lunch programs.
AWFW’s strength is in its willingness to challenge some of the most harmful – yet accepted – behaviours in society, regardless of backlash from animal industry bodies or other organizations with vested interests.
Food waste is already a topic on the global agenda, but Moncrief is taking it a step further. Her vision is to reframe meat as a form of overconsumption. “Not just the overconsumption of meat, but meat itself as a form of overconsumption; so that every time you’re eating it, you’re thinking about how resource intensive that is.”
While Moncrief is clear that veganism is not a silver bullet for world hunger, she is developing a more nuanced conversation around consumption, and empowering people to understand the impacts of their choices.
“The connection is real.”
“Reducing meat consumption and going vegan does take pressure off the food system so that basic food staples are more accessible to low-income countries,” she explains.
Dawn Moncrief. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur.
She becomes emotional as she tells the story of a farming family in El Salvador who had to choose between selling their crops to pay for the lease of their land, and feeding their children. Two of their children died.
“These very poor countries with lots of hunger are exporting either meat directly, or food to be used for meat and other animal products, to high-income countries,” she says. “So, the connection is real.”
With Moncrief at work, it’s difficult to doubt that things are changing for animals. AWFW’s strong message and research-based advocacy is making huge strides possible in terms of re-framing the role of animal products in food policy and hunger alleviation. Where other organizations shy away from advocating for unpopular solutions, AWFW sticks to its mission, bringing plant-based hunger and climate solutions into the mainstream, and proving to critics that what helps animals and the environment also helps people – there’s no need to choose.
Learn more and support A Well Fed World Photos and interview by Jo-Anne McArthur. Text by Anna Mackiewicz.