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Bridges of Respect: Balancing Perspectives

Our humane education program, Bridges of Respect, has reached over 800 students so far this year. The program conveys values of respect and compassion for animals. Class time usually allows us about an hour with the students. We showcase a variety of plant-based foods. We also share the stories of our personal transitions to vegetarianism, the pitfalls and the benefits of a plant-based diet, the availability of plant-based foods, and resources for change.

The presentations we offer cover a variety of animal protection topics. Students participate in the presentation, taste vegan food samples, and sometimes take notes for a test or other assignment. We’ve recently received our first presentation request for the fall semester, and it’s from an Animal Management class at Blaine High School.

We first started working with this class last spring. The course explores small animal care and career opportunities. It also has a rights and welfare section that talks extensively about animals that are farmed, vivisected, and hunted. More specifically, it highlights how those practices benefit humanity. When we sat down with the teacher, he told us that he thought that the textbook and lesson plans are very biased in favor of those industries. He was stuck with it though and wanted us to provide another viewpoint. Looking through the materials, we could see what he meant. The textbook would approach each topic with a poorly constructed depiction of the animal rights position in a paragraph or two, and then spend the remaining eight paragraphs defending the use of animals. It also didn’t take long for the animal protectionist to be painted with a broad brush stroke — credited with sabotage, property damage, and even terrorism.

Photos in the textbook were provided courtesy of the Farmer’s Exchange, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agriscience, and the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station and represented animal agriculture in the best possible light. The photo depicting veal production, for example, didn’t show a calf immobilized and chained by the neck in a wooden stall, as is the case for most calves in the industry. Instead, they were pictured in outdoor pens with sunshine and a mountainscape. The caption reads: ”Veal calves are kept in individual stalls so they can receive individual attention. Disease is kept to a minimum and farmers are able to feed and care for the calves more efficiently. The economic welfare of the farmers depends on the proper care and treatment of their animals.”

Another photo shows hens in battery cages. These cages are one of the most restrictive of all housing methods used by factory farms. As many as a dozen birds are crammed in a wire cage that measures less than the width of one bird’s wing span, but there was no mention of this in the textbook. Here is their description of battery cages: “Laying hens are kept in cages under controlled environments that increase the efficiency of the laying operation. Each hen receives adequate feed and water. Eggs, a valuable part of the diet for many Americans, are available at affordable prices because of the efficiency of these operations.” Though it is true that these intensive farming operations produce cheap eggs, the other statements are suspect, especially in light of many undercover investigations that reveal otherwise.

The textbook also tells impressionable students that: “Farming in the United States is not controlled by large corporations. Of the 2.2 million farms in the United States, 97 percent are family-owned and operated; only 7,000 are non-family-controlled operations.” Their source for these numbers was dated 1988 and fails to mention that the three percent of farms that aren’t small family farms are in fact factory farms and contain the vast majority of animals raised for food.

The teacher wasn’t really sure where to go from there, what to say or which videos to use. He wanted to show a more balanced perspective, and that’s where we came in.

The teacher allotted time for us to provide three presentations for his students. We shifted the focus to a more moderate view of animal protection with examples of peaceful activism, community building, and personal growth. We also presented a detailed overview of the ways in which animals need our help most. No less than a dozen students, about half of them, hung around after class to speak with the presenters about how to get involved, eat more plant-based foods, find cruelty-free products, and more. We played a variety of films for students, including the Mercy for Animals’ eye-opening expose “Farm to Fridge,” clips from Peaceable Kingdom, a documentary about the Farm Sanctuary, and a 20/20 Special titled “Almost Human” that focuses on a chimp named Booee who knows sign language but was sold to a lab. We also gave the teacher a Discovery documentary that discusses the emotions of animals. The film, titled Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry, resonates powerfully with students. We frequently use clips from it in middle and high schools.

The teacher even has us rewriting some of the handouts to reflect animal protection in a fair light. These handouts are already in use, counteracting the decades-long presence of industry-produced resources designed to protect profits and stifle progress for animals. In this way, they serve the same purpose as the dangerous ag-gag laws aimed at censoring documentation of routine practices in factory farms and slaughterhouses.

The teacher now refers to Bridges of Respect as an important part of his curriculum. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to meet with these students at Blaine High School for more than three hours and are looking forward to meeting the new students in the fall. To make informed choices, students need all of the information. From what I’ve seen, students appreciate honesty and will often look for ways to help when they recognize that there is a need. They will make decisions that reflect their values and ultimately make a difference for animals.

What Happened at the August Board Meeting

CAA’s August board meeting began with a report from our Executive Director, Unny Nambudiripad, about some recent successful outreach events CAA has been engaged in. We leafleted at the Warped Tour and ran a pay-per-view event at Twin Cities Pride. Unny also reported on CAA’s presence at the national Animal Rights Conference in Washington D.C..

As we transition to a new internal website used to plan events and projects, a lingering worry has to do with whether we will be able to export content from this site if we find ourselves needing to make a change down he road. While there is no built in option to do this, it appears that Dave Rolsky (our treasurer) will be able to write a software program that can do this for us. Good thing we have someone with computer programming skills on the board!

We next turned our attention to the complex business of evaluating the effectiveness of our programs. Unny and Justin (our Communications and Events Coordinator) had discussions around these issues with leaders in this area at the Animal Rights Conference. One of the suggestions we look forward taking up was the idea of engaging in dialogue with members of our target audience about how to help them make more compassionate food choices. Once we have good information about those needs, we can tailor our programs to meet them. We also decided to continue making use of existing research (for example, Nick Cooney’s excellent book Change of Heart) to inform our outreach and communication efforts.

We revisited the question of board member recruitment and we decided that we will announce opportunities for volunteer board members through the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. We also decided to explore the possibility of recruiting folks from across the country who work successfully on the kinds of issues that are central to CAA’s mission.

Our next board meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thursday, November 5 at 6pm. You should consider being a part of that meeting if you’re interested. If you’d like to participate, contact Unny Nambudiripad at unny@exploreveg.org.

Compassionate Times, August 2015

Opening Hearts, Changing Minds

written by Linda Pope, CAA Volunteer at Twin Cities Pride 2015

My 13 year old son and I were among the many CAA volunteers and staff working the pay-per-view table this June at the Twin Cities Pride Festival. We offered attendees one dollar to watch a short segment of the documentary, Farm to Fridge.

It was a very successful event in that 540 attendees watched the video. One reason we were able to reach so many people was because volunteers had multiple tablets set up for viewing, and they were continuously in use.

In between viewings, we had many heartfelt conversations with viewers and other attendees who were curious or wanted to learn more about the disconnect between what happens on factory farms and industry’s heavily funded efforts to manipulate the public’s understanding of factory farming. Others were eager to share that they were vegetarian or vegan too. Some people simply thanked us for what we were doing.

Continue reading

Animal Rights National Conference 2015: Inspiration and Fun

Two staff members and four volunteers from Compassionate Action for Animals (CAA) traveled to Washington D.C. earlier this month for the Animal Rights National Conference. Over the course of four days, we got to experience all that this annual conference has to offer, including a variety of inspiring presentations, lots of delicious vegan food, dozens of exhibitors, and the opportunity to network with others who advocate for animals.

As CAA’s Executive Director, I gave a talk about how to plan a veg fest. Referring to our guide to plan a festival, I showed others how they can start a festival in their own city. I also helped organize a lunch for veg fest planners from around the continent. Dozens of festivals were represented, and we were able to share our experiences so that we can improve the quality of festivals everywhere. We’re undertaking this collaboration to ensure that our own Twin Cities Veg Fest can have the biggest impact for the animals. It’s also great to share what we’ve learned, to help other festivals overcome their obstacles. Collectively, these festivals can make a big difference for animals, reaching hundreds of thousands of people and showing them how fun and meaningful compassionate living can be.

CAA volunteer and co-founder Dave Rolsky gave a talk about how to use collaborative technology to run an animal advocacy organization. Dave is a professional software developer, and his experience includes making user-friendly websites. He’s an expert on the variety of simple and useful online tools to get our work done, and he was able to share his technical know-how at the conference.

While our participation in the conference was exciting, so was witnessing the state of the Animal Rights movement. This year’s conference was the largest one yet, with more than 1,600 attendees. It’s also exciting to see how strategic, results-oriented farmed animal advocacy organizations are growing, and we were able to develop meaningful relationships with activists around the country that will help us do our work. These activists are creating videos about factory farming, publishing leaflets, and conducting research on how to make our movement more effective.

Following the conference, I took a trip to Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary where I got to spend the day meeting rescued animals. It was perhaps the most inspiring part of my trip, getting to see the life behind the eyes of these animals, my reason for being on this path and for speaking up for their right to be free. I’ve returned to Minnesota feeling motivated to bring what I’ve learned to our Twin Cities community, to strengthen our group, to get our message out there, and to make a difference for the animals that still need our help.

Vegan Main Dish Competition at the State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is coming up soon, and they’re hosting their 4th annual Vegan Main Dish Competition. Your favorite original vegan recipe could be the winner. This is a fun way to participate in the fair while sharing how awesome vegan food can be. Register to enter the competition by tomorrow, August 11 at 4:30pm.

The judges are looking for tasty, easy-to-prepare dishes that supply a complete protein. The entries will be on display in the Creative Activities Building, and the winner will receive a ribbon, a check, and vegan cookbook.

The category is listed as lot #1110 on page 39 in the Creative Activities Booklet. Check it out and enter to win!

What Happened at the June Board Meeting

We began CAA’s June board meeting by briefly reviewing and unanimously ratifying the budget for the coming fiscal year. We have a growing interest in assessing our work as an organization, so we decided to have a look at donation history to begin to get a better sense of the impact of our fundraising efforts. We’ll take a look at that history at our next meeting.

Board members were then introduced to the new website where organizational information will be collected. Because of its ease of use and integration with Google services, we feel this new site will offer lots of advantages over our current wiki for everyone involved in CAA’s work.

Our discussion then turned to the difficult task of assessing the extent to which CAA should get involved in campaigns like promoting Meatless Mondays. Traditionally, CAA has focussed on organizing outreach events (like leafleting and pay-per-view) and community building events (like the Chili Cook-off and the Twin Cities Veg Fest). We see campaigns like Meatless Monday as potentially powerful ways to help reduce the amount of suffering animals endure on factory farms as well. While these campaigns can generate a lot of energy, it happens that support for them among volunteers can fade over time. In view of this, we considered the possibility of allocating more staff time to work on these efforts and drawing up contracts between staff and volunteers that lay out clearly in advance the amount of time being involved in these campaigns will require of volunteers.

We also discussed board recruitment. Board members are central to helping shape CAA’s work and we are currently looking for new board members to join us. You should consider coming to a meeting if you’re interested. Our next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, August 25 at 6pm. If you’d like to attend, contact Unny Nambudiripad at unny@exploreveg.org.

Vegan Food at Twin Cities Pride

The 2015 Twin Cities Pride Festival comes to Loring Park on Saturday, June 27 and Sunday, June 28 from 10:00am to 6:00pm each day. As you take part in the festivities, you might like to know where you can find the vegan food options. Here you go!

All of these food options appear to be vegan or vegan upon request. We recommend that you check with the vendor if you want to be sure that all ingredients are plant-based.

Wide World of Foods

  • Falafel (deep fried patties from ground chickpeas and fava beans served in a pita) $6
  • Lebanese Salad (garlic, oil, mint and lemon tossed in lettuce served in a pita) $5
  • Tabouli Salad (cracked wheat bulgar, parsley, tomatoes, green onion served in a pita) $6
  • All sandwiches are available in a bowl for those who are gluten-free or do not want pita bread.

Marin

  • Vegan Cobb Salad Wrap $12

Wholesoul: A Lavender & Sage Eatery

  • Organic Sweet & Red Potato Fries

Que Viet Concessions

  • Bubble Tea (mango, passion fruit, strawberry)
  • Vietnamese iced coffee

Whole Foods Market

  • Bento Boxes (veggie & hummus or fruit & yogurt) $5

El Burrito Mercado

  • Walk A Taco (vegetarian option available) $6
  • Mango (freshly peeled and on a stick) $5
  • Roasted corn $4

Juice So Good – Green Nelly the Juice Truck

  • Cold-pressed juices

As we honor the diversity in our community and consider how we can treat others with kindness, it’s a good time to widen that circle of compassion to include farmed animals. We’ll be doing pay-per-view outreach all weekend, offering festival attendees a dollar to watch a short video about factory farming. You can find our booth between the dog park and the tennis courts. Stop by and say hello!  If you’d like to volunteer to help out, contact Unny Nambudiripad at unny@exploreveg.org.

Happy Pride!

Champions Fueled with Vegan Food and Compassion

I recently interviewed vegan runner Aaron Zellhoefer about his experience competing in the Ragnar Relay Race with an all-vegan team on May 8 and 9, 2015. Their success goes to show how a compassionate, plant-based diet can fuel top-notch athletes.

JL: Congratulations on winning the Ragnar Relay race! Is it true that your team of vegan runners took first place?

AZ: Out of 526 teams, our team, the Strong Hearts Vegan Power (SHVP) A Team came in 4th place. In our coed division, there were 332 teams, and we came in 1st place.

JL: Tell us more about the race. Where is it and what’s the course like?

AZ: Ragnar Relay is an overnight running event for teams of 6 or 12 runners. There are 15 courses spread across the United States, and each of them is around 200 miles long. Our team ran the Cape Cod course, which is incredibly beautiful. We started in Hull, Massachusetts and ended in Provincetown. We ran through very quaint towns that date back to the early 1600’s and still resemble that time period.

JL: How was your team formed?

AZ: A call was put out on Facebook for vegan runners. SHVP has done two previous Ragnar races, but they really wanted to make a mark this time. There was so much interest that we were able to sign up 36 vegan runners and make three teams. Each team had two drivers, so there were a total of 42 of us. We were all vegan. Because we had so many runners, the team captains decided to put together a competitive team. Hence, the SHVP A Team was formed.  We had some really amazing runners. I felt intimidated by the level of strength on the team.   Two of our team members, Scott Spitz and Micah Risk, had been on the cover of Runner’s World Magazine in the months leading up to the race. We also had our strongest runner, Laura Kline. Laura is soft-spoken and kind, the sort of person who does not generally make her presence known. Yet she is a beast on the race course; representing the United States, Laura won the gold for her age bracket in the International Duathalon Competition in Australia. She averaged six-minute miles.

JL: Wow, sounds like an powerful team. Plus, they had you! How do you train for an athletic event like this? What do you eat to help support your stamina and strength?

AZ: I have always trained by trying to do as many miles as possible before a race. I think most runners will agree that miles matter most. Then, there is recovery from those miles. The night before the race, the Boston Vegetarian Society hosted a talk with Matt Ruscigno, a dietitian and nutritionist. Matt talked about the health benefits associated with vegan running. His main point was that there is not one specific food that vegan runners should eat. He said that all you should be doing is eating a variety of healthy vegan foods and that the rest will follow.

JL: When and why did you go vegan?

AZ: I went vegan in December of 1997. I was involved in the punk rock movement, and, despite the yelling and screaming, there were a lot of messages in the songs. It was great to go to punk rock shows and see so much activism. Environmentalists, feminists, wobblies (workers rights activists), and animal rights activists would go to shows and share information about issues of concern. I was already vegetarian and read up on why someone should go vegan. I saw it as a natural continuation of my reasons to be vegetarian. The reasons were spot-on for the environment, human rights, health, and especially animal welfare and animal rights.

JL: How did you get into running?

AZ: I got into running my freshman year of high school. I enjoyed nothing more than getting out on a running trail and leaving all of my worries behind. I enjoyed the natural beauty of my surroundings. It would make me appreciate what I have.

JL: What was the race like for you? How much of it did you run?

AZ: Each runner had three legs to run. I ended up running a fourth leg for a teammate who was not feeling well. I ended up running 16 miles at roughly a 6:30 pace. I have another Ragnar race in Utah coming up. This will be my eighth 200-mile relay race. I think I’ve been able to do these races so well partly because of healthy eating and training.

JL: What was it like winning the race with your team?

AL: The SHVP A Team all wore shirts that read “Vegan for health, the environment, but most importantly, for the animals. VEGAN POWER!” We wanted to get the name out there and we did. We got a lot of chuckles when we showed up. But, after some of the other runners realized how well we were doing, those chuckles turned into conversations. The race was a 189.3 mile race. Our team did it in 21:54:46. That’s a 6:56 pace for almost 200 miles. It was a fantastic time, and we got the word about veganism far and wide.IMG_0472

Good Times at the Annual Banquet

We celebrated 17 years of advocating for farmed animals last Saturday night at our Annual Banquet. For the first time ever, we held the event at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul. Attendees enjoyed a gourmet vegan dinner, drinks, dessert, silent auction, and a presentation. In addition, they had the chance to spend an evening with other members of our compassionate community. Good times!

Thanks to all of our volunteers who helped in various capacities throughout the evening. Special thanks to volunteer Jared Rolsky, our head chef, who created the menu and supervised food preparation. Also, thanks to all of our food donors: John Thompson, Ben Kutscheid, Joan Rolsky, Betsy Born, EG Nelson, Muddy Paws Cheesecake, Peace Coffee, and Fairview Wine & Spirits. And thanks to everyone who donated good and services to be sold in our silent auction. We raised $1,590 with your contributions and received a $1,000 matching contribution for that. We extend our gratitude to The Herbivorous Butcher, who sponsored the event and supplied a magnificent main dish for the dinner.

Lastly, thanks to all who attended the event and support our work with your contributions and participation. We hope you had a wonderful time and look forward to seeing you at more events in the year to come.

Here’s a slideshow of photographs taken by volunteer Kealy Porter at the banquet. Enjoy!

 

 

Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: A Review

Living the Farm Sanctuary Life book cover

When I first started on my plant-based journey, my focus was on my health and wellness. In the back of my mind I knew that by eating a vegan diet I would also be helping the animals and the environment, but it wasn’t the driving force for my lifestyle change. However, after I saw a friend’s post about a goat she met at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY, I realized that the impact of my changes had a much farther reach than my own dinner plate.

That’s why when the opportunity came to read the Farm Sanctuary founder’s new book, I was ecstatic. The book, Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day, is much more than just a cookbook or memoir – it’s a practical guide to living a more compassionate life.

History

One of the things that endeared me most to this book was the detailed history and journey of Gene and Farm Sanctuary and the personal stories from various plant-based people scattered through the book. Reading about his journey to creating Farm Sanctuary is a reminder that we all start somewhere and that one step leads to the next.

His story about how Farm Sanctuary began with him and a friend keeping some rescued animals in a backyard is a testament to how small actions can be a catalyst for greater things. I also enjoyed the anecdotes about the animals that some of the employees of Farm Sanctuary provided throughout the book.

Lifestyle

Beyond the personal stories, the main premise of this book is what Gene calls the Five Tenets of Farm Sanctuary Living. These tenets include things such as eating plants for the earth, eating plants for your health, and eating mindfully.

The tenets are straightforward and each section is written in such a way that is easily digestible and actionable. Baur lays out simple steps you can take to successfully follow each tenet, and with sections such as how to eat vegan on the cheap and ‘10 Small Steps’ guide, he makes the entire lifestyle incredibly approachable.

Spring Cioppino
Spring Cioppino

Recipes

The second half of this book is dedicated to a variety of vegan recipes. The recipes were provided by a number of well-known plant-based chef and celebrities including the owners of The Vedge restaurant, Farm Sanctuary employees, and Biz Stone (founder of Twitter).

While some of the recipes are a little too reliant on pre-packaged vegan foods for my taste, they are accessible for someone who is just transitioning to a plant-based diet. Aside from those few recipes, the majority of them are some of the most inventive I’ve seen.

Walnut and Date Cookies
Walnut and Date Cookies

I personally was able to whip up several of the recipes, and I enjoyed each one immensely. From the Spring Cioppino, which is filled to the brim with fresh veggies, to the Walnut and Date Cookies, which have just the right amount of crunch and sweetness, the recipes are easy to follow and delicious.

I would consider this book an essential guide for anyone beginning on their journey toward a more compassionate lifestyle, as well as an asset to any long-time vegan’s library. While changing our diets may be the most challenging part of the journey, it is only one piece of the happy and healthy life puzzle – this book reminds us why living compassionately is so important, and it gives us the tools to do so.

Gene Baur will be signing copies of his book on Wednesday, May 20 at Common Good Books in St. Paul. Visit the event page for more details.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book free of charge, however, all opinions expressed are my own.

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