'THE ACTIVIST' (Gillian)
I have always been passionate about the welfare of animals - from pets, to wildlife and pertinently today to the animals that make their way into the food chain. My 'activism' started when I was in grammar school and I remember distinctly, at age 14 years, my impassioned presentation at morning assembly speaking out against vivisection.
My father (and his father before him) were butchers and in his early years my dad was also a slaughter-man, but we never really spoke much about his years in the abattoir (I knew him as a skilled butcher) but he would hint at the fact that the business does bring out the worst in those with an innate streak of cruelty (and we will never completely eradicate this) but for the most part it was controllable as back then abattoirs were small and therefore more 'policeable' in terms of animal welfare. The abattoirs did the killing and the evisceration, and the the butchery was done in the butcher's shops.
I grew up eating every part of the animal, which meant lots of slow cooked cuts and offal and I spent many an hour in the back of the butchers shop watching my dad break down an animal into its marketable pieces, steaks, chops et cetera, and I have watched him make hundreds of sausages, his own recipe encased in sheep intestines. So all in all during my youth I was exposed to a lot of meat in its raw primordial state - but this played no part in my decision later in life to become a vegan - back then I supposed that an animal lived well and died well, and that's how it was in the cycle of food - death for one, life for another, I did not grow up with a sentimental attitude towards farming
After moving to the USA at the opening of the 21st century I started to read snippets here and there about some of the awfulness of 'factory farming'. And the more I read the more upset and sickened I became. Growing up in the UK I had not been exposed to the USA meat industry, and in terms of the commoditization of animal products the UK was thankfully a long way behind the American market.
Jump forward to April 2007 when I could no longer fight my moral dilemma regarding eating meat, which I knew for the most part came from factory farms, I did what my gut told me was right at the time - and I gave up eating meat.
Early 2009 - after more reading and research I became distressed about the life of dairy cows, and so I cut back on my dairy consumption and tried as best as I could to limit it to organic products (I have since discovered in my journey that the organic label in the USA isn't particularly reassuring in terms of animal welfare - but all that is another blog).
Finally, January 2011 found me reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Saffran Foer - it blew my mind! The facts I knew about factory farming paled into fairy stories by comparison to the brutal facts that Foer shared in his book. It was positively shocking, and it was then I knew I had to do something.
The first thing was to write my own expose from my on-going research into the reality of conventional farming and educate the general public who were blissfully ignorant to the awful facts. Kate, 'The 'Epicurean' was ready to get on board too having also read Eating Animals.
So between us we put together a talk and power-point presentation which we delivered to friends back in April 2011. At the end of each harrowing section, comprising of the following industries - egg, chicken, beef, dairy, and pork, we promoted local farmers who we believed farmed with great attention to high animal welfare standards. At this point we had only the individual farms' websites to guide us and so our knowledge of local farms was limited, but it was the starting point into which the main impetus of our infant organization would evolve…visiting and promoting farms in the Southeast which raise livestock under high animal welfare standards.
Vital Awareness: The Epicurean and The Activist was born….
In May 2011 I stopped eating animal products completely, I was done with dairy (I believe that conventional dairy cows are subjected to a pretty terrible existence ) and I was finding that eating fish was becoming difficult - sourcing sustainable fish with the least by-catch was problematic especially in restaurants.
So here I am a vegan supporting and promoting ethical meat and dairy production. I grew up with a pragmatic view of farming and I hope that in my work today I am guided by compassion rather than sentimentalism. Consumers are not going to stop eating meat anytime soon, so we have to work with the system not against it if we are going to effect any change in the way livestock is raised; if we are going to eat meat let's do it right.
…and all change begins with awareness!
- THE ACTIVIST