Where are you from and where do you live now?
I grew up on Long Island, about an hour outside Manhattan. I currently live in Washington, DC.
What got you interested in veganism and animal advocacy?
When I was about 10 years old, I saw something on television documenting the cruel treatment of calves raised for the veal industry. I was a highly sensitive kid and remember having a very emotional reaction, and telling my parents that I would no longer eat veal. This was the mid-1970s and my family actually ate veal pretty regularly, so it kind of freaked my parents out.
In the early 1990s, I was living next door to a health food co-op and came across a copy of Diet for a New America by John Robbins. My dad had recently died of a heart attack, so I was concerned about my health and picked up the book. I found the health and ethical arguments for vegetarianism very convincing, and the photographs of factory farming practices impossible to shake from my mind. As soon as I finished the book, I became a vegetarian.
During the next 20 or so years, I paid very little attention to the animal rights movement, despite my vegetarian diet. My wife Jeanette, also a longtime vegetarian, and I were monthly donors to PETA, but that was the extent of our involvement. No one in our family, work, or social circles was vegetarian or vegan or seemed at all interested in animal rights.
In 2012, we started becoming close friends with a vegan woman in our neighborhood named Penelope. Penelope does not wear her veganism on her sleeve and is not particularly interested in talking about animal advocacy. She attends all sorts of social events and has all types of friends, while quietly not participating in the exploitation of animals. For Jeanette, Penelope served as a role model of how veganism could easily be integrated into her life. One day Jeanette announced that she was going to be a vegan, just like Penelope.
At first I felt annoyed and very resistant. I remember thinking that I was doing more than my part on behalf of animals by being vegetarian and donating to PETA. and I didn’t want to feel like any more of a social outcast around my friends and family than I already did.
I resisted for a while longer, and then decided to do some research into veganism in order to make an informed decision. After descending deep into the rabbit hole that is Google, and reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I immediately became vegan, and began transitioning through a series of altered states familiar to many in the animal advocacy community. I became the “Angry Vegan,” the “Sad Vegan,” the “Depressed Vegan,” and the “Self-Righteous Vegan.”
Fortunately I came across The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich. This book and especially Matt’s essay A Meaningful Life inspired me to try and become part of the solution, instead of sitting around feeling angry and depressed, albeit vegan.
Now it was Jeanette’s turn to be resistant. She had made a quiet, personal choice to go from vegetarian to vegan. I went from being a quiet vegetarian to an in-your-face, animal liberation T-shirt-wearing, factory farming video Facebook-posting, angry, self-righteous, vegan crazy person. Luckily both our decisions and reactions were based on our shared underlying value of compassion for others, and thankfully Jeanette is extremely supportive and patient. Quickly we realized that this was a journey we were meant to take together, and we have spent countless hours reading and discussing how to be effective advocates. Jeanette works a very demanding day job and earns much more money than I do as a jazz musician. It is only because of our partnership that I can afford to invest my time leafleting, or donate to an array of animal advocacy groups. I may be the one physically handing out the leaflets, but all of our advocacy is a team effort.
Who has been a major influence in your life?
In terms of advocacy, Jon Camp and Joe Espinosa have been important role models for me. I met Jon Camp when I first contacted VO about volunteering. Jon was a musician who shifted his focus from music to advocacy for ethical reasons, and ended up becoming one of the most effective animal advocates of all time. I’ve never met Joe Espinosa, but I read about him in Matt Ball’s writing. He is widely recognized as one of the most effective and hardworking animal activists, and he has done all his activism as a volunteer, while holding down a full-time job. As I am currently attempting to balance my music career and my passion for advocacy, both their stories inspire and resonate with me.
You make a living playing guitar. How long have you been playing, and how can we check out your music?
How do you manage to leaflet so much while holding down a steady job?
I’ve had a really easy time integrating leafleting into my daily life. When I work at night, I can leaflet a local college during the day. When my days are busy, I can leaflet local public-transport stations during the evening rush hour. If I’m swamped with work during an entire week, I can hit the local farmers’ market on the weekend.
Do you have any advice for those hesitant about leafleting?
I’m an introverted, highly sensitive person, and I definitely had quite a bit of anxiety about leafleting, so I can relate with someone feeling nervous. The thing is, it’s really low pressure. The first time I leafleted, I was at the local farmers’ market by myself and I only did it for 15 minutes. I just wanted to get a feel for it and not have any pressure. If possible, go out with an experienced leafleter. I went out a bunch of times with Kassy Ortega and learned a lot. The Animal Activist’s Handbook has great tips, as does AdoptaCollege.org. I also regularly watch Vic Sjodin’s YouTube video How to Leaflet.