Activist Profile: June 10, 2015
Where are you from and where do you live now?
I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana: home to great jazz and R&B, a rich cosmopolitan cultural heritage, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. I now live in a suburban community called Mandeville. It’s about 25 miles north of my hometown. It’s a rapidly growing area, but still retains a bit of its rural character. The best thing is that it’s close enough to the city to have the best of both worlds.
What got you interested in veganism and animal advocacy?
I had a really emotional experience on a fishing pier one afternoon on vacation in Florida back in 2012. I had grown up watching my grandfather and grandmother’s family fish, and all of us eating seafood and other animal products, but that day I was suddenly taken aback by the scene: the hooks, the animals in obvious distress and the slaughter on the pier, the stench. It hit me like a ton of bricks. That evening I did some soul-searching, and on the cusp of my 50th birthday – after a life of omnivorous blindness to the suffering of animals used for food – I decided to give up meat and seafood. For the next year, I read everything on animal welfare, factory farming, and nutrition I could get my hands on. After a year of vegetarianism, I decided I finally needed to watch some of the videos. That’s when I saw Mercy For Animals’ Farm to Fridge. I was devastated. I went vegan the next day and have been vegan since. That last event propelled me into a whole new world: awareness about animal testing and research, the moral implications of animal captivity, etc. A voice inside kept nagging me: “There’s got to be more I can do.” I contacted Mercy For Animals and spoke to their Volunteer Coordinator Mikael Nielsen. He gave me the guidance I needed and the opportunity to work a paid-per-view table at my local Veggie Fest in New Orleans. After two days of that, I knew I had to continue to do anything I reasonably could to advocate for farmed animals and spread information to help educate people and try to create a positive change.
You’ve been very enthusiastic about leafleting, often traveling long distances to help out. What makes you such a big fan of leafleting?
My first leafleting venture was suggested by Mikael Nielsen. It was a concert happening at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans in the summer of 2014. He sent some literature and we tried to assemble a group. We were ultimately unsuccessful, so my first leafleting venture was a solo flight. (lol) I was pretty intimidated. However, after about 15 minutes, it started to flow. The reaction from people was mostly upbeat, and before I knew it I was doing what I call “the dance”: feeling joyful; confidently and smilingly holding out the literature; getting and giving thumbs up; pivoting, spinning and making jokes with people as they went by – supporters and detractors alike. I had a blast! Later, Mikael put me in touch with Vegan Outreach’s Yuri Mitzkewich and that’s when things really took off. I joined Yuri at my alma mater – the University of New Orleans – on my lunch break from work one afternoon. Watching a seasoned vet like Yuri work his magic was the inspiration I needed. I got out a few more times on my own, but when the Adopt a College spring 2015 semester rolled around, I told Yuri I wanted to take a week’s vacation from work and travel with him to help out all day. He and I really hit it off and, with the help of some other volunteers, I felt like part of a team. We ultimately did five schools around South Louisiana over a couple of weeks. Why am I such a big fan of leafleting? One, it works. I’ve seen the statistics and it’s empirically one of the most effective means of outreach, but I’ve also seen it work in person. When people find out the truth about where their food’s coming from, you can feel their reality shifting. Two, it’s helping to raise awareness about the tragedies of factory farming and animal exploitation for food. Three, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun: meeting people, gently shifting attitudes, and feeling a sense of accomplishment doing something you know is the right thing.
What do you do for fun when you’re not doing activism?
I love reading – especially nonfiction – and listening to music, including live jazz and classical music. I play the piano and that’s a great source of joy that’s also therapeutic. I enjoy the outdoors, particularly hiking and cabins in the mountains. I also meditate daily and that’s been a life-changing and enhancing addition to my life.
Do you have a favorite leafleting moment?
I was leafleting at the college from which I graduated. It was kind of a special day in that Yuri and I kept getting approached by people telling us how they’d seen us the previous semester and made changes to their diets or that they were seriously considering veganism or vegetarianism for the first time after talking to us. I had handed a pamphlet to a student who took it and sort of casually glanced at it on his way into a classroom building. About five minutes later, he came rushing out and ran up to me, sort of wild-eyed. “I can’t believe this is what happens to animals at these places. This is messed up. I don’t think I can do this any more.” I was a little shocked, but when things settled down, we started talking about factory farming, animal welfare, sentience, and nutrition. He was all over the lot. (lol) But he walked away telling me he wanted to get serious about changing his eating habits. He hadn’t had any idea of the horrors inherent in the current food production system. I thought, “Now that is what it’s all about.” It renewed my hope in humanity and the next generation to make things better. And that’s what happens when you do outreach: you see just one person willing to change and it gives you hope.
Do you have any advice for those hesitant about leafleting?
I was hesitant and a bit intimidated, so I understand. I would say know the issues as best you can and feel confident discussing them, but don’t worry about not knowing all of them – no one does. Do the best you can and direct people to a resource that will help them. Smile and look people in the eye; even if they don’t know what you’re giving them, they’ll usually smile back. That feels good and the energy is contagious; it’ll make you feel more confident. Last, know that even a short stint handing out literature and presenting a positive, uplifting image in defense of animals and for a vegan lifestyle can have an enormous impact. The small ripple you create that day can become a tsunami somewhere down the line. You tell one person, and then they tell another, and then that stray leaflet you gave out three months ago gets picked up from a desk or table somewhere and a totally unexpected discovery takes place. If you want to make a positive change for animals, the environment, and people’s health, your small effort can do all three and reach people you’ll never meet. Keep that in mind as you hesitantly extend your arm, smile, and give that first leaflet out. Lose that little bit of initial hesitance and you can help change the world.