VEGANS IN PARADISE (NZ Activists) -- The Interviews

Compiled by Claudette Vaughan. First published in Vegan Voice.

There's something about the New Zealanders! They are Nuclear-free. They refuse to kow-tow to American interests. They accept refugees in boats while Australia accepts none. They are the first country to give the Great Apes (apart from humans) legal rights and they took a principled stand against the war in Iraq even going as far as publicly stating " this government does not trade the lives of young New Zealanders for a war it doesn't believe in, in order to secure some material advantage". In a Byzantine twist, by taking this stance, they have not been 'left out in the cold'. They are one of a few countries in the world today operating with a progressive left-wing political party in power. Time and again NZ animal rights activists prove they also can punch above their weight. I predict NZ to be the first country between Australia and NZ to rid themselves once and for all of the battery cages and sow stalls A). because of their integrity and B). because they are not lumbered with unlimited State laws to contend with. What's more, NZ has done very nicely out of marketing a "Clean Green" Image to the world and why not? Here we ask 5 high profile NZ animal rights activists the 6 identical questions to see what they think on some issues. The activist's are: Hans Kriek, Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE); Clare Havell, Animal Watch Aotearoa; Anthony Terry, SAFE; Mark Eden, Campaign Against Factory Farming; and Deirdre Bourke, ARLAN.

1. What kind of person were you before you stopped eating animals?

Mark: I was just an ordinary guy who had no idea what was being done to animals. the first time I thought about animal rights and meat eating was when I was listening to a song called "Meat is Murder" by my favourite band, The Smiths. After thinking about it for a while I decided there was no reason why I shouldn't turn vegetarian, so I did.

Hans: I was just like most people, mainly living my life from a self centred perspective with very little thought about how my actions impact on others.

Clare: Much the same as I am now but not as knowledgeable about the horrible things people to do animals. Once I started to find out what the death/meat industries actually involved it was easy to go vegetarian.

Deidre: I went vegetarian fairly young -- at 17 years old - so this one is pretty difficult to answer. I always loved animals and considered the animals around me to be a core part of my family so from an early age I had a guilty conscience about eating meat -- basically from the point that I realized that meat came from animals. Animals were always a central part of my life so I guess prior to being vegetarian I was an extremely guilt ridden animal lover waiting to for the chance to convert!

Anthony: Fairly apathetic and not really aware of what was going of around me. My space was very personal and career orientated. I was a chef, making money and living in 'my' world happily indulging on the world's resources and what it had to offer. This included eating and wearing animals. Despite being a chef and dealing with meat and dairy products each and every day, I had little knowledge of what these products actually were made of or had any reason to doubt something was wrong. You don't see on the packet

2. How has veganism changed your life?

Mark: I think animal rights movement has changed my life, and obviously veganism is a big part of that. I gradually realised that a career and money were not as important to me as being involved in animal rights campaigning. All of my best friends are animal rights activists and I can't imagine not being a vegan and animal activist.

Hans: Veganism has made me a much more aware person, not only on animal rights issues but on many other social issues as well. It also has given me more confidence to speak out against animal abuse as I know that my actions reflect my beliefs. I am also a much healthier person as my asthma disappeared some time after became a vegan!

Clare: Apart from feeling healthier, it's good to know I'm not contributing to animal suffering but actively trying to stop it. It also was a starting point in animal rights activism.

Deidre: Veganism is a difficult thing. It forces you to think critically about your actions and everything you do, and how it affects others -- on a daily basis. On one hand that's really depressing. You become incredibly aware of the massive number of ways that non-human animals are used and exploited, and you have to find a way of living knowing that it is going on and that change comes slowly. On the other hand I think it's made my life richer and more rewarding. I think that I appreciate and value those around me more -- especially animals -- and on much more genuine and real level.

Anthony: Well, I feel it has alienated my world from the eating habits and lifestyle choices of the 'norm' (well, western world anyway. Of a lifestyle, among other things, that includes relying on neatly packaged food items in brightly coloured cartons, tins or packets, that are without sufficient information that questions our buying choices. Let's be honest, who would pick up a frozen chicken from the supermarket freezer if it accompanied a scrapbook of photos and memoirs of how he or she was raised and how he or she got to be lying dead in your hands? I feel I have been awoken from a state which dulled my mind from thinking and taking responsibility of my own actions. I now feel like I have a more honest standard of living and feel good that I can at least limit the level of abuse and exploitation I am party too. I realise I live in a world which relies on industry to produce, create and manufacture. This always seems to compromise standards or be at the detriment of someone, somewhere - be it human, animals, or the environment. I try to live a vegan lifestyle as humanly possible but this isn't easy even after being vegan for a decade or so. However being vegan has many rewards and I can sleep well at night knowing that I have lived another day without the guilt of having the flesh of a once living being inside my stomach because I was hungry. I eat really well everyday and know and believe I am healthier for it.

3. Was there a conversion-triggering event that compelled you to move over to veganism?

Mark: Discovering vegan junkfood! Before I became vegan I was vegetarian for a few years, and thought veganism was really difficult. I thought you had to put in a lot of effort and be a really good cook to be vegan. It was only when a vegan friend came to stay with me for a month and taught me how to do vegan two minute noodles, that I realised that being vegan was easy.

Hans: There was a conversion trigger that saw me became a vegetarian overnight 25 years ago when I was 16 years old. My biology teacher told our class about factory farming. I had always been fond of animals so I decided to give up eating meat as I did not want to support the cruel treatment of animals just so that we can eat them. I went vegan eight years ago , there was no specific triggering point for this, I just came to the conclusion that if you truly oppose animal cruelty, veganism is the only lifestyle consistent with an animal rights philosophy.

Clare: Becoming vegan was a gradual process that took about a year from when I turned vegetarian. But the final trigger was a McDonalds ice cream so I guess I can thank them for something!). I became vegetarian after some of the animals that lived in our backyard were killed for dinner. That was a pretty formative experience.

Deidre: Not really! I went vegan within a year of going vegetarian. The people that I knew and most respected were all vegans. I didn't have a clue why they were vegan at that point - only that if by being vegan I would be helping animals more then that's what I should do. One day my partner said ?hey lets go vegan and I said ok cool! We were moving into a very large vegan flat (10+ people) so it all happened really fast and was really easy.

Anthony: I was vegetarian for about a year prior to going vegan and it seemed illogical not to be vegan when my reasons for being vege were ethical. I guess the power of advertising and conditioning that "you've gotta have milk, cheese and eggs to have strong bones and be healthy" coupled with dairy is in just about everything, that it seemed almost inconceivable to take the 'vegan step'. I remember thinking stupid things like what how could I ever enjoy pizza and nachos again but these were just flippant excuses. My friends weren't very encouraging but as none of them knew anything about veganism, why would they? Books and other vegans were the ticket! (the internet didn't exist at the time but is amazing source of support today)Having experience in the kitchen also really helped the transition of using different food groups and it wasn't long before I was making damn fine vegan pizza and nachos!

4. If we maintain a non specieistic stance is there any difference between eating an animal or resorting to cannibalism to survive?

Mark: Um, not really. I hope I never have to be put in the position of having to seriously consider eating a person or animal, but I certainly think there is no need at all for the killing of animals or people for food.

Hans: There is a big difference, we don't need to eat animals in order to survive, in fact, we (as a species) would survive better on a vegan diet as this would have far less of a detrimental impact on our environment compared to our current meat based culture.

Clare: I think we have a inbuilt instinct to not eat our own species. But really, if you had to eat a human, or non human animal to survive, in either case you would be killing a sentient being, and it would totally suck.

Deidre: Killing any sentient being -- animal or human -- is murder. Their species, age, sex, mental capacity etc. is irrelevant. Of course we don't need to kill anyone to survive, and I'd like to think that even if it were a matter of survival I still wouldn't resort to murder. But having said that if I'm starving and anyone around me dies of natural causes watch out -- because I would have no ethical problem turning scavenger on anyone!

Anthony: No, and thankfully I feel I will never be in a situation where survival is an issue. I live in a world full of resources and choices. The simple answer is I don't need to consumer animal products to survive. It is a choice I have made. If I WAS stuck on an island with say a child and goat, would I eat either? No, I would probably find a way to end our lives painlessly, and together, rather than trying to find a way to kill either to try to save myself. Besides, once the goat is gone (as I think most people would argue is the 'right' choice) are you going to eat the baby as well? If we were all going to die on the island from starvation (without or without killing any of us) anyway, then I would much rather die without the guilt (or blood) on my hands.

5. Are vegans more evolved, intellectually or spiritually, than people who eat dead animals?

Mark: Vegans are certainly sexier, but I don't know if we are cleverer or more spiritually evolved than anyone else.

Hans: I don't know, I believe that vegans are more aware and considerate about the other creatures we share our planet with. I also believe that when earth's natural resources start to run out, the human race will have little option and will adopt life styles that are less destructive.

Clare: While there a *huge* number of vegans I admire greatly, and I love being vegan, I think it's important we emphasise you don't have to be a superhero to be vegan - anyone can do it if they really want to. (That's > me speaking from a privileged western world position of course) If we want people to go vegan, we need to show people that it's 1) easy 2) essential in stopping animal suffering

Deidre: No I don't think vegans are more evolved. Vegans are a diverse bunch, and we have just as many personal issues and problems as any other group in society. Infact most the vegans I know are pretty normal. People go vegan for a huge variety of reasons, but in terms of those that choose veganism for ethical reasons I think that as a group we obviously tend to have a lot more empathy for animals - I think the reasons each of us have that increased empathy for animals are diverse and vary from person to person based on personal experience.

Anthony: I look back at my life and where I am now. I think if someone had told me what I know now I think my life would probably be on a similar path to where it is now. The fact is I was fortunate to be in a space, being physically or spiritually, to widen my eyes and mind to the truth. I can't explain how that happened but I am very grateful that is happened to me. I feel I have evolved to living on this planet having a wider and greater appreciation for living other than for my own personal reasons.

6. Finish off this sentence: Total animal liberation is the moral imperative of our time because...

Mark: ...millions of animals are dying every day for absolutely no reason other than profit. If we can change this it will have a huge and beneficial affect on our entire society.

Hans: ...their liberation will be the ultimate expression that human beings have evolved to become caring and responsible inhabitants of this planet.

Clare: ...we're living in a time of unprecedented animal abuse and environmental devastation. And if we don't do something about it right now, it will be too late.

Deidre: ...until we can value and respect difference in others and stop using it to justify cruelty and bigotry, and until we learn to stand up for and protect the vulnerable rather than take advantage of them then as a society we will remain selfish, ignorant and devoid of compassion ?and I just don't think we should tolerate the existence of that type of society!

Anthony: ...we have no other choice if we are ever to honestly call ourselves decent human beings. 13 years vegan (14 years vegetarian).