We talk to Sandra Higgins, director of Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary in Meath, about her nationwide vegan advertising campaign.
The campaign has attracted huge interest from the public and the media.
by Bronwyn Slater
One of the posters from the Vegan Ad Campaign. (Photo © Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary).
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the campaign – where are the ads located, etc.?
A: The first part of the campaign launched in celebration of World Vegan Day. It appeared on every DART train in Dublin, on a prominent city centre billboard, as well as on buses in major towns and cities throughout Ireland.
The second wave of the campaign took place in November and will continue until the New Year. Ads appeared on bus shelters and billboards throughout Ireland, and in bathrooms in colleges and universities throughout Ireland.
Q: What motivated you to start the campaign?
A: The animals I work with on a daily basis are my motivation. Many of them arrive at Eden traumatised, terrified and very ill. They recover and learn to trust. Their individual personhood begins to emerge and they blossom. I see that they are individuals, very different from each other. Some are gregarious and friendly; some gentle and loving; others are indelibly marked by their histories and are irritable and not very sociable. Some are curious and brave. They have idiosyncrasies just as humans do. They form close bonds with the other residents, and with me. They live their lives with such enormous enthusiasm, and energy. Watching them, you can see how deeply felt their pleasure in life is. Then they become ill; they suffer tremendously because they are imprisoned in bodies that are artificially selected by humans to maximise the production of flesh, or milk or eggs. Their lives are short. They die long before they should. They go reluctantly. I have seen the light go out of too many eyes. I am haunted by their plight.
I am continually searching for ways to bring who they are into the public eye. I believe that if people knew how sentient beings are transformed into the food they eat, the clothes on their backs, or the cleaning products and cosmetics in their homes, most would be vegan. If they knew how hens suffer, they would not eat eggs. If they knew that male chicks are ground alive or suffocated at birth, they would question a government that allows this torture. They would begin to question the morality of using other animals. If they knew that cows and their calves are separated so that we can have dairy products, they would boycott those products and choose plant based alternatives.
Most people are compassionate. Most people know what justice is. When they know the truth, the vast majority will be vegan. I hope this campaign will prompt people to think, to research, to empathise and to change to being vegan.
A: The Starter Kit welcomes people to veganism. It is a very simple, practical document that explains how to go vegan, and how to stay vegan. It gives a brief introduction to the rationale for abolitionist veganism. It offers reassurance on the evidence based benefits of a plant diet, and points readers in the direction of how to eat for optimum health. It includes tips on where to go next in terms of behavioural change to a vegan lifestyle.
The govegan.ie website is a more comprehensive resource where people can go to find answers to the questions elicited in the campaign ads. It covers topics such as the process of becoming vegan, and the rationale for ethical veganism, including an intersectional perspective. It documents the effects on other animals when we use them for food, clothing, research, entertainment or any other use.
The purpose of this section of the website is to lift the lid off animal use, bringing the most appalling legalised savagery from the hidden depths of darkness into the light of day where people can bear witness to it, and see first hand the effects of living a non-vegan life on defenceless, innocent, sentient others.
One of the Vegan Ad Campaign posters. Photo © Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary.
There is a Living Vegan section that provides practical information on aspects of veganism that affect peoples’ day to day lives including information on Nutrition, Dining Out & Travelling, Children & Parenting, Medicines, Health and Fitness. There is also a section on Alternatives to Animal Agriculture. The website also includes a Product guide, Recipes and an extensive resource section of books, films, and evidence based scientific material on the various aspects of veganism and animal rights. Finally, the website includes a Frequently asked Questions section which I will add to over time. The starter kit is available free of charge by texting your email address to 50123.
Q: Have you had a good response from the public so far, and have many people requested the Starter Kit?
A: At the time of writing 314 people have requested the Free Vegan Kit and there have been over 5000 hits on the website. Many people have written for information and support to go vegan. Some people have asked for individual mentoring or expressed an interest in attending a vegan education course.
Q: How have the media reacted to the campaign?
A: There has been a lot of media interest. The campaign has featured in the Irish Times, The (UK) Sunday Times, and the Irish Independent, Farming Section. It features alongside an article on the campaign in The College Tribune at UCD which is circulated to all staff and over 30,000 students. The campaign also attracted some attention from colleagues in the field of Positive Psychology (The Positive Animal) because of the manner in which the campaign was executed. It also featured in Vegan Lifestyle, which is distributed to 100 countries.
It has featured on several radio shows including twice on Kildare FM, on Newstalk with Eddie Punch of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association. The campaign also featured on SPIN 1038 radio, Q102 and 98 FM. I was also interviewed by Bob Linden on Go Vegan Radio.
The campaign has attracted very positive attention for the most part. Many people who were sitting on the fence with respect to veganism have gone vegan. Some people have learned about veganism and transitioned from vegetarianism and omnivorism. People have asked questions about how other animals are affected by our use and have been horrified by the answers. Others have commented that veganism seems to be able to meet every argument and criticism levelled against it.
Unfortunately, the dietitians interviewed in relation to the campaign were not familiar with the ease and health benefits of plant diets as evidenced in current scientific literature. I see that as part of the learning curve that professionals will go through as the world becomes vegan and the evidence based literature on plant dietetics becomes more widely disseminated. It also shows the need for more studies on lifestyle, motivation and behavioural change from an ethical as well as a 100% vegan perspective as current studies muddy the water by conflating veganism and vegetarianism, and human health issues with an ethical, non-violent way of living.
Q: Have you had any reaction from the farming community?
A: Obviously the campaign attracted negative attention from animal exploiting industries and from farmers. I empathise with the concerns of farmers. They do not understand that veganism supports farming as long as it does not harm others. They fear that a vegan way of life threatens their livelihood. These are very understandable, if misplaced, fears.
Earning enough to keep the members of one species alive at the cost of enslavement, harm and death to members of another species can never be justified. When we look at the ethical arguments, and the many benefits of veganism for human health, the environment, one of the solutions to world hunger, and to violations to workers’ rights, the conclusion must be that animal agriculture has nothing going for it. In 2014 32% of Irish farms were deemed economically vulnerable according to Teagasc statistics. A further 31% only reached sustainability through the support of off-farm earnings.
Farmers, like everyone else, are products of the environment in which they live and work. Veganism is new to them and in time they will come to see this non-violent philosophy and lifestyle as their saviour, not their enemy. Farmers have been duped and manipulated into difficult, dangerous, unethical, underpaid work. Changing subsidies to alternatives to animal agriculture will provide them with a decent living and an easier life without enslaving and harming innocent, defenceless animals. It will serve them and their children better and give the earth a chance to pull back from the brink of irreversible devastation.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary?
A: Eden opened in 2008. It was the first vegan sanctuary in Ireland; in fact, it was the first sanctuary dedicated to farmed animals. I wasn’t vegan when I opened it. The first residents were lambs, who because they were triplets, couldn’t be fed by their mothers and would have either died or been killed for their flesh if they hadn’t been given a home here. They opened my eyes to the sentience and personhood of other animals. I used to watch them jumping for the sheer joy of it, and it dawned on me that they love their lives and want to continue living them until they die of old age. Shortly afterwards I rescued a group of hens. Getting to know them made me realise how badly we exploit them. As Eden expanded and more animals were rescued I began to see the difference between the violations we cause by mistreating them (for example the mutilations and confinement we perpetrate on them for food, clothing, research, entertainment etc.) and the violations we cause by simply using them (how we have changed the course of their evolution by selective breeding, essentially imprisoning them in bodies that cause suffering). I learned the intimate details of how we have dominated them, taken their liberty from them, interfered in the purpose and meaning they have independent of us. We have attempted to crush the most gentle, innocent, precious beings on the earth, beings who have just as much right to freedom as we have.
Sandra Higgins with Saoirse, a rescued turkey at Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary. (Photo credit: Clara Mozes. Photo © Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary).
Q: Do you think that the ads will motivate people to go vegan?
A: My original hope was that the campaign would plant seeds of veganism. However, several people have written to me to say that the campaign has resulted in them going vegan. With the expertise of Joanna Lucas, I designed the ads so that as wide a crack as possible is opened to shed light on what we do to other animals. I hope that the ads will make people ask questions. Questions such as: what price do hens pay for eggs? What price do male chicks pay for eggs? What does ‘dairy is a mother’s worst loss’ mean? Why does the cow look like that? Why is her calf behind bars? What caused the pain in the hens’ eyes? What is wrong with the baby chick? How does dairy take babies from their mothers? In what ways are the lives of other animals as valuable to them as our lives are to us? What is motherhood like for other mammals?
Q: Is this the first campaign of its type in Ireland, and in Europe?
A: Yes, this is the first campaign of its kind in Europe. Other organisations have run bus ads in the UK but what distinguishes this campaign is its focus on other animals, its strident call for a vegan world, and for complete cessation (or abolition) of animal use. I think that what also distinguishes this campaign is that I designed it so that the animals speak to the viewers. Campaign designer, Joanna Lucas, and I worked as a very closely knit team, to create posters that enable the animals to look the viewer in the eye; show them how they feel; ask for what they want. They want us to recognise their rights. They want us to stop using them. They want us to be vegan so that they can be liberated from us.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about going vegan but is as yet undecided?
A: In my education programmes I explain how our use of other animals is unnecessary. We use them for very trite reasons such as taste and convenience. Our use of them is unjust; it causes them severe harm. If our use of other animals were not so distant from us, if we had to meet the individuals, look them in the eye, know their fear, and feel their pain in order to use them, then only the tiniest minority of people would harm them. I also explain that we use them not by choice but by very powerful manipulation by exploitative industries who advertise animal products as essential and harmless. We use them because we are a social species, with very deeply engrained instincts to conform to and belong to our socio-cultural environments. We live according to myths that are passed from generation to generation: the myth that we need other animals; the myth that they matter less than we do; the myth that they are not harmed by our use of them. Being vegan in Ireland is not difficult. The minor inconvenience we experience when we initially go vegan means everything to the animals we harm when we are not vegan. Our use of other animals is the greatest atrocity we have perpetrated in the history of our evolution. It is a dark, brutal, rotten tragedy from start to finish. Every individual has the power to stop it by going vegan.
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