Vegucated is an incredible new guerrilla-style documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured with true tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover hidden sides of animal agriculture and soon start to wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. Before long, they find themselves risking everything to expose an industry they supported just weeks before.
MFA was lucky enough to catch up with Marisa Miller Wolfson, the filmmaker behind Vegucated, as she geared up for the nationwide release of the film. Here is what she had to say:
Tell us a little bit about yourself? How did a meat-and-potatoes woman from small town Indiana end up as a vegan filmmaker and activist in New York City?
It's amazing how a couple of aha! moments can send you on a new trajectory. I was the anti-vegan growing up in Indiana. I made fun of the one veg person I knew. Then I lived with vegetarians in college and in NYC and never thought I would be one.
But, one Sunday, I attended a screening of an animal rights documentary at my church, went veg on the spot, and while I was there, grabbed a booklet about veganism. I read it on a plane trip three months later and was vegan by the time I landed.
Within months, I lost 15 lbs (of cheese), my energy level soared, and I fell in love with the way health food stores smelled and my new favorite foods tasted. Then I started organizing screenings of other veg-related documentaries, and that became a full-time job. But I noticed that there was a story that hadn't been told before on film, and I decided to tell it.
What inspired you to make this film?
Partly, it was the stories of transformation that I was seeing all around me as people were going vegan from the documentary screenings I helped organize. I thought it would be cool to try to capture the process of going from meat-lover to herbivore in real time: one day we see someone eating a bacon cheeseburger and then we see them have their minds blown from the truth about animal agriculture. The documentary Super Size Me gave me the structure: turn it into an experiment and give it a specific time frame.
What's been the typical reaction by the public to the film so far?
Laughter. People appreciate the humor most of all. We struck gold with the three film subjects we chose. They were compassionate, candid, hilarious, and ultimately inspiring.
It was so easy to relate to the real life experiences of Brian, Tesla and Ellen in the film as they made the transition to veganism. Can you tell us where they are in their vegan journeys now?
Now do you really think I'm going to give that away? [Laughs] I will say that they all made lasting changes, but they each landed in slightly different places. I think that reflects truth, and it's also inspiring to show that everyone can move in a more compassionate direction, no matter where they're starting from.
Brian and Tesla seemed particularly moved by their experiences rescuing an egg-laying hen and seeing for themselves the conditions at a pig farm. What do you think is the best way to get people to make the connection between the foods they eat and the animals who were killed to produce it?
That's the question of the century! I think firsthand experience is the best. Seeing something with your own eyes gets rid of any doubt about what really goes on. And getting to spend time with animals where they get to be themselves and show off their personalities is super important. But if that's not possible, I have to say film. If a picture is worth a thousand words, film is worth a million.
With the perfect balance of humor and charm mixed in with serious discussions, Vegucated is the kind of film you can share with your squeamish friends and family without scaring them off. What do you think is the most impactful, take-home message from the film?
That's great to hear. Our goal was to make it as accessible as possible so that it could reach a wider audience. I hope the take-home message is that adopting a vegan diet is not only not crazy, it's one of the most logical solutions to so many problems we're facing. Plus, everyone can go more plant-based and enjoy great food and better health.
Then, before the holidays we'll release the film digitally and on DVD. Finally, next year we're launching our community screenings campaign, so if you'd like to bring it to your town, you can sign up to host a screening. Stay tuned at GetVegucated.com to check for new tour dates and cities; they're coming every week!
For a sneak peek, check out the Vegucated trailer:
What are some basic tips you can share for people just getting started with vegan living?
Keep trying new things. Don't be afraid you'll "miss" certain foods; our tastes change as we transition, and soon, you'll be craving amazing vegan food.
Definitely do be proactive in finding support. There are so many vegans and online resources there to offer you help; it's just a matter of plugging in and finding them.
Most importantly, consider it an adventure. You're a culinary and cultural pioneer. Enjoy exploring the whole new delicious world in front of you while making the world a better place.
Featuring a host of inspiring speakers, informative cooking demos, delicious vegan food samples, and dozens of exhibitors, including Mercy For Animals, the 2011 D.C. VegFest dazzled crowds in the nation's Capitol!
Co-hosted by the Vegetarian Society of D.C. and Compassion Over Killing the D.C. Vegfest brought thousands of vegans, vegetarians and veg-curious omnivores to Washington to celebrate the huge diversity of animal-friendly cuisine and the many benefits of a plant-based diet.
Interested in putting vegetarianism on display in your area? Most community festivals, college campuses, Earth Day events, gay pride festivals, art and county fairs, and musical concerts allow representatives of non-profit organizations to set up educational exhibits. Here are some easy tips to get started.
If you are in the area, consider volunteering to help at an MFA booth at one of these upcoming events:
According to a recent class action lawsuit filed by law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, LLP on behalf of consumers, various dairy companies - including the National Milk Producers Federation, Dairy Farmers of America, and Land O'Lakes - formed a trade group called Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) in order to engage in an illegal price fixing scheme that has resulted in more than $9.5 billion in unfairly obtained profits. CWT allegedly colluded to reduce the supply of milk and thereby inflate the price by buying out small dairy farms and then instructing workers to kill their entire herds. More than 500,000 young dairy calves were mercilessly killed in the course of this effort.
Beyond consumer complaints and anti-trust violations, the dairy industry has a long history of routine animal abuse. MFA's investigations into dairy farms across the country have revealed cows and calves being mutilated without painkillers, "downed" cows too sick or injured to stand being left to suffer for weeks before dying, and newborn calves being forcibly dragged away from their mothers and killed or sold for veal production. After only a few years of repeated impregnation and nearly constant milk production, most cows exploited by the dairy industry are considered worn out, or "spent," and are shipped to slaughter at a mere fraction of their normal lifespans.
Watch the following video for a glimpse of the standard conditions animals are forced to endure at modern dairy facilities:
The good news is that simply choosing soy, almond, hemp or rice milk over cows' milk, and plant-based cheeses and butters over their saturated-fat and cholesterol-laden dairy counterparts is a powerful way to protect yourself and animals from being cheated by the dairy industry. Visit ChooseVeg.com for helpful tips, delicious recipes and more.
Last week, President Obama proposed cutting "direct payment" farm subsidies by $5 billion a year, according to a recent article in Reuters. While helping to reduce the federal budget deficit, this plan would also help put a stop to the overproduction of farmed animal feed crops like soy and corn that artificially lower the cost of meat and other animal products at the expense of American taxpayers. The subsidy cut could also create a more level playing field for farmers who grow healthier food crops for direct human consumption.
To put things in perspective, the United States government has spent 16.9 billion in tax dollars to subsidize "commodity crops" like corn and soy in the last 15 years - mostly for high fructose corn syrup and feed crops for factory-farmed animals. In contrast, the government spent a mere $262 million to subsidize the growing of healthy fruits and vegetables - mostly apples.
According to the Environmental Working Group, just ten percent of America's largest and richest farms receive nearly three quarters of all federal farm subsidies. And the White House says that commodity crop subsidies are unnecessary, since more than half of the recipients have incomes above $100,000 per year.
It's encouraging to see the President coming out in favor of farm subsidy reforms. Without taxpayer-funded subsidies, the prices of factory-farmed animal products would come closer to reflecting their true production costs - which would put them at a price point above what most Americans would be willing to pay on a daily basis. And this would undoubtedly lead more people to shift towards healthier, plant-based foods to the benefit of human health, the environment, animal welfare and the economy.
Visit ChooseVeg.com to learn how you too can cut funding for the cruel and wasteful factory farming industry.
Every year on October 2nd, in honor of Mohandas Gandhi's birthday, animal advocates from across the globe gather to celebrate World Farm Animals Day and to raise awareness about the suffering of animals raised and killed for food. This year, the goal is to expose the dirty practices of the meat, dairy and egg industries to as many people as possible.
Looking to get involved? Here are some ideas to get you started:
Distribute literature about the many health, environmental and ethical benefits of living a cruelty-free lifestyle. We recommend passing out Why love one but eat the other? or 25 Reasons to Try Vegetarian brochures, which you can order from the MFA Literature Store.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper about the plight of farmed animals, urging readers to visit ChooseVeg.com to learn more.
Share Mercy For Animals' groundbreaking documentary Farm to Fridge on Facebook. Click the "Share on Facebook" button found on MeatVideo.com. Also consider sharing on other social networking platforms, such as Twitter.
Host a "Paid-Per-View" event. Offer $1 to passersby on your college campus or at a street festival to watch a 4-minute edit of Farm to Fridge and help inspire them to choose compassion! You can receive funding for Paid-Per-View events through VegFund. For everything you need to set up a "Paid-Per-View" event, click here.
Rent a tabling spot at a local festival and display MFA literature, while playing Farm to Fridge at your table with a laptop or TV.
Order a men's or women's cut "Ask Me Why I'm Vegetarian" t-shirt, along with a packet of 25 Reasons to Try Vegetarian brochures. When people ask about your shirt, smile and give them a 25 Reasons brochure from the packet you've been keeping in your purse or backpack. Then start a conversation about why you went vegetarian. By starting conversations and planting seeds of compassion, you'll be helping to spare countless animals unimaginable suffering.
While these ideas should help get you started, remember there are countless opportunities for you to Take Action on World Farm Animals day or any day! The animals are counting on you. Your actions and your voice make a difference.
"New dietary guidelines emphasizing nutrient-rich plant foods can enable modern populations to dramatically improve their health, dramatically reduce healthcare costs, while at the same time save millions of needless deaths from heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes. It is time for an evolution in healthcare where prevention via proper diet, not drugs, becomes the foundation of modern healthcare," says Dr. Joel Fuhrman, collaborator on the report and Director of Research for Nutritional Research Project for the National Health Association.
Due to the overwhelming evidence in favor of plant-based diets, the World Preservation Foundation says that mild recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables aren't enough. The group is calling on the British government to start nationwide incentives and campaigns to create a societal shift toward vegan living.
Eager to make the switch to a plant-based diet? You are in luck! Transitioning to a vegan lifestyle is not only good for you, it's good for the animals too. Visit ChooseVeg.com for helpful tips, delicious recipes and tons of information to get you started on the path to healthy, cruelty-free eating.
The conference, unique in its exclusive focus on factory farming and the problems surrounding it, will be held in Arlington, VA, from October 27 through October 29 and aims to reach a broad audience of professionals and advocates from the animal protection, health, and environmental movements to collaborate on these issues.
Guest speakers include prominent figures in the animal advocacy movement, such as MFA's Executive Director Nathan Runkle, internationally renowned author, speaker, and vegan nutrition expert Dr. Michael Greger, and Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study.
2011 conference sponsors include Mercy For Animals, the ASPCA, and E Magazine, just to name a few.
Tickets for the event are $150 and registration includes all presentations, as well as coffee, vegan lunch and dinner on Friday, and a continental vegan breakfast on Saturday.
Click here for more information and to register today!
Social justice advocates from in and around Dallas joined together this weekend to march with MFA at the city's annual Gay Pride Parade, waving flags, passing out pro-vegan literature, and holding a banner declaring, "No one is free when others are oppressed."
More than a hundred Pride attendees also participated in our Paid-Per-View exhibit and were paid one dollar to watch a 4-minute clip of MFA's hard-hitting documentary, Farm to Fridge. The MFA viewing booth was crowded all day with curious people interested in learning more about modern animal agriculture. The shocking footage stirred emotions and inspired many viewers to adopt a vegan diet on the spot.
The day was filled with inspiring conversations, including dozens of people excited to receive vegan recipes and area restaurant guides, and one memorable woman who sought out the MFA booth to celebrate her one year "vegiversary," since receiving an MFA brochure at last year's festival.
This was MFA's sixth year marching in pride parades, and as in years past, the crowd response was amazing.
After a successful trial offer of instant vegan meals at several stores in New York City, 7-Eleven has just permanently added four Asian-themed vegan meals at nearly one hundred of its stores in the northeastern U.S. This is great news for compassionate, but hurried, on-the-go eaters! Now it's easier than ever to choose kindness over cruelty at every meal.
Adopting a vegan diet is not only the best choice for the environment and human health, but also for the animals. Cruelty runs rampant on modern day farms, where animals are crammed in spaces so tight, they're unable to move around freely and are denied anything that comes naturally to them. Many of these animals are mutilated without painkillers, abused by workers, and ultimately suffer violent deaths.
For delicious vegan recipes and instructional videos, please visit ChooseVeg.com.
Visit VegGuide.org for a listing of veg-friendly establishments around the globe.
MFA volunteers in Chicago exposed thousands of festival-goers at the African Festival of the Arts to the shocking and inhumane treatment of farmed animals, and encouraged them to make a switch to a healthy and compassionate plant-based lifestyle.
Throughout the course of the festival, people packed into MFA's "Paid-Per-View" tent to earn a dollar by watching a 4-minute segment of the eye-opening documentary Farm to Fridge. Shocked and horrified by how farmed animals are treated, many people pledged to go vegetarian on the spot, swearing never to eat animals again.
Additionally, thousands of pieces of pro-vegetarian MFA literature were distributed to people eager to learn more about the plights of farmed animals.
MFA volunteers celebrated Labor Day weekend by spreading the message of kindness and compassion to thousands of New Yorkers.
On Saturday, MFA's crew of dedicated volunteers gave away hundreds of SO Delicious coconut milk ice cream sandwiches, along with copies of MFA's 25 Reasons to Try Vegetarian booklets and Vegetarian Starter Kits at the ever-bustling Union Square. Folks marveled at the rich, creamy taste of the sandwiches, and were surprised to find out there are cruelty-free alternatives to virtually all the foods they know and love.
On Monday, volunteers headed to world famous Coney Island to let beach-goers know the ugly truth about factory farms. Thousands of pro-vegan leaflets were distributed, inspiring countless people to make the switch to healthy and humane vegan living.
While individual vegans save lives every time they sit down to eat, we can exponentially increase the number of animals we help by taking our message to the streets and encouraging others to try vegetarian living too. If you would like to volunteer with MFA and help spread our message of compassion for animals, please consider filling out our volunteer form or applying for an internship. If you live near one of Mercy For Animals' chapters, we highly recommend that you join other members at our public outreach events.
Hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and visitors traveling in and around the Chicago area are being challenged to look at their food differently, thanks to Mercy For Animals' newest pro-vegetarian ad campaign. Over 250 ads, strategically placed on train platforms, on the outside of buses, and in the interiors of buses and trains as well, are causing Chicagoans to consider the plight of farmed animals when sitting down to eat.
One of the advertisements features an adorable puppy and a lovable piglet sitting side-by-side and asks, "Why love one but eat the other?" Another design asks consumers, "How much cruelty can you swallow?" and features a heartbreaking image of a mother pig locked in a tiny gestation crate. Commuters are encouraged to "Choose Vegetarian" and visit ChooseVeg.com for more information.
Far from receiving the kindness and respect afforded to most dogs and cats, the billions of cows, pigs, and chickens raised and killed for meat in America lead lives filled with pain and suffering. On today's factory farms, animals are confined in filthy, windowless sheds, barren wire cages, gestation crates and other cruel confinement systems. These animals will never root in the soil, sunbathe, build nests or engage in any other natural behaviors.
Guest-blogger Jasmin Singer, from Our Hen House, explores the connections between gay rights and animal rights.
"No one is free when others are oppressed." That poignant saying is proudly touted on a banner that Mercy For Animals has been marching behind at gay pride events throughout the country for many years. It's a stark reminder to those in the gay community that their issues are part of a continuum. And a reminder to everyone that animals are on the agenda.
I recently wrote an article for The Scavenger entitled "Gay rights and animal rights: intersections," which delved into my personal experiences as a lesbian vegan, and explored the similar rationale used to marginalize both groups - animals and queer people. This was my latest attempt to work through the implications of something that I have always felt on a gut level: All oppression - whether the oppression of animals, sexual minorities, racial or ethnic minorities, or fill-in-the-oppressed-group-here - is, on some level, rooted in a similar mentality of "othering" - attempting to justify oppression by focusing on arbitrary differences between "us" and "them."
The common theme in the mentality of the oppressor, like the mentality of a bully, is that "might makes right." Bullies think that having power over others, be it physical strength or political might, justifies discarding the inherent rights or significant interests of others for their own personal gain. Regardless of whether we are talking about a schoolyard bully, a racist, a sexist, a heterosexist or even a speciesist, one can see a very clear thought process with similar justification for the exploitation or oppression of others. And it is this mindset that needs to be challenged, regardless of the specific social justice issue.
I am so inspired by the work that Mercy For Animals does within the gay community, and everywhere else, to make this truth more evident. No one articulates these issues better than Nathan Runkle, and one of my favorite moments in the crazy, wonderful two years since the organization I co-founded, Our Hen House, started its work was the day I got to film Nathan explaining all the reasons he feels so strongly about both of these issues. Indeed, Nathan launched our Gay Animal series, and his insights were refreshing and motivating.
Fighting for justice is the most fulfilling, meaningful work in the world, but doing so without a view toward all who need justice, and while wearing the blinders created by our own privilege, is, ultimately, an empty gesture. And you know why? Because no one is free while others are oppressed.
Jasmin Singer is the director and co-founder of Our Hen House, a multimedia hive of opportunities to change the world for animals. She is a contributing writer for VegNews Magazine, and the former campaigns manager for Farm Sanctuary. Jasmin lives in NYC with her partner, animal rights law professor Mariann Sullivan, and their perfect pit bull, Rose. Check out her weekly podcast.
Bonus! If you are in the area, don't miss an upcoming workshop in NYC on September 14 led by Jasmin and MFA's Director of Operations Matt Rice, which will further explore the connections between social justice movements. For more details and to RSVP, email NYC Campaign Coordinator Eddie Garza.
A new anti-meat billboard, supported by members of the group Orange County People for Animals, and backed by Mercy For Animals, is giving thousands of Fort Collins, Colorado drivers some serious food for thought. The eye-catching advertisement, featuring a lovable puppy sitting next to an adorable piglet, asks travelers, "Why love one but eat the other?"
While all 50 states have laws protecting dogs and cats from abuse, animals on factory farms have little to no legal protection in most states. Cruelty that would be punishable by law, if it were inflicted on dogs or cats, such as neglect, mutilation, transport through all weather extremes, and gruesome and violent slaughter, is commonplace in animal agribusiness. Yet farmed animals are no less intelligent or capable of feeling pain than are the dogs and cats we cherish as companions.
Reaching millions of viewers across the United States, CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta hosted an hour-long special with Bill Clinton called "The Last Heart Attack," promoting healthy vegan eating as a powerful way to prevent and cure heart disease. And now, the whole episode is available online!
While the entire video is great, the pro-vegan message begins at about 22:45 minutes into the video.
With Bill Clinton's new mantra, "eat nothing that has a mother or a face," gaining so much mainstream media attention, there is no doubt that millions of animal lives will be spared as countless people follow the former president's lead and explore healthy vegan living. You can help by sharing this persuasive video with your friends, family and loved ones. While you are at it, share a copy of MFA's informative Vegetarian Starter Kit too. Click here to order a free copy.