Growing up on a farm in a small Ohio town, I shared my childhood with animals of all kinds. I was enchanted by the wildlife I discovered near my home, and my family’s dogs and cats were my best friends. They were the first to teach me that like humans, animals have needs, desires, curiosities, and individual complexities and quirks.
I came to realize at a very young age, however, that when it comes to other creatures, human compassion is not always logically allocated. My family members cared deeply for the animals they saw as companions but gave little consideration to those they farmed, hunted, trapped, and fished.
Though I had unwillingly witnessed cruelty to animals throughout my childhood—acts others considered mundane realities of rural life—one particular instance of abuse ultimately led me to found Mercy For Animals (MFA), a nonprofit dedicated to preventing cruelty to animals farmed for food in the U.S.
The incident took place in 1999 when I was 15 years old. A teacher at a local high school, who was also a pig farmer, brought a bucket of day-old piglets from his farm for the students of his agricultural class to study and dissect. He had attempted to kill the piglets on his farm that morning, but one was still alive. In an effort to finish her off, a student who had worked on the teacher’s farm grabbed the piglet by her hind legs and hurled her headfirst into the ground.
His attempt failed; the piglet did not die, though her skull was broken and blood streamed out of her mouth. Horrified, a few students grabbed the dying piglet and took her to another teacher, who transported the piglet to a vet to be euthanized.
Both the student and the farmer were charged with animal cruelty, and the event generated a great deal of media attention and controversy in my small farming community. Sadly, the case was immediately dismissed on its first day in court. It turns out that slamming piglets headfirst into the ground is standard agricultural practice—and therefore exempt from anti-cruelty laws.
This event motivated me to correct what I viewed as a grave injustice, and MFA was born the same year. While originally intended to expand protections for all animals, MFA naturally came to focus on those raised and killed for food. Farmed animals not only suffer in the greatest numbers but as a group, they endure abuses far worse than other animals we exploit. Shuttered away from the public eye, animals on factory farms and in slaughterhouses needed an ally to speak on their behalf, and we were determined to be their voice.
MFA’s early projects focused on raising awareness about factory farming by distributing literature and staging demonstrations. Eventually, we began conducting undercover investigations and open rescues on factory farms—bringing cameras in and animals out to expose the truth about this ugly system.
Undercover investigations remain one of our core strategies today, forming the backbone of our organization and the foundation for many of our efforts. Through undercover investigations, we act as the world’s window into an industry that has arguably become one of the most destructive to animals, our health, and the planet we all share.
Like laws and policies, major food companies also control the fate of billions of animals. Our dedicated corporate outreach department focuses on improving these companies’ welfare standards to eliminate the worst of the worst industry practices: standardized abuses like gestation crates and battery cages.
How long have you been Vegan?
Why is being Vegan important to you?
Because I don’t want to pay others to abuse animals on my behalf.
Do you have a blog or favorite vegan blog you read?
Any recommended social sites?
Do you have a favorite movie or videos or your own media that you want to share?
Do you actively promote veganism? How? Please share any stories you would like.
Yes! That’s a core mission of Mercy For Animals. Our vegan advocacy programs include producing resources on how to go vegan (such as www.ChooseVeg.com), producing video content which will be seen over 200 million times this year, outreach on college campuses, efforts to reduce meat use in restaurants, letters to the editor, distributing pro-veg literature at festivals, and organizing the World’s first all-vegan music festival (www.CircleV.com).
Do you miss any non-Vegan foods?
No. There are delicious alternatives to every meat, dairy and egg product available today.
What’s your favorite Vegan restaurant?
What’s your favorite recipe? Please share it.
I don’t really cook. So, I enjoy making vegan sandwiches and burritos.
Some encouraging words for new Vegans?
You’re doing the right thing. By going vegan, you’re sparing countless animals from lives of misery on factory farms, improving your health, and helping protect our environment. Be patient with yourself. It’s about progress, not perfection.
Are you a cruelty-Free vegan?
Yes! I love cruelty-free fashions, too.
What are you favorite Vegan non-food products or companies?
Talk about a time when you struggled with your Veganism?
I first went vegan when I was 15 years old and lived on a farm in Ohio. I couldn’t drive, didn’t know a single other vegan, and vegan products weren’t widely available. That was challenging. But boy have times changed. I find it easy to be vegan almost anywhere in the country now – as long as you know where and what to look for.
How can we inspire more people to go vegan?
We must be inclusive. We must lead by example as “joyful vegans.” We must focus on effective advocacy that informs, moves, and inspires.