Inspirational Animal Rights Activists: Matthew “PETA” Braun – 13 Years ago a Friend Bet Me I Couldn’t Go Vegan for a Month…

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hey everybody! I’m Matthew, PETA’s senior outreach coordinator. I live in Los Angeles and help activists in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. I plan protests, demonstrations, rallies, vigils, and marches for animal rights.

Facebook: matthew.peta.braun

Facebook: Matt Braun

Instagram: @pineapplenpizza

What lead you to veganism?

Thirteen years ago a friend bet me $20 that I couldn’t be vegan for one month…

Tell us about our journey to activism?

Why somebody adopts a vegan lifestyle is just as important as the fact that they’ve adopted the lifestyle. I initially went vegan because of a bet in April of 2006. The way I felt after trying veganism for 30 days led to me sticking with the diet, but that’s all it was. At that time, I didn’t really know anything about the meat, dairy, and egg industries or animal agriculture’s impact on the environment. All I knew was that I slept better and felt better when I ate plants. In 2010, four years after I initially adopted the vegan diet, I allowed myself to become vegetarian. My lack of education on animal issues allowed me to be convinced that this would still help animals. I was wrong. About a year later, somebody described the dairy industry to me in four sentences and I became an ethical vegan that night. All I needed to know was that cows, like other mammals, do not produce milk unless they are pregnant. To ensure a steady production of milk the cows are artificially inseminated annually and the calves who have every right to their mother’s milk are instead fed “waste milk” and either raised to replace their mothers or immediately killed and sold as veal. When I learned this, admittedly way later than I would have liked, I felt terrible. I let that guilt drive me to do more. I became a preachy vegan and later started leafleting. I applied for internships and jobs within the animal rights movement so I could spend every minute talking about animal rights and fighting to get those rights recognized.

Why are you an activist?

I’m an activist because I can’t not be. Like I said, I was following a plant based diet for a while before I became aware of all of the ways that animals are suffering at the hands of humans, but once I found out I had to do something about it. Knowing about these injustices obligates me to make others aware.

What type of activism are you involved in?

I’ve done it all. I’ve leafleted, tabled, participated in Cubes, protests, disruptions, marches, rallies, press conferences, and even worked undercover for a little while. I find it really rewarding to be able to help others plan events for animals because it can be daunting to think about planning your first protest. I can help take a lot of the pressure off of an organizer by supplying free materials, helping to promote the event, and walking them through the steps so they feel prepared on the day of the demo.

What were your thoughts and feelings before your first activism event?

I wanted to participate in a protest for a long time before I was finally afforded the opportunity to join a circus demo. I regret that it never occurred to me to plan my own protest in upstate New York where I grew up. Instead, I moved to a city where there was already animal rights activism happening.

How did you feel once the event was over?

Accomplished.

How do you feel you are most effective as an activist?

I feel most effective and personally rewarded after having an in depth conversation with somebody about animal exploitation, speciesism, and human supremacy; however I also recognize that this may not be the most effective form of activism for the movement. I think that the demonstrations that get press and make an impression on the masses are largely more effective and a more efficient use of time than the one-on-one conversations. Lately, I’ve been becoming more interested in working on passing animal-friendly legislation in my “free time”.

What’s been your most memorable moment as an activist?

My most memorable moment is when I first heard the news that Ringling Brothers was going to stop touring.

My toughest moment was when I was protesting a circus in St. Louis and a woman who was walking into the circus told me that if I was wasting my time advocating for animals, then I obviously didn’t care about civil rights.

What is your favorite type of activist event?

I get to help PETA win victories for animals by working with activists in several areas to protest the same company. The protests compound the pressure that the company is facing from petitions and social media comments which gives us the upper-hand with negotiations and leads to a company making changes that affect animals in a positive way. Currently, activists across the country are protesting at their local AAA offices to encourage the company to cut ties with SeaWorld.

Please recommend your favorite activism video/s, book/s or website/s to share?

When I’m trying to convince somebody to adopt a plant-based diet I often recommend documentaries that I’ve watched, enjoyed, and learned a lot from. With the exception of Blackfish, there haven’t been many successful documentaries that go deep enough on issues facing animals who aren’t being used for food. We are overdue for a successful documentary that effectively communicates the animal experimentation issue to viewers on a large scale.

Who are your activism role models?

I’m my favorite activist and if you’re not your own favorite activist then you’ve got some work to do. As for role models, I’m lucky enough to get to work with and learn from different organizers every day. I get to do this for a living, but the people who I really admire are the ones who work five days a week and then participate in or plan activism for animals in their free time.

When you first went vegan how did you phase out your non-vegan food, clothing and other items?

When I went vegan I gave away all of the non-vegan food that I had to a family who wasn’t vegan yet. I finished using the self-care products I had that were tested on animals but made sure to buy cruelty-free going forward. I did keep a belt and a pair of boots that were made from cow skin for a while but eventually I found myself not even wanting to wear them, so I just threw them out.

Do you believe we should show children the process of how animals are turned into products?

I personally think that all children should be raised vegan until they can watch the footage and decide for themselves if eating animals is something that they are okay with.

What does being vegan mean to you?

This is something that I’ve changed for myself. I used to be far more strict with the products I choose to purchase but I’m more lax about parent companies now. I understand both sides of this and support vegans no matter where they fall. Where I draw the line now is at the company that I’m directly supporting, not the parent company. For instance, I won’t eat Impossible Foods’ products because they voluntarily tested on animals. Yes, my veganism extends to not killing bugs and bees whenever possible and it has certainly affected how I treat other humans.

Is it every vegan’s duty to partake in activism? What form of activism do you take part in?

Yes. There is a type of activism for everybody no matter what your strengths are. I know activists who are extroverts but I also know activists with crippling social anxiety.

Are you the activist you want to see in the world? Why?

Yes, because I’m constantly trying to improve. That’s all I wish to see in an activist. I want to see people who are active for the issues that they are passionate about but who are constantly reevaluating their philosophies and approaches to the activism that they do.

What is the activism scene like in your city?

Los Angeles has an incredible activism scene! There are several animal rights groups in addition to the plethora of other activist groups who are active for every social justice issue imaginable. The biggest problem with LA’s activism scene is that, especially for inter-sectionalist activists, it is very easy to become overwhelmed by the different groups and events who are asking for your time.

What personal recommendations can you make for people to get involved in activism?

Try everything. Even if you disagree with a form of activism, try it, learn from it, and understand why other people enjoy it and find it effective. Criticizing a form of activism without understanding why people are doing it doesn’t help the movement. Once you have an understanding, you can contribute your criticisms in a constructive way or you may find that even if it’s not for you, you can appreciate it. I was very critical of disruptions before I participated in my first one and talked to the people organizing it.

What do you feel is your biggest area of opportunity for growth in your activism?

Legislative. I’m still gaining an understanding of the process, but this will be the final frontier for the movement so it’s crucial that we have activists who can take social and corporate pressure and direct it into this arena for lasting change.

How do you balance your well being and activism?

Not well, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t do it all and what I am doing is enough. Sometimes I feel guilty taking time for myself, but it’s imperative to do so if I intend to be an activist until we win animal liberation worldwide.

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