Taking a closer look at what we eat
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Local activist groups partner to rally for animal rights
Kittens and chicks are equally cute, but why domesticate one and consume the other?
This is the thought provoking message in a billboard promoted by the local association Vegas Veg in partnership with Mercy For Animals.
Vegas Veg is a local organization consisting of individuals interested in promoting plant-based eating within the Las Vegas area.
Elaine Vigneault, Vegas Veg main organizer, is a supporter of MFA, which is a national non-profit farmed animal advocacy organization.
MFA used the billboards in Chicago, Boston, New York City, Denver, Toronto and Michigan to raise awareness for animal cruelty.
Vigneault saw a photo of the billboards online and contacted Nathan Runkle, executive director of MFA, to see if they could do the billboards in Nevada. Runkle handled most of the logistics and Vigneault took care of the fundraising.
Runkle said that there is a growing discussion taking place around the country concerning food choices and their impact on our health, environment and animal welfare.
Vigneault said that there are a lot of animal lovers in the Valley, but they normally extend their love to only dogs and cats.
“Our message is simply to encourage people to extend the kindness that they give to cats and dogs,” Vigneault said, adding that “Pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys and even fish are capable of feeling pain just like cats and dogs.”
And the idea behind the billboards is to ignite some thought about animal cruelty and health consciousness.
For her, farm animals are treated like meat before they’re even slaughtered. They suggest people choose animal-friendly options as much as possible.
And besides the promotion of better life quality to farm animals, Vegas Veg is also concerned about the food quality that people eat.
Their mission statement is: “Vegas Veg focuses on ending human dependence on animals by promoting a compassionate, healthy, plant-based lifestyle through grassroots educational activities,” according to Ann Petit, one of the organizers.
Runkle gives the example of books like “Eating Animals” by Johnathan Safran Foer, and documentaries like “Food, Inc.” where it shows consumers being more conscious about their food choices.
“This billboard campaign builds on that discussion and urges consumers to think about why we call some animals companions and others dinner,” Runkle said.
The billboards are made to make people think, even for a second, about what they are eating. Kellie Benway, a Vegas Veg member, hope it plants a seed in their minds.
For Benway, Vegas Veg’s main message is about a new option, one that includes being a vegan or vegetarian.
“We are all just normal people who happen to care about all animals and show our concern for their welfare by not eating them. And it is OK to be different,” Benway said.
And all these members have something in common: They are interested and passionate about food, nutrition and animal welfare.
“I like people who are kind. I am attracted to people who question common paradigms,” said Vegas Veg Daryl Elliott, explaining why he joined the group.
For these members, they feel that they live in a culture that prides itself on caring for domestic animals while farmed animals lack any type of attention and dignity.
“There is a path, veganism, of acting in a way that is more consistent with how people generally see themselves, which is as loving and caring people,” Elliott said.
“[By] promoting humane and compassionate vegetarian food choices, we are inspiring people nationwide to reject products of animal abuse,” Runkle said adding that “As the demand for meat, dairy, and egg products is reduced, so too will the number of animals subjected to these cruel and inhumane conditions.”
Right now, there are 376 members and about one-third of the group are active members who participate in the events promoted by Vegas Veg.
Vigneault said they try to keep the activities low-stress, fun and nonjudgmental. And even though they are mostly social, the core intent is about enlightening people and sharing information.
“We’re constantly striving to educate people and help them make truly informed food choices,” Vigneault said.
And the supporters know there is a far-from-ideal world out there and Vegas is definitely a part of it.
“It was an excellent idea to get these billboards to Las Vegas, where people are sometimes challenged to pursue a healthy lifestyle with the odd casino working hours and seeming acceptance of excess everywhere,” said Ina Mohan, Vegas Veg member.
She said that even though people within the group may have different lifestyles, it does not stop them from getting the most out if it. According to her, the information they share with each other is very important to this learning process.
“You can’t force a certain lifestyle onto others if they don’t want it, but revealing the truth about the food industry cruelties and the benefits of vegetarianism is an ongoing duty that we have towards our fellow humans,” Mohan said.
And the billboards were a way they found to express what they believe in and share their thoughts.
“I think [the billboards] are great. It’s wonderful that we have some billboards that give people an opportunity to think about their actions as opposed to only having commercial billboards,” Elliott said.
But not everyone was so enthusiastic about the idea the billboards right from the beginning.
“At first I was a little uncomfortable with the image,” said member Valeria Taylor, adding that she later changed her mind and realized “that it must be effective since it is clearly provocative.”
Taylor is also optimistic about the future.
“I have seen food consciousness grow over the past 16 years and I believe that more people are ready now to embrace vegetarianism and veganism than ever before,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the group’s philosophy is to help people become savvy food consumers. She believes that path will lead to personal growth, which will ultimately guide to choices that are beneficial to both humans and animals.