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Personal Development for Smart People
Founder and Campaign Director, Compassion Over Killing
Interviewed by Doh Driver
When did you become vegetarian/vegan?
I stopped eating meat at 13, and then quit eggs and dairy about one month later, after learning more about the cruelties involved in all sectors of animal agribusiness.
When and how did you become the Campaigns Director for Compassion Over Killing (www.cok.net)?
I founded COK in 1995 and have been serving as the organization's campaigns director ever since.
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COK tries to make vegetarian eating as simple and convenient as possible. We offer resources to help people make the transition to meat-, egg-, and dairy-free eating with ease, such as TryVeg.com (our free Vegetarian Starter Guide) and VegDC.com (a listing of the best vegetarian-friendly restaurants, groceries, bakeries, and caterers in and around the nation's capital). Both of these projects have done a great deal to demonstrate just how convenient vegetarian eating really is.
What is COK's mission?
In short, COK's mission is to reduce animal suffering. We think the most efficient way to do this is to promote vegetarian eating, since the overwhelming majority of animals being abused and killed by humans are those we eat. In fact, more than 99 percent of the animals we kill each year in the United States die for human consumption.
As a result, COK's primary focus is on cruelty to animals in agriculture, and we promote vegetarian eating as a way we can each help bring about a kinder world for all of us.
How big is the membership and staff of COK?
COK currently has three full-time paid staffers, several very dedicated volunteers who help run the organization, and scores of activists who volunteer some of their time to the organization. We have about 3,000 members.
How do you decide what the campaigns are, and how do you implement them?
As another way to help reduce the greatest amount of animals suffering, we try to focus on aspects of animal agribusiness that involve the largest number of animals. Since chickens make up well over 90 percent of the animals killed each year by humans, much of COK's attention is focused on both the broiler (chickens raised for meat) industry and the egg industry.
As well, since the poultry industry uses intensive confinement to a greater degree than nearly any other segment of animal agribusiness, we find that we can get the "biggest bang for the buck," so to speak, by focusing on the broiler and egg industries.
Do you have campaign directed towards children? If so, what are their responses?
COK launched our "Cool to Be Veg" teen advertising campaign. Although it's still in its early stages, responses have been very positive by young adults interested in helping animals through their dining choices.
What would you consider one of your more successful campaigns?
Our largest victories have included garnering extensive coverage of factory farming issues in the largest media outlets around the world, including exposÚs in The New York Times, Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian [U.K.], and CNN.
Do you generally feel optimistic about the American mentality towards animals and their welfare?
Recent polls by Gallup and Zogby show that most Americans oppose intensive confinement systems for farmed animals. Unfortunately, their ethical opposition to mistreatment of "food" animals doesn't always translate into consumer activism in the form of a boycott. It is heartening, however, to know the public, for the most part, is on the side of compassion and mercy.
We can draw a lot of hope simply by looking at the progress European countries are making towards outlawing many of the worst abuses of animal agribusiness, like conventional battery cages for egg-laying hens, gestation crates for female pigs, and veal crates. In this country, we took a huge step when gestation crates were banned in Florida.
At the same time, per capita consumption of most animal products (except for beef) seems to be on the rise, both in the United States and even moreso in less developed parts of the world. Unless this trend is reversed, the level of animal suffering will continue to remain outrageously high.
What are some of the rewards of your job? Any disappointments?
The greatest reward of my job is the feeling that I'm doing what I can to help those who can't help themselves. Nonhuman animals are the most oppressed group on the face of the planet, and the intensity of their misery is something I can't even begin to comprehend. The satisfaction of knowing that I'm doing my part to help alleviate some of their suffering is immense.
Of course, the most disappointing part of the work is to see other countries increasing their consumption of animal products. But, hopefully, we are at least preventing it from rising more than it does while encouraging more and more people in North America and Europe to choose vegetarian eating.
Is there an overall message that you'd like to send to readers, vegetarian or otherwise?
Each one of us can help make the world a less violent and much kinder place. We shouldn't wait for others to do the work for us. Aside from beginning with ourselves and choosing only vegetarian options, there are a number of ways we can promote compassionate living, and we should take every opportunity to do so.
Please check out www.cok.net, www.TryVeg.com, and www.VegDC.com for more information on getting active for animals.