The following is an interview with Hope Bohanec, author of The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? She is presenting “The Humane Hoax” at Chicago Veganmania this year on Saturday, October 1st, from 1pm-2pm on the Main Stage.
1. How and when did you get your start in animal advocacy? Who were some of the people and organizations that you worked with or were inspired by?
From a very young age I had deep empathy and love for animals and a longing to help them. When I was a child I had pictures of animals pinned up all over my room and when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say that I was going to work with animals. I didn’t know exactly what that meant and thought that maybe I was going to study them in some scientific capacity, but through my teens, my rebellious leanings and strong opinions drew me to activism.
My first activist inspiration came from GreenPeace back in the early 1990’s. I was moved by their dangerous and daring actions that I saw on TV and volunteered with an East Coast GreenPeace chapter immediately out of high school. I heard about the plight of the ancient redwood trees being cut down in Northern California, and having always wanted to go to California, I packed up my car and headed west. The radical, hardcore activism of Earth First! was incredibly inspiring to me and I was soon doing “lock-downs” (blocking the logging roads with our bodies and various devises that made it hard to move us) and “trees sits” where we would ascend trees that were in danger of being cut down with ropes and harnesses and build small wooden platforms to live on 100 feet off the ground. I stayed in one tree-sit that was just a large hammock tied between four trees for three months. My body ached from being unable to stand up the entire time and doing my business in a bucket dangling over the side 80 feet up in the air was something I will never forget. The danger was real and a dear friend of mine fell from a tree sit and died. This selfless activism in my early 20’s with other courageous people was affirming; I would be an activist for life.
During my time with Earth First! I was reading and learning about the suffering of farmed animals. I was already vegan, but the cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys…they were calling me. They seemed the ultimate underdogs, innocent and defenseless, but in more misery and anguish than any other animals on earth. I moved south to Sonoma County (just an hour north of San Francisco) and brought the blockading tactics I had learned from Earth First! to vegan activism. Finding a small group of gutsy vegans, we blockaded slaughterhouses, shut down production for the day with bike locks around our necks connected to fences, cement filed barrels, and activists dangling precariously 20 feet in the air on wooden tri-pods to make a statement and get media attention. This type of activism was tough to sustain with numerous arrests and big expense without feeling as effective as other forms of activism that had much less risk. This eventually evolved into the vegan education and advocacy I do today.
2. Tell us about your current and future projects — presentations, books, campaigns, and anything else.
Currently I’m working with United Poultry Concerns (UPC) as their Projects Manager. I am honored to have Karen Davis, the founder and president of UPC as well as one of the great heroes of our movement, as my boss and I have learned so much from her. We have projects throughout the year that I help organize like our International Respect for Chickens Day as well as organizing UPC west coast outreach tables and offering presentations at conferences around the country. I help out with everything from organizing UPC events and protests to (occasionally) direct animal rescue.
I am also the Executive Director of Compassionate Living, a non-profit vegan advocacy organization. We are the sponsors of the Sonoma County VegFest, organize video outreach (sometimes called pay-per-view) on college campuses, host speakers and film showings, and more.
One of the main focuses of Compassionate Living is exposing the truth about humane labeling, which is also the subject of my book, The Ultimate Betrayal: Is There Happy Meat? Living in Sonoma County, California, the “happy meat” phenomenon is rampant. Many people are choosing animal products with labels like free-range, humane, organic, etc. While this is still a small percentage of the animal product market, it’s growing fast and we need to be prepared to expose it for the fraud it is. In my book, I uncover the truth behind the “humane” labels, both ethically and environmentally. I found extensive and disturbing evidence that no matter the scale of the farm, animals suffer. There is inherent cruelty in animal agriculture, no matter the label. I’m working on a second book called The Humane Hoax, because there is so much more to the story, and the myth that you can humanely farm and kill animals must be continuously challenged. However it’s so hard to find the time to write! There is so much work to be done.
3. We know you were instrumental in launching the Sonoma County VegFest in California. You also organize UPC’s annual Conscious Eating Conference in Berkeley. What does it take to organize complex events like this?
Next year will be my 6th year organizing United Poultry Concerns’ Conscious Eating Conference and Compassionate Living just had our 3rd Annual Sonoma County VegFest this summer. I have also taken on organizing the Berkeley Vegan Earth Day. I have been building the skills of an event planner for many years planning potlucks and protests, but big events are like grassroots activism on steroids! You pack in education, information, socialization, and good vegan food, all in one day and for a large audience. These events are really detail oriented with a lot of moving parts. I think it takes someone (or a team) who is meticulous, organized, and can see the big picture even when dealing with details. The timeline is critical as well. Knowing what to take care of six months out, four months out, five weeks out, etc. and holding to deadlines. VegFests are popping up everywhere now and there are a lot of resources to help someone get started if they want to organize one in their area.
4. What is your vision for the future as it pertains to veganism, animal liberation, and other related social justice causes?
I am very hopeful for the future. The animal liberation movement has a huge advantage; people love animals. The human response to a cute animal is adoration and affection and the vast majority of people don’t want to see animal suffer. When someone sees an animal in distress on the side of the road, people will stop traffic and risk their own lives to help them. The deeper, better part of our nature is compassion. Societal perceptions have put farmed animals in a lower class of animals and people have convinced themselves that they need to eat animals, but all we must do is remind them of that love and compassion they innately have and show them that farmed animals are in no less need of rescue from distress.
It will be a slow process as deeply held beliefs and traditions are hard to fracture, but the progress we have already made for animals over the last three decades is inspiring. We have seen such amazing improvements for so many oppressions all over the world, even though we are still struggling for human rights, it’s heartening to think how far we have come for women’s, children’s, and minority rights. I do believe that we are in a global consciousness awakening- a collective shift toward peace, non-violence, and compassion where we will see big changes for animals in our lifetime; we already have.
5. Can you leave us with some final words or advice for animal advocates?
Activism is like soy milk, if you don’t like one, try a different one, they are all a little different. Activism is not just one thing. If you are uncomfortable at a protest, try tabling or leafleting. If you don’t like those activities, try something else. Maybe you have a talent or skill that you can put to work for animals like writing, social media or bookkeeping. For activism to be sustainable, you have to be at least somewhat comfortable and enjoy it. Do keep in mind that it’s not about you or your social needs, it’s about the animals, but whatever activism you do needs to be sustainable. The animals need you to continue your work, get better, be stronger, and evolve into a powerful and effective activist. The animals are counting on all of us to give as much as we can.
Watch this video of Hope at the Conscious Eating Conference speaking about The Humane Hoax: