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Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
26 November 2000 Issue

INTERVIEW WITH ENGLANDGAL

Recently, John Kistler, author of a brand new book called "Animal Rights: A Subject Guide, Bibliography, and Internet Companion" contacted EnglandGal to request an interview for his next book. The following is that interview in rough draft form which may be published in "People Making a Difference: People Promoting and People Opposing Animal Rights" by Greenwood Press in 2001. Thanks to John Kistler for permission to share it with our subscribers.

John Kistler can be reached at kistlerj@mail.wvsc.edu

** Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who are you? Where and when were you born? What do you enjoy?

I was born in Yorkshire (James Herriott County - All Creatures Great and Small), England, my mother British and my father French. My two brothers are engineers and they still live in England, and I have relatives in England, Australia and New Zealand. I lived in various parts of England (London, Bournemouth, Poole, Surrey) before moving to the USA in 1986.

My hobbies and interests are so varied that they must seem an odd mix for an animal rights activist. I write poetry and enjoy drawing and painting. I love interior design, especially American Victorian furniture. Making ceramics and dried flower arrangements, gardening, reading and reviewing books for authors are a few of the other ways I spend my free time.

But my first passion is my love of animals. I share my home with Samuel Wedgewood Bartholomew, a 13 year old Westie; Molly Girl, a terrier mix somewhere around 8 years old (she came from the shelter so I don't know her birthday); Juicy Lucy, a little white poodle who came from the streets almost four years ago; and Frankie Panky, who is a shelter rescue about 7 years old and a Cairn Terrier just like Toto from the Wizard of Oz.

** How did you become involved in animal rights issues? Was it a single event, or a gradual process, that started you down the path toward activism?

My first recollection of being an activist was at the age of about 11 when I would stand in the city square of my home town asking passersby to sign a petition to save the seals. I later got involved with protests that focused on fur issues and animal experimentation issues. My involvement with the animal rights movement has been a long process of growth. After settling in Tampa I became involved with the local group Florida Voice for Animals and then founded the Vegetarian Society of Tampa Bay. Other opportunities came along, such as becoming a senior chat room host for America Online for a weekly chat named Animals and Society. This led to another volunteer job coordinating the speakers for a weekly national radio program called Animal Forum based in California.

Because of these activities I have met many important leaders in the movement, authors, activists and speakers. It has been exciting to meet so many people whose books I have read and whom I admire for their commitment. And the many connections I have made keep leading to new opportunities for me to help the animals.

** What are one or two issues that you spend the most time on? Why do you care so much about this (or these) issues? Why should other people also care about this?

My heart lays heavily with the factory farmed animals where most of the animal suffering goes on today. Each year in the United States alone, nine billion animals are raised in pain and confinement and then killed for food. Most people think that they need meat but the irony is that animal products are the prime causes of this country's two biggest killers -- heart disease and cancer.

Most people also think that farmed animals are treated humanely when the truth is that animal welfare is the least concern of the animal foods producers who are driven by maximum profits. I feel sorry for all the humans who are being mislead by the greed of the meat and dairy industry and whose lives are cut short by wrong food choices. The facts are out there for all to see, in newspapers, magazines, broadcast media and across the internet - meat kills humans as well as animals.

Besides the enormous suffering of factory farmed animals, the meat based diet is incredibly destructive of the environment. Before the end of this century most humans will have been driven to a vegetarian diet because our natural resources will have been depleted. Half of this country's fresh water supply goes to livestock production, from growing animal feed to washing down the slaughterhouse floors. The U.S. meat industry is also responsible for a third of the fossil fuel used. We support the fishing industry to the point where it costs taxpayers many times the value of the fish caught to bring them to shore. It seems obvious that the meat industry is not sustainable in the long run. So I believe that people have an obligation to care for an inseparable triangle of concerns: their own health, for the needless suffering of the animals, for the quality of the environment they leave for their children. I believe that once vegetarianism has become the norm, there will be no leather, fur or other slaughterhouse byproducts. Animals will no longer be used in medical research to find cures for diseases caused by eating animals. Vegetarianism leads to feelings of empathy and compassion, so the cruelties of animal abuse for entertainment will disappear. I will continue to work on many other animals causes, but I feel helping people go vegetarian is a top concern because everything else will follow.

** What are your short-term and long-term strategies for achieving your goals? What do you do exactly, on a regular basis, toward these goals? Write? Research? Educate? Protest?

Education is the key to making a difference. I believe that most people want to be compassionate and that if I can let them know what is going on, they will try to stop participating in animal suffering. That's why for most of the last decade I have devoted so much of my time to online activism. My organization, Animal Rights Online, has grown to be the largest such group on the internet with almost 5,000 email contacts, individual activists and AR organizations. My volunteer staff and I send to our email subscribers weekly action alerts, book reviews and two newsletters per week covering the latest in animal news, in-depth stories, vegan recipes, poetry and other features. Producing all of this requires a lot of time, but I am fortunate to have a great group of volunteers who help write and assemble the mailings and answer the large amount of daily email questions that come in.

In the long term, I will continue to seize the opportunities that allow me to make a larger difference.

** What is your ultimate goal on this issue? When could you say, "we have succeeded?"

We will have succeeded when the needless suffering of all creatures has stopped. I know this won't happen in my lifetime but I also know that I have played a part in leading us to a more compassionate world and hopefully it will happen just a bit sooner because of the actions I have taken.

** Do you work closely with any formal groups or organizations? Which one(s)?

Animal Rights Online works with many national and grassroots groups and we believe we help make a lot of connections between groups. I was recently honored with being selected to be on the Advisory Board of the Animal Rights Network, producers of The Animals' Agenda magazine, one of the best publications of its kind. I am hopeful that this association between ARO and the ARN will be of mutual benefit. The more connected all of us in the movement can become, the more effective we can be in making meaningful changes.

** What groups or types of people do you consider to be "the opposition?"

I often think of the opposition as the people who make money from the exploitation of animals, the meat producers, the animal experimenters and those who find enjoyment watching or participating in animal abuse for entertainment. But people can change, so I tend to think of people as potential converts and that the real enemies are Greed and Ignorance.

** Whom do you admire the most, or who inspires you? Name one or two, modern or ancient heroes you have.

There are so many who have devoted their lives and made real differences for the animals that I hate to narrow my list of heroes down to two, but I think that John Robbins, who gave up his inheritance from the Baskin-Robbins empire to write books advocating veganism, has had an enormous impact on our movement. Another is Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation and other books, who has raised the consciousness of a whole generation of compassionate people.

** Is religion or spirituality a part of your life? Does this religion (or lack of it) help, motivate, or hinder your work?

At times in the past, the "opposition" have somewhat scornfully remarked to me that Animal Rights or vegetarianism has become my religion. That bothered me a bit until I realized that there's nothing wrong with that. In her book The Inner Art of Vegetarianism, Carol Adams describes how vegetarianism is a spiritual practice and she creates a form of yoga based on it. Rynn Berry, the historical advisor to the North American Vegetarian Society, points out in his book Food For the Gods that respect for all creatures, the concept of ahimsa, is the first precept of most of the world's major religions, and that vegetarianism logically follows this idea. Even organized Christianity, which has a long history of neglecting the rights of animals, supposedly had a vegetarian and animal rights activist as it's founder, but according to Berry the early church suppressed these teachings of Jesus.

I also admire the writings of the Reverend Andrew Linzey of the Faculty of Theology at Oxford, whose books such as Christianity and the Rights of Animals and whose regular columns in The Animals' Agenda magazine have been inspirational for so many people.

** Would you describe a very funny or very strange experience that you have had in your work as an activist?

Recently I participated in a cattle liberation at a New Mexican ranch, but as soon as we got the cattle to a safe pasture, they were all abducted by UFOs. I think UFOs use animal methane for fuel.

Just kidding!

** What advice would you give to a person just starting into animal rights (or opposing-animal-rights) activism? What important lessons have you learned; or mistakes have you made, that others might learn from?

It's so important to take time for personal growth and happiness because you can't help the animals very much if you are hurting yourself. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the tremendous suffering of the animals and to lose sight of goals that can be achieved. Keep a steady pace, don't try to go full steam ahead, take time for yourself as well. Remember that there is a ripple effect which magnifies all our efforts; each person with whom you share the truth will go on to reveal that truth to others. It often happens that people feel ostracized and alone and it helps so much to meet others who think like you. So join your local animal rights group or vegetarian society, make new friends in online chat rooms, cultivate relationships that help you grow.

Never forget that our objectives are reachable. We have made much progress in the last couple of decades even though there is still a long, long way to go. Howard Lyman once gave me some advice I'd like to pass along. Howard, a fourth generation cattle rancher who sold the farm and became a leading author and speaker on veganism and mad cow disease, once told me that people have to hear the truth about seven times before it begins to sink in, but that once it sinks in you can never be the same again. Howard also believed that there was a turning point that would soon be reached. That once a certain number of people had been made aware of veg*ism and animal rights, these ideas would become mainstream and there would be a fast conversion of the rest of the country. It's thoughts like these that keep me moving ahead.

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