Animal Rights, Veganism and the Importance of Non-Violence

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Animal Rights, Veganism and the Importance of Non-Violence

By David Horton on

David Hortonís indefatigable energy and excellent public speaking skills for animals is well known right around Australia. Here he speaks with Claudette Vaughan on how to live the non-violent animal rights philosophy.

Q: David, you have been an important part of the Vegan Animal Rights Community in Sydney for a long time now. What is your approach to veganism and animal rights?

A: My approach is to state quite categorically that I donít know why some of us feel empathy with animals and others not. We need to solve this before we can move on. I havenít got a clue. But we must keep asking this question and perhaps someone one day will be able to answer this. And then the Animal Rights Movement will have a clear direction. We could ask non-vegan people why, but however you do it, however cleverly we ask, it is the most confronting question: why do you not care? Approach is everything. We donít want the door slammed in our face. There are two approaches: we can go in gently and talk about our weird diet and our tree-hugging, animal loving habits, or we can go in hard with some very unattractive truths? Which approach? I donít know what will work best, to bring on board the 50% of people that we must get before laws will be passed to free the animals. We have to get to the point where the most attractive thing for us to do is to observe the principle of animal rights and veganism.

Q: You have held courses and classes on veganism and animal rights and animal suffering. How does teaching veganism to young people differ from other people in your experience?

A: Young people are more innocent of the facts and theyíre not as guilty because theyíve usually had no choice about what they eat, so they are interested in finding out and they ask more imaginative questions, even though they are more frightened by what they learn. Whereas older people are more concerned with health and safety issues, and their eyes glaze over when this subject is brought up. They are too habit laden, too afraid of Ďgoing overí to being vegan. They generally prefer to ask no questions so as to provoke no answers. They try not to know and try not to care about not knowing. Itís difficult for (adult) non-vegans. They are between the devil of their addiction and the deep blue sea of will power. If they have no will to change they give the appearance of being either very thick or very uninterested. And tragically neither rings true.

Q: You are the author of so many successful vegan/animal rights books and was co-author of Q and A's on Vivisection which is still a standard. Can you talk about your books, especially your latest one please?

A: Not successful books, quite the opposite really. Iíve self published twelve books and printed them on short runs and sold most of them, but theyíre hardly best sellers. This is a difficult subject to write about since itís the most unpopular subject anyone could write about. Printing is expensive, so this latest book I decided to do myself Ė itís printed on our home printer and sewn and glued into covers. So far Iíve made 15 copies, and Iíll make them to order next year, if any orders come in. Donít hold your breath. It has a huge title, enough to put anyone off!! The Place of Non-violence and Altruism in Animal Rights. It talks about activists going in more powerfully by going in gently.

Q: You are known for going out and speaking to farmers in a non-confrontational way, and I'm guessing that this feature is very important to you, to try and understand where animal agriculture based farmers are coming from. What kind of success have you had?

A: I do speak to farmers in as friendly a way as possible, but I talk to them because I want information from them and they wonít give you anything if they think you come from the enemy camp. I wouldnít try to convert an animal farmer to animal rights anymore than Iíd try to knock sense into my own head with a hammer. I understand them in as much as I know where they are coming from. I know theyíre stuck. Using animals is their living. Itís how they make dollars, out of the land they own. They donít know any other way. But we do need to be in contact with farmers. To learn exactly what they do on farms. We need know all about animal farming if we want to talk about it. The tricky people are the consumers, learning how to speak with them. I donít understand where theyíre coming from. Yet. But thatís the challenge. To catch their ear. I suspect we have to listen to what they have to say and then, invited, speak about what we want to say. Itís called conversation, as long as it doesnít deteriorate into a fight to prove weíre right.

Q: Why did you become a vegan David?

A: I became a vegan because Iím claustrophobic and I donít like violence. So the killing of animals is quite disgusting to me but keeping beautiful innocent creatures in prison makes me feel sick. Especially since I know that every one of the fifty million domesticated animals alive today are on death row. I became vegan to help change all this. Animal liberation is symbolic of human liberation. Once animals are free then we humans are on the road to our own freedom, not until. Itís a real mystery to many of us - the capacity of fellow humans to inflict such savagery on these gentle souls. How come we can so love dogs but so hate cows. How can anyone (any adult) resist the temptation to be vegan?

Q: Are we going to feed the world on a vegan diet?

A: Of course. It is the one simple thing that can save the world. I predict. All vegans predict that, surely. The vegan diet will save billions of malnourished children from dying an ugly death, it will obviously fix up just about all the health problems we humans have and best of all, all exploited animals will find sanctuary. With humans on a plant based diet there can no longer be any animal gulags or abattoirs. I canít wait.

Q: Your vegan cookbook is a good starters guide to veganism Ė The Vegan Kitchen Mate. Tell us about that because it is extremely well respected, it's in most Australian vegansí kitchen bookcases and the recipes work!

A: This book has sold nearly 5000 copies so Iím glad you think the recipes work. Itís meant to help both vegans and non-vegans get a basic repertoire of recipes (there are 100 in the book) so they can rustle up simple meals and snacks easily - using a normally stocked vegan kitchen cupboard without having to go out to buy special ingredients every time you want to make a dish. Plus, I wanted to put in lots of useful kitchen tips and conversion charts for measuring, and cover a few cooking methods, etc.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to speak on the subject, David?

A: You give a talk in order to make a serious point about the subject. Itís not supposed to be an entertainment. Itís not done for laughs. But a grim sermon-face wonít help. The speaker must be relaxed, to make the audience relax. Confident but gentle, so the listener is less afraid of what you might tell them. The audience needs to like you from the outset. And trust you. So, first up, we must intend to enjoy the whole experience, the preparations, the delivery and the questions at the end. If you donít come away having enjoyed it you wonít want to do it again.

The preparations for a twenty minute talk need to be carefully worked out. The title of the talk defines what route you take. Donít wander too far from that point of reference. In this talk we might be telling a story, and the better we do it the more the audience will remember what we say. I often issue a Ďmapí of where the talk is going to go. A leaflet they can read before hand and take home afterwards.

Apart from nasty pictures of animal suffering (which if I am showing at all I show right at the beginning, with a promise that no more are going to be shown), apart from these, all other pictures, charts and visual aids I sprinkle throughout the talk, to give variety to my lecture. Take some care with visual aids. Make them large so people up at the back can see them. Any labels or quotes - at least 80 font. If you show a video or DVD, make sure itís not too long, just a few minutes, and use it to illustrate your point, not as a filler. I use video in the middle of the talk, to provide a little relief from me (and for me). (Essential: Have a glass of water handy).

Audience comfort is everything. You have to speak louder than usual to get your voice across or more softly if you are amplified. Say or do anything to keep them interested. Talk to them as individuals, making eye contact with as many people as possible during the talk. Respond to everything. This subject is hard on them and often very confronting, so we must make this easy as possible for them to listen to. We mustn't take advantage of their being captive in front of us.

I write notes for a talk at least a couple of weeks before, then I edit them down to just the main points. I memorise the route Iím going to take, then on the day I make a very small crib-card to hold in my hand, just in case I need a memory jog of vital points. If youíre a bit nervous itís easy to forget a really obvious and important point, and then you can lose the link and confuse the audience. Write the crib neatly and clearly, so your eye catches the words when you might have to glance down at it ... so there's hardly any diversion away from eye contact with the audience.

Giving talks about animal rights sounds difficult but itís really very easy because we have such a great subject, so many good points to make. Thereís so much to say. The trick is trying not to say too much. I always try to cram too much into my talks. For the audience it can be overwhelming. Knowing when to keep quiet is important. The most valuable part of the session are the questions and comments made from the floor. Leave plenty of time for this. Keep the total presentation and question time down to 30-40 minutes. Set an alarm clock to ring at the end of your intended talk to leave enough time for questions.

Q: What is your assessment of the Australian vegan/animal rights scene?

There is a sub-group of very active advocates and I suspect a lot of good communication is going on, mainly individual to individual. I know thereís some great direct action and educational initiatives and some fantastic events. But the mainstream groups, I have my doubts about them. Thereís still a lot of foot shuffling in the animal rights movement. If you see what vegan activists are doing overseas, in some of the bigger population countries, it makes what we do here seem a bit flat. But then we get so little support from anyone here. Maybe itís the weather. Perhaps it makes us lazy and expecting others will do the hard yards and fix things up for the others. Trouble is, the animals canít afford to hang around waiting while we pussy foot around. I donít think animal lovers realize just how much work there is to be done to get anywhere near where we want to be.

Q: Where will you be concentrating your efforts in the future?

Still on writing books and doing as many talking gigs as I can get invitations for. For me itís all about laying the groundwork, sorting out ideas, trying to show how powerful the non-violent approach is, and how attractive a vegan lifestyle can be. And trying to have enough energy left over to scratch myself.

Q: What are some of your favourite vegan cuisines, vegan/AR authors and why?

I use a lot of energy as a manual worker so I like solid food. I want more burgers, pies and cakes. I wish they sold nutritious, yummy, vegan pastries, but they donít. So I have to make them myself. I like cooking but Iím not much good at it, but with practice Ö even my cakes and pies can turn out okay, sometimes. As for reading matter, apart from some home grown magazines and web sites I like hard copy to read in the bath or under a tree. My favourite author at the moment is Will Tuttle, for his World Peace Diet. I canít stop re-reading it. Iím looking forward to read the Endgame books by Derrick Jensen. Iím hoping to get into Francione soon, I like Neal Barnard and Michael Klaper and have learnt so much from them as I have from Gill Langleyís book Vegan Nutrition and Amanda Sweetís The Vegan Health Plan. And I think we should all learn by heart John Waddellís book But You Kill Ants.

Q: Any last thoughts?

Yes, itís all going to happen, perhaps not in my life time, but when it happens it will happen fast.

For a full list of Davidís books please contact David Horton at:

Tel (02) 9356 4752
63/2 Ithaca Road
Elizabeth Bay NSW 2011

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