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Saving Two Birds With a Stone:
The Deaf and Animals, Striving To Be Heard
By Avery Posner
As a filmmaker, I do my best everyday to remind others to be more perceptive and sensitive towards both the Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing and especially animals. Some of you may want to know why I classify the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing together with animals. It’s comparatively simple. At birth, I was diagnosed with profound and permanent deafness in both ears, a hereditary attribute that resulted in the inability to neither hear my own voice nor others’ for the rest of my life. Yes, deafness is a disability in the mainstream society I live in, yet, I am privileged to have integrated Deaf Culture into my soul and I am a native user of American Sign Language, a language used by millions of hearing, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing peers throughout the country and Canada. American Sign language has enabled me to express my feelings and thoughts to others. But what about the countless people not familiar with American Sign Language? I am sure you can understand the difficulties I confront daily – but what about animals? Do we, as humans, understand what animals are trying to communicate? Do we “hear” animals speaking about their afflictions or discomfort? In fact, I strongly empathize with animals for being incapable of clearly expressing illness, happiness, frustration, hunger and especially pain. It is in this area that all our “voices” about our feelings fall upon deaf ears.
Therefore, my company partner Gilda, who has also been Deaf since birth and I, used our professional and personal experiences to create a pair of educational films and DVDs that would teach millions of viewers to be sensitive towards people and animals. The films integrate and highlight concepts of multi-language communication, animal rights, alternative healthy diets and exercise. We created the video at a very special place, The Farm Sanctuary of New York. The Farm Sanctuary nurtures over 700 rescued farm animals living in the 175-acre property in Watkins Glen, New York. These animals were neglected, abused and victimized prior to being rescued. Here, we met nine of our “adopted” barnyard animal friends, produced a two-day long veganized “cook” show, conducted various down-to-earth interviews with respectable professionals and even played nifty softball game using animal-free sporting equipment.
Preparing to Film
How do I begin to describe the experience? The whole film project was a labor of love. The first hurdle was to prepare for the cookery show. It took me almost a year to coordinate the entire shoot for the cookery show. It involved communicating with others, by telephone assisted relay service and emails, receiving permissions, obtaining samples and product images from over seventy companies and manufacturers of healthy and out-of-the-world deliciously made vegan foods. Products had arrived from all parts of the United States, from newly formed and local businesses as well as other countries including Canada, England, and Australia. During the process of receiving approvals and food samples, we coordinated all the product shipment and delivery logistics with Norm Scott, Farm Sanctuary’s Photo/Video Coordinator. The complex logistics included housing and storing over 400 boxes of food which needed to be refrigerated and another 200 boxes of non-refrigerated items. It was a challenge to store hundreds or even a thousand of pounds of vegan foods in the hot summer.
Avery presenting a variety of vegan foods
The project would have been easy if we had presented only a couple of brands. However, we needed to recognize and present many brands to demonstrate how “easy” it was to enjoy a healthy vegan diet. The vegan brands produced by corporate giants and newly formed businesses had one thing in common - they all produced beneficial, quality vegan products. We needed to present the brands while respecting the vegan policies set by the Farm Sanctuary which ensured that the comfort of the animals is a priority above all. Out of respect for the animals at the Farm Sanctuary, all food served and presented at the show was vegan, while clothing was free of animal products (i.e. leather, silk, wool, etc.).
The project became reality upon starting as early as five o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, June 20, 2007, to pickup a rented cargo van and collected approximately 25 boxes from our storage facility in Commack, NY before driving back to our offices located in the basement to pick up yet another 100 boxes of vegan products - over 40 large packages of food, cookies, drinks, snacks and sporting equipment and made a final stop at a Whole Foods store in Jericho, NY to receive additional cartons of food shielded with ice packs. Upon departure from the last stop, we endured seven consecutive hours of non-stop driving, before arriving at the Inn at Glenora of Dundee, New York. At the inn, we immediately met people from the Farm Sanctuary and guest presenters at a dinner meeting, planned and organized to better orient ourselves prior to filming. The meeting was interesting as, none of the people other than Gilda and me were Deaf; thus, no one knew how to communicate using American Sign Language. To bridge the communication gap, we hired an American Sign Language interpreter from Sign Language Connection, an interpreter service agency based in Rochester, NY. After a vegan meal and memorable vegan vanilla cupcakes as dessert, we were familiar with each other’s goals, linguistic and cultural diversities. We were finally ready to work together to ensure that the production would run smoothly the next day and thereafter.
Filming the Cookery Show
At the crack of dawn the next day, it took us almost five hours to just set up the production site for the cookery show. The food and products were sprawling around throughout Farm Sanctuary’s spacious People Barn facility. There were literally thousands of items spread over twelve conference tables with the rest still stored in freezers and in partially opened boxes filled with ice packs. Some of the Farm Sanctuary’s staff and interns were kind enough to store some perishables in their homes and bring them back to the filming team on the day of production. We invested in and bought cooking tables, customized cooking table cover fabrics, several canvases as backdrops, multiple lighting systems, four professional recording cameras, 50 beautiful dinner plates, 20 colorful serving bowls, dozens of kitchen towels, animal-free cosmetics, vegan-related books, a high quality cutting board, various flatware and utensils as well as professionally designed nesting boxes to use as display stands for the vegan foods during filming. Most of the items brought to the facility turned the meeting room into a progressive “kitchen”.
As the cookery show host, I was in front of the cameras for a total of about thirteen hours talking about healthy vegan foods from midday Thursday to the end of Friday. About twenty hands-on presentations were filmed with mouth-watering visuals. The creations included vegan “emerald” smoothies made using a Vitamix blender, donated by the manufacturer, a range of vegan deli sandwiches including a vegan peanut butter marshmallow chocolate bar sandwich combo and a homemade vegan pizza with various toppings. It was indeed amazing that I, who did not have a significant cooking experience, was able to cook diverse, nutritious vegan meals with minimal effort.
Numerous vegan food brands were also displayed, identified and sampled in the breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, special occasion-related and dessert categories. Several other co-presenters, who traveled to showcase their remarkable work producing vegan foods, made the show even more of an intriguing experience for all viewers. For instance, Luna Roth, owner of the Pure Fun confectionary company in Toronto, Canada that produces organic and vegan candies derived from all natural and organic ingredients, flew into the country and drove hours to the filming site. Although she shipped the packages filled with candies directly to the sanctuary she brought two luggage. Guess what they contained? They were filled with thousands of more pieces of lollipops, fruit pinwheels, fruit rocks, chocolate meltdowns and countless other animal product-free candies for her presentation at the show, a sure delight for children and people of all ages - well, who doesn’t like a root beer flavored cotton candy with juicy strawberries? At end of the production, the remaining thousands of food items were immediately donated to the Farm Sanctuary staff, interns, their families and animal friends (dogs, horses, cats, etc.) and to our crew and co-presenters.
Take Us Out to the Ballgame
Between filming for the cookery show, we filmed approximately 50 staff, interns, their families and friends enjoying a vegan BBQ. The BBQ was made possible with donations of over 100 vegan burgers and patties from Boca Burgers, over 100 vegan hot dogs from Lightlife, over 150 vegan soda bottles from Steaz, A Healthy Beverage Company, over 100 vegan hamburger and hot dog buns from Ener-G Foods, dozens of condiments from Annie’s Naturals, over 200 packets of vegan snacks from Robert’s American Gourmet, over 140 bottles of spring water from Fiji, and over fifty neon colored sunglasses and 150 costume jewelry rhinestone studded rings as gifts for the youngsters from Gilda and me.
The BBQ was followed by a veganized softball game where everyone was a winner. People of all ages had the time of their lives; everyone was moved to see Gene Baur, a Farm Sanctuary Co-Founder, guiding a young child how to hit the ball. All our sporting goods, a wooden bat, 20-plus animal-free softballs and baseballs and bases were donated by Easton Sports to our production company, Everyday ASL Production; the animal-free synthetic and vegan baseball glove was made and donated by Scott Carpenter, owner of Carpenter Trade glove manufacturing company in Cooperstown, NY. We did not realize how uncomplicated it was to exercise and enjoy a game without infringing the vegan policy set by the sanctuary. At the end of filming, all the sporting goods were then donated to the sanctuary.
The production ended quite emotionally when Gilda, an extremely talented individual, sang a song in American Sign Language about how animals, children and people all share the same ability to feel.
Our Beloved Animal Friends
After filming the music video, we met almost every one of our nine “adopted” farm animals for the film. Larry, the cow, Ormsby the sheep, Mayfly the rooster, Chicky the turkey, Baby the goose, Diego the duck, Barnaby the rabbit, Simon the goat and Ellen the piglet were the stars in the production. They were simply as human as each one of us. Mayfly the rooster knew his own name - Susie Coston, the sanctuary shelter director, called out his name in front of us and we , beyond a belief, saw him running out of nowhere, responding excitedly to his name. Larry wholeheartedly loved eating bagels, while Chicky the turkey’s chest colors would change in seconds with fluctuating emotions; a mother and son sheep pair would always stick together and one of them would cry if either one of them was temporarily taken away to see a medical professional for treatment. We even encountered an adult pig, Marvin, who was being bereaved from the recent passing of another adult pig friend he grew up with. Don’t we, as humans, feel the same about a friend who has passed away?
End Results and the Next Step
This year-long production had a number of life-long rewards; not only for all of us but for every viewer who strives to learn American Sign Language in everyday situations. It also helps English speaking individuals to benefit from healthy vegan diets that are currently available while empathizing with animals and discovering how their emotions reverberate with humans.
Our DVDs, one for the American Sign Language community and another for the spoken English community will be ready late this Fall, in time for the holidays. It will certainly be a powerful educational tool for generations to come. Don’t miss it; we hope you will learn a thing or two from a pair of Deaf filmmakers striving to make themselves “heard” about animals and their feelings and the fast-growing world of veganism.
For more information, visit Everyday ASL.
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The calf photo on these pages is from Farm Sanctuary with our thanks.
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