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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Newsletters - Spring 2008 Issue

Vegan Journey
By Jenny Brown

When talking about animals and their suffering, I have usually tried to keep my own tough break out of it. However, my first step toward becoming vegan is tied in to my childhood injury and illness. I lost my right leg to cancer when I was ten years old. I had slashed my leg on a rusty swing set and about nine months after the injury, began experiencing pain and then numbness in the area. When X-rays showed a fuzzy mass, I was taken to an orthopedic surgeon who did a biopsy exactly at the site of the old scar and found the cancer. I am pretty sure the illness was a direct result of the earlier trauma.

In order to keep my knee - which would ultimately make walking with an artificial limb much easier - I had to undergo almost three years of difficult chemotherapy, causing me to remain at home for the fifth, sixth and start of the seventh grades. For company, I was allowed to adopt a calico kitten - the runt of the litter- who I named Boogie. Boogie helped me to begin seeing animals as true individuals. She made me want to know more about animals- more about who they are.

I went vegetarian at 18, while still living in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. I had picked up a PETA pamphlet about how animals live to become food and that's all it took. That was in 1990. I think I knew one other vegetarian at the time and that was it.

I moved to Chicago to study film and made ends meet by waiting tables at the Chicago Diner, one of the country's oldest vegetarian restaurants. There I met a number of folks active with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I turned a school project into a class documentary project on a PETA demonstration that involved burning fur coats to attract media attention and raise awareness. PETA requested use of the film and asked me to become further involved.

At an advertising awards ceremony in 1992, Gillette (a company that tested its products on animals) was to be honored for it’s high-tech, cutting edge commercials. I sort of crashed the party and went to the building’s basement, where a huge rabbit’s costume was waiting. Its eyes and fur had been retouched to resemble the effects of Gillette’s brutal animal testing. On the way back up to the event, Tony Bennett, who would be performing, got on the elevator. He assumed I was part of the show right up until I ran out of the elevator screaming, “Gillette tortures animals” and throwing leaflets to the swell crowd that had assembled for cocktails before the awards ceremony.

Over the next year and a half, I did a variety of film-related projects for PETA, including undercover footage of catheterized horses kept in captivity and continually pregnant at a facility that collected equine urine for the manufacture of Premarin, a hormone-replacement drug. My first-ever footage was aired in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.

I had worked in film and television in a variety of capacities: production coordinator, production manager, associate producer, assistant director, post-production supervisor to finally working in the role I thought I wanted – a television producer/director where I was writing, traveling with film crews, and making good money. But I wasn’t happy. I had always wanted to do something with and for animals, but I didn’t know what. I was too young and too driven in my career to realize the impact my early activism work had on me.

It wasn’t until six years ago after visiting Farm Sanctuary that I really began to understand that there is actually even more suffering and misery for animals in the dairy and egg industries than the meat industry. That’s a hard thing to wrap your head around but it’s true. Dairy and egg animals are eventually killed for their flesh but only after one to five years of psychological torture and physical pain. That’s when I made it the rest of the way to vegan.

In 2002, I went undercover for Farm Sanctuary; traveling from stockyard to stockyard in Texas, documenting the miserable conditions these animals endure to be sold at auction for their products. The point was to capture video of “downers” (animals that are too weak, sick or injured to stand and who are eventually dragged on to the trucks headed to slaughter or left to die without food, water or veterinary care). It’s awful and grotesquely inhumane. As long as the animal is alive when she arrives at the slaughterhouse, she can be sold for meat so they will drag them with chains, push or lift them with bulldozers or prod them repeatedly with electric prods or other cruel devices.

I realized I wanted to do something similar to Farm Sanctuary. Documenting the horrors inflicted on animals by the meat industry is important, but it is emotionally exhausting. Along with revealing that ugly truth, I think the best way to reach people who are not yet vegan is to let them meet the animals. Unfortunately, there is an endless need for farm animal sanctuaries. We won’t run out of animals in need of placement after escaping slaughter or surviving neglect and abuse.

So I somehow convinced my husband, Doug, that we could manage to begin a sanctuary. Doug still works in television and film, and keeps our heads above water while we run the farm. We actually set out to start a sanctuary and did it! That blows my mind! We have helped hundreds of farm animals find their way to freedom, either at our sanctuary or at loving, forever homes where they can live out their life in peace.

What I do now for farm animals is no different from what most people would do for their beloved companion animals if they had the chance. Farm animals are just as deserving of our compassion.

It's always a beautiful thing to see a chicken who has never known life outside of a tiny, cramped cage walk outdoors for the first time. To watch them feel the sun on their backs and feel the grass underfoot is to watch their rebirth from a life of misery to one of freedom. It's a sight to behold and it's one that makes me so proud that I am helping create that happiness. I consider myself a voice for the voiceless and through me, and the others that make up the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, they shall be heard.

Note: Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary is open to visitors weekends from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m or by appointment on weekdays. Learn more at www.woodstockfas.org. Donations and volunteers are always needed.

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