Speciesism: The Movie May Change Your Worldview

By Bruce

scale-and-title-282x300Every now and then a movie comes along that has the power to fundamentally change the worldview of its audience. Speciesism: The Movie, a documentary directed by Mark Devries, is that kind of film. It premieres in key cities next month.

The word “speciesism,” which has been popularized by Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer, refers to the assumption that a vast gulf exists between the value of human interests and the value of the interests of all other animals.

Speciesism is, of course, a fundamental principle of human life, as humans view most other animals not as individuals, but as sources of food, clothing, and entertainment — or as targets. Similar to those who have grown up unaware of overt racist or sexist beliefs in their worldview, speciesism is so thoroughly assimilated in most of us that it is invisible and unquestioned.

Yet, in order to view other animals as biologically and cognitively unsophisticated, we have to ignore the scientific fact that other animals possess the same five physiological senses that we do, as well as the capacity for a wide range of emotions. In her introduction to The Inner World of Farm Animals (author Amy Hatkoff), Dr. Jane Goodall writes that “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.”

And Dr. Temple Grandin, in Animals in Translation, writes that “When it comes to the basics of life … [other] animals feel the same way we do.” She explains that both humans and other animals share the same core emotions of “rage, prey, chase, drive, fear, and curiosity/interest/anticipation,” and the “four basic social emotions: sexual attraction and lust, separation distress, social attachment, and the happy emotions of play and roughhousing.”

Although prominent philosophers, legal scholars, and scientists have criticized speciesist assumptions for many years, these questions have never before been the centerpiece of a film. Not only does Speciesism: The Movie ask these paradigm-challenging questions, it does so while taking viewers on an adventure that is tremendously entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny. Devries’ interview with a Nazi reminded me of the hoods scene in Django Unchained.

Preordersecond-150x200Along the way, Devries meets and questions a remarkably broad range of people, including Peter Singer (who The New Yorker named “the most influential philosopher alive”), Richard Dawkins (the most influential evolutionary biologist of the past century), Temple Grandin (designer of the animal-handling systems used by more than half of the slaughterhouses in the United States), factory farmers, anti-factory farm advocates, various other folks (including me!) on both sides of the issue, as well as people on the street.

For those unfamiliar with speciesism, there may be no more enjoyable introduction to this fascinating subject than Speciesism: The Movie. For those already familiar with the speciesism and searching for a way to introduce friends and family to the subject, Speciesism: The Movie may be a perfect overture.


Tour de Farm: A Conversation with Farm Sanctuary Tour Guides

By Samantha

Summer is more than half way over, but Farm Sanctuary visitor season is in full swing. At all three of our shelters, visitors can interact with rescued cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and turkeys on guided tours. Tour guides are an excellent source of up-to-date information on animal intelligence and personality, as well as factory farming. They develop close relationships with the animals living at the sanctuaries, learning everything from their unique rescue stories and health needs, to their favorite places to be scratched. Every tour provides visitors with a special glimpse into the lives of Farm Sanctuary residents. Here, three of our fabulous tour guides give us the scoop on the extraordinary experience of introducing people to farm animals.

Which of the animals at your location are most eager to greet tour visitors?

Wendy (New York Shelter): So many! To name just a few: Our new calf, Michael, is very curious about guests. Cash, the sheep, will lean against your legs until you pet him. Daisy, the turkey, happily sits alongside visitors who stroke her feathers. And Patrick, the goat, absolutely loves attention.


Wendy with the turkeys.

Kelly (Southern California Shelter): Prince the goat — he was featured on our website when he was a baby and a lot of people have come to the shelter to meet him. He’s pretty spoiled and thinks that every guest is here just to see him.

Becky (Northern California Shelter): Our sheep and turkeys seem to be the most excited to meet visitors. I think this surprises most people!

Becky with Ms. Foreman.

Becky with Ms. Foreman.

What else about a Farm Sanctuary tour takes visitors by surprise?

Becky: Most visitors are surprised by the pigs — that they are so friendly, clean and large. People either don’t know what to expect or carry some misconceptions about farm animals — you know, that pigs smell and are dirty or that turkeys won’t let you touch them. The moment a person really connects with a pig and gives one a belly rub, you can see the surprise and delight light up their face.

Wendy: Many visitors to our New York shelter are familiar with the issues surrounding factory farming and want to make more compassionate food choices. They often choose cage-free eggs, organic milk, and other supposedly “humane” alternatives intending to help animals. Unfortunately, this type of labeling is a marketing ploy, not a guarantee of humane treatment. We talk about and show the truth behind labels during the tour. Time and again, I’ve seen the dismay on visitors’ faces when they meet debeaked hens who have come from “free-range” farms. Visitors are taken aback to see that these hens suffered the same abuses as the birds in battery cages do.

Kelly: Most visitors are shocked to learn that the veal industry is a byproduct of the dairy industry. I’ve seen a lot of people who might already have eliminated meat products become vegan on the spot after meeting a calf and hearing this information.

Have you seen a visit to Farm Sanctuary change someone’s mind about animals and food?

Kelly with Li Mu Bai

Kelly with Li Mu Bai

Kelly: Definitely! Especially when it comes to our birds. Visitors will comment on how amazing it was simply to hold a chicken or pet a turkey under her wings and how the interaction changed their view of who these animals are and what it means to eat them.

Wendy: Every visit changes someone’s mind. I’ve seen visitors moved to tears by animal rescue stories. I’ve seen skeptics who start the tour making jokes about loving bacon and end it with their arms around a pig while declaring they’ll never eat bacon again. Even if they just go home and think a little deeper about where food comes from or try out a vegetarian recipe, we’ve helped them take a step towards more compassion for farm animals.

Is there a tour experience that you’ll never forget?

Becky: In the spring of 2012, I was taking a couple and their young son to meet the special-needs cattle. A group of young calves who were new to the herd (Sonny, Tweed, Milbank, Arnold, Orlando, and Conrad) started walking toward us. The closer the calves got, the more timid they were acting, and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that this was the first human child they had ever met, and they didn’t know what to make of him! Conrad started sniffing the little boy, then licking him, and the boy just started laughing and laughing. Pretty soon the other calves who were brave enough came closer and started licking the young boy too. To see the calves in their discovery process, and to see this magnificent openness between the boy and the calves, was really beautiful.

Wendy: I had the chance to take author Peter Lovenheim out to spend time with Samuel, the steer who was the subject of his book, Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf. In his book, Peter describes purchasing two calves with the intent of watching them move through the meat industry from birth until slaughter to document the process (the other cow, Samantha, also lived at Farm Sanctuary but passed away a few years ago). He begins the experiment thinking he will have them slaughtered when the time comes, but as he gets to know the animals as individuals and learns more about the industry, he struggles with what to do. Eventually, he decides to bring them to the sanctuary rather than to slaughter. Getting to know Samuel changed Peter’s entire outlook on animals, which is what we’re trying to do at Farm Sanctuary every day. Seeing Peter’s response when he greeted Samuel – as a friend – was unforgettable .

What have you learned from being a Farm Sanctuary tour guide?

Wendy: You can read a million pamphlets and websites and still turn a blind eye to how animals are being treated. But, when you have the chance to really connect with another living being face-to-face, it’s hard to ignore that meat, milk, and eggs mean suffering for billions of real animals.

Visitor meets Cash.

Visitor meets Cash.

Becky: At Farm Sanctuary, we get visitors from all walks of life. They have a variety of experiences when it comes to animals and food, and we understand and accept that. Farm Sanctuary emphasizes this acceptance on our tours, and I can’t even count the number of times visitors have commented on how much they appreciated our kindness and willingness to meeting them where they are.

Kelly: I’ve learned that anyone can make positive changes for farm animals and lead others to do the same. On one tour, a 14 year-old boy was so moved after meeting the chickens and discovering that birds have feelings too and want to live just as much as any other animal, that he told me he was never going to eat chicken again. And he was going to tell everyone he knew not to eat chicken either! We can all make these changes for farm animals.

For sanctuary tour times, please follow the links below.
New York Shelter (Watkins Glen)
Northern California Shelter (Orland)
Southern California (Los Angeles area)
For more information on tours, area activities, and overnight stays in our on-site cabins (New York only), check out our visitor program page.


Postcard from the Road: Lake Placid Ironman

By Gene

People often ask me about the health benefits of a vegan diet. They want to know: How does a vegan diet affect your energy level? What do you eat to fuel your running? Do you feel hungry most of the time? These questions were in my mind when I signed up for the 2013 Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York, an event that requires swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a 26.2-mile marathon. Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) is one of the most challenging Ironman courses, with a total elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet in its 140 miles. Actions speak louder than words, and I wanted to demonstrate how healthy plant foods are, not only for everyday activities but also for intense athletic feats.


Gene focused on the bike course.

Just Doing It
In the weeks leading up to IMLP, I followed a training plan and focused on good nutrition to prepare for the grueling event. I ate protein-rich quinoa, beans, and tofu, and loaded up on performance-enhancing foods such as arugula and beets.

During the race, I drank coconut water for hydration and electrolytes and paced myself for the long distance. Crossing the finish line in just under twelve hours, I was very happy to be officially named an “Ironman.”

Athletes are bombarded with marketing campaigns promoting meat, milk, and eggs for health and athletic performance. These are myths that continue to be promulgated, and, in fact, at IMLP the milk industry was out in force as a major sponsor of the event. Dairy promoters target athletes with messages that drinking cows’ milk helps the body perform and recover from vigorous exercise and physical activity.

Just after the finish line at IMLP, athletes were given chocolate milk and draped with a blanket that said, “got chocolate milk.” I refused the cows’ milk, but I took the blanket and turned it inside out to avoid advertising a cruel and unhealthy product.

Plant foods fueled me during training and on race day, and my vegan diet was responsible for helping me make a swift recovery. The day after the race, when some other IMLP finishers were limping around Lake Placid, my legs and body felt good.


Gene finishing the 26.2 mile run of the race.

Away from the athletic field, health experts are also weighing in on the benefits of eating a plant-based diet, including doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and Colin Campbell who are featured in the groundbreaking film, Forks Over Knives. Recently, Harvard School of Public Health Director Walter Willett, M.D., stated in a lecture to students at the Institute of Integrated Nutrition that milk does not prevent fractures and is not a calcium solution. He added that too much milk might be harmful, especially in causing prostate cancer in men.

Go Vegan Go!
I completed the final leg of the triathlon — the 26.2-mile run — wearing a shirt that said “Going the Distance for Farm Animals” on the front and “Go Vegan Go” on the back. When I felt sore or tired, I thought of the animals suffering on factory farms, and my resolve would strengthen. I was there representing them and demonstrating that humans can excel without consuming animal products. The run is my strongest leg of the triathlon, and I passed many competitors who saw the word “vegan” on my back as I ran ahead.

I have been inspired by other athletes who are actively promoting vegan living including Rich Roll, Rip Esselstyn, Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Matt Frazier, the No Meat Athlete. During my training and at the event, I also met many athletes who were not vegan but who expressed curiosity and interest in how I prepared for the race in order to perform so well. It is my hope that, by example, I might motivate them to explore plant-based eating.

A strong connection is emerging between the ethically oriented and fitness-oriented vegan communities today. We share the common goal of living healthy lives, both emotionally and physically, without causing pain or harm to any animal. Together, I believe we can inspire even more people to stop and think about how (and who) they eat and why it makes sense to ingest plants instead of animals.


Ironman triathlon: mission accomplished.