Monday, April 22, 2013

DO-GOODERS: BE GOOD TO YOU

WE’RE ALL WORKING HARD on a regular basis. Many of us are focusing on ways to make the world a juicier and all around better place to live in, which is a commendable quest. Go ahead and take a moment to give yourself a mental high-five. Did that feel good? (We thought so). Sometimes, us self proclaimed do-gooders spend so much time focusing on outside situations, we forget to be compassionate to ourselves along the way. And neglecting ourselves for too long can lead to a pesky little thing called burnout. “Burnout is a well-recognized psychological state in which exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation occurs, usually as a result of prolonged stress,” Stacy De-Lin, MD— a Family Medicine Physician in NYC, and a vegan and animal rights activist— recently told us. “Activists can be particularly prone to burnout,” she added. Thankfully, according to Dr. De-Lin, there is an amazingly simple strategy to avoid this not-so-fun state: give yourself ample time to rest. Do-gooders of the world, you have our permission to play hookey from work for a few hours and experience the beautiful sights and scents of the Season! It’s Cherry Blossom Season at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens! Go!

There’s actually some serious science behind smelling nice things, it turns out. “Interpretation of scent in your environment is processed by the brain’s limbic system, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, emotion, behavior, and motivation. No other sensory system has this type of link with the neural areas of emotion and associative learning,” Dr. De-Lin explained. Whoa, mind blown. If you can’t get to a park or a Botanical Gardens fast enough, we recommend visiting your local (preferably organic) florist and treating yourself to a fragrant bouquet of Spring blooms. Some of our faves in the NYC area are Gardenia Organics and 2H Flowers in Manhattan, and GRDN BKYLN in Brooklyn.

Jenny Brown, co-founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, knows a thing or two about working a lot (14 hour days, to be exact!). In addition to running the sanctuary, she is also a published author, and regularly speaks around the country. Her tip for staying jovial and energetic? “I try to get to yoga classes and meditate when I’m able to. I try to take a few extra days off to visit friends when I’m traveling for speaking engagements. Also having days where I just spend time with the animals at the sanctuary reminds me why I do what I do everyday,” she told us during a recent conversation. As activists, being regularly exposed to the harsh realities of the animal exploitation industries can wear heavy on our hearts. Interacting with animals in a place where they are safe becomes essential. While the positive effects of being around animals are well-documented (reduced stress and anxiety, and reduced blood pressure are just some of the benefits), visits to sanctuaries are particularly relevant to animal advocates. “Many tell us that a visit here renews their activism and dedication to justice for farmed animals. Sanctuaries have a unique opportunity to bring people together with the animals they are fighting for,” Jenny explained. She also added that many have described visits as helpful in combating feelings of alienation. “The comfort of community can be the best medicine,” she said. So, once again, do-gooders: you have our permission to take the day off and hurry on over to your nearest animal haven. Spring is here, and sanctuaries are officially open to visitors!

And speaking of community, “Maintaining a healthy social life and circle of friends is important,” activist John Oberg recently told us. John is an outreach coordinator for Vegan Outreach, and has distributed over 340,000 pamphlets at over 200 universities in the past 3 and a half years— a testament to his tireless work ethic. As someone who has dedicated his life to advocating for animals, he emphasizes that “understanding that this is long-term work is essential.” And we cannot create lasting change without preserving ourselves in the process. “Sleeping, eating right, and exercise are important for both your ability to continue this work long-term and remaining a good example of a healthy vegan. We should try our best to be happy, healthy, and normal to create optimal influence,” John explained. Finding the balance in how much violent imagery you expose yourself to in order to educate others is another thing to be mindful of. “Watching every latest animal abuse investigation can throw you into a state of deep depression that no amount of So Delicious ice cream can dig you out of,” he cautioned. John underscored that “a sustainable pace is key.” These sentiments are also echoed by Dr. Stacy De-Lin, who recommends “setting short-term goals” when challenges may feel seem overwhelming.

Another strategy Dr. De-Lin recommends? Laughter. “Laughter is not only universal in that it is found across all human languages, but we know many animals engage in a form of laughter too, from gorillas to rats,” she said. Dr. Stacy dropping science once again: “Laughter is linked most strongly with the part of the brain that produces endorphins, the prefrontal cortex. And it decreases levels of the hormones responsible for activation of the “fight or flight” nervous system.” Ok, do-gooder, the experts have spoken: being social, eating good food, and laughing— are key. A way to combine all three? Glad you asked! If you’re a New Yorker, check out the free comedy night at Brooklyn’s Latin vegan joint The V-Spot, held on the first Thursday night of every month. Hilarious comedians entertain, while you nosh on a big plate of kale tostadas— perfect. The next show is on May 2nd at 9pm. (kitchen closes at 9.30, so be sure to get there early!)

If The V-Spot is not in your vicinity, check out listings for comedy shows at other fun venues in your city (like the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, that has several locations in NYC and LA). You can also score major laughs at home, listening to vegan comedian extraordinairre Myq Kaplan’s rad podcast Hang Out With Me, while making yourself a nourishing meal with ingredients that do wonders for that priceless brain of yours. “Omega-3 fatty acids, found in flax seed oil, sea vegetables and algae, have been shown in multiple studies to help protect against depression,” Dr. De-Lin explained. According to Dr. De-Lin, foods like tofu and tempeh have been shown to improve cognitive function, and sufficient carb intake improves mood. Sources of healthy carbohydrates include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.

Although we have a lot on our plates, we can make simple, achievable improvements in our lives. Even something as basic as deep breathing exercises during a busy day can help drive out the threat of burnout. “Avoiding burnout in a world rampant with animal suffering is absolutely vital,” John Oberg reminded us. “Animal Liberation isn’t coming overnight, so we need to keep the pressure building and ball moving forward.”

And for this, we need to keep our strength and resilience intact. Remembering to be good to ourselves unlocks our potential to do as much good as possible for animals, our friends, and our Planet. And that’s a whole world of good.

Postscript: This story became personal for me, when I had to recognize the fact that I myself was nearing burnout, realizing it was imperative that I had to take the very advice we are offering to our readers here. Last Friday, I made
the decision to spend the day at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, leaving an office full of urgent work behind. The experience provided indispensable rest and renewal. Being kind to ourselves sometimes requires courage, and maybe even a little calculated risk. But the payoff is always worth it.  — Julie Gueraseva

Writing for this story also contributed by Zoe Eisenberg. Read more of her work on her blog Sexy Tofu, as well as xoJane and I Eat Grass.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens photo courtesy of Shi Xuan Huang. Sanctuary photos courtesy of Jenny Brown/WFAS. Tostadas photo courtesy of The V-Spot.
Photo research assistance by Crystal Pang.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SNEAK PEEK: FROM A ROGUE KITCHEN

A MORE APT TITLE for Chef Mérida Anderson could be “food artist.” The founder of the perpetually-booked dining club Vegan Secret Supper, she is also a musician, ceramist and fashion designer. It’s no wonder that she has been applying similar creativity in the kitchen, re-imagining vegan cuisine with unexpected ingredients and flavors in a visually stunning presentation. And soon, you’ll be able to recreate Mérida’s unique blend of hip and playful haute cuisine right at home— thanks to her new cookbook Vegan Secret Supper: Bold & Elegant Menus from a Rogue Kitchen (Arsenal Pulp Press). Out on April 1st, it includes 150 sumptuous recipes, as well as plating and pantry tips, flavor-pairing suggestions and a focus on simple, seasonal ingredients.

We covered VSS in a feature in our Premier Issue, and now Mérida shares an exclusive recipe with us from her upcoming book— a colorful and delicious dish that we had the good fortune to experience at one of her suppers. Enjoy!

Watermelon Red Pepper Gazpacho

Ingredients
1 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
2 tsp lime juice
½ red jalapeño, seeded and chopped
8 cups (2 L) cubed watermelon
In a blender, purée all ingredients. Chill thoroughly.

For garnish
ground black pepper
about ½ cup (125 mL) micro basil sprouts
about ½ cup (125 mL) micro cilantro sprouts

To plate:
Ladle a serving of soup into a bowl. Garnish with ground
pepper and 1 tsp each fresh basil and cilantro sprouts.

Tip: It’s great with yellow peppers and yellow watermelons, too!

• Makes 6–8 servings.

Photographs courtesy of Danny Rico

SHE WAS A STRAY, TRYING TO SURVIVE in the streets of 1950’s Moscow. She couldn’t have known that her motherland, the Soviet Union, was in a mad race to be the first to put a man in space. But first, they needed a dog. And so Laika, as she was named— the most common name one could give to a dog (“barker”, it meant)— was plucked off the street one night. She was a good dog, with a sweet disposition, obediently complying with the rigorous training of the space exploration program. And here is the duplicity of the situation: the lead scientist, Oleg Gazenko, developed a bond with her, even fighting for a window to be installed in her tiny space shuttle. The day of the launch of Sputnik II came in 1957, and after Laika was strapped in, he remained by her side on the platform. He knew she was doomed— the shuttle was designed to not be retrievable. He knew her death would be agonizing, a result of stress and overheating. Many years later he would recall how he walked past the post-launch reception and out into the nearby forest, where he cried. “The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it…. We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog,” he said in a public statement in the late 1990’s, after the Soviet Union was no more.

Regret is a running theme in Maximum Tolerated Dose—the first feature length documentary on animal testing. Part of the story is told through revealing testimonials of vivisectors who had a crisis of conscience at one point during their research— like the cardiologist, who finally made the connection between the dogs he was experimenting on for work and his beloved pet dogs at home; or the lab worker who bonded with the rats from her lab. They made the decision to walk away from animal testing forever, unable to compartmentalize their inherent compassion any longer.

The film is beautifully made—in spite of the harrowing subject matter it covers. A lot is inferred through sounds off-camera, first-person accounts, and footage of animals post-research. One such animal is Darla, a profoundly traumatized monkey, who is retired to a sanctuary after nearly two decades of being experimented on. There are scenes that pierce one’s soul: like the capture of a macaque from the wild, who is pulled from a tree with methodical precision, and restrained— arms bound behind his back as though under arrest. The look of desperation and confusion on the animal’s face devastates. Director Karol Orzechowski surrendered completely to the film, diving deep into the murky waters of animal testing. He ended up battling depression for a few months, as a result of the grueling filmmaking experience and the demanding schedule that followed the film’s release. “Hopelessness is a real feeling, and I empathize with anyone who ends up in that kind of thinking,” he told us, when we spoke to him recently about the film. “But I really think nothing is ever 100% hopeless. As long as someone is still out there working towards the same goal as you, you are two.” Although deeply shaken by the realities of vivisection, we left the film armed with a wealth of new information and a resolve to bring this practice to an end. Here, we talk to Karol more about Maximum Tolerated Dose and the plight of animals in testing.

What prompted you to make this film?
Back in 2010 I interviewed former research cardiologist Dr. John Pippin and a former commercial lab worker named Isabelle, and during those interviews, I realized that the experience of working in a laboratory and being traumatized by it was perhaps more common than we realize. Around the same time, I was fortunate enough to meet some chimpanzees who were used for decades in laboratory research, and their stories – their traumas, their healing, and their perseverance – deeply affected me. I was already involved in animal work, and filmmaking, so it made sense to combine the two in a larger project. Through those interviews and meetings, the subject matter pretty much just found me.

Karol shooting from inside of a chimpanzee “metabolism cage.” Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur

How important was artistry and production value during the filmmaking process?
That was one of my main goals: I wanted to make something that was a good documentary film first, and a piece of activism second. It was strategic, but it was mostly a function of how I think of art and of myself as an artist. There is already a huge amount of video out there that covers virtually all aspects of animal exploitation, and it serves a particular activist purpose. I’ve done a bunch of that stuff, and will in the future. But I think we don’t have a lot of films that explore animal issues in a way that doesn’t betray the aesthetic aspect. MTD is really my humble attempt to create a good film that also explores an issue that I feel strongly about. I’m not sure if I succeeded in rising to the level of a cinematic work, but I tried my best. And I think in striving for that goal, I also created something that has the potential to have a deep effect on the viewer.

Tell us a little more about Darla.
Meeting Darla for the first time was one of the moments that inspired making the film. Darla lives at Fauna Foundation in Montreal, and I first met her in 2010 on my first visit there. I was able to build a relationship with the Fauna folks, to the point where they allowed me to include Darla in the film, and to return to the sanctuary to film her and interview staff there about her story. Meeting her those times deeply affected me… and just a few months before filming Darla’s story, I was visiting monkey farms in SE Asia, either the same places or similar to the kind of place that Darla would have come from. The juxtaposition of those two aspects of the production were really difficult to stomach, because it gave that much more weight to her life story.

To put it in blunter terms: Darla is a beautiful, strong, and severely damaged individual. She was used for 17 years in a laboratory before being sent to sanctuary, and even though her life now is infinitely better than it once was (she has monkey companions at the sanctuary, access to a large space outside, comfort and care from the human staff, and much more), she will likely never fully recover emotionally from her time in the lab. Fauna is an amazing place, and the fact that they have given Darla and many other space is a beautiful thing. The labs that send animals to the sanctuary are not required to divulge any information about what they were used for. What we do know is that Darla was used at Queen’s University, and that she may have actually lived at two facilities because she has two tattoo numbers. In her time as an university lab test subject, she was used in tests related to menstruation (where her uterus was removed), and later anorexia experiments where she was starved for periods of time. We only know this through the tearful confessions of what the researcher who adopted her out to Fauna Foundation said during a couple of visits after Darla’s “retirement.”

Watching her in the film really illustrated the scope of an animal’s life in vivisection, beyond the experiments. Was that intentional?
Particular tests or procedures, and even the moments of death, are just a sliver of the entirety of animals’ lives in the lab. I’d like to see more of a discussion of the “true costs” of keeping animals in labs for their whole lives, not just what we do to them in a particular test. Monkeys trapped in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Thailand end up on farms, where they are bred for years and eventually exported to China and Vietnam. From there they are “laundered” to bend international species trade regulations, and then exported to labs all over the world. Farms in Laos are the midway point between when monkeys are trapped, and when they are actually exported. So in many cases, a macaque in a lab may have, at some point, been living in the wild, trapped, and used for breeding for years before being used for many more years as experiment subjects.

A monkey farm in Laos. Photo by Karol Orzechowski

You mention The Foundation for Biomedical Research on the film’s site. Can you explain what that is, and why it’s important for activists to be aware of these types of groups?
Ah yes, “The Foundation.” I learned about The Foundation for Biomedical Research a few years ago, and it’s always fascinated me. Essentially, it’s a PR group / Lobby group that serves as a propaganda arm of the various biomedical research industries in the US (and I suppose, by extension, the world). Does it have a real influence? That’s hard to say, because it’s hard to know what kind of budget they’re working with for their efforts. But, they are definitely out there, trying to spin animal testing in a positive way. They also have a feature film in production by their media arm, FBR Media, called Uncaged. The trailer is actually kind of comical, in the way that it blends big titles that say BLACK PLAGUE with a shot of THE ONE SCIENTIST WHO CAN SAVE US, mixed with shots of fighter jets, mixed with shots of healthy looking lab mice with DNA diagrams floating in the background. But regardless of how comical or easy to deconstruct we may find their work, I think it’s really important that we engage with it, and regularly. The FBR is one example of the type stuff that is out there, that may or may not be consumed by the general public, and that we need to know how to counter. How can we counter it if we don’t know what they’re saying?

So are you seeing reasons for hope?
I think there is much to be hopeful for. There are lots of groups all over the world working really hard, using a wide variety of approaches, to bring about an end to vivisection. As a movement, we’re also fortunate that there are a whole slew of scientists (some of whom aren’t motivated by animal welfare, but by scientific efficiency and accuracy) who are working on research alternatives that will help in that fight too. Activism on this issue is extremely varied and becoming more and more prevalent. What’s more, I think research institutions and governments are also starting to recognize that the tide of public opinion is shifting, and rather than fight it, they are moving with it. That is a very good thing.

Rita, rescued from a laboratory dog breeding facility in Spain. Photo by Karol Orzechowski

Maximum Tolerated Dose is currently being screened in select cities. And this summer, it will also be the shown during a ground-breaking animal rights tour called Open The Cages. Traveling along the East Coast of the United States and Canada, it will make stops in 16 cities— each chosen specifically due to their proximity to laboratory facilities that test on animals such as primates, mice, rabbits, beagles and other dogs, as well as cats, guinea pigs and rats. Every stop will include protests at the facilities, workshops on animal rights and activism, as well as music performances. For tour founder and long-time activist Mike XVX this was an intentional method of connecting people to a social justice movement like this one. “My big catalyst for breaking into Animal Rights was through the music I listened to. I grew up in the punk scene in Southern California and I was greatly influenced by the lyrics of the bands I’d go and see on the weekend,” he explained when we spoke to him recently about the tour. “Everyone has that big ‘A-ha!’ moment at different times in their lives… it’s very difficult to discern when individuals will reach that point, but this tour is essentially a platform that allows those moments to happen.” One of the goals of the tour is to jumpstart the grassroots movement across North America, he explained. After witnessing some disheartening infighting within the animal rights community, Mike is determined to show that “we are much stronger fighting together than fighting separately,” he said.

A demonstration at Oregon National Primate Research Center. Photo by Jennifer Bundock

OTC already proved this during its West Coast tour in the Summer of 2012. A multitude of artists, activists, and musicians successfully came together to educate, inspire and motivate each other, and the communities in the cities they visited. The tour helped reenergize local anti-vivisection campaigns, and is aiming to make similar strides in 2013. “We need to be out there (not just on the internet!) meeting people, building connections, and sharing ideas on how we can push forward. We can’t forget that the lives of animals hang in the balance of our willingness and ability to cooperate with each other,” Mike explained. With the ultimate goal being the abolition of animal testing and all animal exploitation, “We’re in this for the animals and the animals only,” he emphasized.

The forthright activism of initiatives like Open The Cages, honest artistic statements like Maximum Tolerated Dose, and the shifting attitudes towards animal testing not only within the public, but the scientific community itself— give substantial reason to believe that an end to vivisection is not only achievable, but with our collective influence, closer than we even think. “Every research institution and commercial lab and ethics oversight committee worth their salt espouses something called the “3 Rs” of animal experimentation: Refinement, Reduction, and Replacement. This is something that the animal experimentation industries themselves are saying,” says Karol. “The idea that vivisection should and will be phased out, is already recognized by the industry. This should be encouraging, and should motivate us to push even harder, in as many ways as we can think of.”

An effective way to make a difference right now is to simply not support the companies that test on animals. We’ve put together an abbreviated list of resources below, and we also highly encourage our readers to research the topic on their own. And together, we can change the plight of animals like Laika and so many others, and turn We shouldn’t have done it into We’ve stopped doing it for good.

Resources on cruelty-free options:
+ Leaping Bunny
+ Go Cruelty Free
+ A list of cosmetics companies that DON’T test on animals
+ Another comprehensive list of companies that DON’T test on animals, including cosmetics, self-care and household products

General resources on animal testing:
+ A comprehensive list from Maximum Tolerated Dose
+ PCRM and their program Humane Seal

Major corporations that DO test on animals:
+ Unilever
(Dove, Lipton, Skippy, Ben and Jerry’s, AXE)
+ Proctor & Gamble
(Tide, Bounty, Tampax, Gilette)
+ Johnson & Johnson
(Band-Aid, Listerine, Splenda, Neutrogena, Aveeno, Tylenol, Motrin, Stayfree, K-Y)
+ S.C. Johnson
(Drano, Glade, Pledge, Shout, Skintimate, Ziploc)
+ Reckitt Benckiser
(Lysol, Resolve)

List of companion food companies that DO test:
+ Iams Cruelty

Major pharmaceutical companies that DO test on animals:
+ Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.
+ Merck
+ Novartis
+ Pfizer

 

Laika illustration by Meera Lee Patel for Laika Magazine

Written by Julie Gueraseva