In the age of fake news, corporate propaganda and repression of dissent, bringing truth to the public has become a democratic obligation. Something that none of us can afford to ignore is the plight of animals exploited for human benefit. Not only is the suffering inflicted on them deeply immoral, but the human-animal binary relegates fellow humans to inferior status. (The Trump administration’s use of the word “animals” in vilifying migrant populations is just one example.) The anti-oppression work being created by conscientious people has become a beacon of hope for our society. And this is why the new documentary Dominion is so important.

The animal agriculture industry — which makes up the largest segment of agriculture in the U.S. — is one of the most violent and secretive institutions on the planet. Its trillion dollar profits are sustained by the public’s ignorance, and it goes to great lengths to maintain the status quo. In 2015, following the release of his first documentary Lucent, which exposed Australia’s pig industry, filmmaker and activist Chris Delforce (who wrote, co-produced, directed and edited Dominion) had his home raided by a police task force, leading to Australia’s first-ever ag gag case.

Chris Delforce Dominion Animal Rights Film Director

Chris Delforce, the director of “Dominion,” at the Dominion Animal Rights March in Melbourne on April 28. (Photo: Bree Gaudette.)

Undeterred, Delforce and his team of investigators continued gathering evidence of the systemic brutality endured by animals. The resulting Dominion, comprised of several hundred hours of footage obtained by drones and hidden and handheld cameras, focuses on six main areas of exploitation: food, fashion, entertainment, wildlife, pets and experimentation. In an unflinching account, the film emphasizes the ingrained agony of global practices that are legal and deemed “humane.” Accompanying the visuals are narrations from a number of well-known vegans, whose involvement was facilitated by Earthlings’ creator Shaun Monson, now co-producer of Dominion. Actors Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara joined the film earlier this year, and just announced was Kat Von D – LAIKA’s Issue Six cover star  – as well as musician Sia and Stranger Things‘ actress Sadie Sink.

What makes Dominion, which is in the midst of an international tour with screenings coming up in New York and Los Angeles, especially unique is that it’s more than a film. It’s part of a wide-reaching initiative that includes the online database Aussie Farms Repository and the coordinated activism campaign Dominion Movement. The recent Dominion Animal Rights March in Melbourne drew over 3,000 demonstrators. With Dominion, we hoped to unite activists with a common goal, moving beyond fragmentation to become a solid, unstoppable movement,” Chris Delforce tells LAIKA. Here, Delforce shares with us more candid insights on the film’s process, overcoming adversity and galvanizing others to action.


LAIKA: Was the Dominion Movement part of your vision from the beginning, or did it take shape as film production progressed? Why was it so important for you to pair the film with on the ground activism?

Chris Delforce: We knew this was a film that was going to inspire and anger people. There’s sometimes a suggestion that by targeting vegans as one of our primary audiences we’re just preaching to the converted, but we see turning vegans into activists just as important, if not more so, than turning non-vegans into vegans. We’ve always hoped that Dominion would be a powerful catalyst, a tool that activists can use in their own creative ways. The lockdown and protest at a Melbourne slaughterhouse just prior to the film’s premiere is an example. That action continues a steadily increasing trend over the last couple of years in Australia. Video outreach in the streets, protests and lockdowns at animal exploitation facilities, marches and demonstrations, all of it has been ramped up, and we hope Dominion’s release will push it all to the next level. 

dominion animal rights protest

Over 40 activists participate in a slaughterhouse shutdown in Benalla, Victoria on March 26 to coincide with the film’s Melbourne premiere. (Photo courtesy of Dominion Movement.)

L: The Dominion March must’ve been electrifying. Was there a sense of turning a corner in the movement, of imminent change on the horizon?

CD: The Dominion March was an incredible night. It truly exemplified how much this movement has grown, and I think was a clear signal of what’s to come. Prior to this, the largest animal rights march in Australia had around 800-900 in attendance. I’ve heard so much positive feedback from participants — more and more people are getting motivated to do everything they can and are realizing that they’re not alone. We hired a large tri-screen truck to play footage from the film as we marched and during the speeches, along with dozens of participants holding TV screens, tablets and laptops showing the same material. What that footage shows has been kept secret for so long, so taking over the Melbourne central business district with it was invigorating.

“Even if there was a magical method of raising and slaughtering animals that was entirely free of pain, fear and suffering, it still could never be ethical.”

L: Dominion’s mission makes it clear that “it’s not a question of better ways of doing the wrong thing,” as Rooney Mara says in her narration towards the end of the film. Do you consider yourself an abolitionist?

CD: I do. At some point it became abundantly clear to me that “welfare” reforms are nothing more than marketing slogans. Free range, ethically farmed, humanely slaughtered, sow stall free, local… These are just buzzwords designed to make consumers feel better about paying for the violent, unnecessary deaths of thinking, feeling beings who desperately wanted to live. Even if there was a magical method of raising and slaughtering animals that was entirely free of pain, fear and suffering, it still could never be ethical. Would it be ethical if they were human? Our history is plagued with atrocities committed under justification of self-declared superiority. Martin Luther King Jr’s plea for a “revolution of values” remains as relevant and urgent as ever. The fact that we can breed, confine, exploit and kill other beings is a very different thing to us having the moral right to do so.

Very few people, though, are persuaded by – or even open to hearing – philosophical arguments alone. I believe that [showing] the inherently barbaric nature of these industries is a much more efficient motivator. It helps people understand the individual suffering behind the neatly packaged products on supermarket shelves. I think there’s definitely a place for strategic campaigns that garner huge media attention, such as [banning] battery cages and live export, without advocating “lesser evil” alternatives. Because when people can connect with, and understand, that particular suffering, they’re more ready to face the question of why other types of suffering are any more excusable.

Pig Transport Slaughter Animal Rights Activist

An activist connects with a pig bound for slaughter at a vigil at Diamond Valley Pork in Australia. (Photo: Bear Witness Australia.)

L: Were you especially conscious of underscoring with Dominion that these are not instances of cruelty, but industry norms?

CD: These industries have a few basic lines that they recycle, regardless whether it makes any sense. “Isolated incidents,” “rogue operator who doesn’t represent our industry,” “one or two bad workers who have been sacked or retrained,” etc. Dominion follows Lucent’s lead in focusing on recurring, standard, legal industry practices — things that can generally be found with just a little digging into their own documentation that they publish for their farmers, and in the codes of practice that govern the kinds of horrible things they can do that would otherwise be illegal under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Dominion even uses some of the industry’s own “educational” footage. Failing to overtly counter their typical responses would be a disservice to the animals who suffer at their hands every day, so I’ve taken great care with Dominion to emphasize the scale and regularity of what is being shown.

L: What were some of the practices marketed as “humane” that you saw time and time again as being anything but?

CD: Gas chambers were being proclaimed without scrutiny, or evidence, as a “high welfare/humane” method of stunning pigs for over 20 years. The footage we’ve obtained from five of these facilities, including the largest in the southern hemisphere, clearly shows that every pig who enters those chambers screams and thrashes in agony until they finally pass out.

Very little attention is paid to fish – there still seems to be a prevalent belief that they don’t feel pain, despite clear scientific evidence to the contrary. I’m so glad we were able to capture their “humane slaughter,” which in reality is a slow [death through] freezing over half an hour or [through] suffocation.

[Seeing] broiler (meat) chickens and turkeys struggling to stand or walk because they’ve been bred to grow so fast and so large that their legs can’t support their weight. Ducks having their throats cut while fully conscious because they’ve lifted their heads over the electric stun bath. I picked 3 or 4 incidents to use in the film out of dozens and dozens, captured on a single camera on a random workday.

Sheep, pigs and calves [being] jabbed in the head over and over with the electric stunner prongs, growing increasingly terrified with each failed attempt. Once or twice a day at a particular facility, sheep would manage to jump out of the knock box and run around the kill floor among hanging bodies in various stages of dismemberment.

Broiler Chicken Dominion Film

A chicken raised for meat production, known as a “broiler,” is disabled by its own unnatural weight. (Photo: Animal Liberation.)

L: How were you impacted the ordeal of having your home raided and the subsequent charges leveled against you?

CD: There have been a few pivotal moments in my seven years as an activist that very nearly broke me. Looking back, I credit them with making me so much stronger, more determined and resilient. The raid was definitely the most significant. I responded initially by making “Thousand Eyes,” a 4 minute edit of Lucent inspired by my anger, frustration and sadness, which has since been used for street outreach all over Australia and the world. A few months after [the raid], I was hit with the first round of charges, and I responded to that by announcing Dominion and launching a crowdfunding campaign for it. Those initial charges were dropped in favor of the “ag gag” charges under an existing Surveillance Devices law — for filming and publishing footage from inside pig farms and slaughterhouses. The law itself was a perfectly legitimate and necessary one focusing on matters of personal privacy, established in 2007 to replace the outdated Listening Devices Act. But this was the first time it had been used to protect commercial interests and send a message to activists.

After two years of minor court hearings, a three-day trial was finally set in August 2017. All charges were dismissed just one hour into the trial, as police were unable to prove that they’d obtained the proper written authority to lay the charges in the first place. The magistrate commented on the “incompetence” of the police and the clearly political nature of the case. [The experience] taught us [activists] a lot about police procedures and the types of evidence they can and do use, including phone and bank records, file metadata from seized hard drives and photos downloaded from our websites. Of course I’m expecting to be raided again in retaliation someday, but I’ve come to accept it’s just an unfortunate inevitability of trying to make the world a better place, and I know that I’ll be able to recover from it as I have before.

L: The footage is obviously the crux of Dominion, but the narration is also extremely important. What was the process behind it?

CD: I researched and wrote most of the script over an intense two weeks, after roughly 80% of the footage had been obtained, though in some sections I was able to rely on previous research by other individuals who had contributed to the Knowledgebase on our Repository website. I delayed writing the introduction and conclusion until after I’d edited the rest of the film together, knowing that I wouldn’t be in the right place mentally to properly put my thoughts and feelings into words until I’d sat through all of that footage. I then wrote the conclusion overnight while playing the London Grammar album “Truth is a Beautiful Thing” on repeat. A few days later we went out to Edgar’s Mission sanctuary to film the rescued animals for [the conclusion], and then finally I wrote and edited the introduction, which was probably the most difficult. Shaun and I recorded Joaquin and Rooney in the living room of their Los Angeles home, Joaquin first. Both were visibly and audibly distressed throughout the process depending on what they were describing, and with Joaquin in particular we needed to take a few breaks given the very heavy content. Dominion’s conclusion especially owes much of its power to their raw, genuine readings of it; you can really hear the emotion and sincerity in their voices.

Sheep Slaughter Saleyard Australia

Sheep crowded in a holding pen at Victorian Livestock Exchange in Pakenham, being sold for meat. (Photo: Unconsciouly Cruel.)

L: What was it like to team up with the creator of Earthlings, a film that had such an impact on your life?

CD: I’d been a huge admirer of Shaun’s work for several years; to have him agree to put his name on a film I’d written and edited, a film our small team had worked so hard on, was a very proud moment and a real feeling of validation. Before we started speaking with him, I’d been worried that he might feel some sort of resentment towards someone trying to enter his “space” in the movement, but that turned out to be the farthest from the truth. I’ve always been a proponent of activists and organizations working together.

L: Impressively, there is a self-care section on the film’s site. Why did you feel it was especially needed now, with the release of Dominion??

CD: Dominion was never meant to break or depress anyone — it was meant to empower and motivate. We want people to get active, not just for a short while, but for the long haul. Self-care is absolutely vital to keep us from burning out. A burnt-out activist is of no use to the animals.

L: Dominion shows animals being liberated from these harrowing places. Was there an intentional message to activists in including that kind of footage?

CD: There were a few motives for the end-credit scenes. We wanted to end the film on a hopeful, positive note, but also reinforce that this footage was obtained by real, ordinary humans, and that all of the suffering was real too. As these industries become more and more transparent through films like this, through other tools like our Repository website, and through more people going out to farms and slaughterhouses and sharing their experiences online, it’s inevitable that rescues will only continue to increase. Ultimately we can’t shut down these industries just through individual rescues, but with care and strategy, liberation is and should always be an important part of the movement. What I see as an inevitable step towards the end of animal abuse industries is an environment where every single one of the facilities is fair game. Their name, location, and what they do, publicly available for anyone to see, any of them potentially the next to be showcased on social media or in the news. If homes aren’t available for rescues, open investigations would still be very beneficial, I believe. 

Battery Cage Chicken Animal Liberation

A hen used for egg production is rescued from a battery cage. (Photo: Bear Witness Australia.)

L: What are some of the logistics in running a complex project like the Aussie Farms Repository and your plans for it?

CD: Australia is a proof of concept. I want to show that [the Repository] is a valuable and effective tool, so that when the time comes to expand worldwide, it already has a reputation and extensive demonstration of its capabilities. At the moment, the uploads are from a fairly limited number of users, with much of the material coming from already-released investigations available on our other websites (aussiepigs.com and aussieturkeys.com), though gradually more individuals are starting to upload their own content. I hope to get it to a stage where activists and organizations who conduct investigations upload their material to it, to essentially become a cross between Wikipedia, WikiLeaks and Youtube, covering the entirety of animal exploitation industries and serving as the first stop for anyone who wants to learn or to educate others.

L: I imagine that Dominion Movement has attracted some remarkable participants. Are there any personal stories that stick out for you? 

CD: Dominion’s Assistant Director, and the Operations Director of Aussie Farms, Lissy Jayne has been an integral member of our team for the last four years and has never wanted any credit, but recently has been gaining overdue recognition. The iconic calf on the Dominion poster was photographed by Lissy during an investigation. A lot of the photos used in our campaigns were captured by her, and many have been released through her own organization Bear Witness Australia. During the Dominion March, she stood on stage holding up prints of some of the individual animals she’s encountered during investigations, while a speech written by her was read out by Apoorva Madan, the vegan psychologist who wrote the self-care material on the [Dominion] site. Lissy has been heavily involved in our investigations, campaigns and actions and is now taking on more speaking roles to give much-needed female representation in a male-dominated movement.

“The truth can be not just an incredibly powerful tool, but sometimes all that is needed to put an end to a horrible injustice that has gone unchallenged for decades.”

L: You’ve witnessed a great deal over the years, but is there any one specific experience that was a major catalyst in cultivating your present-day drive?

CD: The first pig farm I ever went to will always stay with me. Until then we’d mainly been doing rescues, but it became clear to me at that point that our priority needed to shift to investigations. When I walked out of the farrowing shed, I turned to the person who had come with me and said that we were going to shut it down, and we did, not through the authorities who did lay charges against the piggery but later dropped them, but through the relentless public pressure that came as a result of putting the footage and photos out into the world. The experience showed me that information — the truth — can be not just an incredibly powerful tool, but sometimes all that is needed to put an end to a horrible injustice that had gone unchallenged for decades.

by Julie Gueraseva

Top photo by Lissy Jayne of a calf bound for slaughter, courtesy of Dominion Movement.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

San Francisco is done with fur

coyote fur

Rescued coyote — an animal killed for fur trim on Canada Goose jackets — at California’s Lockwood Animal Rescue Center (Jennifer MaHarry/LAIKA)

On the heels of Donatella Versace’s headline-making announcement that she is “out” of fur, comes another huge development in the global fight against the fur trade. In a historic move, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved on Tuesday a citywide ban on fur sales in a 10-0 vote. “Profiting off of the literal backs of animals is not right and we will no longer tolerate animal cruelty in the city of St. Francis!” said SF District Supervisor Katy Tang today, who first put forward the ban proposal in December of last year.

San Francisco District Supervisor Katy Tang on the steps of City Hall, following the ban approval (Kitty Tang/Facebook)

The ban will go into effect on January 1, 2019 and will apply to the sale, display and manufacturing of new fur garments, as well as online purchases for delivery to San Francisco addresses. Multiple animal rights organizations supported Tang in her efforts, including Direct Action Everywhere, Animal Legal Fund, PETA and Humane Society International. “The fur trade is responsible for the suffering and death of more than 100 million animals a year. Today, San Francisco has said a resounding ‘no’ to that suffering,” said HSI’s CEO Kitty Block in a statement. San Francisco joins West Hollywood and Berkeley in California, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and India in adopting similar bans, but is the largest U.S. city to go fur-free.

The San Francisco ban reflects a growing momentum; the past year has seen a passionate global resurgence in anti-fur activism — ranging from high profile campaigns by international coalitions to local grassroots efforts. Mark Glover, director of the UK-based organization Respect for Animals, where fur farming has been banned since 2000, told LAIKA last year that “the fur trade will end, as did, for the most part, commercial whaling, but its demise will be consumer led.” With the likes of Gucci, Hugo Boss, Armani, Furla, Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo and the afore-mentioned Versace all dropping fur in recent months — the end is appears to be in sight.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dominican vegan fête

Vegan Caribbean Chef

Jamila Crawford Pécou at home in Atlanta.

“My mother is from the Dominican Republic, my father is from Florida, and I grew up in New York — all of which has informed and helped shape a diverse palate,” the Atlanta-based vegan chef Jamila Crawford Pécou tells LAIKA. Along with her vegan daughters Sigele and Tsehai, she is among the roster of dynamic women profiled in our Haven Issue. Crawford Pécou, who has cooked for the likes of Erykah Badu and Alicia Silverstone and runs the lifestyle brand Earthcandy, has long drawn on her heritage for inspiration. Much like her own eclectic background, the Dominican Republic and its diaspora is a rich tapestry of cultures and traditions. With her cooking, Crawford Pécou pays homage to her Caribbean roots; and by living a full life — immersed in travel, art and community — she leads by example. Here, the culinary maven talks to LAIKA about her heritage, what empowers her and her goals for the new year, and shares her recipes for two celebratory Dominican staples.

How would you describe Dominican cuisine and what makes it so well-suited to plant-based cooking?
Dominican cuisine is a combination of Spanish, indigenous Taino and African influences. A simple way to think of it is Caribbean food with a Spanish flair. It’s a crossroads of foods and flavors that have been passed down from my grandmothers by word-of-mouth or simply by observation. Though heavily animal-based, Dominican cuisine would not be complete without the likes of mangú (mashed plantain), maduros (fried ripe plantain), arroz con habichuela (rice and beans) and cassava bread. Just this past summer, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with my family and had no problems as a vegan. As veganism becomes more and more popular, many cultures have become, at the very least, vegan-friendly.

What would you say to someone who is resistant to veganism because they feel beholden to certain traditions?
A lot can be said about the dangers of “comfort zones”. Though they provide a sense of security and certainty, they also limit your ability to experience the world. Embracing veganism doesn’t have to mean you’re “losing something.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Good food is good food, it’s as simple as that. I try to make food that you will enjoy, so much so you’ll forget that it’s vegan!

How did you go about veganizing your family recipes?
Veganizing recipes can be as simple as substituting a soy, almond or coconut milk for cow’s milk, or taking extra effort to ferment a nut cheese with probiotics to improve the texture and flavor — so there is some trial and error. When I first became vegan over 20 years ago things were a bit more complicated because there weren’t as many vegan alternatives available in mainstream grocery stores. So I followed the “keep it simple” rule by starting with what I knew — recipes I learned from my mother and grandmother — and switched out things like dairy or meat with comparable vegan substitutes. Empanadas are a Dominican staple, traditionally prepared with ground beef, but with so many great soy-free, gluten-free options on the market now, I can now easily substitute in a ground meatless, et voila!

vegan black family laika magazine

Jamila (center) with daughters Sigele (left) and Tsehai, whom she raised vegan since birth. Photo by Valheria Rocha for LAIKA.

What makes you feel empowered as a woman in the male-dominated food industry, and how do you cultivate that strength and self-reliance in your daughters?
Empowerment comes from confidence, and I take pride in knowing that no one can do what I do quite like I can. Despite the culinary profession being dominated by men, women like me, my mother and grandmothers, have always provided, cared and nurtured through cooking. It is a legacy as old as humanity. For every male chef or culinary professional, there is a mom or grandmother who helped spark his love for cooking. I try always to lead by example where my daughters are concerned. My daughters have not only inspired the woman I’ve become, but through watching them actualize their own goals and aspirations, I find myself learning as much from them as they from me.

Can you share your insights on goal-setting and what you are envisioning for 2018?
This year I’ve taken photography classes to sharpen my skills, and it’s been very helpful in preparing for my 2018 goals, which include combining my love of food, travel and photography into my lifestyle brand in the form of books, television and social media content. Journaling and vision boards always help me focus on my goals and ideas. I’ve also recently incorporated more meditation into my daily routine, as a means of visualizing successes but also being deliberate and intentional in my actions. My focus in 2018 is “completion,” as I tend to have multiple ideas at once. My road to success will consist of small victories.

In our Issue 7 story “Family Ties,” you mention that your daughters’ paternal grandfather is vegan, which is so amazing! How did that change come about for him?
My daughters’ grandpa became vegan after the birth of my first daughter in the 1990s. Seeing as how their grandmother (his wife) was gung-ho about preparing meatless dishes for her new grandchildren, Papa, as they call him, decided to jump on the vegan bandwagon with them! His favorite is breakfast foods. He loves veggie sausage with stoneground yellow corn grits! At 68, after working for General Motors for over 45 years, he’s finally retired and has a vibrant, youthful spirit that’s inspired by the joy that his granddaughters bring him.

 

Vegan plantain tapas

Plantain Tapas. Photo by Jamila Crawford Pécou.

 

Plantain Tapas

These bite-sized tapas are inspired by my mother, born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Both are sweet, spicy and bold!

Makes about 2 dozen bites

2 very ripe plantains, peeled
Vegetable oil for frying
½ red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
½ orange bell pepper, seeded and sliced
½ cup red onion, sliced
1- 14 oz. can black beans (or 1 cup dried black beans prepared according to package directions)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon each sea salt, black pepper and ground cumin
1 bunch (or 1 10 oz. bag) fresh spinach, rinsed
1 dairy-free vegan sour cream
1 bunch scallion, sliced for garnish

Heat enough vegetable oil in a large non-stick pan to cover the bottom — about 1’ deep – over medium heat. Slice plantain into 1/2” thick diagonal slices. Fry lightly until golden brown on each side, using a spatula to flip over. Remove and drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Saute the red and orange bell peppers and onion over medium-high heat in the oil remaining in the pan used for the plantain — about 5 minutes or until peppers and onion wilt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl or plate.

Finally, add spinach to the pan over medium heat with ¼ cup water and stir until bright green and wilted. Remove from heat.

In a medium saucepan, combine beans, garlic, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Season with salt, pepper and cumin. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble: On a serving plate, place plantain slices, then top with spinach, black beans, bell pepper medley, top with a dollop of sour cream and scallion for garnish. Serve immediately.

 

Vegan Caribbean drink

Vegan Coquito. Photo by Jamila Crawford Pécou.

Coquito

My dairy-free Caribbean way of bringing in the New Year!

Serves 2-3

2 cups canned coconut milk
1 cup canned crema de coco (cream of coconut)
½ cup almond milk (or any nut milk)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
A pinch of ground cloves
(Optional: for the alcoholic version, add ½ cup of coconut rum)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, about 3 minutes. Serve over ice, with a light dusting of cinnamon on top! Keeps refrigerated for up to three days.

by Julie Gueraseva

Read more about Jamila and other inspiring women in LAIKA’s Issue Seven, and subscribe to our print or digital edition.