What the Health Vegan Documentary Interview

Filmmakers Keegan Kuhn (left) and Kip Andersen. Photo courtesy of “What the Health.”

In a pivotal scene in What the Health, the new documentary from the creators of Cowspiracy, filmmaker Kip Andersen visits families in Duplin County, North Carolina — an area known as the “hog capital of the world,” where confined pigs outnumber people 40 to 1. “My neighbor there died from cancer probably just last year. My nephew down the street, he’s got cancer. Not a smoker, not a drinker,” resident Rene Miller tells Andersen. A stone’s throw from her home pig waste is sprayed weekly into the open air. North Carolina’s pig CAFOs disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, reflecting a pattern “recognized as environmental racism,” a 2014 study found. As the camera pans to containers full of dead pigs left to decompose by the side of the road  ( to be later ground up and fed back to the living pigs) Miller says, “I don’t eat bacon, because I know where it comes from.”


WHAT THE HEALTH from AUM Films & Media


Animal agriculture is eroding human health, much in the same way as it is decimating communities like the one in Duplin County. A multitude of peer-reviewed studies have linked animal products to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Dairy boosts the amount of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I) in the blood, which promotes cancer cell growth. Processed meats and eggs are carcinogens , and the list goes on. Yet as we learn in What the Health, not only are leading health organizations dodging discussions on the role of plant-based foods in disease prevention, they are actively recommending the consumption of animal products to sick people.


What The Health Documentary Exposes Truth

A still from “What the Health” conveys the truth about carcinogenic properties in a typical bacon-and-eggs breakfast.

In their quest to find out why, Andersen and co-director Keegan Kuhn uncover how the US government, medical industry and health organizations are colluding with animal agriculture in putting the public’s health at risk for the sake of profit. The truth, as it turns out, is stranger than fiction: There’s government-funded marketing schemes to increase meat and cheese consumption; tens of millions of dollars are spent promoting dairy products to children in schools; the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society and the USDA’s dietary guidelines committee all take massive donations from the likes of Tyson, National Dairy Council, Oscar Meyer and KFC. And the meat and pharma lobby is so rich and powerful, they’re practically writing the laws.

It’s a harrowing reality, but What the Health is ultimately about self-empowerment. Through compelling interviews with renown physicians, world-class athletes (including LAIKA’s former cover star David Carter) and regular people who have reversed chronic diseases with a vegan diet, the film shows that the solution lies in our hands. “It begins with us now. We can’t rely on the government to do something about this,” Kip Andersen tells LAIKA. “We have to stop eating all horrific animals’ flesh and end it from the demand side up.” Here, Andersen shares with us more candid thoughts on the film’s process and the meaning of true health.


Did you face some of the same challenges in making What the Health as you did with Cowspiracy?
The biggest trouble is these organizations that you think would want to talk, similar to Cowspiracy — the environmental NGOs, the health groups — just don’t want to, because they know they are essentially failing the public in telling the truth about what’s causing a lot of these diseases that they are supposedly in the business of trying to help stop or prevent. Cowspiracy was considered groundbreaking because there had only been a couple of people at that point who had really dug deep into the environmental impacts [of animal agriculture]. The medical community is in the dark, but you have quite a few doctors now who are kind of renegades who had to find out [the truth] on their own — of course they didn’t learn about it in medical school. There are a lot more doctors being turned on to the secret of a vegan diet and [its impacts on] health, so it was easier to find more people to talk to in What the Health.

Did making the film make you feel hopeful, then, that widespread awareness in the medical field is imminent?
It’s a matter of time. It’s just been hidden for so long. And in this time we live in, you just can’t hide the truth anymore. I feel What the Health is a big catalyst for getting this into the mainstream. That just has to fall over into the medical field, because people are going to start telling their doctors they’ve watched this movie. In 2-3 years, [this information] is going to be common knowledge. You’re going to see this taught, and known in the medical community.

What compelled you to embark on an undertaking as massive as a feature-length documentary on a highly controversial topic?
It’s personal for me because of my family history. That was the real driving factor. My dad has had several heart blockages. My grandpa died of heart disease and diabetes. I have cancer on both sides, a lot of diabetes. My aunt is dying of diabetes. [My family] always warned me, “Kip, you’re going to have heart disease.” And then to find out, [the cause] is mostly our diet! A lot of this is to, honestly, show my family and friends that I love.

How did you approach making a fact-dense film like What the Health?
It’s so important to have a strong narrative that’s entertaining, so the audience can easily digest it and actually enjoy watching it. A lot of it was about going further into research, finding out about the connections, the money trail. We kept interviewing people, they told us to interview someone else, we looked into that. One thing led to another. Then we laid it out into as entertaining of a story as we could, because there is so much information, like you said. The goal is definitely to get this into the mainstream.

True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

People don’t typically consider the devastating impact that animal agriculture has on communities, like the one you visited near a pig farm in North Carolina. What was that experience like for you?
My Dad lives in North Carolina. I just feel so sad for the people who live anywhere near these awful places. There’s this whole bacon craze, and people think bacon is ‘cool.’ And it’s so not. In North Carolina, you really see the impact of those food choices. This state that is so beautiful is in such a state of urgency. Thousands of fish dead in the beautiful river. With What the Health, we wanted people to realize what true health is. A lot of people think of health as ‘paleo’, which is not [healthy] — you’re only thinking about yourself. True health is when you consider everything — not just yourself, but your community, the environment, and all the animals living in harmony.

What do you think can be done in the more immediate future to help these communities?
Other than lawsuits, a big thing that will progress the truth coming out is processed meat being classified as a carcinogen by WHO (World Health Organization). When something is a classified carcinogen, it has to be labeled. If you get something from The Home Depot that has arsenic, it’s labeled. So it’s just a matter of time before bacon, processed meat, deli slices have a warning label on. And when that happens, it’s going to have a big impact.

At the screening in New York, you said that if 10 percent of population believe in a vegan world, then that world will come to be. How, in your opinion, can we cultivate a sense of optimism, so we can get to that tipping point faster?
If you tell yourself, “I’m not going to be successful,” it’s not going to happen. You could be doing the right things, going to school, getting your master’s. But if you say you’re not going to be successful, you just aren’t. You’re not going to be happy. It’s [the same way] in society and culture as a whole. It sounds kind of cliché, but thoughts become things. The law of attraction is so true. And you have to see it, you have to believe it. These new companies popping up, vegan restaurants, everyone putting billions of dollars into plant based foods, and on and on. And then it hits you — oh my god, this is happening at an exponential rate! This is happening and it’s happening now.  You don’t have to convince 100 percent of the people, you only have to convince around 10 percent, and the rest falls into place. That’s how every social [justice] movement is. You get that core 10 percent of people who really believe, and then it just happens. And it happens fast.


By Julie Gueraseva






Photo by Clara Polito

Writing a book is no small feat. Now imagine doing it while still in your teens. LAIKA’s one-time cover star Clara Polito has accomplished just that. Her first cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone! was just published by powerHouse Books. It’s chock full of recipes for a dizzying array of creative desserts, with an entire chapter dedicated to frosting, plus sage business advice, a super handy guide to kitchen gear and egg substitutes, even a spread about why she’s vegan.

Photo by Logan White.

Polito is a serious pro with a heart of gold, but she’s no overnight sensation. She’s been running her LA-based company Clara Cakes since the age of 12, selling her creations at stores, restaurants and countless events across the city, as well as doing many brunch and dinner pop-ups. Her hard work has rightfully earned her treats a loyal following. The artist and skateboarder Ed Templeton says it best in his introduction to Polito’s cookbook, “Clara is the kind of girl that gives me hope for future generations. She didn’t wait for anything happen to her, she made it happen for herself.” Indeed.

Polito shares her S’mores Bar recipe with LAIKA, followed immediately by our Q&A with her.

Photo by Clara Polito


S’mores Bar
“I rarely ate traditional s’mores growing up because: 1) Marshmallows have gelatin, and 2) I’ve never been camping in my life. What I can remember of these sweet snacks is that the marshmallow always swallowed up all the other flavors. It was too sweet to be able to enjoy the perfect graham cracker and melty chocolate combo. These s’mores bars give you a balanced ratio of a lot of graham-cookie-bar crust, just enough chocolate chips, and a bit of melty marshmallow to tuck it in. I honestly don’t have much of a desire to ever go camping since I can just make these bars in my oven…”

1 cup crushed Nabisco plain graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup Dandies Marshmallows,* torn in half
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup v. butter, melted
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
* Specialty ingredient, buy ahead

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda with a fork. The baking soda will dissolve. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

5. Add the vinegar and baking soda mixture to the butter and beat on high until the vinegar is fully incorporated, about two minutes.

6. Slowly add in the dry ingredients on medium speed and beat until it looks like cookie dough.

7. Reserve 1/4 of the dough and set aside, you’ll use this later for the topping. Press the remaining dough into the baking pan.

8. Sprinkle chocolate chips and marshmallows evenly onto the cookie dough layer.

9. Take the cookie dough you set aside and scatter grape-sized pieces over the marshmallows and chocolate chips.

10. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on cooling rack, serve warm.


Then and now. Clara covers our Summer ’13 issue (left); and is the author of her first cookbook four years later. Photos by Sylvia Elzafon and Logan White.

LAIKA: Veganism has become a lot less stigmatized in recent years. Do you even still feel the need to explain that you’re a “vegan” baker?

Clara Polito: It depends on who I’m talking to, or where I’m selling. Most of the time, I like to let my cooking speak for itself and win people over, and then tell them afterwards that it’s vegan which is always very much to their surprise! I think because being vegan is second nature to me, and such a part of my inner moral compass, I don’t have to work too hard on integrating it into my identity. Changing the way people eat is ultimately why I do what I do.

LAIKA: It’s a pretty crazy time, with this country’s government trying to escalate the oppression of both human and nonhuman animals. How does all this affect your craft and your sense of urgency to make the world better?

Clara Polito: I feel that being vegan is so important, especially now, as a way to express compassion. Our country is so accustomed to feeling disconnected to cruelty, corruption, etc. I think being vegan is the simplest, everyday activism you can do that touches on so many different issues beyond animal cruelty. I think it motivates me to make my recipes accessible. It makes me want to hold tight onto my craft and work harder.

LAIKA: The cookbook is so impressive. It must’ve been a ton of work to put together.

Clara Polito: Other than jotting down recipes, I had no prior cookbook experience. I think I needed someone to say, “Let’s do this, here’s what I need from you,” and from there it was a blast. The problem I run into is narrowing down recipe ideas, so coming up with new ones was fast. I took most of the dessert photos (Logan White took some as well), so there would be nights where I’d have four different cakes in my fridge calling my name.

LAIKA: The design of the book is also very eye-catching. Did you collaborate with the publisher and designer on it?

Clara Polito: My publisher was really open to my ideas for the book design. They’d send over different versions of possible designs and really listened to my feedback. The designer asked me to send over different tablecloths and aprons I use, and that’s where the flowers throughout the book come from. The handwritten old English was a tribute to the first business cards I made, and I love how modern it feels in the book. I love how much the book design represents myself and my baking.

LAIKA: And your best friend is a part of the book too, is that right?

Clara Polito: Sophia [Longo] is an extremely talented writer, and about a year ago she wrote a zine called Dessert Haikus. She wrote several different haikus having to do with desserts and then we put them together with photos of my baked goods. A couple months later when I started working on the book, it seemed like the perfect addition to it! She’s been a part of this adventure since I started baking, so it makes the book even more special and meaningful.

LAIKA: That’s so cool, and such a great example of young women’s camaraderie. So, people new to vegan baking are sometimes intimidated by the lack of eggs. What’s your take on that?

Clara Polito: My favorite egg substitutes are applesauce, coconut vinegar, and Mori-Nu silken tofu. I think texture and taste both taste more fresh when not using eggs. Isn’t it weird how non-vegan cake is technically chocolate eggs?!

LAIKA: Yep! What’s the top advice would you give young women your age who have a hobby or passion and yearn to turn into a career?

Clara Polito: I would say to embrace your passion and know your self-worth. People might offer you advice, which is nice, but you don’t have to take it. Do what you want to do.

LAIKA: Ok, final question — what’s inspiring you these days, and what are your must-eat vegan dishes around LA?

Clara Polito: Stella McCartney’s latest collection, both womenswear and menswear. I keep going back to the lookbook for inspiration! And specific dishes at particular places are: Organic Puff Pastry Tart with Market Green Salad at Elf Cafe (Elf is vegetarian, request this dish vegan); the Sweet Potato Falafel at Fala Bar; Spicy Sweet Potatoes at Azla; Masa Echo Park’s vegan Deep Dish Pizza (request vegan); the vegan pupusa combo that comes with fried plantains and black beans at Delmy’s Pupusas (request vegan); and the Jackfruit Taco with Chipotle Mayo and Tomatillo Salsa at Plant Food For People.

Clara Cakes’ latest pop-up dinner is in Detroit this weekend, and the NYC book launch is on March 23. Get to know this inspiring young woman even better in our Issue Two cover story. Pick up her stunning new cookbook online or at stores nationwide.

Interview by Julie Gueraseva




Canadian mink farm

Mink farm in Ontario, Canada. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals, 2014.

The thrill of glimpsing a wild animal in their habitat is as much in our true nature, as it is in the animal’s to desire freedom. We are a culture of Planet Earth documentaries, awed by the unbridaled beauty of the animal kingdom. Yet on fur farms, those same animals endure the indignity of captivity so severe it strips them of all the natural behaviors we find so enthralling. In this time of our heightened awareness of societal injustice, mindfulness can extend to what we eat and wear. As a moral species, we have long acknowledged that inflicting suffering on sentient beings for trivial means is wrong. Fur, and other materials that are the products of oppression, therefore have no place in the modern wardrobe. Now is our opportunity to literally wear our wokeness on our sleeve.

Fueled by increased demands in developing economies of Russia and China, the fur trade has in recent decades grown into a global multi-billion dollar industry. But this momentum is showing signs of slowing, and Europe has experienced groundbreaking political and legislative developments, with fur farming now banned in eight countries. Among them is the United Kingdom, where it’s been outlawed since 2000; the long-awaited Croatian fur ban came into effect last month; and the Dutch Supreme Court recently upheld a mink farming ban in the world’s fourth largest fur producer, the Netherlands. Japan has closed its last fur farm, and New Zealand has a partial ban. But the fur machine churns on. 125 million rabbits and 75 million mink, foxes and raccoon dogs are killed for fur each year in China. On fur farms in the European Union, over 32 million animals per year are killed for fur year-round. In the US and Canada, where trapping is the norm, over 7 million fur-bearing animals are slaughtered annually. In this story, LAIKA speaks to some of the witnesses, activists and experts who are determined to bring those numbers down to zero.


“If you could see what I’ve seen, you would never wear that coat.”

“The fur is everywhere,” says photographer Jo-Anne McArthur. She is speaking to LAIKA from Scandinavia, home to fur giants Saga Furs and Kopenhagen Fur. “Some people don’t even know that animals are killed for their fur coats,” she says. “What I see is the death of a hundred individuals.” McArthur has seen more than most. By her estimate, she has documented twenty five fur farms in Europe and Canada.

mink farm fur cruelty

Mink farm in Quebec. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, 2014.

Mink are the world’s most widely farmed for their fur. Denmark alone produces 17.8 million pelts a year. Confined to extremely small wire cages, some only 8 inches across, “They pace back and forth, everything is completely unnatural,” says McArthur. “These are animals who [in the wild] live close to water, they live solitary lives. But yet they’re crammed in. They cannibalize. It’s very normal for them to have injuries on their scruffs, ears missing, paws missing.”

The farms are typically situated in forests. For the animals, it’s freedom that’s close, yet hopelessly out of reach. “They can feel the breeze … There’s trees surrounding the cages, and they just look at that day in and day out,” says McArthur. She describes the filth and unbearable stench of their immediate surroundings, the excrement piled high underneath, the cages caked with fur and dust.

Most recently McArthur captured aerial views of enormous mink farms on the east coast of Nova Scotia, which she says are “more like a brand new concentration camp.” These fully mechanized factory fur farms generate an extreme amount of pollution. The runoff creates algal blooms in nearby lakes that have become increasingly common in the region. “There are kids camps that are next to these lakes, and they don’t just impose a ‘no swimming policy,’ they move the whole camp because it’s a dangerous bloom,” McArthur says. “And they don’t know if they can ever get rid of it, or treat it. It just kills the lake, the animals who drink from it get sick. And this is because of useless mink farming. It’s creating a catastrophic chain of events.”


fur industry cruelty

Mink factory farm in Nova Scotia, Canada. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, 2014.

And whether the farm is new or old — “it’s hell,” says McArthur. “If you could see what I’ve seen, you would never wear that coat.” In addition to mink farms, she has documented fox farms, one of which also kept raccoon dogs. In the wild, these animals (who are in the same family of species as domesticated dogs) live in densely vegetated areas, roaming vast distances.

fox farm cruelty go vegan

Fox fur farm in Quebec, Canada. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals, 2014.

On fur farms, they “have zero autonomy,” McArthur says. “They can’t choose their friends, they can’t choose their mates. The loneliness that they must endure.” The wooden structures they’re housed in are often worn down from chewing, which results in severe mouth injuries that go untreated. “These animals spend a lot of time circling trying to find a way out,” she says. These and other stereotypic (abnormal repetitive) behaviors, like fur chewing and self-injury, are a sign of psychological dysfunction and a common sight on fur farms. Many animals simply succumb to despair. “They’re just really despondent and sort of beyond fear,” McArthur says.

fox farm cruelty go vegan

A starved fox on a fox fur farm in Quebec that was the site of horrific abuse. Charges were brought against the fur farmer. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur/WeAnimals, 2014.

In the wild, foxes dig complex burrows, but on fur farms they are forced to stand on wire flooring for the duration of their lives. “If you can feel the horror and urgency of what it would be like for your cat or dog — that’s what millions of animals are feeling,” McArthur says. “And imagine how your legs must atrophy, not being able to take a stride, standing hobbled on cage flooring. It makes you twist your body in all sorts of ways to alleviate pain. There’s no recourse from that other than lying down, and that’s barely a recourse.”

The Coldest Coats

A name synonymous with fur these days is the Toronto-based Canada Goose, which deceptively markets its fur-lined down parkas as “humane.”

coyote animal wild rescued

Rescued coyote at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center. Photo by Jennifer MaHarry.

The coyotes caught with leg hold traps for Canada Goose, and other companies that use fur, sustain injuries like severance of tendons (caused by animals twisting their limbs to free themselves), limb amputations and profuse bleeding, among many others. Traps may go unchecked for as long as five days, as the animal suffers from thirst, starvation and fear. To preserve the pelt, instead of being shot, the coyotes found alive by trappers will be clubbed, suffocated or strangled with a snare — a metal noose that delivers an agonizing death that can last eight minutes.

Canada Goose obsessively claims that its $900 jackets, favored by city-dwelling celebrities and status seekers, provide “functionality,” yet there is no scientific proof that fur trim or down are a requirement for warmth. High performance synthetic materials have been sufficient for even subarctic expeditions.

This boldness with misleading consumers is rooted in Canada’s complicated relationship with trapping. The romanticized history of the country’s settlement “influences everything from government policy to wildlife management practices — the North American Wildlife Conservation Model is based in the assumption that wildlife must be used as a resource,” explains Lesley Fox, executive director of Canadian organization The Fur-Bearers. “Politicians who covet a rural vote frequently hide from these issues,” she says. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even participated in Canada Goose’s Employee Global Conference recently. Its CEO Dani Reiss was made Member of the Order of Canada last year “for his commitment to the preservation of Canada’s North, notably as chair of Polar Bears International.” Reiss told The Telegraph UK in December that “polar bears are icons of the north; we’ve made jackets for the scientists and support staff who work with them.”


coyote fur rescued

Rescued coyote at Lockwood Animal Rescue Center. Photo by Jennifer MaHarry.

The coyotes slaughtered for those jackets are also North American icons — called “God’s dog” by the Navajo. Like our beloved pet dogs, they are members of the genus Canis. In LAIKA’s issue 6 feature “Kindred Creatures,” Camilla Fox, founder of Project Coyote (no relation to Lesley Fox), explained that the animals maligned by Canada Goose as “pests,” are in fact a keystone species that plays a vital role in a thriving ecosystem.

Activists in Canada face steep hurdles, among those an absence of federal labeling laws: retailers are able to market the fur of dogs, cats, rabbits and other animals as “faux fur.” (“It can be difficult for some consumers to know what is fake and what is real,” says Fox.) The Fur-Bearers, however, make gains on the municipal level, working with individual communities to end their use, and support of, trapping. “Several municipalities in British Columbia have enacted or requested permission from the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to prohibit trapping as a direct result of this campaign,” Fox says.

And there is an upside — many Canadians feel a strong connection with nature, because of how accessible it is. “That makes the discussion of introducing new ideas regarding the sentience of wildlife a little easier,” explains Fox. Educating the consumer dwindles demand, as evidenced by sporting goods giant Canadian Tire recently dropping fur at two of its subsidiaries. Atmosphere, one of the stores that stated they will not stock fur, except for their Quebec stores, was a long-time carrier of Canada Goose.


“When you focus on the victim, it is easy to overcome fear.”

In New York, where Canada Goose opened its U.S. flagship last fall, a passionate grassroots initiative has been ignited. Protests in front of the Soho store are a weekly occurrence, and two Anti-Fur Marches have taken place this winter. Posters and stickers bearing the Canada Goose logo with the slogan “Proudly torturing animals since 1957” and “Fur trim kills” are a common sight on buildings and bus stops in NYC and have made their way to other parts of the world.

“Our main focus is to change the way the general public looks at fur,” says organizer Rob Banks. “This issue needs to be handled on different levels — we fight on the streets, educating the public, while others fight to get laws changed.” Through their Facebook page “Stop Canada Goose Now,” Banks and fellow activists share prints, exchange ideas and help activists in cities around the world set up demos. On Instagram, #fuckCanadaGoose appears thousands of times, and even Canada Goose’s own hashtag #AskAnyoneWhoKnows has been overtaken by anti-fur posts.

protest vegan anti-fur

Protestors gather in front of Canada Goose’s NYC store, following the Anti-Fur March in January, 2017. Photo by Kenny Wong.

Banks believes that anyone can find the courage to speak up for animals. “When you focus on the victim, it is easy to overcome fear,” he says. “My actions are posted publicly. It motivates and inspires other activists to come up with their own methods, actions and words. We are all learning and becoming stronger with each encounter.” He has confronted hundreds of people using different tactics. For some, social approval is their achilles heel. “Shaming and humiliating them is the type of attention they don’t desire, making them reconsider wearing fur in public again,” Banks explains. He also stresses the need for diversity of outreach. While social media is an indispensable tool, in-person encounters are “needed to reach the people that normally would never see an animal rights related post.”

He recalls a memorable exchange with a mother and daughter who had stopped to watch one of the protests, unaware that the fur trim on the little girl’s coat was real. Banks suggested that they donate the trim to the activists, who would then send it to an animal rehabilitation center, where donated fur is used as bedding for orphaned animals. “The mother turned to her 6-yearold daughter and left the decision up to her,” says Banks. “Without any hesitation the little girl said, ‘YES!’”


“We wanted to trigger them to think for themselves.”

In the Netherlands, animal rights organization Bont voor Dieren is tapping into that child-like love for animals with When Did You Stop Caring, an arrestingly beautiful video that has an unforgettable ending:


The creative video’s goal was to strike a chord with young people who may otherwise turn away from graphic imagery. “We wanted to trigger them to think for themselves,” explains Bont voor Dieren’s campaigns manager Barbara Slee. The organization teamed up with Reclamebureau Roorda, a Dutch agency with a string of successful anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns targeting kids. They brought an understanding of the science behind behavioural changes resulting from visual campaigns. “The ad agency came up with the idea of showing how important pets are to people, especially children, and to show the contradiction in wearing a fur trim when you’re older,” Slee says.

To the video’s young director, 23-year-old Joren Molter of production company The Boardroom, authenticity was imperative. “I was looking for real moments between animals and kids,” he says of his decision to not use actors. Molter and his cinematographer Tijn Sikken interviewed regular children at home about what they normally do with their pets. The resulting video captures their genuine interactions.

When Did You Stop Caring has not only resonated deeply with the Dutch public, but with the video’s director as well. “I thought, ‘We live in the 21st century, of course it’s fake,’” Molter says of once assuming that all fur trims were faux. With mass production, particularly in China, now causing items with real fur trim to be cheaper than faux fur, he believes that “it is very urgent to tell this story.” To address the growing problem, Bont voor Dieren recently collaborated with a Chinese NGO on an anti-fur website called Fur Free Life. Slee is confident that raising awareness will change the perspective of the Chinese population and for that reason, she says, “It is crucial to invest in education and sharing information.”


“When people stop buying, the animals stop dying.”

To safeguard its tremendous economic interests, the fur trade has been pushing back with “ethical branding” and “greenwashing” strategies. The industry-funded WelFur project promises to ensure high animal welfare standards in fur production — an unattainable goal according to ethicists and welfare experts, due to the inherent problem of confining wild animals to small cages which prohibit essential behaviors like running, climbing and swimming.

fox fur cruel

Norwegian fox fur farm, 2012. Photo credit: Network for Animal Freedom/Norwegian Animal Protection Society.

While marketing its products as ethical, Saga Furs (one of the world’s largest fur auction houses) is covertly very active in China, where animal welfare legislation is extremely limited. “The fur industry’s PR strategy has taken a more sinister turn using similar tactics as the tobacco industry by introducing its version of science in its defense,” says Brigit Oele, program manager of the Fur Free Alliance (FFA), a coalition of 40 international animal protection organizations (the aforementioned Bont voor Dieren and The Fur- Bearers are members.) They share resources and tactics, and collaborate on research projects and campaigns. FFA has successfully persuaded a number of luxury retailers to go fur free, including the Armani Group and Hugo Boss, and works as a “united front” to end the fur trade worldwide. The European countries that have enactied fur bans, Oele says, “Are an example of how, in a modern civilization, the public’s ethical concerns are reflected by law.” And she believes that gains in the anti-fur movement will inevitably benefit animal rights as a whole.“We often see that progress in one area stimulates discussion on other areas in which animals are used for human benefit,” says Oele.

Mark Glover, director of the UK’s Respect For Animals, also a Fur Alliance member, has been at the forefront of the anti-fur movement in Europe for over 30 years. He played a key role in the UK’s ban on fur farming in 2000. It was only after the fur trade was weakened by falling sales resulting from intense public scrutiny, he explains, that a successful political initiative was possible. By the time he appeared as a witness at a Committee meeting in the Scottish Parliament during the debates that led to the ban, the industry had unravelled. “In their desperation … the fur trade circulated a photocopied sheet purportedly showing a meal made from minced mink that was being eaten in China,” Glover recalls. “It was laughed out of court!”

While there are now far fewer fur outlets in the UK, there is a recent proliferation of fur trim, which many people wrongly assume is fake (this is one of the reasons that none of the organizations we spoke with overtly promote faux fur. “If something is deemed immoral, why would you want to imitate it?” says Glover.) Along with calling for clear, prominent labeling, Respect For Animals and their Fur Free Alliance colleagues, will be rolling out a range of initiatives to counter the fur trade’s propaganda.

Among those is an increased involvement with social media, which lends itself particularly well to engaging compassionate young people. “The fur trade’s tawdry message of selling misery in the guise of glamour does not translate to mass social media,” says Glover, who remains confident about the future. “The fur trade will end, as did, for the most part, commercial whaling, but its demise will be consumer led,” he says. “When people stop buying, the animals stop dying. Real fur wearers, especially celebrities, should be ostracized and shunned by the public.”

Facing the Fashion Industry.

In France, animal rights activists are confronted with cultural challenges, often paradoxical ones. “Asking for a [fur] ban is quite a radical question,” says Muriel Arnal, founder of the French organization One Voice. “We have 91 percent of people wanting a label that guarantees there’s no fur. But they are always reluctant to ban. It’s freedom. People need to feel ‘free’ in France.”

While France has only eleven fur farms in operation and obtains its pelts primarily from China and Northern Europe, the country is “big for the fashion industry,” says Arnal. Indeed, Paris is the fashion capital, where the runways are a glut of fur. Passing a ban here could be a watershed moment for fashion. It was for this reason that One Voice, which is also a Fur Free Alliance member, recently released an unprecedented investigation of six French mink farms. “It was a way to show — no, it’s not just in China. It’s bad in France. It’s very bad,” Arnal says. The investigation revealed a complete disregard not only for the animals, but for the environment as well. Extensive media coverage followed, which put the country’s fur producers on the defense — they accused One Voice of doctoring the footage and dodged any discussion. “The TV, newspapers and radio mentioned [the investigation], and I had debates, but the fur industry didn’t want to come and confront what we had to say,” says Arnal. “But it reached the public.”

This is in stark contrast to how things used to be. Twenty years ago, French television would refuse to cover investigations. Arnal recalls how animal rights activists’ homes would be raided by police. “We were accused of being a sect because we were vegetarians or vegans,” says Arnal. Before social media and sophisticated technology, “It took a lot of time to get things done,” she says. “We barely had mobile phones … we didn’t have proper cameras to get inside labs. It was a really lonely battle. Now things are much easier. But it doesn’t make things easier for the animals.”

fox fur cruel

A lonely fox in her small cage on a fox fur farm in Denmark, 2010. Photo credit: Fur Free Alliance.

Where the passage of legislation becomes a challenge, Arnal and One Voice push on in a multitude of other ways, like running the Fur Free Retailer program (French haute couture house Franck Sorbier is the latest to drop fur) and by consistently educating consumers. “We’ll need to show more footage, go back to the public, to the media and say, ‘Look. Don’t forget these animals.’ And remind them constantly. Many people will think, well there is space for improvement. We have to educate people and say, ‘No you can’t. There is no way you can improve the conditions on fur farms.’”

In those early days of the anti-fur movement, what gave Arnal strength was talking to activists from other countries. “I think it’s important to keep having that,” she says. “We really need to learn from each other and to help each other all around the world. There are no borders for animal suffering.”

What You Can Do.

Donate your fur coat or item with fur trim to be as used as comfort for orphaned and injured animals as part of their rehabilitation. Coats for Cubs is a great program, and you can drop off your item at any Buffalo Exchange location. You can also donate directly to wildlife centers that use fur for rehabilitation. Born Free USA is a fantastic organization that also offers a fur donation drive. Although their drive cycle has already ended, you can still donate to their partner sanctuaries.

Swap out your fur garment with a hi-tech vegan one. Wully Outerwear is a Canadian company that offer a $300 discount on any of their parkas when you trade in your Canada Goose (or any similar jacket with fur trim). There are many other functional and beautiful alternatives like Save The Duck; The North Face has vegan collections fit for extreme weather; Vaute; Arc’Teryx is another outerwear fur-free brand with many vegan options. The list goes on.

Get active. Whether educating those around on the inherent cruelty of fur production, or attending a protest, or getting involved with one of the organizations mentioned in this story, or asking a store in your neighborhood to stop stocking fur because they are losing your business — there is a myriad of ways in which to speak up for animals. And remember, you’re not alone.

By Julie Gueraseva