Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A CLOSER LOOK: THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE

“THINK OCCASIONALLY OF THE SUFFERING OF WHICH YOU SPARE YOURSELF THE SIGHT,” philosopher Albert Schweitzer once famously said. In the new documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine, we are asked to look directly at what society routinely averts its gaze from—the lives of the animals we share this planet with. In reality, of course, as this film shows—”sharing” is inaccurate. With over 150 billion animals killed for human consumption annually, and billions more killed for fashion, in vivisection, and exploited for entertainment—”dominating” is a more fitting description of our relationship with our fellow earthlings. Nearly every global industry profits off of the bodies of animals. The film urges the viewer to consider the pain behind ubiquitous things like a pair of leather shoes; the container of milk at the supermarket; a household cleaning product; the circus tent, or the aquarium. The Ghosts in Our Machine arrives at a timely moment, when we as a society are starting to more actively address the moral conundrum and the injustice of hurting animals for our perceived benefit. The film follows renown photographer Jo-Anne McArthur, as she tirelessly documents animals in captivity and in freedom over the course of a year. Through her journey, we discover not only the gravity of animal suffering, but also the depth of animal sentience, as well as our undeniable bond with animals. Here, director Liz Marshall, who has been creating social justice-related projects for close to two decades, offers us some insights into her latest film.

 

 

One can’t say that this documentary is about animals alone, with Jo as a protagonist. It’s also about the human-animal experience. Was that the goal? To make the subject matter more relatable to those unfamiliar with the situation by showing it though the eyes of a compassionate person?
As a social-issue filmmaker I look for creative engaging ways to tell complicated stories, with the hope of elevating tough issues. Not an easy task. It is an issue film, yes, but it is also a cinematic narrative about a photographer. The sentience of animals is at the heart of the film and the sentience of Jo-Anne McArthur is the connective thread that weaves the stories of animal enslavement and liberation together. Through Jo’s heart and lens we meet a cast of nonhuman animals. My instinct to feature Jo as the films’ protagonist was the narrative device that helped me get clearer about the vision I wanted for the film. I knew I wanted the film to focus on the four main animal industries: Food; Research; Fashion and Entertainment, but was looking for a story. Anchoring the issues through an accessible human story of courage and purpose was a way for us all (including the cinematographers and editors) to illustrate ideas and values (like empathy), by showing and not telling.

By changing just one word (“the” to “our”), the title turned a common expression into something deeply reflexive and compelling. But did you ever worry that our fearful cultural associations with the word “ghosts” could misconstrue the title for anyone? Or has that word and title in fact worked to your advantage in bringing more attention to the plight of animals?
Thanks. I love the reflexivity of the title – and believe me I laboured over it – tossed and turned at night! ‘ghost in the machine’ is a common phrase, like ‘return to sender’, I made sure to get legal consultation about this title issue and then we did a professional name search as well, for insurance purposes, because the title was just too important and I wanted to lock into it with confidence during our development phase!  I wanted a variation on the phrase, so that we aren’t looking outward, wagging a finger at someone or some corporate entity, but rather looking at ourselves: Oh, I am part of the machine! Aha! What can I do about that? Also, importantly, a good title inspires the filmmaking process. THE GHOSTS IN OUR MACHINE is a conceptual title and it is always with me, informing the project. The ‘ghosts’ are the billions of animals used within the machine of our modern world; they are hidden in the shadows of our highly mechanized world.

Jo-Anne McArthur during a fox fur farm investigation, Europe. Photo by Liz Marshall.

What did you learn about animals that you didn’t know before you set off
on this path?

A lot. About their moral significance. About their sentience, as defined by the latest scientific reports. About the global magnitude of their suffering. These are things I knew about before, and had sensitivity to, but in living and breathing this project for almost 3 years now, I know it more deeply, as do other key members of our team.  Also, I got to spend time with rescued animals, and form relationships with some of them. It was mind blowing to know Fanny, a former spent dairy cow featured in the film. She is remarkable, so unique and gentle. I miss her and hope to see her at Farm Sanctuary again soon!

And similarly, what did you learn about yourself?
I think I have learned a lot about myself. On a personal level I have learned that it is possible and so vital and important to embrace and connect all forms of social justice: human rights, environmental rights and animal rights. They are interconnected. I didn’t really know that was entirely possible before but do now! On a professional level, I can see that the years and years I have spent (well I am not that old, but since 1995) honing the craft and exploring the language of documentary, and traveling the world with projects, and exploring social issues, I feel that everything has come together with this project. And how that manifests is that I am at peace with the film, it is the film I wanted to make. With other films, there was always something nagging at me that I wanted to change. Don’t get me wrong, there are some details in the film that I would love to change, but I can live with them, I am at peace. Also, the experience of working within this genre and industry has given me added incentive and determination to try to do everything we possibly can to make an impact with this project.

Do you feel like you have a different purpose as a filmmaker now?
Not a different purpose no, but a more defined one. My next project won’t be a romantic comedy, let’s put it that way!

Any future plans to make more films on the subject of animals?
I can’t imagine what it could be … There are many many films about the subject of animals to be made, and they will be made. This my offering, for the ghosts.

 

The Ghosts in Our Machine is currently screening in Canada, and preparing for its release in the United States. The filmmakers are seeking investors to ensure the widest release possible and are also accepting donations.

Learn more about the film:
The Ghosts in Our Machine

Read our exclusive ten-page story, featuring the photography and
narrative of Jo-Anne McArthur in our new Summer 2013 Issue.

Top photo by Jo-Anne McArthur
Introduction and interview by Julie Gueraseva

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

THE SECOND ISSUE HAS ARRIVED!

LOVELY READERS, WE ARE SO THRILLED TO SHARE OUR Second Issue: Summer Abundance Issue! Brimming with vibrant content, bursting with color— this is the place where creativity and compassion converge. We have compelling profiles on future luminaries like our amazing cover star Clara Polito, who at only sixteen years old is already leaving an indelible mark on the world with her vegan bakery Clara Cakes and her passionate activism. Style and substance come together in our first-of-its kind stunning 8 page feature on vegan and ethical fashion, styled by Joshua Katcher. And we continue to showcase the most brilliant discoveries in everything from food to beauty. Of course, as always, we dig deeper with uncompromising features on animals. Like the photo essay and exclusive narrative from groundbreaking photographer Jo-Anne McArthur— for the first time in print, including never-before-seen images from her archives. Contributors like renown author James McWilliams return with spectacularly thought-provoking essays.

Clara Polito Clara Cakes Laika

We get invited into the homes and lives of paradigm-shifting trailblazers like triathlete and Vega founder Brendan Brazier, who shares his lifelong expert knowledge on wellness; and Chef and restaurateur Makini Howell of the celebrated Plum Bistro who gives us an inside look into her signature cuisine. We travel around the country to bring you the most fascinating stories from activists, some who are raising their kids vegan, and others who are declaring their compassion in the form of tattoos.

And that’s just the beginning! With nearly 20 pages more content than the Premier Issue, we have the most innovative and exciting subject matter in the vegan community covered. Made with love, from the heart, this issue is a bold declaration of the limitless possibilities of compassionate living and the abundance of sensory enjoyment that it holds for everyone.

We hope you love our Second Issue: Summer Abundance Issue as much as we loved making it! It will be arriving to our subscribers in the first week of July and hitting newsstands soon after that, and is now available to order on our site! Stay tuned for extras, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes videos. We’re so thrilled and grateful to have you along for this ride!

Cover photographed by Sylvia Elzafon

Clara Polito feature “Girl Wonder” photographed by Joel Barhamand

Fashion feature “Summer Fling” photographed by Balarama Heller

“Philly Flavor” photographed by Hannah Kaminsky

 

 

TERRY HOPE ROMERO IS A MULTI-MEDIA MAVEN, who has been cutting into the mainstream with her unique style of vegan cuisine for years. I will never forget how back in 2010, when I was art directing an issue of the very mainstream and very popular women’s magazine Latina, the editors chose to open the entire Food section with a profile on Terry and one of her recipes. The pull quote from they selected from her read, “Latin food has heart, soul and sabor. And vegan food is friendly to your body and the planet, and compassionate towards animals. Philosophically, the two are a great match.” I was floored. Juggling multiple media outlets is nothing new to Terry. In 2003, she co-hosted the lively DIY-style cooking show Post Punk Kitchen with her vegan partner-in-crime Isa Chandra Moskowitz. The 6-episode show led to the now-hugely popular site, and a vibrant cook book co-authoring career between the two women— long-time friends since their punk scene days. Some of their biggest hits include the vegan cooking bible Veganomicon and the baking must-have Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

In 2010, Terry released her own book, Viva Vegan!, arguably changing the landscape of Latin cooking. Refreshingly humble and reluctant to toot her own horn, she did admit to me when I spoke to her recently that she gets letters from readers like, “Thank you for doing this, I miss eating this food” and “I’m going to give this to my Mom, so she can make healthier choices.”  Her latest book Vegan Eats World deliciously answered the question, What if the world was vegan? with countless globally-inspired recipes. (If you’re in New York, be sure to catch her on May 15 at The James Beard House, reading from this very book). And as if all this wasn’t impactful enough, she has also been on your television— co-starring in the first season of Vegan Mashup, along with vegan chef stars Toni Fiore and Miyoko Schinner, airing weekly on the Create public television channel. I spoke to Terry on the eve of the show’s season finale (tune in May 8th at 8:30am and 2:30pm), and she was kind enough to share one of her recipes.

SCRAMBLED TOFU BREAKFAST BANH MI
This hearty bahn mi filling of golden scrambled tofu packed in a toasted baguette is too good to eat only for breakfasts, eat them up for casual weeknight meals too. You could always just use carrot and cilantro for garnish, but for really amazing sandwiches make the Daikon and Carrot Star Anise pickles!
Makes 4 eight inch, overstuffed sandwiches

Ingredients
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
¾ cup thinly sliced shallots
4 scallions, white and green parts divided and sliced very thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and mince
1 pound firm or extra firm tofu, drained
½ cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably Thai thin soy sauce ) or tamari
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder, any variety

For the sandwiches:
4 six to eight inch crusty sandwich rolls or sliced from 2 baguettes

+ Vegan mayonnaise

+ Cilantro springs

+ Thin slices of ripe tomato

+ Paper thin slices of red radish or matchsticks of daikon or jicama

+ Asian garlic chili sauce (such as Sriracha or sambal oelek)

+ Daikon, carrots and jalapeño peppers sliced into thin slivers

1. Heat a wok or cast iron skillet until nearly smoking, then sauté  mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of oil until tender and browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from wok, wipe down the surface and add remaining oil. Add the shallots and stir-fry until golden, about 4 minutes, then add white parts of scallion and garlic and stir fry for 1 minute. Crumble in tofu, add the mushrooms and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Whisk together vegetable broth, soy sauce, lime juice, coriander, white pepper, and curry powder and pour over tofu. Use a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir fry tofu until all of the liquid has been absorbed and tofu is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Tofu should be moist, but not wet. Add the green tops of the scallions, fry for another minute and remove from the heat.

2. Slice rolls in half and toast if desired. Spread insides with mayo and distribute the tofu evenly on the sandwiches. Top each sandwich with cilantro, tomato, radish, chili sauce, and daikon pickles if using. Eat immediately but over a plate…these are messy goodness.

Huge congrats on the show! Is it important that people, particularly vegans, know how to cook?
Thank you! Absolutely. Vegan food has changed tremendously over the past twenty years. It’s escaping some of the stereotypes of it not being creative, or it being boring, or that it’s limited. I keep talking about the need to cook. Americans probably cook way less than people do in other parts of the world. Showing that vegan food can be made at home that is fun, easy, delicious and interesting for everybody— is very important.

And that’s why a show like this is so relevant.
People love to see shows about food. That’s what’s super current about [Vegan Mashup]. People want to see food and how it’s made and how it’s done. So that’s just sort of the approach of the show. It is still very grassroots. This is not some giant TV cable station or network type craziness. This is really about people kind of doing it for themselves.

Which definitely makes cooking feel less intimidating! You’re known for hardly using any vegan meats or cheeses in your recipes and focusing on whole foods. That said, can you share any recent products discoveries that have gotten you excited?
Oh there’s this cheese made in Switzerland called Vegusto. It’s the best vegan cheese product I’ve had anywhere. It’s incredible because it stinks. I miss stinky cheese! This stuff is very flavorful, very tangy, very smelly. And you can only get it in some parts of Europe. And I brought back a bunch of it back. I’m going to make some grilled cheese, it’ll be fun. But when it comes to writing recipes and publishing cookbooks, I don’t tell people to buy products like that. Even in my baking books, I don’t use egg replacer.

What do you use instead?
It could be bananas or it could be tapioca flour. It’s all circumstantial with what kind of flavor you’re trying to make. I emphasize natural foods. I always tell people, especially more over the years— you could have made this food with stuff you find in the supermarket. You don’t have to go out and buy some exotic weird ingredient, unless you’re doing international cooking. [And if you are], then learn how to use lemon grass, it’s not about buying a certain kind of vegan mayonnaise. Of course, those products can be great in drawing people in who normally don’t eat vegan foods. They certainly have a place, and I’m even doing some product development. I’ve been approached by a tofu company to develop recipes for the Latin-American market.

Exciting! Speaking of the Latin-American market, your cooking is definitely helping to shift paradigms. What has been the response from the Latin community?
I actually grew up in New England, but my family is from Venezuela. I’ve been living in New York City for almost twenty years. My family were not a fan of me becoming vegetarian. So I’m used to the struggle. I also don’t use it as an excuse. “When people say, “it’s a cultural thing, I have to eat meat.” I don’t buy it. I get messages from people, saying “thank you for doing this because I miss eating this food” or “I’m going to give this to my Mom, so she can make healthier choices.”

That’s amazing, and definitely highlights that cooking can in fact be a form of advocacy and activism. We actually just talked to a few activists about working hard and avoiding burnout. What’s your take on that?
It’s really important to try to find balance and do things that actually make you happy, that don’t necessarily feel like a big obligation in your life. That’s where I see people burn out and go crazy—when they don’t leave space in their life that’s purely enjoyable or pleasurable. I have a lot of hobbies in addition to cooking and vegan stuff. I’m really immersed in geek culture. I play a lot of video games, I go to game conventions, I read comic books. Stuff like that. Which is a separate world from “I’m gonna do vegan stuff all the time and just hang out with vegans.” You need to diversify your life.

Another thing that I see when people burn out is that they isolate themselves somehow. It’s important to stay connected with other people: your family, your friends, whoever. Just make sure that you are connected to other human beings in your daily and weekly activities.

Cooking is actually a relaxing activity for me. After ten hours, I’m tired. But on a daily basis, cooking for an hour or two at home— that’s relaxing. I travel a lot. I visit a lot of friends— here, in Europe, wherever I can. If I’m visiting somebody, I start preparing dinner. They’re like “you don’t have to do that, I’ll do that!” and I’m like “no, I actually want to do this. This helps me relax.” (laughs)

So cooking is not only your livelihood, but is also a profound source of joy and well-being for you. When did you know you loved cooking?
Really early. I think I was cooking since I was eleven, twelve years old. Maybe even before that. I found food interesting. I loved reading cookbooks, I loved reading cooking magazines, and my parents let me play around. I think a lot of kids, when you give them the opportunity— really love cooking. They love seeing the textures of vegetables and fruits. When they get a little older, a lot of kids love to bake. If you have kids, you want them to gain an appreciation for food. Let them cook with you, absolutely!

Essentials any aspiring chef or home cook should have in their kitchen?
I think everyone should have a really great knife. Don’t chop vegetables with a little skinny steak knife that you took from your mom’s cabinet. Invest in a really good knife. You don’t have to get a two hundred dollar one. You can get a really good chef’s knife that will last you years and years with a little sharpening and care. Believe it or not, I love the salad spinner, and I use it to wash every kind of vegetable. An emersion blender too— it’s a cheap thing that you can use to make sauces and soups and salad dressing really fast without a problem.

That’s awesome! And what can we look forward to on Vegan Mashup in the future?
We’re hoping to have all three of us together in the same space because Miyoko is in San Francisco. So getting us on the same coast, in the same kitchen— is a dream. And who knows? We might go on location somewhere, get out of the kitchen maybe…

Tune in to Vegan Mashup on:
Create TV

Written by Julie Gueraseva
Photographs courtesy of Terry Hope Romero