FX Television Spotlights Veganism

Jane and I really don’t care for reality TV. The orchestrated drama is just not our cup of tea. We have watched 30 Days a few times in the past (after seeing Spurlock’s documentary “Supersize Me,” we were interested to hear what he had to say, but over time, we stopped watching). We were very excited to hear that he was doing a show on veganism / animal rights and made sure to be home to watch it tonight.

We fully expected “the flaky vegans” versus the “macho hunter” but we were pleasantly surprised.

The show opens up with George Snedeker at his home, talking a bit about himself and his expectations. He’s an avid hunter and talks about his enjoyment of hunting. He defends it saying, the part of hunting is “to get into nature. The kill isn’t the whole part of it.” My immediate reaction to that statement is that he could hike if he wants to “get into nature.” George goes on to say, “a deer, a cow, their whole purpose is to feed us,” and “I love my dogs, but they are dogs, they are here in effect to serve me.”

His girlfriend throws him a going away barbeque and invited his “posse of meat loving friends.” They thought he might need new T-shirts for his trip and gave him one that said “If eating meat is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Then they teased him that the vegans “might convert you,” and George replies, “You know me better than that.” Sounds like George is going in with his mind already made up!

For the next thirty days, he will be living with a family of animal rights activists, so he must follow house rules:

  • no eating or wearing anything from an animal;
  • work at an animal rescue; and
  • actively partake in animal rights protests.

George’s host family are the Karpel’s. Daughter Melissa is a Los Angeles Campaign Coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Melissa tells George that his first day he will participate in a demonstration in front of KFC. George groans when he hears about the plan. “I’ve never taken part in a demonstration of any kind.” Then he’s shown a video on how chickens are raised for food. After watching, his comment is “I think half of that is bullshit. I’m sure you guys are going to show the ugliest video you can find.” I’m sure there’s truth to that. Sensationalist information has always been used as an illustrative device. The objective usually being to shock people into thinking. But ultimately, George disagrees that animals are sentient and that they have rights.

So on his very first morning, George is dressed in a chicken suit and participates in the protest. He doesn’t really understand the point of protesting KFC. “They’re providing a service people want.” He says “save the world if you want but stay off my dining room table.” I have to say, I agree with this last statement. People have a right to choose what they want to eat. But as I have said in the past, if they are going to make a choice, it should be an informed choice.

George is scheduled to work at Animal Acres –a haven for animals that have been rescued from factory farming environments. Lorri Bauston, runs the facility and talks to George a bit about the huge need to rescue and protect animals. She also mentions that farm animals are excluded from state anti-cruelty to animal laws.

George replies, “I still think, these are food animals. There are certain animals that were meant to be eaten.”

Later George talks about how “everybody’s got these really scripted speeches. Humans are completely different animals. This woman (Bauston) can’t think of anything but her own agenda.” I think this is often the problem when people are impassioned about an issue. They often come across as too militant, and rather than reaching people, they wind up pushing them away. Jane and I have been accused of not being vegan enough because we don’t proselytize, nor do we insist people become vegan. We feel that you are much more likely to reach people if you engage them in dialog rather than yelling at them. I also believe it’s important to gauge your audience and tailor your comments to them.

Jane and I had the opportunity to hear Bauston speak at WorldFest 2008, and thought she was funny and empathetic. She didn’t come across as well here, and appeared to alienate George for a good part of the show.

Melissa and her family appear to be the perfect people to reach out to George. They talk to him, not only about animal rights, but also about hunting. There is one scene where Melissa is looking through a hunting magazine and she appears to be earnestly trying to understand the thrill of hunting.

Ultimately though, George says “They want everybody to stop eating meat, stop eating chickens, stop eating cows. It’s not gonna happen, and quite frankly, I’m not interested in making it happen.”

Next up for George is an Animal Testing protest at UCLA. The protesters are a little more animated here and state that vivisection is animal cruelty veiled in science. George tells us “If one, five, ten animals have to die to save even one human, I’m fine with that.” He then speaks to a scientist who used to believe in animal testing, but no longer does. She tells him about more humane medical testing options — human based tests using human tissue cells and organ cultures. She also tells him this type of testing is far more predictive than any animal studies, and that with time we are going to be able to move away from animal experiments fully. George’s response to all this, “I finally got to talk to somebody that had something (to say) besides a rant.”

Further illustrating our point that militant activism drives people away, George tells the Karpels, “I’m really thankful to be with you guys. You’re just rational. He says that if he’d been placed with Lorri Bauston, he’d have taken his plane ticket and flown home by now.

Interestingly, the first time we really hear about what George is eating is on Day 13, where he’s taken to a vegan restaurant. There isn’t much discussion about what he likes and doesn’t like, but there is a segue into why vegans don’t drink cow’s milk. To which George comments, “Most of America doesn’t really care. ” Melissa replies, “I do think that people care because people don’t like animal cruelty.” But George is probably right, people seem to care more about what tastes good, rather than how that food got to their plates.

On day 18, George is scheduled to ride along with the “cruelty investigator at Animal Acres. He is brought to a dairy farm, and exposed to the poor treatment the cows receive. But what impacts him the most, is the way the calves are treated. “Nobody wants to see this stuff, but I expected to see it and it wasn’t pretty.” He finally appears to be moved by something. “I don’t understand the industry. It’s unfortunate. If we did this to puppies, they’d be in jail right now.” And most promising of all, “I didn’t realize the amount of suffering there was in the factory farms. It seems pointless to me.”

Melissa planned this month well. The next day George is brought to the South Central animal shelter to be exposed to the horrors of euthanasia. He’s told some horrifying statistics:

  • 6-8 million animals abandoned in shelters every year,
  • 90% of the animals are turned in by their owners.

“I’ve killed a lot of deer and it didn’t bother me a bit. But the thought of killing that one dog was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life.”

The next day, George is called up to take part in a late night animal rescue with Frank over at Animal Acres. They wind up rescuing a calf left to die. He’s got congestion and is anemic. Frank tells George there’s a 50-50 chance of the calf surving. George is given a bottle to feed the calf, and is allowed to name him. George is present with “Sugar” as he takes his first steps on open ground.

“It really feels good to have an opportunity to rescue of calf from that kind of situation. I’m in a position today where, golly, I guess my friends wouldn’t believe it, but I guess today I was an animal activist.”

Day 22, and George is scheduled to protest the fashion industry’s use of fur. As if Los Angeles doesn’t have a bad enough reputation, part of George’s activities included painting two naked women (I missed why they were being painted, I was too busy living vicariously through George while Jane was throwing pillows at me — I may have said something about how that sounded like fun).

At the protest site, there’s plenty of footage of George educating the public about animal cruelty. He tells us “I don’t think I’m the same guy. I’m a hardheaded guy. And if it’ll affect somebody like me, it’ll make an impression on everybody. I’m no more a vegan than I was when I stepped into this place, I’m just more informed.” And finally, “I hate to label me, but I think you could say I’m a bit of an animal rights activist.”

The experience was positive for both sides. George sums up his experiences by saying, “When I go back I’m going to be a different person, you can’t witness the things I’ve witnessed and not be different. I can tell my friends, they’ll listen to me. I have changed. Am I gonna hunt? Yeah, I’m gonna hunt. But I do believe that animals have rights.”

“I’m a fan of stopping the abuse and stopping the suffering. It’s just necessary.”

I was pleasantly surprised by this episode.  It was really nice to see both sides reaching out towards each other, and being open-minded.

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