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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Comments

  1. I loved this show. I think it was really powerful for these images to be presented by Spurlock rather than a PETA video.

    I was so shocked and saddened that so much of this abuse goes on in the open. I have always seen these PETA videos and such and figured they came from behind closed doors, that somehow factory farmers were ashamed, or at least secretive about how they treat the animals. The fact that they do these things – dragging the calves by their tails, leaving them in the fields to die without regard for the fact that they are being filmed. .. I don’t even know words to describe how I feel about that.

  2. Bea Elliott says:

    I have no doubt that George went home with a duffle bag full of books and literature….. and that he will be exploring the internet for more information – I’m pretty certain also that his friends and family will get an ear full and be moved to discover the truths of animals plight. Knowledge is powerful – I hope the viewers of the show will be curious to learn more as well.

  3. What a great summary and review!! I enjoyed the show as well (minus the naked girl thing, I hate that about PETA) and thought that veganism was presented as a pretty mainstrea, lifestyle and issue.

  4. Thanks for sharing all this Lane. I missed the show b/c I had to work, but it’s good to hear all this and great that so many viewers out there were exposed to this sort of thing.

  5. Elisabeth English says:

    I loved this show…It touched my heart. That this guys goes in so tough & that with a little dose of reality (not screaming & yelling) but facts & showing what is happening, we have a guy who is now going home to tell others about how this cruelty should stop. I honestly think that George will think twice before shooting another defenseless animal no matter what he says :) I saw that this experience touched his heart :) Anyways, I am not a complete vegan but over the years have begun to move away from meat because I am such an animal lover & I can see no justification for the pain they put these animals thru. And, now I see the awful situation, the pain & suffering the dairy cows go thru as well. It breaks my heart. Does anyone know of a dairy farm where they treat the animals with love & kindness? If there is such a thing I will buy all my dairy products from there. If not, I guess Im done with dairy too. If we don’t step up & try to protect the animals (from dogs & cats to cows ect) who will? Certainly not the Mike Vicks of the world…

  6. Hi Elisabeth,

    >>>Does anyone know of a dairy farm where they treat the animals with love & kindness?<<<

    No. It’s virtually impossible. Cows naturally produce milk for a few months of the year, when they are a few years old and have a young calf, then stop and give their bodies a rest. On dairy farms – including small, homespun, family-owned, “traditional,” quaint-with-happy-cow-pictures-on-their-web-site dairy farms:

    – The cows are forcibly impregnated every year starting when they are a little over one year old;

    – The cows are engineered to put out huge quanitites of milk – up to ten times their normal output – which robs their bodies of calcium and weakens their bones;

    – Calves are taken from their mothers and fed formula so that more milk can be sold to humans (which causes great distress to the calves and to their mothers);

    – The cows are killed when only a few years old.

    Other cruelties on small farms may include:

    – Letting sick cows suffer and die;
    – Using prods and other coercive techniques to force cows bound for slaughter onto trucks;
    – Starving cows for one or more days before they are transported to slaughter, since their last meals would not be converted to sellable meat or dairy;
    – Transporting cows long distances with no food or water in all kinds of weather.

    It is far easier and more satisfying to switch to dairy alternatives than to search for the elusive “humane dairy.” Fortunately, dairy alternatives have never been easier to find, more diverse, or higher in quality, and in all those aspects they are improving all the time. Also, web sites like this one can give you great ideas on non-dairy meals as well as provide helpful hints, support, and encouragement. Good luck – you’ll never look back and your heart will be gladdened!

  7. Elaine Vigneault says:

    FYI, there’s an interview with George here:
    http://blog.peta.org/archives/2008/06/30_days_the_aft.php

  8. Elaine Vigneault says:

    “militant activism drives people away”

    I was thinking about this a bit and I wonder:
    1. Do you think George would have been interested in doing the show if he hadn’t seen, encountered, or heard about more militant activism?

    2. Do you think the producers would have thought the should would be interested in doing the show if all vegans were non-“militant’?

    3. Do you think people are completely honest when they say things like, “if those vegans weren’t so mean to me I would have gone vegan years ago” or do you think that’s really just an excuse because people are uncomfortable admitting they weren’t ready to go vegan earlier?

    In my experience, many people react more to the idea than to the way the idea is presented. They react to the idea that they’re doing something wrong. They don’t like feeling guilty or wrong, no matter how they get to that feeling, be it by “militant” activists or by more gentle methods.

    Just some thoughts.

  9. A powerful show. I had to fast forward some of the animal cruelty parts as it makes me so incredible sad. But to see the hunter’s visit with “Sugar” one last time made me cry for joy.

  10. One of the best 30 days shows ever. The guy came in with an open mind and an open heart. In return both were fulfilled. The part where he rescues the calf and the calf takes to liking him brought a small tear to my eye. In the end, humans will continue to eat meat and animal products, but we don’t have to be excessively vicious and cruel to obtain them.

  11. Hi Mikeypod,
    Having those videos on national TV was great. The network did run warnings after every commercial break, however. You should watch Earthlings, if you haven’t already. It’s rather impactful!

    Hi Bea,
    Yes, George indicated he’d be sharing his learnings with his friends back home. He seems to have had a very positive experience (Elaine provides a link to the follow up interview on the Peta blog.

    Hi VeganNoodle,
    It was supposed to be a short review, but I was taking notes as I watched and then it was bedtime and I still hadn’t done my post… Anyway, yes, we loved that too — vegans are NORMAL PEOPLE too!!! Yay! That will certainly help advance the cause.

    Hi Nate,
    Sorry you missed it. Even though I presented most of it, if you have the opportunity to catch it again. FX runs the show a few times during the week. It’s on again on Friday and Sunday. Here’s a link to their schedule, you probably have to check your local TV guide to verify the times.

    Hi Elisabeth,
    Gary of Animal Writings, responds re dairy cows in comment #6. Unfortunately, the myth of the farm that most of us were raised on no longer exists, see this post.

    Hi Gary,
    Thanks for your response to Elisabeth. You pretty much covered the animal rights issues. One health issue to add. In “The China Syndrome,” by Campbell, he talks about how unhealthy milk is, specifically casein. I still haven’t finished the book, so I haven’t blogged about this much… but it’ll put you off milk if the animal rights issues aren’t enough to swing you.

    Hi Elaine,
    Thanks for the follow up link! I enjoyed reading what George had to say after the fact.
    Re militant vegans. I believe the concept of the show wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if the perception of vegans was that we are rational people. The producers are looking for conflict and drama (and ratings). Unfortunately, vegans are looked upon as “Hezbollah-like” (Bourdain). So you can argue that having an outspoken militant faction promotes visibility to the cause. But what kind of attention are you garnering? If you’re accosting people, are they likely to “listen” to your message? More than likely they will label you as an impassioned lunatic and walk away, or “fight back.” Neither of these get you the results you want.
    I also agree with you that people “don’t like feeling guilty or wrong, no matter how they get to that feeling, be it by ‘militant’ activists or by more gentle methods.” But I don’t believe an antagonistic approach is the most effective way to get your message across.
    Interestingly, it appears George agrees with this. He identifies his two worst experiences as being at Animal Acres and the UCLA protest (Q3). He didn’t respond positively to being judged or being verbally abused. If he’d been with a “militant” host family he would have abandoned his stay (he says he would have gone home if he had been housed with Bauston).
    Finally, I think the thing I object to most about the “militant” faction, is that they don’t respect the fact that, right now the way things stand, people have the “right” to eat meat (even if the treatment of those animals is morally wrong). If they were better educated about how that meat got to their tables they might make different decisions. But if you’re yelling at someone, how likely is it that you’ll have the opportunity to educate them?
    “Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” –Henry Ward Beecher — I truly believe this and try to incorporate it in my dealings with others.
    Clarification: the “you” is for conversational purposes, not directed specifically at you. :-)

    Hi Kara,
    Yes, some of those things are hard to watch. I couldn’t believe they actually had the nerve to air that on a nationally syndicated TV series. I would have suspected they’d be afraid of offending their sponsors.

    Hi Emily,
    I think the show was so appealing was that both sides of the story were presented as “normal.” The hunter didn’t look like some blood-crazed barbarian, and the vegans weren’t hippy freaks.
    Yes, Jane and I both believe that humans will continue to eat meat throughout our lifetimes, but we do hope for a shift in the treatment of food animals and perhaps a shift to a less meat-centric diet overall.

  12. I agree with the sentiments about the show. I did, however, take issue with Morgan Spurlock’s introduction, which I wrote about yesterday – nobody has spoken about it, which is strange as his statements actually diminish the importance of the topic being considered.

    I’m speaking of his initial statement about “Should animals have the same rights as us…..”

  13. Hi Alex,
    I missed the opening. Wow, that’s awful. I’ll try and catch the rerun on Sunday. My problem is I’m never really “watching” the television, so I often miss the opening of whatever show I’ve decided to watch.
    Anyway, back to Spurlock. Those type of comments are what I find so repugnant about reality tv. The producers are always trying to create drama, but they have to cram it into their time slot. So you wind up with these incredibly melodramatic soundbites which misrepresent the situation.
    I’m very disappointed that Spurlock, who lives with a vegan, would trivialize this issue in that way. Hopefully I’m not the only one who missed those opening comments.

  14. I don’e get Fx so I couldn’t watch it sadly.

    I’m not a 100% fan of PETA since their caring consumer book is not right. I’m deeply saddened by this. Most of the companies they list as ‘cruelty free’ are not since most of the companies get ingredients from suppliers that test on animals. It’s very misleading . I ‘ve written many letters and emails to the misleading companies to only use ingredients from suppliers that do not test on animals but they refuse. The right list is the CCIC’s list which can be found at http://www.leapingbunny.org/
    I hope this helps people. You can compare the list with PETA’s list and see the big difference.

  15. Hi Dawn,
    There is so much we don’t know about the products we consume. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Thanks for the link. I’ll be sure to check it out.

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