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Here’s to a Better Tomorrow: Q&A with Animal Rights Advocates

Posted Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Holistic Holiday at Sea’s 15th-anniversary cruise is finally here! We are so excited to have so many friends returning this year in addition to all the new people we are about to meet. We have a full schedule packed with educational material, stories of healing and recovery, and fun ways to live a better life.

To take advantage of all the opportunities, take a look at this year’s program and jot down which classes, lectures, panels, demos, and events you think you’d like to attend. On the evening of Saturday, February 17, as we travel to our first stop at St. Thomas, five animal rights leaders will come together in one place for a Q&A panel discussion. Learn about the plight of animals used in the entertainment, experimentation, clothing, meat and dairy industries and how society is responding to the increasingly large and powerful message of the animal rights movement.

Melissa Karpel

Participants include Ingrid Newkirk (president and founder of PETA); Dr. Neal Barnard (founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine); Dr. Jonathan Balcombe (editor of Animal Sentience); and Gene Baur (co-founder and president of Farm Sanctuary). The panel is moderated by Melissa Karpel, Philanthropic Specialist with the PETA Foundation. In a previous blog post, we asked several important questions about themselves and their work. To feed our curiosity (and yours, too), we posed a few more questions. We hope you find their answers as inspiring as we do!


In your professional life, what are the two top obstacles (besides public ignorance) that you face in accomplishing the work you set out to do?

Ingrid Newkirk: Getting into the press when the press is so taken up with celebrities, politics, conflict and nowadays, a lot of natural disasters; and funding because the more funds, the more work any social service group can do.

Ingrid Newkirk

Ingrid Newkirk

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe: The deep-seated hierarchical thinking that puts non-human animals beneath humans. And the deeply-held misconception that we must make sacrifices to help animals, when in fact a human society that is compassionate to animals would be a much kinder and gentler place—a happier place—for humans to live in, too.

Melissa Karpel: I believe that most people have an innate and genuine compassion for animals, and it often shows in their care for the dogs or cats who live in their homes. Sadly, when it comes to changing one’s lifestyle in order not to support abusing animals for food, clothing, or entertainment, people tend to shut down and don’t want to address it. They know it will be upsetting to hear about and will make them question their daily choices. But once people open their eyes to the things that they pay others to do to animals, they’re also willing to hear about how easy it is to eat vegan and live a cruelty-free lifestyle. I live in a very small town that’s in the heart of the animal agriculture industry in Wisconsin, and even our little local Piggly Wiggly grocery store has vegan cheese and a whole variety of non-dairy milks—that’s progress!

I also think that “compassion fatigue” is a very real and present problem among activists. We’re constantly surrounded by images and stories of abuse and suffering, and it takes a massive toll. I’m still in the process of learning how to deal with this fatigue, but I’m reminding myself to stay focused on the victories (and there are plenty!) as well as talking about it with other like-minded individuals. Hearing tips on how others cope is helpful, too.

Gene Baur: Two obstacles I often face when encouraging people to eat plants instead of animals are 1) a fear of change and 2) an infrastructure that enables and incentivizes bad food choices.

Gene Baur


Dr. Neal Barnard: That’s it: public ignorance. But we’re turning it around quickly.

What are three things that someone can do on their own to get better educated on the topic of animal rights and/or feel more connected to animals in general)?

Ingrid Newkirk: These days, it’s easy as pie: just go to peta.org and get an eyeful—some fun, some sad, some funny, all enlightening—and learn tons in a short investment of time; and you can pick and choose which topics you’d like to learn about.  2. Veganize your life: avoid any foods, clothing, entertainments, and products that come from animal suffering and death. I have a book called Making Kind Choices that shows how powerful the simplest daily decisions are in safeguarding animals or putting them at risk of harm. Most people are amazed at their options! 3. Adopt, spay/neuter, and respect the dogs and cats and rabbits in the home because they are not … props, they are emotional individuals with moods, desires, interests, and more, just as all the other animals we are not lucky enough to meet or get to know. All of them.

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe: Stop eating animals. (It will free you to view animals as beings who don’t deserve to suffer.) Watch house sparrows, starlings, squirrels, etc. Gaze at them long and hard. Reflect on their biographies. Read my books Second Nature, Pleasurable Kingdom, and What a Fish Knows.

Melissa Karpel: We’re so lucky to be living in a time when all people need to do is turn on a computer or just look at their phones to be informed about a topic. PETA’s videos get millions of views, sometimes daily, and social media is a huge part of that.

So, I would say that people can do the following three things to be better informed about animal rights:

  1. Watch videos of eyewitness investigative footage. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s depressing. But those animals are living in that hell 24 hours a day, every day, and we owe it to them to know what’s happening and to make positive changes in our lives so that we’re not supporting that abuse any longer.
  2. Take a look at your dog or cat and understand that pigs, cows, chickens, and other animals are just as capable of feeling fear, pain, loneliness, happiness, and love as the animals who share your home.

Watch one of the many awesome movies and documentaries that are both entertaining and educational—Okja, What the Health, Earthlings, Forks Over Knives, and Food, Inc., just to name a few!

Dr. Neal Barnard: It’s very easy. By simply reflecting on the experiences of animals on farms or headed for slaughter, you cannot help but want to avoid being part of it. And of course, there are a million great videos and lots of information online.  

Neal Barnard


Gene Baur: Some things people can do to get better educated on animals and animal rights include, visiting an animal sanctuary, checking out documentaries, and otherwise availing oneself of information online, and getting connected with like-minded animal groups and individuals in our community.

Do you have any numbers or statistics in your personal/professional work that show we’re making some progress in this initiative?

Ingrid Newkirk: We are currently the #1 social cause web presence in China where animals need all the help they can get as there isn’t a single law to protect them; and our video views on peta.org and the related sites now routinely soar into the millions; and our youth division, peta2, is the biggest activist youth group for any cause in the U.S., so those 3 figures are my favorites.

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe: I’m always encouraged by dietary shifts. Just this morning I read that cow’s milk consumption in the US has dropped from about 30 gallons per capita per year in the 1970s to about 18 gallons today. Meanwhile, demand for plant-based milks has been flourishing, with almond milk sales alone growing 250% in the past five years. I was glad to see a moratorium put on cruel cownose ray killing contests in Maryland, where miscreants use bows and arrows to shoot pregnant females in the shallows from boats. May they decide to ban such spectacles.

Dr. Jonathan Balcombe

Melissa Karpel: Oh, the progress is so exciting on every front. I encourage you to visit PETA’s website to see its milestone victories over the last 37 years. It gives me hope every time I see that list!

Additionally, there is progress being made every day for animals. In just one year, PETA saw these watershed moments take place:

  • PETA ended 30 years of maternal-deprivation experiments on baby monkeys at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Following an intensive PETA campaign, SeaWorld agreed to stop breeding orcas.
  • PETA blew the lid off the ostrich slaughter industry and persuaded Global Brands Group to ban ostrich skin and feathers from its brands, including Juicy Couture, Jones New York, and many others.
  • The National Aquarium announced that it would release the dolphins held captive there to an ocean sanctuary after PETA protested the opening of its dolphin exhibit. PETA donated $10,000 to facilitate this release.
  • As a direct result of PETA’s work, The New York Times editorial board condemned the use of animals in military trauma training and called for the Pentagon to ban the practice.
  • Because of relentless pressure by PETA and its international affiliates, the global demand for animal skins fell so far that China—the world’s largest supplier of fur and leather—was forced to close many processing plants.
  • PETA’s youth division, peta2, reached more than 400,000 young people at colleges, music festivals, and other events, and the peta2 Youth Action Team grew to more than 140,000 members.

PETA’s vital role in these sweeping changes is rooted in its unparalleled efforts to change hearts and minds. In 2016, the organization’s videos received an average of 2.75 million views daily. And every day, the group hears from people who say that a PETA video inspired them to go vegan or make other cruelty-free choices. And PETA is there to help people make the transition or to stick with it! Last year, PETA filled requests for more than 508,000 free copies of its vegan starter kit. I’d encourage any kind person who feels overwhelmed by all the cruelty and exploitation out there to take a look at PETA’s victory page. The inspiring progress will lift your spirits.

Dr. Neal Barnard: Meat consumption in the U.S. has dropped by about 10% in the past decade.

Gene Baur: Among the most compelling information showing that people oppose factory farming and desire plant-based alternatives are the growing number of farmers’ markets, and the growing demand and sales of plant based and organic foods.

See You Soon!

This Q&A panel is just one of many wonderful opportunities to learn from the best of the best. Enjoying the session? Take a pic! Enter our Photo Contest for the chance to win $200 onboard credit for the 2019 cruise. Bon voyage!

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