NYC Premiere of The Ghosts in Our Machine

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Tonight is an important night for animal rights, the red carpet premiere of The Ghosts in Our Machine in New York City. This incredible film is hitting the big time!

A huge congratulations to all involved in the making of this film, especially the Director/Writer/Producer, Liz Marshall, and the human star of the film, Jo-Anne McArthur. Countless hours went in to this project, and I hope that you are able to sit back and savour the celebrations tonight. I would give anything to be able to be at the premiere celebrating along with you!

This film will have a tremendous impact on all those who see it, and it is such an important reminder of the power of art to change the world. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see it, watch your local listings. Word is there will be more screenings in more locations coming soon. In the meantime, check out the trailer.

Best Birthday Present Ever!

I turned 40 at the end of June, and in the weeks leading up to my birthday many people asked me what I wanted for my birthday. “It is a milestone birthday,” they said, “you need to celebrate in style.”

What I want more than anything is for us humans to stop hurting and exploiting other species. This is why I was absolutely thrilled to received a very special gift from two very special people–a fundraising campaign in honour of my birthday. All funds raised will go directly to Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary. I believe in the important work that Sanctuaries such as Cedar Row do. The rescue, advocacy, and education work that these organizations do is crucial. Places like Cedar Row are also peaceful, wonderful places where you can rub a pig’s belly, cuddle a chicken, and come face to face with a cow. I volunteered at Cedar Row’s open house in June, and over and over again I saw people making thoughtful, compassionate connections between their interactions with these ambassador animals and other aspects of their lives.

A huge thanks to all the wonderful people who donated to this fundraiser! Thank you for helping me celebrate my birthday by helping a cause that is so near and dear to my heart.

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Enjoying some time with Chickpea at Cedar Row Farm Sanctuary.

Blackfish

Blackfish opens today. This promises to be a powerful and important film dealing with whales in captivity. Films like this have an important role to play in shattering the myth that marine animal theme parks are in any way appropriate. People often defend the “educational value” of places like Sea World or Marineland. Want to be educated? Watch the horrifying and heart-breaking footage of these animals being rounded up and taken out of their natural habitats and separated from their families.

One of the best parts of our recent trip to California was that we saw so many marine animals in the “wild.”  One evening we walked down to the beach in Carmel to watch the sunset and noticed 6 dolphins swimming very close to shore. They swam back and forth along the beach, occasionally “jumping” out of the water. It was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed. I didn’t get great photos of this moment, but it will forever be etched in my mind. Seeing these incredible creatures in this setting made me more convinced than ever that marine animal theme parks need to be shut down. How anyone could think that it is ok to confine these creatures in a cement tank is simply beyond me.

dolphins at Carmel

I recognize that not everyone is able to travel to places like Carmel to watch the dolphins, but I simply can not agree that a marine animal theme park is an appropriate substitution. Captivity kills. There is no justifiable excuse for confining creatures in a tank or a cage simply for the convenience of humans. It is possible to appreciate, learn about, and respect animals without having the chance to witness them firsthand. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to travel to Africa, yet I think giraffes are magnificent creatures! If you are so convinced that viewing marine animals up close is necessary, I urge you to take the money you would have spent at Sea World or Marineland (these are not cheap tickets!) and put it in a savings account for a trip to a coastal location like the Monterey Penninsula. It will be well worth the wait!

A Convivial Afternoon of Humane History & Merriment

Next month I will be taking part in a really fun event, an event billed as a “convivial afternoon of humane history and merriment.” This event is hosted by the fabulous National Museum of Animals & Society and will be taking place at the Velaslavasay Panorama in LA.

I will be speaking about the role of visual culture in humane education, with a specific focus on the late 19th- and early 20th- century. In addition to my talk there will be other activities taking place, including temporary exhibits, and crafts. I also hear there will be some yummy vegan snacks at this event.

If you are anywhere near LA I hope you are able to join us for a fun day at this amazing venue!

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Niagara VegFest News

Great news on the Niagara VegFest front! We have received funding from the City of St. Catharines. This will help us continue to build and promote the festival for 2013. A huge thanks to the City’s Cultural Investment Program for this grant.

It may be a cold and gloomy day in Niagara today (apparently it is Blue Monday), but before we know it, Niagara VegFest will be upon us! We are working away getting things ready–much excitement here at Niagara VegFest headquarters! Registrations are starting to come in, the list of speakers is nearly finalized, and we are busy working on other plans for the festival. Stay tuned!

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Picturing Animals

I am delighted to be part of the new online magazine published by Our Hen House. For years I have been a huge fan of the incredibly important work that Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan have done through this site, so it is a tremendous honour to be a columnist for their new magazine.

My column is called “Picturing Animals,” and focuses on the ways in which art and visual culture can be an important part of animal advocacy efforts.  In this column I will be writing about how activists use imagery today, but will also be considering examples of art and visual culture used by activists in previous eras as I think it is important to draw connections between the history of animal advocacy and what is being done today.

I am very excited about the opportunity to write this column–I had been wanting to do more writing that blends activism and academic work, so this is a perfect fit. I’m also really happy to be part of the Our Hen House team. Jasmin and Mariann bring an “indefatigably positive” spirit to the work they do, and I find this tremendously encouraging. Activism can be a tough, lonely, and discouraging road (heck, so can academia!), and it is so easy to get burnt out. However, without fail, every single time I listen to an Our Hen House podcast or hear these two talented women speak I feel inspired to do more, to work harder to help make a difference for animals.

Be Kind

I was honoured to be asked to curate an online exhibit on the subject of “Humane Education” for the National Museum of Animals & Society (NMAS) this year. After several months of research and preparation, the exhibit is now live. I enjoyed working on this project, thrilled to have had the opportunity to bring this story to a broader audience. So many people helped make this exhibit a reality, and I’m so grateful for all of their kindness, hard work, and generosity.

The NMAS is a wonderful museum dedicated to preserving the history of human-animal relationships, a history that has until very recently been woefully neglected by curators, historians, and academics. This is an important history, and the work that the NMAS is doing is so valuable. If you have any artefacts relating to the history of human-animal relationships or advocacy campaigns from previous eras that you would like to donate to the museum, they would love to hear from you!

Niagara’s First VegFest

Saturday June 2nd marked the first ever VegFest in the Niagara Region. I was part of the organizing committee for this event and while we were hoping the day would be a success we simply could not have anticipated the overwhelming response to the festival. Doors opened at 10 am and by about 10:30 we realized that we were going to be seeing some pretty large crowds during the day. The final attendance tally was 1250! This completely exceeded our expectations and at times things got a little crowded. However, everyone was in good spirits and took it in stride. As one of my colleagues remarked, “yeah, it was a little crowded, but it was exciting! It made you feel like you were really part of something.”

We had 30 fabulous exhibitors and vendors who ended up selling out of most everything by the end of the day. We had 4 generous sponsors who stepped up and took a chance on a new festival–a huge thanks to Kindfood, Sestres Coffee Shop, The Naked Sprout, & Bamboo Natural Food Market for their help in making the Niagara VegFest a reality. Thanks also goes out to VegFund for awarding us a grant to help put on the festival. We also were incredibly grateful for the assistance of Niagara Action for Animals and all our fabulous volunteers. What a day! I think more than anything what I took away from Niagara VegFest is just what an amazing community we have here.

I was also so impressed with all of our speakers. Marni Wasserman kicked off the day with a session on green smoothies, and even made enough to give samples to the audience. After that we had Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan from Our Hen House speak on the subject of food activism (one of my favourite topics!). Our third speaker was Chef Douglas McNish who talked about the path that he took to become a vegan chef and cookbook author. (note: Doug sold out of books at the festival–they are a huge hit! Make sure you order one!) Our fourth speaker was local athlete Jennifer Hintenberger, who just happens to hold some world records in kettle bell and who also happens to be vegan. She talked about how she overcame numerous illnesses because of her plant-based diet and I love how people like Jennifer help to shatter the myth that vegans are weak–she is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met! (for more on Jennifer’s story, check out her appearance on this week’s Our Hen House podcast). All of these speakers were so compelling and talked about the many benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. They were funny, engaging, and informative, and I was so honoured that they all so enthusiastically agreed to be part of Niagara’s first VegFest!

We closed the day with a screening of Vegucated, a fabulous film that is getting great reviews all over the world. We had a great audience for the screening and many people have since asked me where they can get a copy of the film for their own collection. It is a must see!

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to the festival and helped make it the success it was. Plans are already under way for the 2013 Niagara VegFest. Stay tuned!

Update: check out Our Hen House’s episode featuring Niagara VegFest!

A Busy Spring So Far!

Spring has been a bit of a whirlwind here so far! The last little while has been one of the most hectic times in recent memory.

I took an quick trip out to Edmonton for the Cross-Pollination workshop at the end of March. This was probably the best professional gathering I’ve ever attended – it was a small, invited group of people which allowed for really good discussions. There were no concurrent sessions and we all were asked to workshop our papers, which had been circulated ahead of time. There were so many interesting topics discussed and it was just amazing to have the opportunity to really think deeply about how “environmental thought and activism” (to borrow from the event sub-title) can emerge from the arts and the humanities. So many excellent papers and so many exciting ideas exchanged. I think I thoroughly enjoyed the entire event, but if I had to pick a highlight I think it would be Lyndal Osborne‘s discussion of her work. Absolutely incredible stuff! (and to think I used to be both a student and a sessional instructor in the same department as Lyndal but did not actually meet her until this workshop. How odd!)

While I was in Edmonton I got to have a quick whirlwind visit with my parents, which was lovely! We went for a celebratory dinner at Padmanadi, one of the most delicious vegan restaurants I’ve ever been to! The food is Chinese food-style, but made with analog meats instead of the “real deal.” Loads of yummy fresh veg too! What a treat it is to be able order anything from the menu!


I also got to spend a fabulous evening with Fiona, a good friend who I haven’t seen in ages because she has been living in places like New Zealand, the UK and Alaska. The stars aligned and we were actually in the same city for the first time in about 5 years! We went to the Hotel MacDonald for old time’s sake (we used to go there for drinks and to restore our sanity when we both lived in Edmonton) and had a blast ordering a ridiculous amount of ridiculously expensive appetizers ($10 popcorn anyone? But it was tossed in truffle oil, so…) We were too busy yakking to take any photos, but it was such a great night!

The week after I got back from Edmonton was the “Thinking About Animals” conference at Brock. It was so amazing to see such a great turn-out for this event. I don’t know the exact count, but people came from all over to discuss, debate and think critically about relationships between species. It was fabulous and I was sorry that I had to miss so many sessions due to teaching and other commitments. (the perils of attending a conference at one’s home institution, I guess)

The 2011 Niagara Social Justice Forum came on the heels of the “Thinking About Animals” conference. I was part of the organizing committee for the NSJF this year, so it was an especially intense time. We had a great day for the forum – beautiful sunny skies, perfect for the nature walks along the escarpment that were booked for mid-day. There were 18 workshops on a wide range of topics (everything from youth homelessness to water access and social media to the rates of diabetes in Aboriginal communities), an “art space” (featuring an exhibition of images to raise money and awareness for Toronto Pig Save, a children’s art competition and a craft table where participants could paint messages of social justice on a banner and make their very own compostable plant pot and then plant an heirloom tomato seed donated to the event by Tree & Twig), a performance by WomEnchant, and a screening of NFB’s Reel Injun. A long, wonderful, rich and rewarding day!


I thoroughly enjoyed all of these events, but I’m glad that the pace is going to slow down a bit now. Classes have ended and it is time to turn my mind to summer research/writing + gardening. I’m looking forward to some new adventures on both of these fronts!

“Do Not Refuse To Look At These Pictures”

The news about the abuse uncovered on an Ohio Dairy Farm by Mercy for Animals has hit the global media. The horrific film footage showing cows and calves being beaten, stabbed and kicked is stomach-turning.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but as anyone who has tried to learn more about where our food comes from knows all too well, abuse of animals in factory farm settings is not uncommon.

There is no doubt that this is difficult stuff to read about, look at, and discuss, but we need to know about it. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me “oh, I can’t look at that stuff. I can’t hear about animal abuse or look too hard into where my food comes from.” These are often well-educated, intelligent people who I love and respect. And yet on this point I must respectfully disagree. If you care about your health, the health of your family, about animals or the fate of our planet nothing could be more important than knowing these sorts of “dirty little secrets” that the factory farming industry would rather we didn’t know.

I’m not saying we should all make a bowl of popcorn and sit down with the family to watch the Ohio dairy farm footage on the big screen TV. And yet, as Ed Burtynsky pointed out during an interview on CBC’s The Current yesterday, imagery is often what brings much needed attention to an issue. Burtynsky was not talking about the Ohio Dairy Farm case but, rather, about another horrific story, the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The point, however, is valid in both instances.

As someone who teaches about and conducts research on visual culture, this point is one that I have spent a lot of time thinking about. Right now I’m doing a lot of work on 19th century animal welfare activism and, in particular, the use of imagery in that movement. The great 19th century reformer Frances Power Cobbe began one of her illustrated anti-vivisection pamphlets with the words: “Do Not Refuse to Look at These Pictures.” She went on to discuss why it was so important for people to see with their own eyes the ways in which animals were treated behind closed doors in medical laboratories. Cobbe recognized that most people would not be granted access to these labs (just as we aren’t easily granted access to factory farm complexes) and, as such, she strongly believed in the power of visual culture to convey this difficult information to a broader public.

Things haven’t changed that much since Cobbe’s day and here I’d like to repeat her plea — “do not refuse to look at these pictures.” We can not keep ignoring what is going on.