by Andrew Kirschner, Ed.D.
If you care about animals, you’ve likely heard the name Philip Wollen. You were probably first introduced to the former Citibank Vice-President turned vegan animal rights activist when you watched his unforgettable “Animals Should be Left Off the Menu” speech. A recipient of the prestigious Australian of the Year award, Wollen works tirelessly to inspire the public to show compassion for all animals. But where is he now and what is he doing?
Philip agreed to join VegWorld for an exclusive interview about his legendary animal advocacy crusade.
VegWorld (VW): Why aren’t more people vegan?
Philip Wollen (PW): This is a question for the ages and one that utterly perplexes vegans! To us, the consumption and use of any unwilling animal is incomprehensible. I prefer to ask, why is anyone a carnist? The default position should be veganism–and the exception should be carnism. To a large degree, we consume what we are taught to eat whilst in our parents’ protective arms. Of course, there are some vegetarians who are subsequently seduced by peers, the media and, alas, even some misinformed doctors that eating animals is advisable.
In a sense, every carnist is happy to consume one species while finding a different species utterly repugnant. There are literally hundreds of species (most) people do not consume. Dogs or cats, bears or bats, horses or hamsters, rosellas or rats. I simply ask that they go five animals more–cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and fish.
Ultimately, it involves widespread education on the consequences of carnism–cruelty, human health, busted fiscal budgets and global economies, bankrupt companies, water wastage, greenhouse gas pollution, zoonotic diseases, dead zones, and a suspension of our critical faculties to conduct a rational discourse on ethics.
VW: What is the most effective campaign you’ve engaged in to increase veganism or prevent animal agriculture?
PW: Every project and group that I support in many countries has the objective of leading humans towards a vegan world and they do so in various ways.
For management purposes, each of my projects is located in a “silo.” Kindness Kids, Kindness House, Kindness Farms, Kindness Oceans, Kindness Skies, Kindness Streets (animal birth control), Kindness Mobile Restaurants, and Kindness Awards. A Kindness Farm, operated entirely by local NGOs, will produce fruit, nuts, vegetables, and spices and also provide care to a number of different species of rescued animals. It will also provide information on the health, environmental, water conservation, and economic benefits of veganism. A Kindness Kids program will educate children and at the same time enlighten their families on the imperative of living an ethical, healthy and compassionate life. Kindness House, an incubator for dynamic NGOs helped hundreds of energetic activists defend forests, oceans, and the environment by providing free offices and outreach facilities as long as they also promoted the benefits of veganism to their membership.
It is difficult to choose which group most effectively campaigns against the animal industrial complex but, if pressed, I would nominate Visakha SPCA, Sea Shepherd, VegVic and the various Animal Liberation groups.
VW: What can the animal advocacy movement learn from your experience as an animal advocate?
PW: It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I have anything to teach anybody. Suffice to say, I have learned a great deal from other advocates and from making my own mistakes along the way. I have learned to forgive failure. None of the activists I have met deliberately set out to fail. But some of them lack the skills needed to manage programs, lead volunteer teams or demonstrate attention to detail. Most of all, I ask them to remember that none of us is as smart as all of us. And I urge them to see each other not as competitors fighting to carve out a slice of a donor pie. Rather, to see themselves as being fellow travelers on the Kindness Train, seeking to bring more donors into the circle of influence. We also need to have a paradigm shift in leveraging our networks. If I convinced every single person that I meet to go vegan, I would still consider my life to have been a failure. What I really want to do is create solid vegan activists – preferably by bringing the brightest and best non-vegans from industry, commerce and the professions into the vegan movement.
VW: Is the animal rights movement strategic enough? If not, what should we be doing differently?
PW: I get the sense that there are many movements–not all of them are focused on animal rights, per se. If we were to classify the “movement” more generously than the typical rights/welfare dichotomy, then I would say we have an “animal protection” movement – which is highly balkanized. Of course, there are some organisations which claim to be “strategic” but their strategies do not meet with universal acclaim.
Paradoxically, the “movement” expends a disproportionate amount of time, energy, money and groundswell support by bickering amongst its constituents. Unlike the Animal Industrial Complex which circles the wagons at the remotest threat of any incursion from activists, we turn on each other. This internecine warfare is counterproductive and the real victims are the animals we putatively protect. But as Rumsfeld said “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.”
VW: To what degree do you believe we will be able to end animal agriculture? What do you see in the future for farmed animals?
PW: Sans a dramatic suite of pandemics which unleash a smorgasbord of zoonotic diseases on us, I despair that I cannot see an imminent end to the Animal Industrial Complex. It is unlikely that it will end before the human species.
The industry will not immediately be a willing participant in re-engineering towards a pro-vegan industrial economy–unless we can show it to be profitable, relatively painless financially and ultimately inevitable. Corporate inertia is a powerful force. Fortunately, these are not insurmountable obstacles to the rational mind.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the ravages caused by the tobacco industry one in three adults in the world still smoke.
The UN’s International Labour Organisation estimates that even in this modern age there are more than 20 million slaves criminally forced into labour bondage.
Despite the efforts of every government, faith group, and educational institution in the world to end theft, abuse and violence, these crimes show no sign of abating.
Cruelty in the animal industrial complex is no less a crime, and yet is avidly supported by these very institutions that treat it not as a crime, but an unavoidable factor-cost in the food supply chain.
If we can’t end crimes like violence, child labour, or stupidity like smoking (all of which are universally condemned), our chances of entirely eliminating animal agriculture is a “triumph of optimism over experience.”
Nevertheless, as an interim strategy, we can stifle the industry by re-gearing the economic drivers–supply, demand, and profits by making animal products as prohibitively expensive as possible–say with high tax imposts and food safety controls.
I also urge activists to establish strategies which make meat-eating a socially unacceptable practice. The anti-smoking, anti-fur and anti-circus groups have done creditable jobs of doing so in the West.
One day “meat” will be seen in the same light as an ugly mistress. One may desire her body, but will not want to be seen out with her in public. (The converse applies to the opposite gender).
Nevertheless, we must firmly, politely and unrelentingly do everything we can to make veganism the default condition for an ethical, healthy, profitable and sustainable life. Most of all, we must be uncompromising in our vegan objective.
There is a wonderful anti “Drink and Drive” commercial on Australian TV. “If you Drink and Drive, you are a bloody idiot”.
I have a sign on my building. “If you are not a Vegan, you are a bloody vandal.”
Andrew Kirschner, Ed.D. is a writer, radio show host, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, fundraiser, and event organizer for farmed animals. A volunteer animal rights activist since attending the historic 1990 March for Animals in Washington, D.C., Dr. Kirschner dedicates his life to helping to make the world a more compassionate place.