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John Robbins

really serious about getting well, there is this book.” And not knowing that there was any relation between the two Robbins he took Diet for a New America off the shelf and handed it to my father. I would love to have been a fly on thatwall.(laughter)

My father didn’t say anything, but he took the book home and read it. After all, he was being told this by the high priest of western medicine! He made changes to his diet and he’s gotten tremendous results in his own health. Today his cholesterol is 150. His blood pressure has come down so much that he only takes one blood pressure pills every other day. His diabetes is in complete remission so he doesn’t need insulin, his circulation has improved tremendously and he’s lost a lot of weight. His golf game has also improved almost ten strokes, which may be the most important to him.(laughter)

We used to argue all the time and I remember him saying to me, “look, you’re an idealist, and that’s very nice when you’re young, but you have to get over it in order to be successful. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is.” And I would reply that if you don’t have your integrity, you don’t have anything. Recently he said to me, “thank God some of us have lived long enough to learn a few new things.”

Rebecca: So it’s been harder for your mother to accept these things?

John: Much. Usually it’s the other way around, I know. I think my mother always felt that she was in charge of the food department (laughter) and she seems to feel that I’m saying she fed us wrong.

Rebecca: But you are saying that.

John: No. She did the best she can. My mother always felt that she was in charge of the food department, and she seems to feel that I’m saying she fed us wrong.

Rebecca: Could you describe for those who aren’t aware, some of the conditions that you have witnessed that are going on as we speak in factory farms all over America.

John: I could point to the worst places where the conditions are most stressful on the animals, the diet is the most unnatural and the people are the most callous, but I’d rather just describe the industry norms.

Veal calf are male calves born to dairy cows. The females are shunted in one direction on their way to becoming four-legged milk pumps and the males are taken away at birth or the next day. They are baby mammals and they desperately want to suckle, but they’re not allowed to. When you look at their faces you see that this is an infant here, you see the innocence and the vulnerability and the preciousness, and then you see the exploitation.

Standard operating procedure for veal calves is to chain them at the neck in stalls or cages so tiny that they can’t even take a single step in their entire lives. They stand knee deep in their own excrement wailing and crying for their mothers. The diet which the calf is fed is designed to be deficient in iron.

The factory-farm workers play the edge so that the anemia won’t kill the creature before it’s four months old which is when its slaughtered, but a lot of them die anyway or go blind because they play the edge and then go past it. The reason they want to do this is because the flesh becomes a lighter color and we’ve been trained to believe that lighter meats are healthier – it’s really just the flesh of a tortured baby animal.

Standard operating procedure for layer hens from which our eggs come from is to cram the into cages so tightly that they can’t even lift a wing. The floor of the cage is mesh and their claws constantly get stuck in them. It’s totally unnatural.

Broilers – birds from which chicken meat comes – are kept in warehouses and never see the light of day. These are animals that crow under natural conditions and which are extremely sensitive to light rhythms. The industry manipulates their hormonal responses with fluorescent lights which are sometimes on 24 hours a day, other times not on at all, all contrived to get the maximum possible weight gain in the shortest possible time. Part of that process is antibiotics mixed into every dose of feed and sprayed into the air they breathe.

It’s the same mentality that is generating the conditions that hogs and dairy and beef cattle are in. Beef cattle are on cement for the second half of their life in the feed-lot and they’re penned in so tightly that they can hardly move around. They’re implanted with artificial hormones in their ears. We’re the only industrialized country in the world that still does that and we do it to 99% of our beef cattle.

Rebecca: What about the conditions that pigs are made to live under?

John: Hogs are in individual stalls as adults, and they’re in tiered cages, three stalls high. Again, the cages are so small that they can’t move. The excrement from the upper stalls drops down continuously through the slots onto the heads of the ones below. Contrary to popular belief, hogs don’t like to be dirty and they will never soil they’re own bedding under normal conditions.

They also have extremely sensitive noses which enable them, under natural conditions, to root around and actually smell edible roots through the earth. Here, piles of their own excrement build up so that the ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and the other gases give off an unbelievable smell. It’s standard for nobody to clean it up for months on end.

David: What do you think is the best strategy for helping animals gain the right to live lives without this kind of cruelty?

John: There are many things that we have to do. We have to learn to respect ourselves and our needs as animals and the entire web of life on this planet. If you expect someone to treat the world well who doesn’t treat themselves well, you’ll be sorely disappointed, and someone who smokes and pollutes their own lungs cannot be expected to be as sensitive to air pollution from smoke stacks.

A society that looks at a forest and immediately starts measuring board feet, objectifies the forest and sees its value only in terms of how it can be converted into revenue. That same mentality looks at another human being and says, how can I put that person to work for the glorification of my own ego or for the expansion of my own wealth? There’s no cherishing involved.

Rebecca: So you’re saying that if we can develop greater respect for one another then somehow that will spill over into a greater respect for other forms of life?

John: Yes, and vice versa. I know many people who are not able to love other human beings – they’ve been too traumatized – but they are able to love an animal, and through that love, are able to learn to relate to others. Maybe they can’t be intimate, but they can have a more benevolent relationship with other people than they would have been able to have without the animal.

Rebecca: But some people have extremely intimate relationships with their cats or their dogs, and have a whole different category of thinking for a cow or a pig that’s lying on their dinner plate.

John: This is one of the myths that is being perpetrated – that some animals are part of the circle of compassion and others are not. Why do you call some animals pets and other animals dinner? Historically it used to be – and it still is to some extent – that an animal which is destined for human consumption is exempted from the laws restricting cruelty to animals. In other words, you can do anything you want to an animal as long as you’re going to eat it – hence the treatment of veal calves.

David: What if you were going to eat your dog or cat?

John: I don’t know. It would be very interesting for that to be tested. There are Filipino communities in the United States where they carry on the cultural tradition of eating dogs. Most people who wouldn’t think twice about the treatment of veal calves would find it very objectionable to see a dog treated that way.

David: A basic truth about animals is that in order for them to exist they have to feed on other living things. A lot of people have had experiences which have led them to believe that plants are conscious beings. Why, in your opinion, is eating the corpses of plants, more compassionate than eating the corpses of animals?

John: Look at it this way. It takes 16 lbs of grain to make 1 lb of beef. It takes 1 lb of grain to make 1 lb of bread. So, how many more plants are you eating if you eat a pound of beef? Secondly, I’ve harvested cabbages and pulled up carrots out of the ground and I’ve been in slaughter-houses and seen the animals have their brains bashed out with sledgehammers and their throats cut – the experiences are not comparable.

David: But don’t you think that could be a species bias because animals are life forms that are more similar to us?

John: The animals do everything they can to resist: they fight, they scream, they secrete adrenaline. They have nervous systems with pain receptors and what I would call `souls.’ In the middle ages the church had a conference to decide whether animals and women had souls. Women squeaked by with one vote but animals didn’t get through.

But animals do have souls and they do want to live. I think that plants have group souls and I don’t think that taking an individual plant ruptures the fabric in the same way that the violence of killing an animal does. It is a matter of degree of course, but I really feel that this question

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