From a meatless Monday, to a pescatarian or a full vegan diet, any reduction of animal products can positively help the environment. Today, I speak to Ondine Sherman who is the Co-founder and Managing Director of Voiceless, the animal protection institute.
She is a life-long animal advocate, passionate about promoting respect and compassion for all creatures. Ondine is a director of conservation NGO, This is My Earth (TiME) and a director of the MCT8-AHDS Foundation and Sherman Foundation.
Ondine Sherman is the author of a memoir, The Miracle of Love, several YA fiction books and the recent Vegan Living – an easy guide to a cruelty-free, vegan, plant-based life.
I speak to Ondine about her new book and we explore the environmental benefits of veganism, climate challenges caused by animal agriculture and also some of the challenges people may face when removing animal products from the diet from a health or societal point of view.
No, you don’t have to be a vegan to listen to this one. Ondine offers a warm yet informed introduction to a vegan lifestyle and I hope you enjoy this episode.
Angela: Thank you for joining me on PROTECT Ondine and congratulations on your new book, Vegan Living.
Ondine: Thank you so much for having me.
Angela: So happy to have you here Ondine. Such a lovely book, an easy read and it’s really resourceful whether you’re just curious or currently a vegan. So I wanted to know when did you begin your vegan journey and has in turn prompted this book.
Ondine: Yes, it’s been a long journey. It’s been a long journey. I know a lot of people make an overnight change from omnivorous diet to veganism. For me it started when I was a kid, when I was seven, over the dinner table when we were actually – I tell this story and everybody gets quite horrified – my grandmother lived with us and she made a traditional Eastern European dish which is tongue and something about the connection between tongue and the food on my fork and my love of animals made a switch go off in my head, and I realised, as many kids do that meat or animals – and I loved animals and I didn’t want to eat my friends – and luckily my family was supportive and I became a pescatarian for many years and got involved in the animal advocacy movement and became very, very passionate about protecting animals and I learnt about the many horrific things that were happening to them. Then when I started Voiceless many, many years later with my father, I did some deep dive research into the animal industries in Australia including the dairy industry and the egg industry and I learnt about all the cruelties associated with those industries as well. That was a big shock for me because it wasn’t an issue that was widely discussed, especially dairy.
So it’s taken me a long time to become vegan – I think it’s been about six years or so now as I say in the book, I think it’s a journey and every step of the way should be celebrated and everything that people can do to reduce their intake is something that is positive and we should applaud.
Angela: Definitely. We just have to start small, I guess. Now I just have to commend you Ondine on the non-judgemental tone in this book. I found it quite refreshing, it’s very well researched and encouraging and I feel like there’s something for everyone.
Ondine: I did a big survey and interviews with 150 vegans. The vast majority of vegans are very non-judgemental and very excited whenever anybody makes any kind of efforts in that direction but unfortunately, as many things seem to happen these days, online and in social media, a lot of judgement comes out. I think one of the things I talk about in the book is protecting one’s emotional health and mental health, making sure you’re not objecting yourself to judgement or angry people. You want to be like bringing yourself up and as I said every positive step is something good for animals even if we reduce animal products one day a week that makes a direct/big difference to animals and affects animal industries and their profits. I think the non-judgemental approach is the ticket to success in bringing more people into this journey and it’s the way most vegans feel.
Angela: Good to know a meatless Monday for example can make a difference. Thank you Ondine. So many people adopt a vegan diet due to their empathy for animals so could you please explain the difference between animal welfare and animal rights.
Ondine: Yes, it’s a spectrum. So some people and some philosophies will fall between the two and also some organisations and some people will take an animal welfare approach for strategic reasons even if they believe in animal rights. The difference really is that people who believe in animal welfare you know are okay with animals being used in industries and for profit but believe that their lives should be reasonably good. So, an example would be horse racing they would want to stop using whips on horses but horse racing itself they wouldn’t have a problem with. As is the pig industry, they would be against putting pigs in cages or stalls but they would be okay with the commercial production of pigs.
Whereas animal rights people often believe that animals have inherent value, we don’t have the right to be killing them and producing them for our pleasure or our profit that we need to live in harmony with animals because they live their own lives and because they have their own rich, complex, social experiences. They’re not ours to use. That’s a very broad definition but it does lead to a lot of differences in how people communicate and react to issues.
Angela: Of course. So I did personally find some of the conditions of animals in food production a little bit distressing however there were some really beautiful notes about the personalities of pigs and I liked learning that chickens go into REM sleep and dream. So I wanted to explore sentience that you mention in your book. Could you explain that?
Ondine: Yes, I mean animal sentience is something that’s becoming more and more understood in recent years and there was a statement by a very prominent group of scientists, I think it might have been Cambridge about sentience where they qualified that animals are sentient which means they have the capacity to feel emotions, feel fear, pain, pleasure, joy and so on.
For many years, historically, animals were considered to be ultimatums without any ability to have feelings but I think common sense prevails, we all know, we just have to spend time with a dog or any animal to know that animals have emotions. So the concept of sentience is becoming bigger and bigger and scientists are exploring and discovering quite shocking and amazing information about animals. There hasn’t been a huge amount of research into an animal emotions or animal experiences and as soon as there is research amazing things are discovered.
For example, fish. I mean fish are a classic example of animal we thought was not sentient and it couldn’t feel pain but now that’s been refuted and scientists have acknowledged that they do feel pain but they also have very rich, emotional, social lives that we also didn’t know anything about but there’s been a new study about how they communicate under water using vocalisations and even songs. So they have a language that even we don’t understand so we’re starting to see signs that there’s a whole world that we don’t know about so when we make assumptions about animals – that they’re this or they’re that – it’s really not based on a huge amount of scientific data.
Angela: That’s incredible. I look forward to more information in that space. So now I’d like to discuss veganism in terms of climate change because of animal protection. What other environmental benefits are there to veganism?
Ondine: I think people who consider themselves environmentalists, or people who are passionate about climate change or stopping climate change need to look at the effects of animal agriculture around the world on the climate and the environment. So they’re two quite different things but they’re interrelated. I mean animal agriculture and livestock, grazing of livestock is one of the leading causes of habitat destruction in the world. Ninety one percent of the Amazon is cleared and affected by farm, animal agriculture. And this leads to species extinction and water pollution and pollution run off that causes dead zones in the ocean and apart from that, the animal agriculture industry is a bigger cause of gases and climate change than all of the transport sector including all the cars, trains, aeroplanes. It’s something that isn’t talked about a lot but it’s a huge, huge effect. Primarily the cattle and the amount one has to clear for cattle. In Australia, the cattle and sheep – I mean the majority of land clearing in Australia is for the grazing of cattle and sheep. This has a really horrendous effect on the Australian soil, compacting the soil because they’re hard hooved animals causing the laundry list of issues from soil degradation to the pollution of rivers – you name it. So it’s an issue that needs a little bit more attention but slowly, slowly it’s starting to come into the light.
Angela: Gee, that’s really disheartening to hear to be honest. We have a lot of work to do. So I just wanted to move into intersectionality. So what are other ways people are supporting the environment and the community by protecting animals.
Ondine: Intersectionality, in the bigger picture is when different social justice movements intersect and come together to solve much bigger issues of justice and exploitation and discrimination. I give an example in the book that one can have a vegan event, but still use disposable plates that are going to end up in landfill and pay your workers below minimum wage and not have a diversity of gender and ethnicity and not be accessible for people with disabilities and be sexist – there is a lot of ways that one can be vegan but trample on other people’s rights or environmental rights. So we’re learning more and more and it’s been really fascinating for me to start learning and following people who are working in this space. How we as a movement not only be mindful but active in this space, other issues such as anti-racism, issues with disabilities and so on. So we’re not kind of focusing on one area while then potentially contributing to the harm of other people or other parts of the world.
Angela: It’s definitely gaining traction this year I feel so I guess that’s a positive. So, I just wanted to also ask you about your work at Voiceless and how this all ties together.
Ondine: I’ve been running Voiceless – as I said, I started it with my dad 16 years ago now and that’s been my life’s passion. We’re doing lots of work now in the education space with high school students and university students doing high thinking skills, around animal protection issues, around animal law and on the side I guess parallel to that I’ve really enjoyed my writing. I’ve written a young adult series, so for teenagers, they focus on a teenage girl who’s a vegan, they focus on the vegan journey and the issues that she deals with with her life that pertain to animals but also the other social and other experiences she has. So I’ve been doing that and my first book was Sky, and then there was Snow and that was set in Alaska and the first one is coming out in January which is called Star and the kind of background to that is the kangaroo, commercial industry in Australia.
And Vegan Living really came from my personal experience and so many people I know. The vast majority of my friends are not vegan, my friends and family, but so many people I know are very curious about it and have lots of questions and are interested in learning more so I wanted to put all the information into one place also to help vegans with their friends and family so they can give them a gift of a book that will answer all these questions and concerns, all these health concerns people have about protein and iron and so on. So I’ve included all nutritional information that was verified by a doctor. I tried to have a real beginners guide to going vegan as a way to help people who are curious about this issue. Obviously this overlaps with voiceless because our supporters are all passionate about animals they’re definitely not all vegan but they all have an interest in how they can stop animal cruelty and have a kinder and compassionate environment for animals.
Angela: So you’re incredibly busy and it looks like all your projects are beautifully aligned to animal protection. Even in the book, it seems like you had quite a supportive community that collaborated which I’m sure you’ve developed over a long time. Now you mentioned not everyone in your family or social circles who are vegan. I also have some listeners who are vegan and living with non-vegans, some are raising their children on vegan diets. They’re concerned for their health and or bullying from their peers. So what advice can you offer people who might be struggling with fear or judgment in this situation?
Ondine: I think for people who are living with non vegans or are in relationships with non vegans. I think it doesn’t work. I think it doesn’t work – and this is the information I got from my vegan collaborators – it doesn’t help to push them or guilt them. Certainly the tactic of guilt is proven to not be successful. Actually what’s proven to be successful is positive role modelling. So I think that’s the best way to go is just live your life in the happiest, healthiest way you can and people I think are naturally drawn to it as people in our society and world and relationship we want to have with other animals so people are drawn to it off their own motivations. It might be off their own environmental motivations and so on. So just answer questions and be a role model and I think that’s the best way to address your loved ones and friends and family. And for young people in terms of bullying, I think it’s good to support young people with as much resources and information as possible so they feel like they can answer questions because that’s an inevitable part of being vegan is that you get inundated with questions and comments and I address some of those in the book. The top 10/12 comments/ frustrating questions you get – if you’re stuck on a desert island and it’s only you and a pig what would you do? I mean those kinds of things.
So, my daughter has been vegetarian her whole life so she has lots of experience with that so I think helping your child or you know the young people in your family find their own community of support is really important. You don’t want them to feel isolated. And there’s lots of great online communities as well as in real life communities. There’s groups on Facebook, groups for teenagers, and there’s Veganuary which is a month long supported vegan experience for people. There’s also like vegan meet ups in places so young people are finding each other and creating supportive environments which is wonderful. So, yes make sure your young people have support and help them obviously with their health and nutrition and they can feel good and confident about their choices.
Angela: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for joining me today Ondine.
Ondine: Pleasure, thank you so much for having me. I’m so glad you enjoyed your book.
Angela: Yes, it was such a wonderful read and for everyone out there, Vegan Living is out now so check your local bookstore or online retailer. I really think there is value in it for everyone. If you love animals, this is the book for you, and there’s also some great health information and useful resources, documentaries, websites so I do hope some of you manage to read it and enjoy it. Thank you again, Ondine.
Ondine: Thank you so much.
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