What I Learned From Dinner With An International Vegan Hero
I became plant based in 1987 after reading John Robbins' Diet for a New America. I had also been persuaded by the massive data on the impact of a vegan diet in terms of preventing and reversing chronic diseases (including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, and obesity).
I was aware of the horrible cruelty in industrial farming and saw my fair share of gruesome videos. On a spiritual level, I believed that eating plant based was a way to avoid ingesting torture and suffering.
Yet, despite all this, I was a bit dulled to the terrible injustice that occurs to tens of billions of animals yearly.
I didn't think much about this until I sat down to dinner in Detroit this week to catch up with my friend Jason Wrobel, (Cooking Channel’s vegan chef). There, I was introduced to a man named Gary, who lives in town and apparently is a friend of Jason’s.
It took me about 15 minutes to realize that this was Gary Yourofsky, the internationally celebrated animal activist with a YouTube video that has gone viral called The Best Speech You Will Ever Hear, in which he compares our current treatment of animals to genocide.
Gary is not just changing lives with his famous lecture on the “animal holocaust,” but he is bending the curve on meat, egg and dairy consumption in entire countries! If you don’t know Gary and his work, let me introduce you to a true hero with more heart and compassion than anyone I have met.
Who is Gary?
Gary grew up a few miles from me, and his life changed in his early 20s when his stepdad took him backstage at a local circus. He saw the animals chained and caged and reacted strongly to their cruel treatment. At the time, he ate anything anywhere.
He began researching the production of his food and clothes. He realized that an “animal holocaust” was being tolerated unnecessarily, as plant-based diets provided all the nutrition humans need, and faux leathers were available. He decided to become an activist and has since been arrested 13 times in his crusade to help animals.
Most famously, he let 1,500 minks go free from a farm in Ontario and was arrested and denied bail for 10 days by a judge who had just granted bail in only one day to a sex offender. He ultimately served 77 days in jail before being extradited. Today Gary is banned from five countries, including Canada and the UK.
He has since begun speaking to school groups, and so far this year he has spoken to more than 60,000 people in more than 30 states, usually at high school and college campuses. One of these lectures was recorded in 2010 and became the YouTube video viewed by millions of people.
Gary and Israel
After Gary’s YouTube video went viral globally, several animal rights activists translated it into Hebrew and posted it on Israeli sites. Plant-based groups and eateries are popular in Israel, and a buzz quickly developed. A website was created to popularize the YouTube video, and several vegetarian food manufacturers printed the link on their product labels.
Gary was invited to speak there and has since achieved cult status, with people recognizing and mobbing him on Israeli streets. The results? Recent data indicates that 13% of the Israeli nation is vegetarian (among the highest in the world), and after a speaking tour of Israel in late 2013, dairy and meat sales fell by about 5%. Domino’s Pizza in Israel recently announced they will start serving vegan pizzas.
The best speech you will ever hear
I have revisited this 70-minute lecture and the separate 30-minute Q&A session recorded at a college in Georgia several times this past week. I challenge every reader to take the time with loved ones to view it in February, which is Heart Health month. Will you have tears in your eyes at the end, as I did? Will you commit to making further changes after viewing it, as I did (ordered faux leather belt and shoes for the first time)?
Gary’s website www.adaptt.org is rich in resources for eating and living a plant-based life. I encourage you to visit.