Anita Krajnc is a longtime vegan as well as a social justice educator and scholar who puts her principles into action by tirelessly drawing the public’s attention to the thousands of animals who are transported to three slaughterhouses in Toronto each day. She co-founded Toronto Pig Save in 2010 after taking a walk with her dog, Mr. Bean, and seeing pigs on a transport truck who, other than being terrified, didn’t look so different from the dog she loved. Since its inception, compassionate activists meet three times a week and give these animals, most suffering after being transported very long distances in all temperatures, water through slats in the trucks in the warm months and a few words of kindness as they bear witness before they are taken into the slaughterhouse to be killed. By bearing witness, Toronto Pig Save and the other animal vigil efforts that have sprung up across the globe in recent years aspire to create a “glass wall” that exposes the public to the suffering that so many are shielded from seeing and encourages people to take empowered actions toward living in alignment with compassionate values.
That doesn’t sound too controversial, right? Believe it or not, Anita has been in the news, including a big story in The Guardian, in recent weeks for the “crime” of giving water to pigs on a transport truck on a hot day last June as she and her fellow activists have been doing for years; this time, the driver jumped out of the truck and started yelling at her to stop. Two months later, a police officer showed up at her door and informed her that the farm owner had filed a criminal complaint against her. As Anita wrote in the Toronto Star, “On a sweltering June day, I offered water to hot and thirsty pigs. Now I’m in court, facing a criminal mischief charge that carries a $5,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison.” Untold numbers of sensitive animals die in horrific oven-like conditions in these metal trucks in the summer as well as freezing temperatures as they are transported year-round to slaughterhouses – not to mention all the suffering before they are crowded into transport trucks – and what Anita did is the crime?
I am honored that Anita is this week’s vegan rock star and I would urge everyone to please sign one of the petitions, share this interview, check out and share their videos and consider joining an established vigil near you or creating one in your community. Anita’s next pre-trial date is December 15; please throw some support behind this amazing woman and the witness movement she has spearheaded.
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I was quite disconnected growing up in Toronto. I loved dogs but salivated at the sight of a pig roast as a teenager. I remember my sister didn’t want to eat meat when we were growing up but I didn’t think about why not. When I went to university in the 1990s, I saw a poster advertising the screening of the UK documentary "The Animals Film" — the first graphic film of its kind, narrated by Julie Christie. There was a scene of farmers “joking” about a “rape rack” for sows. As a feminist, I found it mind-boggling and till then didn’t know about the horrific animal abuse in animal agriculture. I had nightmares for three days, went vegetarian and became an animal activist. I never heard of the word vegan and went through a long phase of “free-range” eggs. I finally went vegan in 2006 after students, who I thought were very radical, persuaded me and after I saw the film "The Witness" with Eddie Lama.
I moved back to Toronto in 2006 and lived within a kilometer of a pig slaughterhouse and thought, “Somebody should do something!” I even asked an active animal group outside of Toronto to organize a demo, but nothing came of it. Then in 2010, I reached a new level of animal activism and organizing, one that absorbed my entire life, after I bore witness daily of pigs in transport trucks en route to a slaughterhouse near my home. It all started when I adopted Mr. Bean, a dog, for my Mom. We’d take our morning walks along Lake Shore and I saw 7 or 8 transport trucks carrying sad and terrified pigs in rush hour traffic. At the time, I was reading biographies by Romain Rolland, a French Nobel Laureate and vegetarian, who wrote on exemplary people with an eye on influencing his readers to follow suit. It worked! I read his works on Tolstoy, Gandhi and Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and how they all engaged in community organizing for years when there was an injustice in their community. Tolstoy and his family, for example, set aside more than a year in 1892 when there was a famine in Russia and helped set up more than 200 soup kitchens, raised funds, and asked for donations of food from around the world, including from the Quakers in Pennsylvania. If they acted in the face of injustice in their communities, then why shouldn’t all of us do the same? Witnessing the pig victims with their sad and terrified eyes in huge transport trucks heading to a slaughterhouse in my own backyard was an issue that involved me. I was responsible. I needed to act. Everything changed for me then. Animal rights became the number one priority in my life.
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
Our group uses a love-based approach influenced by Tolstoy and Gandhi. I veer away from Francionists. But the truth is, the local animal rights student group at Queen’s University, where I was teaching, was “abolitionist” and insisted one cannot be animal rights without going vegan now. They won me over quickly. It was so easy going vegan—I had no idea! My only regrets are that someone hadn’t spoken to me earlier and made the absolutely clear case for veganism sooner.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
I believe in people being present and bearing witnessing first hand. Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy’s best friend and confidante, said it was important for everyone to “face it.” He wrote in his book on animal rights called One Life (1912):
The suffering of the animals killed for us is barely recognized and inflicts repulsion, rather than compassion. Instead of protecting suffering creatures, we protect ourselves by hiding away from this wicked bloody scene that is being performed by other people’s hands. Being more concerned with ourselves than with tortured animals, which are killed for us, we deprive them of the miracle of life, and we deprive ourselves of the highest joy of compassion towards living beings. We lose a chance to save them from futile torture and premature death.
A simple reminder around a dinner table that a meal being served consists of dead animal parts tends to kill the appetite and makes the diners indignant. Nothing more significantly reveals the disgusting and illegal nature of this action than the need to hide its true meaning from oneself.
To get a true notion of this matter one, first of all, has to face it. And the best way to literally “face” it is by visiting a slaughterhouse or a kitchen yard and first-hand witnessing the killing of livestock or poultry for our table. I have no doubt that the great majority of people who would do it several times with diligence very soon would recognize the unlawfulness of what is happening before their eyes.
In A Calendar of Wisdom, Tolstoy defined “bearing witness” as a duty: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him [or her] who suffers, and try to help him[or her].”
Toronto Pig Save and The Save Movement uses photos and video in social media to help people vicariously see and experience the animal suffering, to show how each and every of the 60 billion farmed animals killed each year matters, and to break the disconnect by showing that each farmed animal is an individual just like a dog or cat.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
I strongly believe in participatory actions and the need to build a mass-based, grassroots movement for animal justice. Holding regular and frequent events on the streets is good for reaching new people but is also important in creating new animal activists, advocates and organizers. Gandhi said to Rev. Doke, his first biographer, change is a measure of the effort we put forth: Right prevailing over injustice will arrive not in some "dim and distant future" but "within a measurable time, the measure being the effort we put forth. Can you not make them see that real success lies in the effort itself, which in our case is passive resistance” or satyagraha. By bearing witness at slaughterhouses or doing regular DxE actions, it empowers people. People not only participate in the actions themselves, but then go home and are more vocal and organize events in their communities, at school and at work. Free vegan food giveaways are also powerful and necessary forms of activism.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
All of us, vegan or not, need to see it as our duty to not turn away from animal suffering and environmental and social injustice, but to be present. For animals, it means speaking out at factory farms, slaughterhouses and “meat, dairy and egg” counters at supermarkets, restaurants and dinner tables in our communities—bearing witness from beginning to end. It’s really important to do more than talk, but to walk the talk. Tolstoy said, “Do not believe in words, yours or others; believe in the deeds”(A Calendar of Wisdom). It’s important to do more than sit behind a computer, but to be present at sites of injustice and organize as a community.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
We all love animals. Farmed animals suffer in the greatest numbers and we each can play a huge role to end this suffering! There are 60 billion farmed animals killed each year around the world. An average person, who loves animals, doesn’t realize they are killing about 100 animals a year for “meat”, eggs and dairy. Why love one but eat the other? Pigs are no different than dogs. There is also a global warming catastrophe occurring and there is no way we can stop it without a radical, planet-wide dietary shift towards a plant-based diet. Going vegan is not enough. In a community organizing approach every one is a leader. Each of us need to be an animal rights, environmental and social justice activist, advocate and organizer. If you care about animals and your children and grandchildren’s future, going vegan now and making animal justice organizing a priority in your life are the best things you can do. Ministering to the suffering and living a life of service is the true meaning in life.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
I read Tolstoy most days both his later fiction and all of his nonfiction. He was prolific and wrote about 600 books and articles and has a 90-volume archive, so there is no shortage of reading material! He had a spiritual awakening in the late 1870s and wrote a stream of books which explore the true meaning of life and offer ideas on steps to take: My Confession My Religion, What I Believe On Life, and What is Art? and “The First Step”—the latter essay recounts his heartbreaking visit to a slaughterhouse in Tula and suggests the first step in living the good life is to go vegetarian. His book on love and nonviolence, “The Kingdom of God Is Within You” profoundly influenced Gandhi’s decision to choose nonviolent passive resistance in South Africa in the 1890s. His ideas of love, kindness, forgiveness, non-judgment, sharing, and nonviolent anarchism appear in fictional form in his short stories, for example, in the collection, Walk in the Light and 23 Tales. He, along with Gandhi, King, Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez, Lois Gibbs and other community organizers, shape Toronto Pig Save and The Save Movement’s love-based, nonviolent, grassroots, community-organizing approach.
Animal Liberation Victoria and Patty Mark endlessly inspire with their innovative open rescues and Slaughterhouse Shutdown this week in which activists went into a pig slaughterhouse at night and sat inside the carbon dioxide gas chamber elevator, locked down, and shut the kill floor for hours. This direct action by Animal Liberation Victoria and Animal Liberation NSW is so profound—a stronger form of solidarity and bearing witness involving activists going as close as they can and trying to help—that I am still absorbing it. I think of Ramakrishna, a 19th century Indian prophet, who said upon witnessing a famine, that he would not move but sit there and share their fate until there was justice: “Ramakrishna thereupon sat down among the poor creatures and wept, declaring that he would not move from thence, but would share their fate. Croesus was obliged to submit and do the will of h/is poor priest.” (cited in Romain Rolland, The Life of Ramakrishna). I admire Chinese animal rights activists, as documented by Humane Society International, for more fully bearing witness, by stopping slaughterhouse trucks carrying dogs and cats and rescuing all the animals.
I see a place for all kinds of vegan activism, especially kind and love-based activism in different fields and areas. From my point of view, activism should take place wherever you are—wherever you live, work and play. Here are just some amazing groups and individuals who we’ve worked closely with. Gary TV’s Best Video You Will Ever See has incredible social media reach via videos; they have helped us get out raw footage told in a thoughtful and heartfelt way. Jo-Anne McArthur’s photography and writing for We Animals has changed the face of animal rights worldwide, inspiring awareness and change with her indelible images of suffering and rescued animals and the work of animal activists. PETA, the world’s largest animal rights group, has so many campaigns in so many countries, yet is so generous and giving to grassroots groups such as ours. I think Mercy for Animals’ factory farm and slaughterhouse investigations have done wonders in reaching the mainstream media. The worldwide grassroots activism of Direct Action Everywhere has made speaking out, interventions and disruptions not just a noble endeavor, but a positive requirement to stop animal abuse, slavery, torture and murder wherever it occurs before us. Like Spartacus and the slave revolts, they are not taking abuse lying down, but speaking out and acting in the strongest and clearest ways possible. For our new Climate Vegan campaign we’ve worked with Anna Pippus at Animal Justice and A Well-Fed World, an incredible intersectional group promoting vegan programs worldwide.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Each morning I think of 10 good things to do that day. Some involve immediate self-care, some are kind acts I hope to do, and others are animal rights activist tasks I need to complete. I find spending time with my animals, juicing, reading Tolstoy, and exercising on the self-care side of the list. The other acts of kindness towards others and living a life of service by completing animal activist tasks is, to me, the true meaning of life, as Tolstoy defines it, so I see these as also being part of my Self-care—the capital “s” in Self denotes the Unity of Life and that we are all one. Tolstoy wrote, in his short story, “Esarhaddon, King of Assyria”: “The life of a moment, and the life of a thousand years: your life and the life of all the visible and invisible beings in the world, are equal…Afterwards he went about as a wanderer through the towns and villages, preaching to the people that all life is one, and that when men wish to harm others, they really do evil to themselves.”
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
I want nonviolent, vegan world, one that values and acts on love and truth, the way Tolstoy proposes. I think the true meaning in life is simply living a life of service, being kind, and building community through love-based, community organizing.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
Love, nonviolence, climate action… and one of two paths we humans can take on this planet: one involves selfish exploitation of animals, including people, and the Earth; the other is saving the planet, animals and ourselves by creating a nonviolent, vegan world, engaging in massive reforestation to absorb carbon out of the atmosphere and bring the carbon content down to safer levels (350 part per million, hence the name of the group 350.org, setting up a vast network of animal sanctuaries, and creating a socially just and simply a paradise on Earth!