Lesbian vegans, but no clich
The couple behind Our Hen House has a compassionate agenda.
Mon Sep 27 2010
Promoting veganism and all things pro-animal may be the main goal of the new online clearinghouse Our Hen House, but that doesn't mean its founders, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan, treat the fact that they are a lesbian couple as a mere footnote.
"Activism is most effective when you are who you are," explains Singer. A writer and longtime activist, she met Sullivan, a lawyer and professor of animal law, several years back while researching an article she was writing on the connections between gay rights and animal rights for the now-defunct vegan magazine Satya. The two crossed paths again at an anti--foie gras activist meeting at the LGBT Center and became smitten—with each other, and with vegan activism. This week they will celebrate the official launch of Our Hen House with a party that'll feature vegan chocolates, wine and fellow activists, including guest speakers Jane Velez-Mitchell (host of her own show on the HLN network) and Joshua Katcher (founder of thediscerningbrute.com), both outspoken members of the LGBT community.
"The percentage of gay people in the animal movement is really high," notes Sullivan. "I think it's just that ability to think out of the box, the ability to identify with the oppressed."
The latter theory certainly rang true for Singer, who was working as an AIDS-awareness educator when she became interested in animal rights. "At the time, I was a vegetarian, but I didn't connect the dots at all between the oppression of one group and the oppression of another," she recalls. A vegan whom Singer met through work showed her some footage of factory farming, and she says she asked herself, "Why would I be speaking up for one group and not another, when I could be doing both very easily just by being vegan?" She eventually became campaign manager for Farm Sanctuary, an advocacy group that aims to combat the animal abuses of factory farming, and a fast-rising star within the world of animal activism.
Sullivan's own awakening began back in the '90s, when getting a dog made her think about how other animals are treated. She became involved with the New York City Bar Association's animal law committee (the first in the country), met animal activists and soon changed her eating habits. "I ate meat happily until I was well along into adulthood," she recalls. "Then the light just went off."
With Our Hen House—a nonprofit that relies on grant money, donations and consultant fees from clients including the Mayor's Alliance for New York City's Animals and the Eastern Shore Sanctuary in Vermont—the duo aims to appeal to folks who have already had the lightbulb moment but have not yet acted upon their realizations.
"Our audience is really people who have started to get it," says Sullivan. "We just want to provide them with some ideas, because people who have never been activists don't know what that can mean." The website's blend of interviews, podcasts, videos, book reviews, food advice and networking tips is divided into categories, including law, academia and arts—and will soon include a section called the Gay Animal, showcasing the efforts of LGBT animal activists. It's all to offer a myriad of ways to appeal to folks on what can be a thorny, defense-raising ("Sorry, I love cheese! So kill me!") issue.
"That's kind of our whole goal, to find different ways into people's consciousness," Sullivan explains. "For some people, that's a very academic approach. For some, it's a scientific approach. For others, it's artistic." And even the most defensive meat and dairy eaters can be swayed, they believe.
"Those people are fighting with their own defenses, too, so you're getting that emotion," Sullivan adds. "The ones who are just like, 'Oh, yeah, that's interesting,' are probably the hardest nuts to crack."
For folks who are compassionate toward animals but can't seem to make the leap into veganism, the activists have plenty of suggestions. Singer advises becoming familiar with the hard-to-swallow issues.
"People will say that they love animals, so they'll eat quote unquote 'humane' meat. But really, they don't know what that means, and in reality, it means very little to nothing," she says. "The slaughter process is still the same, the transport process is still the same. And even when you're dealing with organic milk, you're still dealing with veal calves as a direct by-product of the dairy industry, or male chicks being killed at birth in the egg industry. A lot of people don't realize that." Plus, she adds, believing you're off the hook for eating free-range animals is "such an elite argument. Maybe you're privileged enough to be able to purchase animal products where the animals can freely graze, but that's not a solution for the world."
"Ninety-seven percent of eggs consumed are battery-caged eggs," Sullivan adds. "Why focus on the three percent that aren't?"
They also stress that, by going vegan here in NYC—home to more than 100 veggie restaurants—you won't go hungry.
"There's now a compassionate alternative to every kind of cruel product, so why not give it a try? From a health perspective, it takes your body six weeks to get over a food addiction," Singer says. "So try it for six weeks."
And now for the fun advice: where to eat. For high-end, they suggest Candle 79 or Pure Food and Wine. "Their ice cream is hands-down the best ice cream I've had in my life!" Sullivan declares. "And their cheese, called Dr. Cow, is so good." For caf dining, they like Sacred Chow. For health-food meals, Caravan of Dreams. And for straight-up dessert, head to Lula's Sweet Apothecary, home of frozen vegan sweets. "You can have a cake-batter malted!" Singer gushes.
Finally, don't be too hard on yourself. "I think everybody's on a journey," Sullivan says. "Nobody's perfect. I just hope most are thinking about the next step."
Our Hen House Launch Event is Fri 1 at ourhenhouse.org.. See