The Winograds: Veganism As More Than A Trend Or Lifestyle

San Francisco based animal rights activists Nathan and Jennifer are two individuals that came together to revolutionize the concept of the sheltering systems for animals in the United States. Besides being an ardent animal lover and a published author, Jennifer is also the founding member of the No Kill advocacy Center whilst Nathan’s well-articulated views on animal cruelty stems from his time spent as an attorney in the corporate world. Nathan was once the second most cited person in America about animal rights issues and helped to co-write animal protection legislation and successfully created No-kill programs. Their website ‘All American Vegan’ promotes a cruelty-free lifestyle in which the Winograds stipulate a broader perspective on industries that source our everyday food through a variety of means.

In 1993, mere communication over the telephone stirred a sense of intrigue towards each other. Upon finally meeting in person, Nathan and Jennifer came together to fight a state legislation in the interest of stray cats in California. It was not long until they came to realize that they were kindred spirits on parallel paths and have been together ever since. Sitting in a little café on one of the busiest streets in San Francisco, the Winograds share their story and casually account for the slightly massive number of animal companions at home, over some hot chocolate and almond milk coffee.

 

What inspired you to disassociate yourself from the dairy and meat industry?

Nathan: I think that both of our journeys started a long time ago…when I graduated high school, in around 1991 I backpacked across Europe and stayed on a dairy farm in Austria. That was the first time I saw a cow face to face and it was an incredibly painful scene to watch. There was this cow whose chain had burrowed into its neck and there were flies all around it. It showed me how immune people can become to the suffering of animals and in that moment, I decided I did not want to participate in this cruelty anymore.

Jennifer: I’d say about twenty years ago, when I was a student at the University of San Francisco, I attended an animal rights conference at San Francisco State and I learned about what happens to chickens and cows on farms from the literature there. I already considered myself an animal rights activist so it was then that I became vegan.

Photo by Priyanka Ramesh

Did veganism seem like a sacrifice at any point?

Nathan: So it is true that twenty five years ago there was a lot fewer choices… some of the things that we ate that were called ‘cheese’ looked nothing like cheese and tasted nothing like cheese. Frankly, in some ways it was rubbery but we ate them anyway. I don’t think either of us thought of it as a sacrifice though. It was always of the context that having fewer choices at the time was nothing compared to what the animals actually went through…not just losing their life, but the neglected abuse that they were subjected to preceding that.

Jennifer: It is an interesting question to phrase it as if it is a sacrifice. I do think that once I knew what actually happened to the animals -- despite whatever inconvenience I went through, despite having to adjust how I ate to better reflect my values- that was nothing compared to the impact it would have had on me if I didn’t make those choices. That would have been harder for me to live with myself knowing that I was supporting those industries that were responsible for that much harm, so sacrifice isn’t the word. If sacrifice means saying no to ice cream, what does it mean if I say yes? It means that a cow is denied her baby, and the milk that she’s making for the baby has been taking for me instead.

 

Was it challenging to follow a conscious diet given that the society of the time was not particularly sensitive to those voluntarily opting out of certain food?

Nathan: Before we had to break it down when we went to a restaurant and I remember one guy was like, ‘you are what…?’ – and we would have to tell them what we could eat and we couldn’t and people were bewildered by it. Whereas now when you walk into a restaurant, they know what it means and what on the menu is vegan. It was definitely challenging, there were a lot fewer choices but not anymore.

Jennifer: When we first met, one of our favorite things to do was walk down to Santa Fell in Marin that had soymilk for coffee. The idea that you can walk into a coffee shop and order a soy latte is still something that thrills us to no end because it was never like that and it’s so very different. For us, it’s incredible to see how far we have come that now it’s weird to go to a café that doesn’t have dairy alternatives.

 

How has starting your blog impacted your life?

Nathan: It’s been more than a blog; I first started out particularly in sheltering. However, In the United States, most shelters were ironically the place where dogs and cats went to die. This was a system of sheltering that was defended by all the large national animal protection organizations. They built and defended that paradigm of killing. Clearly as an animal lover I knew this was not the way it should be so I took a job running a shelter and opened a no-kill community that saved all the animals rather. We took this model and promoted it nationwide against the entrenched industry that was reliant on killing, and did it using not just blogs but social media, presentations and over time creating a documentary. This finally caught the attention of The New York Times, CNN, Fox News so it was definitely a democratic tool to get the message to the grassroots and now its fast becoming the status quo of sheltering.

Jennifer: The average person with an alternative point of view is now able to get their message across in a really powerful way. As animal activists, we could have focused on any number of issues, but the events that we experienced led us to come face to face with issues that were problematic in the field of animal rights. Because we were on the outside and we were able to use all these available tools now to immediately reach the grassroots and to bypass the organizations that were hostile to our message.

Winogads' book cover

How does your current lifestyle affect everyday dining and travel?

Nathan: We offer to host holiday parties after we put it to a vote in the family...and that always makes it easy. The difference is for us, eating is a moral issue including the choices we make. And going one meal-eating vegan is not really an imposition for others in our family because we don’t essentially promote eating grains that you’ve never heard of from extinct civilizations… It’s a traditional thanksgiving meal except made with meat and dairy substitutes. So for most people, if the meal is delicious that’s all that matters and that’s certainly been true in our family. As for travel, when I used fly to small world communities to work with their animal shelters, I lived on pretzels and potato chips however that doesn’t happen anymore. I can find delicious vegan food anywhere in the United States, pretty much anywhere in the world.

Jennifer: It’s certainly a lot easier than it used to be. There’s a lot of websites to consult that provide you with information to figure out where and what to eat, pretty much anywhere you go. Anyway, in our families, we’ve always been powerful personalities. (laughs) So thanksgivings were always vegan. In both our families, vegans outnumber the non-vegans. Plus it helps that everybody that knows how to cook is vegan and the people who don’t know how to cook are not. But our families have always been very accommodating.

 

What is your ideal society, and do you think it is achievable?

Nathan: We believe that once you acknowledge the rights of one group, other groups will also clamber for those rights. By focusing on dogs and cats – not just because they deserve it – because that’s where American hearts are the softest… it would be just a matter of time that can become a bridge to greater rights for other animals. There are new laws called legal personhood to consider the best interest of a dog or a cat during a case of divorce…so in our ideal society we would like to see that extend from humans, ships and corporations to animals in the family. Moreover, working towards better urban planning to incorporate the needs of animals in public spaces like tunnels or bridges so animals don’t have to navigate traffic. Obviously we’d like to see a world based on a ‘do no harm’ ethic where people have a reverence for all life.

Jennifer: In addition to what Nathan was saying about legal rights for animals, but we would live in a society where all the harms that currently befall animals would no longer exist. Humans would have used their incredible ingenuity and their innate compassion to come up with life affirming ways to meet all of our needs, and I think that’s what the vegan movement represents in terms of food and clothing. Once you’ve achieved that, we start to think about animals being killed on the roads and natural disasters. And what obligations we have as humans to not just not harm, but to actively assist other species. Maybe our zoos would be transformed to rehabilitation centers for injured wildlife so people could still go in and see these animals. We have all these institutions that already exist that would serve the interest of animals rather than the interest of people. And perhaps make our windows bird safe, so birds don’t smash into our windows. We could figure out everything that we do to be respectful of other earthlings that share our planet.

 

What is your opinion on raising kids with your lifestyle choices?

Jennifer: It is interesting to us that people always frame it that way, that somehow we have imposed our lifestyle choice on our children…when every parent that raises a child is imposing their lifestyle on their child. So the decision to not feed your child meat is not unlike the decision to feed them meat. So you have a choice when you have a child, however it’s only the people that choose not to feed them meat are somehow seen as imposing a lifestyle on a child. So no, we don’t consider it that. Children have such an innate love for animals, so if you explain to them why you don’t eat certain food they don’t really want to do that.. or hurt animals. In fact, I think both of them are grateful they didn’t have to learn to be vegan in a non vegan society because they were raised that way so it’s very second nature to them. It’s a powerful message to teach a child that your actions have consequences, that you have a moral obligation to live in abundance but also conscious of the idea that the choices they make can be humane and compassionate choices.

Nathan: If one were to ask our kids, I think they would tell you they never felt it was an imposition for them. In fact, I’ve had parents tell me not to tell their kids why our kids don’t eat meat for fear that their kids would begin to equate what’s in their sandwich with pigs that they love or the cows they might visit on a farm. Like one day, my brother-in-law and I were sitting in my kitchen and I said to him, ‘So I heard you became vegan?’ His eyes then got big as saucers and he said… ‘There are chickens in those chicken nuggets.’ Like it didn’t occur to him when he ate them and he chose to make that choice for himself. So what happens is when parents serve kids animal products before they are aware what those products are, it becomes a habit and convenience.

 

The Winograds will launch their new book titled welcome home that accounts for their lives with dogs and cats and the history of how they came to live with us humans. For more information about their work, you may visit the links below

Vegan Advocacy Website: http://allamericanvegan.com/

Bookstore: http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?page_id=164

Guides: http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/shelter-reform.html

No-Kill Website: http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/

Documentary: http://www.nokillredemption.com/

Spring 2017 newsletter:  https://goo.gl/Iy3E8g

By: Priyanka Ramesh