Human thought is evolving, and the Animalkind book by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone reflect this beautifully
By Chere Di Boscio
Not very long ago, we humans were highly dismissive of animals. Even dog owners who loved their pets would put their canine’s loyalty and affection down to something as asinine as ‘instinct’. These same people would believe it’s fine to slaughter pigs, cows and sheep in their billions because ‘they’re only stupid animals.’ And anyone who claimed that animals feel love, pain, sorrow and other complex emotions would be accused of ‘anthropomorphising’ their behaviour.
Luckily, thanks to the work of animal scientists such as Konrad Lorenz, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and others over the past few decades, a wealth of new information has emerged about who animals really are—highly intelligent, aware, and empathetic creatures, not at all unlike ourselves.
In fact, increasing numbers of studies demonstrate beyond a shadow of doubt that animals are astounding beings with incredible smarts, emotions, communications networks, and myriad abilities. PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk and co-author Gene Stone set out to present these findings in a concise and jaw dropping manner in their new book, Animalkind.
The book details a treasure trove of surprising discoveries. For example? Geese fall in love and stay with a partner for life. Some fish actually “sing” underwater, and can recognise themselves in a mirror. Elephants use their trunks to send subsonic signals, alerting other herds to danger miles away. And much more.
While the first part of the book demonstrates the wonder, intelligence and uniqueness of animals on this planet, it logically follows that in the second part, Newkirk and Stone outline how humans can avoid using or abusing animals . They clearly spell out to their readers what they can do in their everyday lives to ensure that the animal world is protected from needless harm. In fact, whether it’s in medicine, product testing, entertainment, clothing, or food, many readers will surely be unaware of just how extensive animal abuse by humans is.
The authors show how there are now far better options to avoid all the uses animals once served in human life. Sure, most vegans will already know that we can choose vegan versions of everything from shrimp to sausage and milk to marshmallows, but fewer people will be aware that we no longer need to torture rats, dogs and monkeys in laboratories for medical testing, for example.
Animalkind is not only a fascinating study of why our fellow living beings deserve our respect, but is also a wonderful guide to action on how to avoid further animal exploitation.
Here, in this exclusive interview, I asked Ingrid Newkirk about the book, and about the progress of animal rights in general over the years since she founded PETA.
Ingrid Newkirk On The Animalkind Book And More
First of all, why did you write Animalkind?
I grew up caring about animals, as most people do, and over the years, I’ve learned so much about them. I discovered that the parts of the brain that are activated in dogs when they are offered a treat are the same as in workers when they are offered a pay rise. I found out that elephants use their trunks as snorkels when they swim (which they love to do), that monkeys lay sticks at junctions to mark the right route, and that little teeth-cleaner fish can recognise themselves in a mirror, a sign of advanced intelligence.
I wanted other people to learn how awe-inspiring animals are – such as how they employ complex communication systems. For example, male frogs amplify their mating calls by using drainpipes, rhinos use breath language, cows and horses convey messages through subtle facial changes, and so on. I also wanted people to be inspired by the animals we often underestimate and who have sensory systems that we have lost or never even had. Many are able to smell, hear, see, and navigate better than we can – and they travel without compasses, GPS, anyone to ask for directions, or anywhere to stop for food.
The book lets readers know who animals are then shows how to respect them by making simple choices with regard to the ways we entertain ourselves; what we buy, eat, and wear; our investments; our education choices; and even how we treat our four-legged family members.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in consciousness towards animals since you founded PETA?
Well, Greggs gave its staff a massive bonus because sales of the vegan sausage roll went through the roof! And KFC introduced finger-lickin’ vegan chicken. When I founded PETA, if you wanted to avoid dairy – perhaps because you objected to the separation of calves from their loving mothers or for environmental or health reasons – you had to buy soya-milk powder and mix it with water. Today, we are bowled over by the wealth of dairy-free choices in every supermarket, including soya, almond, oat, and hemp milks.
When PETA first got started, women still thought buying fur was something special, but today’s young people know where it comes from – they have seen graphic photos of steel traps and fur farms and want nothing to do with it. In fact, designers are now providing us with faux shearling, fibres that are warmer than goose down (such as in the new down-free jacket offered by RZA and those sold by Save the Duck) and apple, pineapple, and grape leather.
Carmakers are advertising models with vegan interiors, like the new Volkswagen SUV in apple leather. Companies are finding innovative ways to repurpose recycled fishing nets, and brands like Reebok are coming out with new lines of vegan sports shoes. PETA has worked hard to achieve successes such as an end to maternal deprivation experiments on monkeys, chemical toxicity tests on animals, and skin and eye irritation tests on rabbits – some 4,300 cosmetics companies no longer rely on animal testing (or never did). Many now use human cell-based tissue models and artificial eyes instead.
We ended car crash tests on animals, too, and have pushed everyone from Gucci to Galliano and Donna Karan to Versace to ditch fur. Because of PETA’s exposés, hundreds of companies, including Zara and H&M, no longer sell mohair and Chanel and others no longer sell exotic skins. The largest circus in the world, Ringling Bros, closed up shop because of years of PETA US protests. And we’ve done so much more.
What are some of the most notable achievements you’ve noted for vegans in the realm of fashion?
A vegan fashion revolution is underway. In the last few seasons alone, brands like Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Burberry, and many more have dropped animal fur. London Fashion Week catwalks have been entirely fur-free, and out of concern for animals and the environment, Helsinki Fashion Week has gone even further and banned leather. We see people moving away from wool because they realise that sheep are being beaten up in the shearing sheds. They’re also rejecting cashmere and mohair because they’ve seen our videos of goats crying out as their hair is violently torn out with metal combs while they’re tied down and helpless.
Stella McCartney has always made fabulous vegan shoes, and now you can get great vegan heels, boots, and espadrilles in all price ranges – I love TOMS! Brands from Hugo Boss to H&M are embracing vegan leather made out of pineapples, and over 300 brands have banned mohair and angora from their ranges since PETA exposés revealed the horrific cruelty inherent in obtaining these materials.
How can technology help save animals’ lives in terms of lab research?
Modern research methods include sophisticated tests using human cells and tissues and advanced computer-modelling techniques. For example, scientists have developed, from human brain cells, a model “microbrain” with which to study tumours as well as artificial skin and bone marrow. We can now test for skin irritancy and corrosion using protein membranes, produce vaccines from human tissues, and perform pregnancy tests using urine samples instead of by killing rabbits.
Another example of technology with the potential to spare many animals’ lives is the groundbreaking “organ on a chip”. It is the size of a postage stamp and contains human cells, which grow to mimic a fully functioning human organ. It can be used to model human diseases or test the potential effects of chemicals or drugs, enabling researchers to observe changes to the cells under a microscope in real time. These and other non-animal methods – which PETA and its affiliates have long been helping to develop – are not hindered by the species differences that make applying the results of animal tests to humans difficult or impossible, and they are usually less time-consuming and less expensive. It’s a win-win situation.
What are your thoughts on lab-grown meats and foods like the Impossible Burger? Do these ‘meats’ help to normalise and justify flesh eating, or are they a ‘stepping stone’ to veganism?
PETA was one of the early champions of laboratory-grown meat, funding some of the first work in that field because we recognised that it would spare billions of animals the cruelty of factory farms, the terror of transportation, and a painful, frightening death in an abattoir. And unlike the production of meat from filthy farms and abattoirs, in vitro meat production will not pollute rivers and streams, deplete groundwater, or cause deforestation.
Of course, fantastic products like the Beyond Burger and others made from plant-based ingredients – such as nuts, soya, beetroot, and grain – are now available, and they offer all the taste of meat without the cholesterol or cruelty. PETA does not endorse the Impossible Burger, however, because Impossible Foods voluntarily tested one of its ingredients on animals, killing 188 rats in the process.
What are your thoughts on celebrities creating vegan makeup and skincare lines – which they launch whilst wearing leather and fur?
I have a saying for this: no one is the Buddha. Everyone is learning – no one “gets it” all immediately, but every step forward is a good one, and anyone who takes one step is likely to see others they can take. PETA is here to inform and assist everyone, celebrity or otherwise, in any way we can. Most of us had to amend our old habits along the way as we learned more, something that Animalkind can help everyone do.
In the media lately, there’s been great success with films like the Game Changers and Cowspiracy, and there are more vegan converts than ever. But there’s also much mockery of ‘soy boys’, and a slew of cooking shows focused on meat on Netflix. Do you think a vegan backlash is on the way?
You know, it’s such an obvious act of desperation to reject new information when it challenges what you are doing. It used to be considered macho and ‘normal’ to hunt animals, eat a steak, and beat up your wife, but really, it’s just pathetic and wrong. When something you do causes suffering and you become aware of it, you need to stop doing it. History will not be kind to these holdouts who are stuck in their dirty old habits.
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All images: PETA