Ingredient #2: Activism

You, you, you. You!

Or me?

In the past few years, I’ve noticed something about New Year’s resolutions.  They are usually focused in one direction, and one direction only: self-improvement.

While there’s nothing wrong with shedding some cookie-induced superfluous poundage, or vowing to work less and live more, it seems odd that, supplementing this, there are very few resolutions outside of the self.

The ultimate #selfie
The ultimate #sybaselfie with the original carved “selfies”

What about helping someone else?

Too freaking vague, perhaps.  Or maybe you don’t know what you care about yet.  In any case, it’s high time to figure it out.

According to both the “Blue Zone” study, which I go over here in Ingredient #1, as well as other sources (this one promises you will find your purpose in 20 minutes!), a good life is not happy, it’s meaningful.  As Matt Ball, author of The Accident Activist (among other works) asks,

In the end, most everyone wants to be happy. This leads to the basic question: What can bring real and lasting happiness?

He continues to discuss wealth, and how based on our actions it seems this is an important goal. However, despite increasing wealth over the past 40 years, measurements of “happiness” have decreased.  He explains further here in the section “The Meaning of Life: Making a Difference”:

Given that pain – physical, emotional, or psychological – is generally the single greatest barrier to happiness, eliminating suffering must be our first priority. In other words, suffering is irreducibly bad, and the alleviation and prevention of suffering is fundamentally good…

From these primary principles, we can give up the futile pursuit of happiness, and, rather, live our lives beyond ourselves, for what is truly important…

We can be a part of something greater.


Food, bodies, action!

Sampling at Earth Day
I love Durham’s Earth Day. Here I’m resting between sampling out some vegan chicken, where one fest-goer said, “If this ain’t chicken, what’s in my mouth?”

I will tell you a story – and unsurprisingly it’s my story – on what I chose for ingredient #2, the work that gives my life purpose.

One day, on my first cross-country trip across the US of A, Rob and and I came across a feedlot for the Harris Ranch. As we passed mile after mile of cows stuck in mud, packed closely together, it struck me how forgotten and disconnected we really are from the actual beings who make up our food supply. And, in today’s advanced agricultural system, how unnecessary, cruel, and inefficient it is to use animals.


Documentary premiere
At premiere of my documentary in Durham (photo: Shirle)

So I made a very DIY documentary, Seeing Through the Fence, over the course of about 5 years, then hit the road for a year to screen it at over 100 college campuses.  It was incredibly rewarding.

Through interviews for my documentary, discussions at college campuses and with friends, I’ve learned over the past decade that most people are actually compassionate. Most of us care not to hurt others, and in particular do not want to cause harm to animals. However, most of us choose to continue supporting CAFOs, or confined animal operations where 99% of meat comes from. That means that if you eat meat, you eat these confined animals.

In fact, as Milan Kundera wrote in his beautiful book (which, mind you, is completely unrelated to animal activism) An Unbearable Lightness of Being:

Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists in its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental débcle, a débcle so fundamental that all others stem from it.

In the US alone, over 9 billion animals are raised for food in conditions so horrific that they would be illegal if applied to your dog or cat.  Though slaughter would seem merciful at this point given their confined lives, transport to slaughter is heart-breaking. If you’ve ever seen (or smelled) a truck full of chickens or pigs crammed in so tight in all weather conditions you have a small taste of the horror.

But it’s their daily lives that evoke the most misery: second after second of uncomfortable cages, boredom, odors, and many documented cases of sadistic abuse at the hand of the factory workers.  However, there is hope.

Even if you like meat...
Brochure from Vegan Outreach

Having this conversation is a deal-breaker for many.

So I’m happy you’ve read this far.

Many of us “turn off” when someone starts to talk about animal welfare, or the idea of not eating them. There are many reasons – for one, it’s painful to think about. Second, it inspires the same feeling that people have with the discussion of “gun control.” Who are YOU to tell ME what to eat?  Third, it asks for a seemingly monumental change in that it involves something you do at least three times per day.

I used to think vegans were crazy. I vowed never to become one of “them.”  And now I’ve been eating vegan meals for almost 15 years. Though challenging at first, it becomes second nature quite quickly, particularly when involved in social activities with others who are vegetarian or vegan.  (Just find a Meetup in your town.)

It’s a tough road ahead, but advocating for farmed animals is a powerful and rewarding way to spend time, addressing one of the most powerful, forgotten and hidden systems of cruelty we have the ability to change.

How can lil’ ole You and Me reduce the greatest amount of suffering possible?

Ask Syba. There are three main ways.

syba and rob
Syba and Rob doing college outreach. Syba won.

1. Adopt

One of the ways we have found is to leaflet colleges (to date – Feb 2015 – Rob and I have given almost 200,000 students information about factory farming — Rob a whopping 150,783, and me 32,905!). It’s easy to get involved and involves almost no time.

2. Sample

Not the DJ kind. The delicious kind. You can even get reimbursed through VegFund.  Each year, with volunteers, I hand out veg samples and guides at Earth Fest, Durham’s PRIDE, and more. Learn more from VegFund about sampling here.

3. Give

There are several great organizations to give your hard-earned Stream of income (Ingredient #4) to – here are just a few:

  • Humane League: Boy am I impressed with these guys. Impactful multi-pronged strategy to help factory farm animals.
  • Vegan Outreach: Amazing focus and dedication to get the most for your buck: all across the country, volunteers and employees are leafleting college campuses and delivering results (students changing their diets, discussions in classes, etc).
  • Mercy for Animals: From high-impact commercials to undercover investigations, MFA is making a difference for factory farmed animals.


This certainly does not mean that you can’t give your time or money to other organizations benefiting humanity – compassion extends beyond species to all.


And, oopsie, my other form of activism:

4. Eat a lot of sweets.

But don’t forget also to read about healthy plant-based eating from the excellent Jack Norris, RD and Ginny Messina, RD.


pumpkin pie
Vegan pumpkin pie

1 thought on “Ingredient #2: Activism”

Comments are closed.