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A Stand-Up Comedian’s Chilling Diagnosis Leads to a Dramatic Transformation

August 28, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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Frank Liotti, a stand-up comedian from New York City, thought he had food poisoning one night when he got off the stage at a club in Ohio. When his symptoms didn’t improve after a week in bed, he went to the emergency room where he received chilling diagnosis. During an interview with TheirTurn, Liotti describes a dramatic life-saving change and explains the surprising reason he has been able to maintain it.

Stand-up comedian Frank Liotti makes the switch to a plant-based diet after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

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In Memory of Animal Rights Activist Shimon Shuchat

August 4, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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Shimon Shuchat, a 22-year-old animal rights activist from Brooklyn, died on Tuesday, July 28th. In spite of being so young, Shimon was one of the most wise, humble, ethical, empathetic and hard-working activists in New York City. He was also extraordinarily smart. No tribute, including this one, could do justice to Shimon.

Animal rights activist Shimon Shuchat

Shimon’s story is different than most. He was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish home in Brooklyn. According to his Uncle Golan, he learned how to read when he was two years old, and he showed unusual signs of empathy when he was a little boy. For instance, he somehow figured out that a leather jacket was made from a cow, and he asked his parents why people would wear that. When he was a teenager, he came across animal cruelty videos that shook him to the core. He became an atheist, and he made the decision to chart his own course in life.

Leaving the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is not easy for anyone, especially a teenager, but Shimon found the courage to transfer from his yeshiva, which was familiar, to secular high school, where he didn’t know anyone. He also immersed himself in the NYC animal rights community, participating in multiple events every week. Ironically, among the first acts of cruelty that he protested was Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice performed by the very community in which he was raised.

Shimon Shuchat bears witness to chickens languishing in transport crates

Throughout his childhood, Shimon had a close relationship with his father, Velvel. According to Shimon’s relatives, “Velvel validated and loved Shimon, and always supported him. He would frequently take him on trips, despite tight finances, often using Greyhound buses to bring him to different states to visit animals. Velvel advocated for Shimon when his yeshiva was unprepared to answer Shimon’s difficult questions. His father always lovingly took the time to listen and support Shimon in any way he could.” His extended family said that Shimon “is a shining light and a blessing to this world, and may his memory also be for a blessing.”

In 2015, Shimon was accepted to Cornell, and he brought NYC-style activism to a reserved animal rights club on campus. After college, he returned to NYC and worked in the animal rights movement until he passed away. He talked about going to law school one day.

Animal rights activists Shimon Shuchat and Rina Deych

Shimon was a quiet, shy, and anxious person, but, according to his fellow activists, he stepped far outside of his comfort zone in order to advocate for the animals. Rina Deych, an activist in NYC who mentored Shimon when he joined the movement, fondly recalls a Kaporos protest during which she offered Shimon a bullhorn to lead the chants. “He shyly refused,” Rina said, “But when he didn’t like the accent I used to pronounce a Hebrew phrase, he grabbed the megaphone from me and led the chants for the duration of the protest. His willingness to prioritize the animals over his anxiety demonstrated just how committed and compassionate he was.”

Shimon Shuchat advocating for captive animals and showing his support for LGBTQ equality

His colleague Nadia Schilling, who also served as a mentor to Shimon, said, “Shimon’s work for animals was unmatched by any person I’ve ever worked within the animal rights movement. It’s easy to lose hope and feel defeated in this line of work, but I honestly believed that, with Shimon by my side, we could make this world a better place.”

Shimon Shuchat participates in an Direct Action Everywhere disruption at Whole Foods, protesting the Company’s “humane meat” advertising.

Unaware of Shimon’s anxiety, Nadia asked him to testify in front of the NYC Council in support of legislation to ban the sale of ban foie gras. “He intentionally waited until after he delivered his remarks to confess that public speaking exasperated his anxiety. He knew I wouldn’t have asked if I had been aware of his fear, and he didn’t want to let down me or the animals. That’s how selfless he was.”

Shimon set the bar high for his activist colleagues with his impeccable work ethic and selflessness. He was singularly focused on reducing animal suffering, and he had no interest in the material world or even the basic comforts that most of us take for granted. One summer during college, Shimon asked if he could do an internship with TheirTurn. “I was reluctant because he was so serious and had such high standards, but I wanted to support him,” said Donny Moss. “He worked so efficiently that he completed his assignments more quickly than I could create them. If I didn’t force him to take a break for lunch by putting the food on top of his keyboard, then he would not have eaten.”

Shimon Shuchat phone banking for Voters for Animal Rights (VFAR) in support of the NYC bill to ban the use of wild animals in circuses

Shimon’s asceticism was stunning at times. “One day, while running an errand, Shimon and I walked into Insomnia Cookie, which had just added a vegan cookie to its menu. When I offered to buy him one, Shimon asked me to donate the amount of money I would have spent on the cookie to PETA. Even after explaining that I could buy him a cookie AND make a contribution to PETA, I practically had to use force to get him to eat the cookie, which I knew that he secretly wanted.”

Shimon Shuchat advocating for the use of coins instead of live chickens during a religious ritual called Kaporos

Shimon was painfully humble for someone who contributed so much. “People like Shimon, who work so hard behind the scenes with no public recognition, are the pillars of our movement,” said Nadia.

Perhaps more than anything, Shimon was empathetic. His uncle Golan said that he “felt things extraordinarily deeply” from a young age. One year during a Kaporos protest, Donny witnessed this firsthand when he found Shimon off to the side weeping. “In the face of so much cruelty and suffering, Shimon practically collapsed from a broken heart.”

While delivering his testimony at the foie gras hearing at City Hall, Shimon made a plea that should, perhaps, be his parting message to those he left behind. “Regardless of our ethnicity, race, religion, or political affiliation, we should be unanimous in opposing and condemning cruelty directed at animals, who are among our society’s most vulnerable members.”

Shimon Shuchat participates in an animal rights protest in NYC

Shimon’s father Velvel, Uncle Golan, Aunt Leah, Cousin Debbie, Rina, Nadia, Donny and others who cared about Shimon hope that Shimon, who made a lifetime of contributions in his short, 22 years, is resting in peace in a kinder place.  “Shimon was a shining light and blessing to this world,” according to his family, “May his memory also be for a blessing.”

Shimon Shuchat (bottom right) volunteers at Safe Haven, a sanctuary for rescued farm animals

In August, several animal rights organizations, including PETA, organized and participated in tributes to Shimon. On August 30th, Brooklyn-Queens Animal Save staged a vigil in his memory at a slaughterhouse in Astoria, Queens.

Brooklyn-Queens Animal Save vigil in memory of animal rights activist Shimon Shuchat

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Doctor on Front Lines on COVID-19 Pandemic Orders Beyond Meat Burgers for his Entire Staff. Why?

June 5, 2020 by Leave a Comment

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After ordering Beyond Meat burgers for his entire staff and documenting their reactions, Dr. Phillip Greenspan, a pulmonologist on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, spoke to TheirTurn about why he conducted this experiment.

“For years, I have encouraged my staff to reduce their meat consumption in order to improve their health, but I haven’t had much luck. When COVID-19, a disease that emerged because humans eat other animals, began killing my patients, I decided to step up my effort by showing them that plant-based alternatives are just as delicious as meat. I ordered Beyond Meat burgers from a restaurant near our office in Fairfield, Connecticut, and they loved it. Since this experiment, I’ve ordered a plant-based lunch for my staff every Thursday and talked to them about why making this change is healthier and safer for them, the planet and the animals. I’m reaching their brains and their hearts through their stomachs.”

Phillip Greenspan, a pulmonologist on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, orders Beyond Burgers for his staff. TheirTurn’s Donny Moss asks for their reactions.

Dr. Greenspan, who has been practicing medicine for 22 years, told TheirTurn that he and his family are moving in the direction of an exclusively plant-based diet.

Dr. Phillip Greenspan, a Connecticut-based pulmonologist, orders Beyond Burgers for his staff to introduce them to plant-based alternatives to meat.

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Will Dr. Fauci Call for Closure of U.S. Wet Markets?

April 7, 2020 by Leave a Comment

The News

During an interview on Fox News on April 4,  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said that wet markets in “certain countries” should be shut down. While he did not specify the countries, he was referring to China, which is where COVID-19 is believed to have jumped from animal to human, and to other Asian countries that have similar wet markets that sell and slaughter live animals. Dr. Fauci made no mention of wet markets in the United States:

“I think they should shut down those things right away. It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human/animal interface ,that we don’t just shut it down. There are certain countries in which this is very commonplace. I would like to see the rest of the world really lean with a lot of pressure on those countries that have that because what we’re going through right now is a direct result of that.”

A wet market in NYC where customers, including children and the elderly, handle live animals

“Why would Dr. Fauci call on world leaders to pressure countries in Asia to shut down their wet markets without calling for the closure of live animal markets in his own country?” said Jill Carnegie, co-organizer of Slaughter Free NYC, an advocacy group working to shut down NYC’s 80+ wet markets and slaughterhouses. “Do we need to wait for an outbreak of a novel strain of bird flu or swine flu before shutting down these breeding grounds of infectious disease?”

Wet markets in NYC sell at least 10 species of live animals and slaughter them on site for their customers.

Following Dr. Fauci’s remarks, several mainstream media news outlets, including CNN, ran substantive stories in which they aired footage of Asian wet markets, but they did not not address the widespread prevalence of wet markets in the United States. Through videos, letters, petitions and social media, animal advocacy groups are working to inform both the mainstream media and Dr. Fauci of the presence of wet markets in the United States, including three in Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighborhood where he was raised.

On April 7th, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a nonprofit health organization of 12,000 physicians, sent a letter to the U.S. Surgeon General urging him to shut down live markets in the United States:

“There must not be another pandemic. To ‘prevent the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases’ in the United States, the Surgeon General must promulgate regulations that prohibit the sale, transfer, donation, other commercial or public offering, or transportation, in interstate or intrastate commerce, of live birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians to retail facilities that hold live animals intended for human consumption.”

Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM’s President, announced the news on a live webcast with TV journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is also calling for the closure of wet markets. In a letter to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote, “On behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, we respectfully ask that you call for the immediate and permanent closure of these markets, in which dangerous viruses and other pathogens flourish.

In several American cities, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, animal advocacy groups have been, through lobbying, litigation and protest, sounding alarm bells about the wet markets for the past several years — long before the COVID-19 outbreak. In New York City, a lawsuit filed by neighbors of one annual wet market reached New York State’s highest court. The lawyer for the plaintiffs argued that the Court should mandate that the NYPD and Dept. of Health enforce the 15 City and State laws that are violated by this wet market. The Court of Appeals judges ruled that municipalities have discretion over which of its own laws to enforce.

While the wet markets in the United States do not sell bats and pangolins, the animals believed to have transmitted COVID-19 to humans, they do intensively confine thousands of animals, some of whom are visibly ill, in pens and cages where customers shop. In one Brooklyn wet market, where animals are used in an annual religious sacrifice, customers handle the animals themselves — purchasing live chickens and swinging them around their heads before bringing them to a ritual slaughterer. According to a toxicologist who conducted an investigation on behalf of area residents, the wet market activities “pose a significant public health hazard.”

Dozens of public health and animal rights advocates occupy the New York City Dept. of Health to demand that the Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, shut down a wet market that violates seven City health codes

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Inside NYC’s Wet Markets – A “Ticking Time Bomb”

March 30, 2020 by Leave a Comment

The News

New York City has over 80 wet markets – businesses that sell live animals to the public and slaughter them onsite.  New York’s live animal markets are located in all five boroughs.

Since 2016, public health and animal rights advocates have been sounding alarm bells about the City’s wet markets, pleading with health officials and lawmakers to shut them down in order to prevent the transmission and spread of infectious disease. COVID-19 is believed to have been transmitted from animal to human in a wet market in Wuhan, China.

Sheep and chickens are among the approximately 10 different species of live animals sold at NYC’s wet markets

NYC’s wet markets sell approximately ten animal species, including goats, sheep, chickens, guinea hens, rabbits, pigeons, Muscovy ducks, and quail.  The animals are confined in small cages or pens where they can sicken each other and the people who work and shop there. Animal feces, body parts, feathers and blood are tracked in and out by customers and pedestrians who then carry the refuse on to the subways and into their homes, offices and communities.

Wet markets, or live animal markets, are storefront slaughterhouses that sell live animals to public and slaughter them on site

“New York City’s wet markets are a ticking time bomb,” said Jill Carnegie, a co-organizer with Slaughter Free NYC, an organization advocating to shut down wet markets and other slaughterhouses in NYC. “If avian flu or another infectious disease is transmitted to just one human, it could spread very rapidly in New York City and beyond, as we have seen with COVID-19.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the advocates’ sense of urgency. Slaughter Free NYC is now asking Mayor Bill de Blasio, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot and Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control Dr. Demetre Daskalakis to prohibit the slaughter of live animals in the five boroughs of New York. In February, the organization launched a petition with its demand.

In a letter to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and the NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Bonnie S. Klapper, a New York City-based attorney working on several cases involving animal agriculture, wrote that City and State health authorities are turning a blind eye to the well-documented health code violations

Click letter to view in full

The NYC Department of Health claims that it has no regulatory authority over these markets and defers to NY State Department of Agriculture & Markets, but state health officials have told me that these wet markets are never inspected unless they receive numerous complaints,” Klapper told TheirTurn. “That said, no amount of oversight can prevent disease transmission in storefront slaughterhouses where sick animals are coming into contact with humans.”

PCRM Petition to the Surgeon General to outlaw live markets in the United State

On March 25th, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sent a letter to the Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) encouraging him to call for the permanent closure of [wet] markets:  “Deadly outbreaks of mad cow disease, avian flu, swine flu, SARS, HIV, hoof-and-mouth disease and others have stemmed from capturing or farming animals for food. Live animal markets are perfect breeding grounds for diseases, which can jump from various others species to humans . . . If we’re to prevent future pandemics, we must heed the warning of top coronavirus researchers like Dr. Danielle Anderson, scientific director of the Duke-NUS Medical School, and cut them off at the source.”

In partnership with The Save Movement, an organization that stages vigils at slaughterhouses around the word, Slaughter Free NYC conducts vigils and educational outreach at New York City’s wet markets.

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