Natasha Brenner, an animal rights activist in NYC, celebrated her 98th birthday with friends. While homemade vegan lasagna for her birthday party was cooking in the oven, Natasha spoke to TheirTurn about why she went vegan and became an animal rights activist in her mid-70s.
After a press conference announcing a resolution calling on the New York City government to stop buying meat and other products from companies deforesting the Amazon, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told TheirTurn that NYC schools should serve children plant-based meals to improve their health and to protect the planet.
“I think it’s so important that we engage in a real conversation about climate change and not not try to sugarcoat the issue. To talk about fossil fuel burning, to talk about tailpipes in cars and vehicles – yes, that’s fine. But the real culprit is the overconsumption of meat, the overconsumption of beef. We were successful in NYC where we got processed meats out of our schools and a 50% beef reduction, but we need to go further. We need to get all meat out of our schools. All cheese. All dairy products . . . out of the schools.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is using his platform to reduce meat and dairy consumption in schools while promoting plant-based alternatives.
While Borough President Adams has, for the past several years, used his position to promote a plant-based diet for better health, the Amazon fires have provided him with a platform to promote the benefits to the planet of eliminating meat, dairy and other animal products from schools. “Everyone is being saved when we start feeding our children the right food.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams holds a press conference at City Hall calling for the City to stop buying meat from companies that are burning down the Amazon in order to graze cattle and grow crops to feed them.
Borough President Adams is expected to run for Mayor of New York City in 2020.
In spite of being heralded as one of the most progressive cities in the United States, New York has lagged behind several other major cities in advancing the rights of animals. In fact, from 2006 to 2013, at a time when animal rights was beginning to be embraced by the mainstream public, the most powerful lawmaker in New York City, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, blocked every meaningful legislative effort to improve even the basic welfare of animals. In recent years, however, a new crop of lawmakers in New York City has championed both animal welfare and animal rights legislation.
The City Council passed its first signature animal rights bill, a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, in 2017. To the delight of animal rights activists and many City Council members, that historic moment was upstaged on October 30th, 2019, when the Council passed a package of 11 bills and resolutions to help companion animals, wild animals and animals killed for food. During the vote, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, the most animal-friendly Speaker in the Council’s history, gleefully stated, “The Council will be voting on a lot of bills – a lot of bills and resolutions that will strengthen our existing animal welfare laws in New York City.”
PETA president Ingrid Newkirk is force fed during a foie gras protest at Fortnum & Mason, a gourmet food store in London
The most controversial of the bills was a ban on sale of foie gras in restaurants and stores. According to the New York Times, an estimated 1,000 restaurants sell foie gras in New York City, which is arguably the gastronomic capital of the country. In spite of the risk of criticism from the prominent chefs and the media, City Council Member Carlina Rivera introduced and championed the legislation.
In addition to being force fed until their livers swell to ten times their normal size, ducks and geese killed for foie gras are raised in factories where these aquatic animals have no access to water.
In 2006, Council Member Alan Gerson attempted to introduce a foie gras ban, but Speaker Christine Quinn, who notoriously controlled the city’s legislative agenda, blocked it before other Council Members could even weigh in. A 2007 New York Times story about foie gras protests at Fairway made reference to this incident. In stark contrast to Speaker Quinn, the current Speaker, Corey Johnson, supported Council Member Rivera’s bill to ban foie gras sales.
Matt Dominguez and Allie Feldman Taylor from Voters for Animal Rights flank Carlina Rivera, the NYC Council Member who introduced the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.
While the animal rights community credits the current City Council for passing laws to protect animals, the historic foie gras bill would not have been introduced, much less passed, by the City Council, were it not for a two year campaign waged by Voters for Animal Rights (VFAR), a group that advocates for animal rights legislation in NYC. With the support of hundreds of grass roots animal rights activists, VFAR organizers Allie Feldman Taylor and Matt Dominguez partnered with animal rights groups, veterinarians, and restaurants to create a coalition of supporters who lobbied City Council members and educated the public about the cruelty associated with the production of foie gras.
David Chang, the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group, criticizes the City Council for passing the bill to ban the sale of foie gras.
After working with Council Member Rivera to get the bill introduced, VFAR supporters, led by Taylor and Dominguez, lobbied the members of the City Council’s Health Committee, which is where the bill was assigned for review. On the day of the Committee vote, the Chair, Council Member Mark Levine, made an impassioned speech suggesting that lawmakers have an ethical mandate to protect animals: “As society evolves, we have a right to expect business practices evolve as well. I am incredibly proud that this City Council has begun to put empathy for the suffering of animals front and center on our agenda, and, more importantly, that we are translating that empathy into tangible policy, smart policy for the animals in this city and beyond. And that does mean changing the food we consume and changing the food production system.”
After the votes for the foie gras ban were counted, the animal rights activists in the City Council chambers rejoiced, not only because hundreds of thousands of birds will be spared from force feeding, but also because the City Council sent a strong message to the public that lawmakers are now recognizing the plight of animals and the need for laws to protect them. “We’ve seen a tremendous shift in the compassionate consciousness of our City Council Members,” said Taylor. “It’s a new day for animal rights in New York City.”
On September 21, youth climate leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations in New York to participate in the Youth Climate Summit. During the summit, TheirTurn asked them why the youth climate movement isn’t using its platform to encourage grass roots climate activists and the mainstream public to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.
One day earlier, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were students, took to the streets of downtown Manhattan to participate in a youth climate strike with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Neither their posters nor the information they distributed focused on what individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. Frustrated by the fact that youth climate leaders are not proactively encouraging the public to take steps to reduce their own emissions, a contingent of several dozen adult activists joined the climate strike to promote plant-based diets.
Adult climate strikers promote plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce carbon and methane emissions
“Eating animals is the elephant in the room of the climate change movement,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney and activist who participated in the climate strike. “How can youth climate leaders expect world leaders to take action on the climate crisis if they aren’t encouraging their own constituents to stop engaging in environmentally destructive activity that can be easily avoided?
Ranchers are deforesting the Amazon in order to graze their cattle and grow cattle feed (photo: National Geographic)
During the interviews with TheirTurn, every youth climate leader mentioned meat reduction or elimination when asked what steps individuals can take. None of them, however, indicated that they are proactively conveying this message to their constituents. They are instead pressuring global leaders to make systemic change.
“It’s not an either/or,” said journalist and climate advocate Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnChained. “Youth climate leaders can demand accountability from our leaders and ask their constituents to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to a plant-based diet.”
Waste lagoon at a cattle ranch (taken from above)
Unlike youth climate leaders, who understand the impact of animal agriculture on the climate and are reducing or eliminating their own consumption of animal products, grass roots participants in the youth climate strike were largely unaware. When asked what steps they can take to reduce their own carbon emissions, most recommended reducing single-use plastic and recycling.
Youth climate leaders speak about their advocacy at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit
In an effort to determine whether or not climate strikers are aware of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, TheirTurn asked participants at the Youth Climate Strike what steps individuals can take in their day-to-day lives to reduce their carbon footprint:
Angered by the government’s failure to address the global climate crisis, an estimated 250,000 New Yorkers took to the streets of lower Manhattan on September 20th to demand climate action from elected officials. Absent from this and previous Youth Climate Strikes was messaging about what individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint. While youth climate leaders are demanding accountability from world leaders, they are not using their platform to encourage their constituents to take personal steps, such as switching to a plant-based diet, to mitigate their impact on the planet.
The failure of youth climate leaders and mainstream environmental groups to address the impact of animal agriculture on the planet and promote a plant-based diet has been a source of great frustration for the animal advocacy community.
“Going vegan is the most impactful step individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint, yet the youth climate strike movement, like the larger environmental movement, is turning a blind eye,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS, a NYC-based animal rights group that participated in the Climate Strike. “Until the environmental movement embraces and promotes plant-based diets, vegans need to come to these marches in large numbers to deliver the message directly to consumers that animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change.”
A contingent of vegan adults participated in the Youth Climate Strike in an effort to educate strikers about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet.
In recent weeks, the burning of the Amazon rainforest to make more space for cattle grazing has started to create public discourse around the impact of animal agriculture on the planet. Before the fires, the leading environmental groups skirted the issue out of fear of alienating meat-eating donors. This conflict of interest was exposed in the award-winning 2014 documentary film Cowspiracy, which follows filmmaker Kip Andersen as “he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it.”
On October 20th at 1:00 p.m., the Chelsea Film Festival in New York City is hosting the world premiere of another documentary that addresses the impact of animal agriculture on the planet. The film, Countdown To Year Zero, is directed by journalist and animal rights icon Jane Velez-Mitchell.