Noticing Change

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Tonight I went out with friends to get vegan pizza. This might seem like nothing out of the ordinary for most people but for me this was just another reminder of how different my life is now from 2 years ago.

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I can remember at this time two years ago every time I rode the buses back and forth from downtown I would watch people. I would watch the easy natured way they talked to their friends on the bus and made plans for the weekend. I remember wanting so badly to be able to connect with people and break out of my self built isolation.

I would get off the bus and go back to my apartment and cry. Most days I would cry. I was tired of being lonely. I was recovering from an eating disorder, but what’s even harder about recovery is recovering the social aspect. (this may not be true for everyone) But I cut myself completely off in the depths of my disorder and did not know how to build friendships and just talk to people.

Once I stopped worrying about what I ate and when I ate and whether people were judging me for eating my life became a lot easier.

Not to say my life is perfect now. It’s a rare day that I don’t think about slipping back into disordered habits or losing weight. Body positivity is hard and I am no expert at it. I still struggle with anxiety.

But now I live for other things than my image and my weight and the “cleanness” of my food. I love pouring my energy into animal rights and Banana Slugs for Animals, my campus group, and writing for City On a Hill Press. I love cooking people yummy food (and eating some of it!). I do have body image issues but I’m happy now.

I never thought it would be possible to go out with friends and eat multiple slices of pizza and laugh and not give it a second thought. My life is better now even if I’m no longer a size zero and even if my food is not 100% healthy all the time.

And I guess I’m just writing this to say that life does get better. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ll be stuck in an endless cycle of loneliness and depression. It’s hard when you feel cut off and like you can never bridge the gap between you and other people. And nothing anyone says really helps.

When I really devoted my time to Banana Slugs for Animals I met some of the most wonderful, caring people I’ve ever met. They’ve made my life and time at UC Santa Cruz so much better. I love being surrounded with compassionate driven people who share similar goals. I love having people to make vegan food with and go to Veg Fests and Animal Sanctuaries.

It took me a lot of hard work to rebuild the social aspect of my life. It’s hard to look back at the pictures of me from a few years ago and see how different I looked and I can’t quite quiet that deep longing to be skinny again. Somedays it’s a deafening roar in my head, but on nights like tonight it’s barely a whisper.

 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is really a pretty horrible holiday. It’s rooted in the genocide of Native people, celebrating colonization. Christopher Columbus was a terrible person. All around horrible historical basis. Throw on top of that the murder of approximately 45 million turkeys and that adds up to a pretty bloody cruel holiday.

What is Thanksgiving supposed to be about? Giving thanks? Spending time with loved ones?

But who gets to give thanks? The ones who are privileged enough to benefit from the effects of colonization in the U.S. and have the luck of having been born into the human species. That doesn’t sound like a good basis for gratitude and thankfulness.

When people say they can’t stop eating turkey on thanksgiving because of “tradition” I just wonder how hard it is to start a new tradition. Is the dead body of a bird so important to people that they can’t make more compassionate choices? If so I’m a little worried about their priorities. it doesn’t matter how good something tastes. If taste buds have so much power over a person that it overrides another beings right to life then that’s a bit alarming.

Even worse are the paper turkeys absolutely everywhere advertising their own species mass murder. When I walked into the grocery store last weekend there were cute animated smiling turkeys by the meat section with information on ordering a bird for the holidays.

This is one of the parts of food advertising that irritates me the most. The use of animated “happy’ animals to sell the flesh of their real-life counterparts. That is twisted on so many levels.

This year is a little bit harder for me to handle because I worked hands on with turkeys this summer at Animal Place Sanctuary and got to know them as individuals. I spent hours with one small female turkey, Molko and she won my heart.

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We would sit outside the barn in the sunlight and she would crouch next to me, waiting for strokes and butt scratches. Sometimes she would close her eyes and drift off a bit in the sun, utterly at peace.

Molko was one of many turkeys at Animal Place, all with their unique personalities.

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They are truly individuals, survivors of a harsh world that values them only for their weight, their flesh – ignorant to the individuals whose destruction they funded.

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It’s not that hard just to choose kinder choices. Make a vegan roast instead of a bird. Cook a bunch of tasty side dishes instead of animal products fraught with cruelty. A quick google search will yield thousands of tasty plant-based dishes. There is absolutely no reason to eat animals.

Thanksgiving is a nice way to bring family’s together, especially if you come from a large or spread-out family. It’s a nice excuse to eat delicious food. I know that. I love seeing my family during the holiday’s,. But no holiday is worth paying for suffering and maybe it’s time we reconsidered why we celebrate this holiday? Why do we continue to perpetuate the idea that this was some peaceful meeting between Europeans and Native Americans? We should recognize as a nation that many of the holidays we celebrate our rooted in the colonization and destruction of native cultures. Is that something we still want to be celebrating?

That’s a lot of questions and I don’t have a clear-cut way to remedy them. We can start by recognizing the ways in which so many holidays have become rooted in consumerism rather than the true values they claim to espouse.

This year, if you haven’t considered it already, start by giving thanks for all life. Start new traditions. Reevaluate why we celebrate what we celebrate and how we can work to live by the values of thankfulness and gratitude.

I know I’m working on it everyday. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m trying to do what I can with my life to make the world a kinder place. That’s all any of us can really hope to do.

Anyway. Those are just some thoughts on the upcoming holiday. Thanks for taking the time to read them.

Vegan Mac Down by FFAC

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Yesterday Banana Slugs for Animals took a trip to Oakland for the Vegan Mac Down, a mac and cheese cook-off, hosted by the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition. We may have been a bit over eager and arrived an hour early. Needless to say they weren’t quite ready for us yet so we walked around and found an interesting thrift shop to look in. After wasting time for a bit we headed back to the venue (still early) and anxiously waited outside for it to begin.

We were all ready to eat!

As soon as the doors were open we were inside. They had a lot of great booths set up with companies like Hampton Creek and Peace Panther. Hampton Creek had lots of cookie samples, which they apparently offer for corporate events and large orders. So obviously we loved their table 😉 They also gave all the attendees free Rebel Mylk coffee drinks, Zevia sodas and Beanfield chip bags.

After pursuing around we found their photo booth! Complete with props. BSA club had so much fun taking photos.

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Then came the Mac and Cheese tasting! We were handed our ballot sheet and a plate with samples of all the contestants dishes.

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We discussed each sample after tasting them like we were food critics which was pretty fun. The dishes were:

Mac and taters

Ivy’s Macaroni and Cheese

Backyard BBQ Mac and Cheese with Vegan “pulled pork”

German Mac and Cheese with Homemade Spaetzel

Jeremie’s Mac and Cheese Pie

Mexican style Mac and Cheese Nachos

So many fun, inventive flavors! My favorite was the German one and it won my vote (along with many of my group’s). It was creamy and the noodles were perfectly cooked and the flavor was delicious.

It was such a fun event and it helped us bond more as a club. Though our primary focus is animal rights it’s always fun to attend vegan foodie events!

Thanks to the FFAC for hosting! They are a great organization and if you haven’t heard of them before I recommend checking them out!

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Life with Eloise and Thoughts on Companion Animals

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If you follow me on Instagram you know by now that about a month ago I adopted a kitten, Eloise. She’s living on campus with me as a support animal.

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When I first brought her home I was just so excited. I mean who wouldn’t be? I was now sharing my little corner of campus with an adorable, playful little being. Eloise makes me feel infinitely lucky that I walked into the shelter on the day I did and stumbled across her little kennel all the way in the far back corner of the cat adoption room.

After only a few minutes of playing with her in the socialization room I knew she was the one. Eloise has this habit of purring all the time. She purrs as she falls asleep. She purrs as she lunges across the room to attack a fluffy toy. She purrs as she claws her way up my leg. She’s an infinitely happy cat.

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As happy as I am adopting Eloise and going her a loving forever home, it was really hard to see all the other cats at the shelter who may or may not find a home. Especially the older cats. Kittens find homes easily, because everyone loves baby animals, but adult cats can spend forever in a shelter or sadly be euthanized.

There was one older cat (8 years old) named Blossom who was gorgeous. I spent a long time playing with her through the glass. She would follow my finger around with a glimmer in her eyes, a peek at her inner kitten. I secretly wished I could take both cats home.

I get so upset when i see people brag about their dogs or cats having kittens on social media. Or when they post pictures of their “pure-bred” animals purchased for hundreds from a breeder. Because while they spend a ridiculous amount on a breeder puppy or kitten, there’s a cat like Blossom sitting in a shelter waiting for someone to give her a loving home. There’s thousands of animals in shelters across the U.S. and beyond that need homes and need people to love them. If I spent everyday siting in a kennel I would be bitter, but many of those animals are so ready to love humans.

Recently I had a friend from high school post on Facebook asking someone to take in her cat because she was “too busy with work to care for her.” That made my blood boil. Animals trust us and rely on us for their daily comforts, food, attention, shelter. How can someone just turn them out? That to me seems like the ultimate betrayal.

I feel lucky to have Eloise with me. She makes me focus on the little things and reminds me that whatever school related issues I’m stressing about aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things. I’m so happy universities give students the option to have animals on campus for mental health. I think it’s great to foster a supportive living environment for students and recognizing that animals can play a crucial role in mental health. 12112463_983085608424376_7951006934111247245_n

It’s so much fun to watch Eloise grow. When I first brought her home she was so small.

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And in only a month she seems to have doubled in size! I love watching her personality develop. She’s definitely developed single child syndrome. She likes to get her way and knows how to play into my emotions. In the morning as soon as I’m out of bed she makes these little pitiful meow sounds that escalate into loud demanding meows until I feed her. When I’m paying to much attention to my computer or my phone she pushes her way between me and the screen and demands I play with her right now.

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I love having someone to come home to after classes and club events. University life has left me feeling isolated and I haven’t really had a good college experience. This year has been much better and I’m sure Eloise has played a major role in that. ❤

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Chickens and Eggs, The Good, Bad and the Ugly

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I just got home from my internship in Grass Valley two days ago and I miss it so much. I learned so many things about animals and the industries that harm them, far more than I knew coming in.

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Animal Place is well known for their large scale chicken rescues. They go into egg farms when they’re about to “depopulate” hens and Animal Place rescues as many as they can, giving them a chance at a long, happy life. Depopulating in CA means the hens are tossed in large garbage bins and then gassed until they die. Hens on the bottom often suffocate from the weight of the dying hens on top of them. Those who manage  to pop to the surface have their necks broken. All of this is because their egg production has started to decline. This is so symbolic of how society views chickens, as something to use, abuse and then toss away like garbage.

When AP goes in to rescue the hens they rehabilitate them, deworm, de-lice and vaccinate them and then they’re adopted out to good homes. Many go on to live several more years. The people they adopt out to, commit to keep the hens for the rest of their lives and take them to a vet if needed (many still use the hens for their eggs) so they’ll never be unnecessarily killed. Most of this takes place at AP’s original location in Vacaville, CA called Rescue Ranch. This system of rehabilitation and adoption has allowed them to save nearly 17,000 hens!! That’s so many lives spared from further harm.

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I’ve seen many people share AP’s video of hens being liberated for the first time in their lives from cages, but I think for many people they still fail to grasp the significance of that event. The most recent rescue (in July of 2015) was from a battery cage egg farm of white leghorn chickens (like the two pictured closest to the camera above). They were about a year and a half old. That’s a year and a half in a cage. That’s all they knew of life. Crowded, Dark, Uncomfortable Bars with no sunlight, no dirt to bathe in and no freedom to stretch their legs or wings. That’s unfathomable to most people but it’s a fate we force onto these babies every day. When they first pop out of those transport crates it’s more than just a cute moment, it’s the first time they get to be a chicken. It’s the first time they get the basic comforts we take for granted.

Chickens don’t produce eggs for humans. They produce eggs to be the next generation of chickens. Through genetic manipulation we’ve taxed their poor bodies beyond repair. Chickens would naturally produce between 20-30 eggs a year, but now they produce about 300! That’s almost an egg a day! There’s many consequences to that. Chickens have the second highest rate of osteoporosis, the first being humans, so they often suffer from fragile bones and fractures. This is because the overproduction of eggs leaches calcium out of their body (and the reason that AP feeds the eggs back to the chickens-great source of calcium). They also frequently suffer from reproductive problems such as prolapse, which is basically like their reproductive organs coming out of their body.

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Prolapse (pictured above) in one of the rescued hens by an AP volunteer.

All of this we put hens through and for what? Humans definitely don’t need to eat eggs to survive and we can easily chose just to eat something else that doesn’t cause such harm.

Hens aren’t the only ones who suffer for eggs though. When chickens first hatch from their eggs their sexed into male and female and all the males are killed at birth. Chickens raised for meat are much different from those for eggs and so male chicks are deemed worthless and they’re killed either through being ground alive or suffocated in bags.

Chickens naturally talk to their babies when they’re still in the egg. This is important so that when the babes hatch they recognize their mother’s voice and go straight to her. Sometimes other hens and roosters aren’t so kind to baby chicks so its important they recognize their mother’s voice. In the egg industry all chicks are hatched in artificial incubators. All they know of the world is silence. We deprive them of their mother’s voices.

The chicks are debeaked almost immediately, which involves severing the tips off their beaks (you will notice many in the pictures with this). Their beaks have nerves all the way to the tip so this is like cutting off a segment of ones finger – without anesthesia. This leaves them with trouble eating and properly grooming (why many of the white hens may appear mangy). This is done because they’re kept in such tight quarters that they don’t want the hens pecking each other to death.

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When I first came to AP I had never met a chicken before. They grew on me quickly. Watching the chickens is so much fun because you can see them figuring out the world. They cock their head and eye you, taking you in and seeing if you pose a threat.

11896255_959149427484661_7464363142483682950_n They fight and play with other chickens, chasing each other around the yard, hanging in cliques and establishing dominance. They all have distinct personalities, there’s the boisterous rooster crowing his head off, there’s the hen who sneaks in underfoot to grab some food. They’re engaging, curious and intelligent animals. When a chick hatches from their egg they can already count to five! (smarter than human babies for sure haha)
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Some of them are so sweet and love to sit on laps and get stroked. Others like their personal space, and who can blame them after what humans put them through. It’s a miracle any of them still like humans. 

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When people complain about vegans or AR activists I wonder why? I’m speaking up for animals who are silenced every day. They need our help. We can do something about animal exploitation so why shouldn’t we? It feels like a moral obligation to stop suffering – whether animal or human. Eggs are fraught with suffering and even those from backyard hens are not ours to take. Eggs belong to chickens, not humans.

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They are all someone – not something. They are not ours to abuse and use.

There’s no such thing as humane dairy

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It continually baffles me how many people believe that cows just produce milk – like it just starts flowing out of them. Some of the wildest things I’ve heard include “cows udders will explode if we don’t milk them” and “cows milk is made for humans.” I admit that when I was a kid I thought that cows just produced milk, but as I got older that narrative made no sense! From an evolutionary stand point why would cows bodies rely on humans to milk them?

Just like humans, cows produce milk when they give birth…in order to FEED their baby. So any dairy cow will have to be repeatedly inseminated to produce calves so that their milk supply stays steady and they produce milk for humans to consume. To produce milk, a cow must give birth. In the United States, cows are re-impregnated every 12-14 months until their bodies become exhausted. According to the US dairy census, 75% of all cows are artificially inseminated, which requires a human to insert an arm up her rectum and an artificial insemination rod with bull semen into her cervix. And what happens to those babies if they’re not getting their mothers milk? They’re usually separated from their mother very soon after birth and put on a water based formula mixture. This deprives them of the colostrum in their mothers milk which carries vital nutrients and immune protection for the calves.

This whole experience is, understandably, traumatic for the calves and mother cows. More than 95% of all calves on dairy farms are physically removed from their mothers within 48 hours after birth, so this is something that also occurs on small and “humane” farms. Female calves are kept in hutches until they become the next generation of dairy cows, while male calves are sold for veal or beef. If sold for veal they are confined in small crates that often prevent them from even turning around, before they are slaughtered at only 18-24 weeks old. 

Because of industrial breeding cows produce about 5x more milk than normal which puts them at risk of reproductive problems and udder infections. They are milked ten out of twelve months per year, seven of their nine month pregnancy. Milking occurs about 3 times a day. Many U.S. dairy cows are confined in primarily indoor operations, with more than 60% tethered by the neck inside barren stalls, unable to act on normal behaviors. 

The industry also drastically cuts short their life span (which is 20-25 years) and sends them off to be killed at 4-5 years of age. They spend their whole lives being stolen from by humans and then in the end they’re murdered. They’re often sold as “cheap meat” for pet food and hamburgers.

The dairy industry is lucrative. They splash their “Got Milk” campaigns in every school cafeteria and in every magazine featuring highly payed celebrities. They’ve convinced people that we need to drink another animals milk into adulthood and it supposedly makes us healthy? Even though studies show that countries with higher rates of dairy consumption also have higher rates of osteoporosis. There’s a reason why we wean off breast milk and it’s not to start consuming another animal’s breast milk. That makes no sense.

Health facts aside the truth about the industry and the simple fact that dairy milk doesn’t belong to us is enough reason not to consume it. The dairy industry is simply cruel and stealing from another animal is not okay – ever. Cows should be able to have familial bonds and live out their natural lives. Just because humans are in a position of “power” doesn’t give us an excuse to abuse it. Live kindly.

My Experience at Animal Place Sanctuary (First 2 weeks)

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So I’ve been at Animal Place two weeks now and I’m loving it here. (Already dreading when I’ll have to leave). I spend most of my time in the office here working on social media advocacy, doing research and calling and sending emails. The time I get to spend with the animals is my favorite though. Actually meeting them one on one and learning their backstories and seeing how happy and peaceful they are at Animal Place reminds me who I’m fighting for.

11828832_950237021709235_7786612775117741142_nIt’s also incredibly peaceful here. Animal Sanctuaries are unique in that they’re one of the few safe places on Earth where animals aren’t exploited or treated as means to profit from. When you meet an animal one on one and learn about their personality and likes/dislikes there’s really no difference between “farmed” animals and companion animals.

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Wilbur is the sweetest and one of the few big farm pigs we can interact with because he moves slowly due to arthritis and he loves people. Farm pigs are about 800 pounds and so that weight can pose a bit of a threat sometimes so it’s good to be cautious around them. Wilbur lived in a 20×30 dirt pen before coming to Animal Place. Here he’s loved and safe and no one will ever hurt him, but unfortunately Wilbur’s story isn’t unique and so many pigs live in even worse conditions. The numbers are staggering so we try to emphasize that even though people may see Wilbur and his great home that’s not even close to what other pigs have even on the most “humane” or “local” farms.

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Wilbur loves his life here and no one should ever have the power to cut it short. We try to bring him treats often. In this picture we fed him sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, and oranges. That is the face of a happy pig!

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I’ve interacted with a few of the other farm pigs when we led a tour of the sanctuary. We take visitors in to see the animals and give them some belly rubs. They are usually pretty sleepy since I usually visit in the middle of the day when it’s hot. In their barns they have fans to keep them cool. Here’s Georgina! She was born on a small family farm operating on an apple orchard and petting zoo. Her owners planned to sell her and her two sisters to be killed after they were done with them. How horrifying right? It’s so sad that people don’t see anything wrong with using them for financial gain then killing them. Luckily all three were rescued and have a loving forever home.

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One day last week I worked in Animal care helping with feeding, cleaning out barns, and sorting produce and so I got to see the farm pigs during feeding time! It’s quite a sight. They make screaming noises and a loud roar as they all stand behind their gate waiting to be let out. As soon as the gates are opened they all thunder down to the food and not a single drop is left when they’re finished. Even though I started work extra early that day at 7 a.m. I might go in early again just to watch them.

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Working in animal care is a great way to really get to know the animals one on one. Starting work so early is not a big deal when you get to see the sanctuary come alive. The animals waking up and the early morning light really makes the “sanctuary” feel so much more real. This is Jeffrey enjoying his breakfast in the goat barn. He was abandoned by his mom at a goat dairy farm but now he’s at Animal Place and we love him all the more.

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Coming into Animal Place, my favorite animals were pigs and cows. I just loved them. I knew I was going to love the chickens and turkeys as well, but I’ve been a little surprised by how much I’ve bonded with the birds. They’re sweet, curious, and obviously intelligent. Of course I have some favorites in the bunch but I don’t let the others know. Haha. Molko, pictured above, is a small female turkey and she’s the one I always look for when I go visit the chickens and turkeys. She’ll sit right down for pets and she’ll stay there until you walk away. She’s calm and loving and she likes to be stroked. It actually breaks my heart a little to think of Thanksgiving this year because even though I’m already horrified by the sheer number of birds that suffer for people to “give thanks.” This year will be even harder knowing Molko on a personal level. I know she’s all I will think about that day. She was rescued form a squatter situation and was left behind when they left.

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Some of the chickens have special needs due to coming from an industrial setting or because of birth defects. Lilac, pictured above, is blind and so when we feed them we place her right in front of her food. She was rescued from a battery cage in Gilroy, CA. So she’s had a hard life, but I’m so glad she can be shown compassion and love now.

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Throughout the sanctuary there are posters with animals that live at the sanctuary and quotes about animal rights. I feel like this is a really great way of gently reminding visitors that the animals here may be safe, but there’s many more that still need us to fight for them and speak up for them. It also allows people to connect the abstract idea of animals to the individuals that are in front of them.

11836863_954042197995384_3644831934134017337_nOne of my favorite experiences I’ve had was helping lead a tour. Watching people interact with the animals, for some of them it was their first time meeting farm animals, is really special because every single person lit up with a smile when they met the residents. We took them in to see Nicholas, the cow above, and it was really special. They learned a lot about animal agriculture while meeting the animals and so they were reminded of the suffering that goes on if they pay for animal products, but in a non-pushy way. It’s harder for people to tense up or react to the word “vegan” when the animals are right there and they are having a great time with them.

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I’m really grateful for this experience and getting to meet the animals I’ve been advocating for the last few years. It’s so peaceful here. Everyone is vegan and incredibly nice and they just understand. There’s nothing better than being surrounded by driven and compassionate people who are striving to make the world a better place. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in this situation/environment again and so I’m trying to take full advantage of it. I’d love to work in a sanctuary setting in the future. I wouldn’t mind spending every single day of my life doing just what I’m doing right now. 11899866_953944671338470_1928768355550589252_n

Because who wouldn’t want to see this face everyday?