Hi. Thank you for inviting me here tonight. My name is Asher Brown, and while you might not know my name, you’ve probably seen my work. Over the past few years I’ve directed and produced hundreds of commercials and videos for almost 50 plant based brands and animal rights non-profits, including content for three very wonderful Animal Rescue Sanctuaries. My job is to figure out how to use stories to bring about real and radical change.
I’m here tonight to talk about why animal sanctuaries matter, and why they are so absolutely vital to our cause. For me, that story starts with turkeys.
The first sanctuary I ever visited was Farm Sanctuary, up in Acton. I was there to direct a Thanksgiving video starring Moby, Kat Von D and a small flock of rescue turkeys. And to be honest, I was focused far more on the video than on my surroundings.
At first glance, the sanctuary seemed like such an ordinary place. It looked like how, as a kid I imagined farms should look. Happy animals running around, and a team of people looking after them. A lot of dirt, some exciting smells but nothing that would jump out as revolutionary.
It took me an afternoon of trying to direct turkeys to put everything together. Each turkey was different. Her own unique person. Turkey Lurkey was my favorite. If you feed her cranberries she’ll stay on her camera mark for hours. Which is infinitely longer than the other turkeys or Moby. Venus and Serena were the class clowns. Fun to film, but when one of them starts acting up you know the other is about to follow. And Madeleine, most beautiful of the bunch. But she was moulting, and self conscious, and always ended up in the back of the crowd.
And maybe this sounds like a silly thing to say, but there are hundreds of millions of turkeys in this country, and until very recently I had never met one. There are billions of cows and billions of pigs and I’d never met any of them either.
We accept this as normal. But it shouldn’t be.
We never see farm animals, or if we do, we’re trained to think of them as identical. Indistinct. As if by making them faceless we can also make them invisible.
This a tool used to oppress.
We make up code words to remove individuality and to shield us from the cruelty of our actions. Carol Adams calls this the absent referent. We don’t eat pigs, we eat pork chops. We eat mutton, not sheep. And when we take baby cows away from their mothers and force them into tiny crates so confined that their muscles melt off of their bones, we call that veal, because otherwise how could we stand it?
We kill 60 billion farm animals a year, and we’ve built so many walls that they might as well exist on a different planet. The only time we see them is on our plates, or in cartoons, or cut into hermetically sealed pieces at the supermarket. And so we learn: don’t ask questions.
And of course. If farm animals were invisible, then we wouldn’t need to worry about them. They wouldn’t need freedom, or fresh air. or a mother.
These walls shield us from the truths of our actions, but they don’t make those truths go away. The food we eat harms the animals we should be caring for. It destroys the planet that we need to live on and it harms the communities that we work so hard to build. We lie to ourselves that this is ok. And that we shoulder no blame for the evil that happens in our name. But of course, it’s not. And we do.
When we teach our children to accept injustice every day and at every meal, how can we expect them to build a world that’s better? When we tell them that cats and dogs should be loved and cows and pigs should be eaten, then how can we teach them compassion for those who are not like us.
And when they’ve never known a farm animal allowed to run free, how can we ask them to understand what it means to be Protectors.
And that’s the beauty of animal rescue sanctuaries. They are the candle in the darkness that will one day light the world. The most wonderful thing about the message is its simplicity. Farm Animals are all around us. They are hugely important in our social, economic and cultural lives. So what would happen if we stopped thinking of them in the abstract?
We are on a boat tonight that’s chasing down the storm. The world we live in is wonderful and beautiful and corrupt. There is much work to be done.
We are all here because we chose to navigate the more difficult course. Our beliefs have weathered a lifetime of attack, leaving us with courage and conviction.
Most of all, our Capacity for Compassion sets us apart. Our empathy leaves us exposed. Often, it’s what makes us hurt.
And it’s what makes us strong. So strong that we’ve set goals that would fundamentally change the lives of the 8 billion people and hundreds of billions of farm animals with whom we share this planet.
Compared to us, the meat and dairy industries are weak. They’re scared. They’re forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on propaganda and must constantly beg for public subsidies. People are turning on them in droves. They’ve lost credibility. They’ve losing trust. They need massive teams of advertising execs and highly paid lobbyists, because they are in danger of losing everyone else.
We don’t need their money or their connections or their imagined power. Because our power is true. Like the plants we eat, all we need is sunlight. When enough people understand the truth, then it’s over. And we’ve won.
And so our true mission is to teach. Ourselves first, and then each other. But mostly, our greatest hope is with the next generation, and the next one after. Our children will understand. They won’t need to hide behind lies, or excuses. Their shield will be Truth.
To everyone listening, I challenge you to think. Open your eyes to the suffering that is being caused, and trust your hearts to lead you towards the light.
And I challenge you to teach.
If you have children, take them to an animal sanctuary. Take them to Farm Sanctuary and take them to Gentle Barn and take them to LOVELAND.
For the first time, let them know a chicken who is free, not free range. Let them see how happy a pig can be when not trapped in a crate, and how much love is truly in a mother cow’s heart. And of course, let them play with turkeys.
Compassion is our weapon. It makes us strong. But our fires need fuel. And that is why we need places like Loveland Farm Sanctuary. To ground us, and to elevate. To inspire our children and light beacons of hope. And to help us to understand for whom it is that we fight.
The path to compassion begins with one cow. One chicken. One pig. Four very special turkeys.
Because animals are our friends. And as any child will tell you, we don’t eat our friends.
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