In this edition of Press Play we interviewed Keith Burgeson, the Senior Vegan Mentor Coordinator at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA’s mission is active all around the world, and you can find their videos on www.nyxt.nyc/peta.
¨Cultural change comes gradually. It grows through exposure to painful truths that are often ignored: deliberately or just conveniently.¨
NYXT: How did you start working with PETA and which aspects about PETA resonate with you?
KEITH: I began my PETA journey in October 2014 as an Assistant Action Team Coordinator, helping activists to increase the effectiveness and frequency of their local grassroots activism around the country and the world.
The most profound resonation of PETA’s work for me lies within my current position with the organization, which is spearheading our Vegan Mentor Program—an initiative which provides aspiring vegans with personalized guidance through one-on-one support from vegan mentors. I’m proud to boast that since the program’s inception in 2015, we have helped over 2,100 people from 66 countries with their transition to healthier, more compassionate vegan lifestyles.
NYXT: What was your wake up call experience that led you to get involved with activism?
KEITH: I went vegan in October 2009, but it wasn’t until an internship with Farm Sanctuary in January 2013 that my activist spark was ignited. For those who have not had the luxury of sharing presence with farmed animals, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of any opportunity to spend time with these magnificent creatures. You’ll quickly come to find that spending time with these animals allows us to witness their intelligence, their personalities, and sentient nature. Many sanctuaries offer tours as well as internships. Check out Sanctuaries.org for guidance.
NYXT: What is the most challenging aspect about your work?
KEITH: The most challenging aspect of my work stems from helping aspiring vegans deal with the unfortunate, saddening, and oftentimes unexpected social animosity they face from family and friends while making this profound lifestyle shift. Keep in mind that this is a personal choice rooted in compassion. Kindhearted individuals who are striving to live healthier, more compassionate lives because they value the lives of innocent creatures and the health of our environment over their own gluttonous appetites.
To encourage aspiring vegans through the emotional turmoil, we place tremendous effort in reinforcing the fact that a lot of people find veganism psychologically threatening. While many will be accommodating; some will be resistant. Cultural change comes gradually. It grows through exposure to painful truths that are often ignored: deliberately or just conveniently. Habits are hard to shift, even when the truth is out there. As an example, we have known about the horrendous health effects of smoking for well over half a century, yet to this day we still see advertisements with people puffing away at restaurants. But change, if slow, is inexorable. The “bombarding” of smokers through advertising, articles, unpleasant images of cigarette packs, etc. has seen a steep decline in the percentage of those who smoke. Meat is going the same way, with more people being aware of the cost to their health, the damage to the environment, and the suffering of animals.
NYXT: What are some of PETA’s big achievements in 2018?
KEITH: PETA has been leading the charge for animal rights since our founding in 1980, and 2018 was no different. Among the multitude of campaign victories from 2018, a few of my standout favorites would have to be luxury brand Coach’s announcement to join the fur-free movement, personal-care product powerhouse Dove’s global ban on all animal testing, and the U.S. Coast Guard decision to end the use of animals in trauma training—making them the first branch of the military to do so.
For a comprehensive list of animal right victories, please check out PETA’s Victories and Accomplishments page.
NYXT: Which was your favorite PETA's campaign from the past year?
KEITH: This would have to be PETA’s on-going dedication to shutting down SeaWorld. SeaWorld—which owns all but one of the orcas held captive in the U.S.—has a long history of mistreating animals. SeaWorld notoriously confines animals in tiny, concrete tanks at marine abusement parks across the country. Often housed with incompatible tankmates, dolphins, whales, and other animals at the parks are regularly drugged in order to manage stress-induced aggressive behavior and relieve the endless monotony of swimming in circles. Orcas at SeaWorld are dying far short of their natural lifespans. Forty-one have died on the park’s watch, at an average age of only 14. Not one has reached the maximum lifespan of an orca in nature. Hundreds of dolphins, whales, pinnipeds, and other animals have also died. SeaWorld spends only about 3 percent of its profits on conservation.
PETA employs a variety of tactics to help the animals held captive and forced to perform at SeaWorld’s parks, including public education and demonstrations, complaints to law-enforcement officials, corporate negotiations, shareholder activism, litigation, celebrity engagement, and more. For an up-to-date list of current and past PETA campaigns, check out our Campaigns page.
NYXT: Does PETA collaborate with other nonprofits? Which ones?
KEITH: There are various instances throughout the year where PETA works with other nonprofits. For example, this holiday season PETA is working with Border Action Network to help feed families in need and to help save hundreds of animals—by taking our vegan “persuasion pledge.”
Pledging is easy. Simply take vegan dishes to a dinner or invite others over for your (animal-free) holiday meal and persuade your family to try vegan. Post a photo of your vegan dish to social media with the hashtag #VeganThanksgiving. For every 100 people who take the Thanksgiving “persuasion pledge,”, PETA is donating a vegan dinner to underserved families through Border Action Network.
NYXT: What would be your message to people that are looking to improve their habits and start making a difference with the environment?
KEITH: One of the most impactful decisions any of us can make to combat environmental destruction is to stop eating animal-based foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs. The environmental repercussions of these industries is well-documented, so if our hearts ache for protecting the natural world, adhering to a vegan diet and lifestyle is ultimately the most important choice we can make. And PETA can help!
NYXT: What is coming next for PETA and how can people get involved?
KEITH: One of PETA’s primary focuses for the upcoming fall/winter is our campaign urging Canada Goose to stop selling fur and down feathers. Last year, we released a video exposé revealing that workers at a Canada Goose down supplier rounded up terrified geese, who piled on top of one another in an attempt to escape, causing suffocation and death. So many top brands—like HoodLamb, NOIZE, Save the Duck, and Wuxly Movement, just to name a few—sell warm, stylish, cruelty-free coats that no animal had to suffer and be killed for. Yet Canada Goose continues to stitch cruelty into its fur-lined, down-filled jackets. So we’re putting the animal-abusing retailer on blast—even more than usual—by staging colorful protests in front of their stores, erecting billboards and public transit ads, launching celebrity ad campaigns that urge fans to boycott the company, participating in its shareholder meetings to publicly urge it to switch to vegan materials, and taking the company to task on social media. In fact, more than 325,000 people have taken action against the company by sending it a message via our action alert.
NYXT: Would you like to add something?
KEITH: Our mentor initiative strives to foster a healthy, sustainable lifestyle shift by offering a network of support and resources that promote kindness over cruelty. Anyone interested in taking advantage of our free mentoring resources are encouraged to visit our website at www.PETA.org/veganmentor.
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