Comedian, PETA employee and internet personality
SS: What made you go vegan and why?
CP: Shoes. Shoes made me go vegan.
I've been vegetarian since I was four. I chose to do it on my own, for the usual reasons-- I didn't want to kill anyone. One day when I was 19, I went to the mall because I wanted knee-high boots (and I hate the mall, so I must have REALLY wanted knee-high boots), but the only pair I liked were leather, and I didn't like the idea of someone dying for footwear. I went back to my dorm room and googled "vegan boots," since I knew the word "vegan" meant something that didn't have any animal products in it. What popped up were various sites about the animal agriculture industry-- not just the way animals were treated to produce meat, but also eggs and dairy. I stayed up almost that whole night, reading in horror. It was the day before winter vacation, so I went home that week, ate my last bowl of cow's milk ice cream, and kissed animal products goodbye. It's been almost nine fantastic years since that day. Thanks, shoes!
SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes, what was difficult and did it get easier?
CP: Naw, it's not hard to do the right thing. I think the only times it's been difficult are when my heart wasn't in the right place. If a baby were drowning in a pool next to you, would you stop to ask "Would it be hard to dive in and get her out?" Of course not! It should be a reflex, to do the right thing. And this is even more immediate-- animals are being tormented on farms for our palates, so to use the same analogy, instead of considering whether to save the baby, you're deciding whether or not to push her in.
Any time I'm tempted (and that happens less and less as time goes on), I remind myself that I'm here on Earth a very short amount of time, and I want to be a person who does the right thing. Questions like "is it hard?" should always fall well behind "is it right?"
SS: What would you say to encourage someone who is considering becoming vegan?
CP: Know yourself. If you're the kind of person who can do things cold tofu and never go back, go for it, and go vegan tonight! But if that kind of approach makes you burn out and give up, then know that about yourself and take it slow. It's better to cut out animal products little by little and eventually maintain a completely vegan diet for good, than to go vegan all at once for a couple of months, give up, and go back to eating cheeseburgers. This can seem counter-intuitive, but the animals are depending on you to make the decisions that cause the least suffering. If, for you, that means taking it slow, then take it slow, but don't give up! That's been a hard thing for me to admit, because I want everyone to go vegan this very instant, but the goal is to eliminate suffering, not to maintain personal purity. So figure out the quickest way you can get there and stay there, and do it. BONUS: I lost 50 pounds. Shazam!
And for help and recipes, see PETA's Vegan Starter Kit: http://features.peta.org/VegetarianStarterKit/index.asp.
SS: What are some animal rights related things you participate in?
CP: I do a lot of activism, in a few different causes-- mostly animal rights, GLBT rights, and science education. But by far, I've put the most time and heart into animal rights activism. I've handed out thousands of leaflets, carried hundreds of signs, sent countless emails and letters to the editor, made many awkward phone calls, surreptitiously stickered animal-tested products, stood in front of KFCs in lingerie, worn cow suits to hand out soy milk, dressed up as a rat, rescued stranded animals, and worked for two of the nation's largest animal rights organizations. But by far, the most important thing I do for the animals is something everyone can do at every meal and every snack, by choosing vegan food. That's it-- just eliminate the suffering that's being caused in your name, behind factory farm doors, and you will have helped more animals than you could if you stopped to save a dying animal on the side of the road ONCE EVERY THREE DAYS. That's pretty powerful.
SS: What are your favorite AR organizations?
CP: Anyone who saves animals is a-okay with me! But my favorites are: PETA, for being absolutely fearless about getting the animal rights message into the media, no matter what it takes; Farm Sanctuary, for not only saving thousands of individual animals every year who have been neglected or abused by the farming industry, but also inviting people to come meet the animals at their beautiful sanctuaries; Mercy for Animals, for their groundbreaking investigations that blow the lid off farm animal abuse; and Compassion Over Killing, for their pragmatic and effective "Try Veg" program, which helps people choose vegan meals and make a sustainable transition to a vegan diet.
SS: Do you have any memories that stand out in your mind about someone saving an animal? Or relating to an animal in a unique way?
CP: I used to work at an animal sanctuary, and saw hundreds of animals rescued from cruelty, so the list is endless. But the story that always stays with me is Lily Pig's. When Lily was six months old, she was packed onto a crowded, noisy truck with dozens of other pigs, bound for slaughter. If hers was a typical journey, it was probably loud, dark, thick with the stench of ammonia, and up to hundreds of miles without rest, food or water. Seeing an opportunity for escape, Lily jumped off the back of that truck and onto the busy highway below, running to the bushes for safety. The couple driving the car behind her saw Lily's escape, ran to find her, and managed to get the 200 pound piglet into their car and drive her to safety.
Today, Lily sleeps in a barn with about 15 other pigs, at a sanctuary for farm animals. Every morning, she gets up, eats her freshly chopped vegetables and grain, and bathes in the sun for hours before splashing around in the pig pond with her friends. She's 8 years old today, and about 800 pounds. She's loved by everyone who knows her, and her favorite presents from visitors are avocado, tomatoes (whole, please), grapes and belly rubs.
Lily is one of the lucky ones who made it- an ambassador for those who didn't. And to me, she's also an inspiration. On my upper back, I have a tattoo of a happy, 800 pound Lily Pig, sleeping in her favorite spot in the pig barn, with a heart above her head, and underneath, a banner, and the word, "Jump!"