Ryan Bethencourt

Scientist, entrepreneur and activist.

SS: What made you go vegan and why?

Violence of course... I think all of us have our own individual paths to walk when it comes to awakening who we are ethically and philosophically; my particular path started on my biological father's birthday. I was born in Miami, I'm ethnically Cuban (my stepfather is British), Latin culture typically frowns upon weakness of any kind and not eating meat never seemed like an option for me. I was taught to believe Latin men eat meat otherwise they're not men. I loved animals even at a young age but farm animals were there for us to kill and use as that was the natural order of things. That is until I went with my father to pick up some fresh pork. Previous to this I'd grown up in urban Miami (in some fairly rough areas) and I had never actually seen a real pig (or cow). My only experiences of animals were limited to pets and zoo animals. Turning up at that farm with my father changed me at a fundamental level, I think I was about 10 years old. The fresh pork was of course from a local farm in the outskirts of Miami; there was a stall of pigs and shortly after we had arrived the farmer pulled a pig out of the pen. At that point, my eyes connected with the eyes of the pig and I realized another sentient being was looking back at me in terror as he/she thrashed on the rope and tried to pull away from the farmer. I realized at that moment this animal was very aware of what was about to happen. There was something deeply wrong to me about this whole situation; this wasn't manly or brave - but my "truths" contradicted the reality I was seeing in front of me: a defenseless creature, in terror which could do nothing to save its own life.

I had always treated all of our pets with love, respect and decency as they were totally dependent on me and my family for their well being and safety, yet what struck me as even more wrong was that there were about ten people around me and no one seemed to care or notice the fear and terror in this animal's eyes. I watched as the farmer tied the pig up to a table (all four limbs) as it was crying, pulled out an enormous knife and plowed it straight through the pig's skull. As the animal wretched in pain and agony I watched the life seep out of its eyes. There was something about that moment, that even to this day still haunts me. To see a sentient being die and the life seep out of its eyes in terror and agony is something I would never wish upon another soul and yet this is something that we as humans have perfected on a mass scale. Billions of animals die alone and in agony through mechanized terror and I now realize that even though those weren't my hands that plowed the knife into the back of the pig's head it might as well have been, as I once ate meat and paid for others to do it for me...

After that day I never ate pork again and within a couple of years I was fully vegetarian (thanks to a little help from my mother). Becoming vegan took some time as I wasn't fully aware of the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, but as they say, knowledge is power. Three years ago, after meeting other vegans in LA and watching earthlings, I went vegan and I feel great about my decision to walk away from Omelas (Ursula Le Guin).

SS: Has it been difficult for you? If yes, what was difficult and did it get easier?

Not really, most people that know me, know that I'm a pretty disciplined guy both mentally and physically (back in my kickboxing days) but going vegan was much more than a dietary choice for me. It was an ethical choice. It's great that there are very positive health aspects to going vegan (reduction in cancer and in cardiovascular disease as well as a reduction in my environmental footprint) and as a result, I'm never tempted to eat something that's not 100% fully plant based. Some things about being vegan are challenging though when you look at your broader lifestyle, not just in what you eat. I truly believe it's a process of reducing your personal use and dependence on anything animal derived (leather, household products, entertainment, etc.).

SS: What are some animal rights related things you participate in?

I go to protests when I can, attend local events, support organizations like PETA and I try to make an impact in my industry (Biotech/Pharmaceuticals) to reduce the use of animals in drug testing wherever possible. I work in human clinical research and help biotech's test drugs in patients that have debilitating diseases.

SS: What are your favorite AR organizations?

Mercy For Animals
Compassion Over Killing
The Humane Party (a newly formed political party in California that I am a founding member of)
Last Chance for Animals
Animal Acres and many others

SS: What would you say to someone who is considering becoming vegan?

I would say the most important thing would be to talk with other people who have already made the plunge and gone 100% plant based; they can help you with everything from recipe ideas through to information sources. I'd also recommend watching Forks over Knives (great overview of the positive health impact a 100% plant based diet can have) as well as Earthlings, which is a powerful and somewhat graphic documentary on the surprising ways we use animals in our society.

Oh and one last thing... as a scientist and former kickboxer: I get plenty of protein as a vegan and you will too ;)