How lucky we all are in the animal movement to have someone like Lee Hall on our side! Lee has been active in animal advocacy for nearly 30 years. Lee's dedication and wisdom bring a unique perspective to the movement, often bringing into the discussion ideas about tailoring animal rights or welfare to fit with the respective animal—an idea that reminds us all that we need to respect all individuals who are working to make the world a kinder place for animals to live in. Lee currently serves as Vice President of Legal Affairs for Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy organization that focuses on ending animal exploitation and cruelty.
Allison Rivers Samson: Lee, you are a dynamo for animal rights! For our readers who haven't read your books, will you share a brief overview of where you stand on the basic animal rights issues?
Lee Hall: After being part of the movement for most of my life, and even teaching animal law, it occurred to me that the way we talk about animal rights lacks an important detail: it doesn’t fit all animals.
Some animals can’t have rights, and we need to know this. We’re not going to liberate the cows. They need us to do one thing: look after their welfare.
For years, animal-rights people poo-poohed the idea of animal welfare, saying you can’t do both. For one advocate to call another advocate a welfarist was the supreme insult. I hope my work is changing this, as many animals are dependent on us and what do we do for them if not provide for their welfare? This is different from supporting industries—grocers, “local” ranchers—that usurp the word welfare. It’s our word. Let’s take it back. Rescuers are very much involved in animal welfare, and there’s no shame in that.
Animal rights can only be discussed with a straight face about the animals we haven’t made dependent on us. It applies to free-living animals. Freedom is its core.
So we care about all animals: but we acknowledge that the work we do is quite different for animal rights and animal welfare. This might sound like an academic exercise, but it’s a matter of respect for one another and our work.
ARS: I appreciate that expanded perspective. Your latest book, On Their Own Terms, differentiates between wild and purpose-bred animals, arguing that we need to protect the right of self-ownership for free-living animals and care ethically for domesticated ones. In your perfect world, would domesticated animals and companion animals eventually cease to exist?
LH: Certainly we wouldn’t be purpose-breeding farm animals. And are cats, dogs, rabbits, fish and birds, hamsters and snakes really our “companions”? We rob the planet’s free animals of their survival skills when we selectively breed them to live with us. We ourselves take “animal rights” away when we promote and defend breeds (and yes, this includes pit bull terriers). This has been a taboo subject in advocacy for way too long.
ARS: How did you come to veganism and animal advocacy? Tell me about your journey.
LH: Thirty years ago this year, I picked up a leaflet placed on my seat at a rock concert. The holidays were approaching, and the leaflet explained how turkeys and geese were about to lose their lives for the festive tradition, how puppies would appear under trees like toys and often be discarded in the months to follow, how the fur industry profited from the occasion, and many other things I must have always known but never noticed.
Who would come to a concert and put these leaflets on every seat? I had to know. And so I found a lifetime friend: Robin Lane, the first person to explain to me what vegan means.
I was a young person, without any material assets. Maybe that’s why I could listen.
When I had no other available means of activism, I could bring a vegan meal to my co-workers. None turned up their noses at biscuits and chili, or fresh samosas with mint-coriander chutney! Our freight and baggage department became known as a place where harassment was absent and people treated each other kindly. I’m not sure if that was because we were sharing food, or because the food was vegan. In any case, little by little, others started to read recipes and make dishes to share.
Years later I’d have an opportunity to contribute to a vegan cookbook: Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine, from Friends of Animals.
ARS: It does seem that youth coupled with lack of material assets can sometimes allow the possibility for a greater ability to hear the animal rights message. You encourage animal activists to consider the effects that all human actions have on animals, both domestic and free-living. What are some human actions that affect animals in ways that might be surprising to some people?
LH: The people of Philadelphia Advocates for the Deer have explained how the ordinary decision to put a fence up can be terrible for deer. Those fancy spiked fences lead to the most terrible injuries when they can’t jump over them. Property owners might think twice about whether they need a fence.
ARS: Veganism is central to your animal advocacy work and not just because the meat and dairy industries exploit and kill animals. What role do you see veganism playing in the larger animal rights struggle?
LH: The animals trapped in those industries matter and their situation is unconscionable. But we short-change ourselves when we argue that monitoring or improving those industries will lead to animal rights.
We’re given a certain time on the planet. Let’s think big. Where is the movement that gets us ready to be part of the bio-community rather than in charge of it? We are that movement. Everything from the climate to the extinction rate is telling us the time has come to talk about this larger challenge.
ARS: Indeed, what is our purpose if not to better our impact on the planet and with each other? You and I first "met" online through a mutual friend and then I had the pleasure of meeting you in person at Vegetarian Summerfest in 2012. You greatly inspired me and I was so excited and honored to learn that you are a fan of Allison's Gourmet. =) Do you have a favorite AG goodie? And how do our values fit with yours?
LH: I like your gift boxes of cookies and brownies, with wonderful ingredients: organic pumpkin in the Pumpkin Cookies, organic blackstrap molasses in your Gingerbread Spice Cookies...for elegant gifts, when lovely packaging is expected. How great to give sweets that won’t compromise anyone’s health or values! Every time a recipient sees “fair trade” on a label, we encourage social justice and kindness. If I can pay extra for that I will.
I appreciate your attention to recycling, to your clients’ health, and to vegan principles. Really, those are all vegan principles. Well done!
ARS: Lee, thank you so much for holding a greater vision on behalf of animals, which includes humans. It is true that we are all connected in the Web of Life and that what we do to another, we do to ourselves.
Now, I'd like to hear from YOU... I know that you do something every day to contribute to a better world. Please share in the comments below what those are so we can all inspire one other!
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