Making the Personal Political
Interview with Animal Activist: Camille Labchuk
Care of Shannon Kornelson and Anna Pippus
We know you were a vegetarian before you became vegan. Can you tell us about how you made the leap and why? Is there anything about being vegan that surprised you, either negatively or positively?
I became a vegetarian when I was 12, but it wasn’t until years later that I began to hear about veganism and consider the ethical implications of eggs and dairy. I knew I would eventually become a vegan, and I tried it out a few times, but somehow I always lapsed back into old habits. What finally did it for me was travelling to Atlantic Canada to document the commercial seal hunt with an international animal protection organization. Being surrounded for weeks with so many vegan animal activists gave me the push I needed to finally kick bad habits to the curb, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve never been able to find anything negative about going vegan, but I’ve been surprised by the warmth and generosity of the amazingly supportive vegan community in every city where I’ve ever lived.
What is one thing you wish people knew about veganism?
I wish more people knew how easy it is to eat vegan, and how absolutely delicious and vibrant the food can be! One of the biggest misconceptions about veganism is that the food is second-rate and that it’s hard to stick with it. I eat way more exciting and flavourful food now, as a vegan, than I did as an omnivore or even a vegetarian. Vegan options are available at virtually every restaurant these days, and it’s never been easier to eat a plant-based diet.
You have been involved with the Green Party of Canada for some time. Are there any overlaps between GPC policies and veganism?
There is a strong contingent of vegan or vegetarian Greens (including leader Elizabeth May and deputy leader Georges Laraque), and I’m pleased that many Green policies reflect the growing movement within the party toward plant-based living. The Greens are the only party with detailed animal protection policies (visit this site for a glimpse: http://greenparty.ca/policy/documents/animal_protection). The Greens are committed to building a world where animals are protected, and are not seen merely as units of economic production, but as sentient beings who are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. I think it’s essential that vegans and those who care about animals get political, which is one reason why I’m passionate about working within the political process to get better policies for animals, human health and the environment. We’ll never get the laws we want if we don’t fight for them.
As someone quite familiar with the Canadian political arena, do you see increasing awareness at the legislative level of the connection between animal agriculture and the environment? If so, why, and if not, why not?
It would be hard not to make the connection, given the attention to these issues by major documentaries and the mainstream media. But unfortunately, if there is any growing awareness, it is not translating into better policies. I think this relates to the greater crisis in democracy in our country, where the political process is ruled by powerful elites who have ceased listening to the public. More and more people are demanding action on the environment and animal protection issues, yet the political class has ignored our voices. Part of the problem is our broken first-past-the-post voting system, which often rewards one party with all of the power despite most Canadians voting against them – a false majority government. We desperately need proportional representation so Canadians get a government they actually voted for.
You recently completed your second year of law school. (Congratulations!!) How did your veganism relate to your decision to go to law school? What role do you see law playing in the animal protection movement?
Veganism had everything to do with my decision to go to law school! I had been working in politics and the animal protection movement for several years when I began to realize that becoming a lawyer would help me do an even a better job of advocating on behalf of animals and the environment. Animal law is relatively new to Canada but it’s growing quickly, and I think Canada needs a national animal law organization that launches strategic litigation to defend animals’ interests, and lobbies for better animal protection laws at all levels of government. This is what I plan to work on with some fellow lawyers when I finish my studies.
What is your favourite food? Your favourite Toronto-based restaurant? Your favourite vegetable?
I think raw vegan desserts are my favourite food. They’re so easy to make, and it’s fun to shock omnivores (in a good way) when I explain my raw cheesecakes are made from cashews and other natural ingredients. I remain convinced that vegan desserts are one of the best ways to show people how delicious vegan food is! I love so many restaurants in this city and it’s nearly impossible to choose just one, so it’s a tie: Fresh, and Live Organic Food Bar. It helps that I live near both of them. As for vegetables, that one’s easy. I’m a kale junky – my garden is full of it right now, and it’s fabulous. I eat it every day.
Do you know any good vegan jokes?
Here’s one to get you started: – knock knock. – who’s there? – vegan. – vegan who? – vegan eat vat ve vant, ve just don’t vant to. I can’t take credit for this one, but I think it’s funny! Q: Why do vegans wear snow camo? A: So they can blend in while hijacking the So Delicious ice cream truck!
Thanks for indulging us Camille! We love you!