Determining the top four basketball players of all-time is often referred to as the “Mount Rushmore” of the NBA. While nearly everyone engaging in this conversation agrees that Michael Jordan is on that list, coming up with the next three players often leads to heated debates regarding the merits and resumés of an array of talented athletes. The fun—and frustrating—part of this argument is that at least 10 players deserve the recognition, but only four can make Mount Rushmore. This same difficult conversation applies to vegans, as naming the four most influential people ever isn’t as easy as it sounds. But we did it.
In determining our Vegan Mount Rushmore, we considered a person’s longevity in the animal-rights movement, the influence someone has had on both lawmakers and citizens, the authoring of best-selling books, media exposure, and awards bestowed by his/her peers. The result wasn’t easy, but after months of discussion, we’re certain our picks represent the four most important vegans ever.
1. Ingrid Newkirk
“Animal rights is not a tea party or a hobby—it’s a revolution, and to make it come about we must each vigorously play our part.”
In early 1980, Ingrid Newkirk co-founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to help raise awareness of the torture, abuse, and suffering faced by animals every day. Now, 36 years later, PETA is the world’s most-recognized animal-rights organization in history thanks to three million supporters, a social media following that reaches hundreds of millions of people each month, and celebrity spokespeople such as Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Charlize Theron, Pink, Amy Sedaris, and Moby. The group has convinced cosmetic companies to stop testing on animals; shut down roadside zoos; led efforts to decrease the homeless dog and cat communities; obtained the first-ever photos of Ringling baby elephants being trained with violence; and banned cruel sports, carriage horses, and elephant parades. The 66-year-old Newkirk also founded Animal Rahat, which brings veterinary care to donkeys and bullocks in India while saving the country’s elephants, camels, and ponies from circuses. In addition, Newkirk is the author of Free the Animals: The Amazing True Story of the Animal Liberation Front in North America; Making Kind Choices: Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life Through Earth- and Animal-Friendly Living; and 50 Awesome Ways Kids Can Help Animals: Fun and Easy Ways to Be a Kind Kid. These accomplishments are just a few of the reasons why Newkirk was inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame in 2000.
Did you know? Newkirk is responsible for opening the first spay/neuter clinic in Washington, DC in 1978. During that same year, she also banned pound seizures in the District of Columbia, and closed the city’s only chicken slaughterhouse.
2. Howard Lyman
“An animal has the right to life, as they know it, as much as a human’s right to life.”
As a fourth-generation farmer in Montana, Howard Lyman knows a thing or two about raising cattle. So when he speaks about the environmental and ethical issues surrounding chemically based agriculture, you can bet he knows what he’s talking about. After a tumor on his spinal cord in 1979 forced him to re-evaluate his life choices, Lyman devoted himself to spotlighting the dangers of our country’s food production. He worked in Washington, DC as a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union and helped pass the National Organic Standards Act. Going through the legislative process showed Lyman that change came quicker and more efficiently at the grassroots level, which is where he’s spread his message since 1991. Since going vegetarian in 1990 (and vegan in 1991), Lyman has been a constant voice in the push for organic farming and a plant-based diet, which helped him receive the Courage of Conscience Award from Peace Abbey Courage in 1997 and entry into the Vegetarian Hall of Fame and the Animal Rights Hall of Fame. Lyman has published two books (No More Bull!: The Mad Cowboy Targets America’s Worst Enemy: Our Diet and Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won’t Eat Meat); has been featured in documentaries such as Cowspiracy, Vegucated, McLibel, Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home, and Meat The Truth; and produced four vegan-themed DVDs. Currently, he serves as founder and president of Voice for a Viable Future, a role he has held since 1993.
Did you know? In 1996, Lyman appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and convinced Winfrey to give up hamburgers, which lead to a highly publicized lawsuit by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
3. Gene Baur
“If we can live well without causing unnecessary harm, why wouldn’t we?”
If the only vegan thing Gene Baur ever accomplished was the 1986 formation of Farm Sanctuary, he’d still be one of the most important figures in animals-rights history. However, operating three sanctuaries (two in California and one in New York) is just one reason why Baur was called “the conscience of the food movement” by TIME magazine in 2011. In addition to his work at Farm Sanctuary, Baur was responsible for getting a Burger King to sell a veggie burger (in 1992), was a key organizer in helping Florida voters pass a ballot measure to prevent factory farming (the first of its kind in the United States), worked on a multi-year effort that lead him to team with Hawaiian senator Daniel Akaka for the Downed Animal Protection Act (which placed a federal ban on the slaughter of downed cattle), has two best-selling books (Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day and Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food), and was recently appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins University. He was also inducted into the Animal Rights Hall of Fame in 2001, received the Courage of Conscience award by the Peace Abbey in 1996, appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in 2015, regularly participates in marathons, and is an internationally renowned speaker. These accomplishments alone make him worthy of inclusion in our Vegan Mount Rushmore, but the amazing thing is that he has many, many more …
Did you know? Baur began his career in animal activism by selling veggie dogs from a Volkswagen van at Grateful Dead concerts.
4. Alex Hershaft
“To me, the struggle for animal rights is not about them—it’s about us. It’s about recognizing our own potential for oppressing other sentient beings and raising our own consciousness to their suffering.”
A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and whose father was killed by Nazis, Alex Hershaft co-founded Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) in 1976 as a way to compare the abuse inflicted upon farmed animals to the abuse felt by him and his family. Vegetarian since 1961 and vegan since 1981, the 81-year-old has testified before Congress in favor of the National Consumer Nutrition Information Act and the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1978, organized a 1981 national conference called Action For Life, launched World Farm Animals Day in 1983 and the Great American Meatout in 1985, has met with key political figures such as President of Israel Reuven Rivlin (a vegetarian) as a way to bring media attention to animal-rights issues, speaks worldwide on animal rights, has organized highly successful animal-rights conferences, and continues to run FARM. And, when he’s not lecturing at animal-rights events, he’s been known to perform stand-up comedy to show the lighter side of cruelty-free living.
Did you know? Hershaft’s 1981’s Action For Life conference set the foundation for the modern animal-rights movement in the United States.
Ryan Ritchie is senior editor at VegNews.
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