The Brains Behind the Great American Meatout
VN Publisher Joseph Connelly catches up with Alex Hershaft, the founder of FARM and the Great American Meatout.
March 19, 2012
Alex Hershaft, PhD, has been at the helm of the vegetarian and animal-rights movements for nearly 40 years. He founded the Farm Animal Reform Movement, now known as the Farm Animal Rights Movement, in 1981; FARM has incubated many movement leaders since then, including Gene Baur, Dawn Moncrief, and Paul Shapiro, to name just a few. Alex, along with Howard Lyman, is one of just two people to be in inducted into both the US Animal Rights and Vegetarian Halls of Fame. He’s ageless, energetic, and shows no signs of slowing down.
FARM is the organization behind the Great American Meatout, the US arm of an event that takes place today around the globe. To find out more, go to meatout.org.
VegNews: Today marks the Great American Meatout. Who came up with the idea?
Alex Hershaft: A bunch of us were sitting in my living room on a cold January evening in 1985, trying to figure out what to do about a recently announced US Senate resolution declaring a National Meat Week. We figured that picketing the Senate would only call attention to this heretofore-obscure initiative. Then one of the local activists, actually Walter Rave, who perished this past December in a tragic fire, exclaimed, “Why don’t we organize a Great American Meatout? Like the Smokeout?” We chose the first day of spring, March 20th, and the rest, as they say, is history.
VN: How has it grown over the years?
AH: With only two months to organize the first Meatout, we came up with a couple dozen events that year. The observance has been growing steadily ever since, and has become the world’s largest annual grassroots diet-education campaign. Educational events are held in a thousand communities in all fifty states and two-dozen other countries, where it is simply known as “Meatout,” or the “Day Without Meat.” German, French, and Spanish activists have launched their own websites and printed handouts in their respective languages.
VN: What has been the greatest impact of the event?
AH: Meatout 2012 is distributing food samples to 30,000 people through events ranging from large health expos to smaller workplace lunches. Other events may include information tables, leafleting, lectures, video screenings, and festivals. Visitors are asked to “kick the meat habit on the first day of spring and to explore a wholesome, non-violent diet of vegetables, fruits, and grains.” They also receive “Meatout Mondays,” a weekly e-newsletter featuring a recipe, a book or product review, a health-news item, and an inspirational story.
Each year, scores of governors and mayors issue special Meatout proclamations, and at least two dozen newspapers publish letters to the editor on the observance. Several mainstream health advocacy organizations, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have launched their own diet education campaigns patterned after Meatout.
VN: The Meatout is a project of the Farm Animal Rights Movement, a nonprofit you founded.
AH: Meatout is one of nine major programs conducted by the Farm Animal Rights Movement to end the use of animals for food. Others include World Farm Animals Day, Vegan Earth Day, Gentle Thanksgiving, Letters From FARM, Live Vegan, Pay-Per-View, Sabina Fund, and the national Animal Rights National Conference.
VN: Speaking of the Animal Rights National Conference, what’s in store for this year? Where is it taking place it in 2012?
AH: This year’s conference, with a brand new program, will be held August 2 to 5 just outside our nation’s capital. In addition to FARM representatives, key speakers include Michael Budkie, Jon Camp, Nick Cooney, Debra Erenberg, Bruce Friedrich, Caryn Ginsberg, Scotlund Haisley, Melanie Joy, Shirley McGreal, Erica Meier, Dawn Moncrief, Will Potter, Becky Robinson, Martin Rowe, and Nathan Runkle.
VN: How did you get involved in this work?
AH: I first became involved in the US vegetarian movement after attending the World Vegetarian Congress in Orono, ME, in 1975. Six years later, I arranged the first US animal rights conference in Allentown, PA. This became the birthplace of the US animal-rights movement, including FARM.