This week I bring you a fascinating discussion with an animal rights activist from my little Los Angeles neighborhood. Carrie Poppy is lovely, insightful, entertaining AND she even shares a kick-ass recipe!
This interview has it all. Enjoy!
I first met you at an atheist convention in Los Angeles. Were you raised an atheist or did you become an atheist later in life?
That was the same week I met Richard Dawkins! I literally shook in my boots as I stood in front of him. Clearly, good practice for meeting Skepti-Amy. I was definitely not raised atheist. My parents believed in God, but didn’t push it very much. When I was 13, I went to a church camp and was hooked. I quickly became the most religious person in my family, and completely devoted my life to God. I remained that way until age 18, when I went through some doubts (but never really stopped believing), then recommitted myself at 20 after a friend showed me “evidence” for the resurrection of Jesus. I have always been an evidence person. I would pray for God to show me signs and evidence for His existence. So when my friend presented me with books on the historical, scientific, and philosophical “evidence” for God, I was thrilled. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I let that all go. I’m 26 now. I had my 2nd atheism birthday in May. You owe me a present.
What first got you interested in skepticism and involved in the skeptical community?
I guess it depends on how you interpret that word ‘skepticism.’ If it just means a search for evidence and a passion for the truth, I was born with it. I’ve always questioned things, never trusted anyone’s word– even my parents.’ But I joined the secular skeptical community when I was 24. I heard Richard Dawkins on the radio and got hooked. I read The God Delusion, put it down and realized I couldn’t say I believed there was a god. I was in love with a Christian and preparing myself to be a good Christian wife and start popping out babies. Richard Dawkins saved my life. After that, I just kept reading more and more and more (as I am wont to do), and one day I was driving on Hollywood Boulevard and passed the Center for Inquiry. I had heard of that place. I went to the very next lecture there. It was all uphill from there.
What one skeptical topic do think is the silliest?
Oh dear. I am caught in definitions again. If you mean which topic that the skeptical community recognizes as woo-woo, I’d be caught in a dead heat between so much crap: alternative medicine, psychic “powers,” creationism, and the plain old belief in a ‘god.’ I think those are all damaging and all worth fighting (in ALL their incarnations, not just the most severe), though I think alternative gets me the most hot under the collar. But if you mean, which topic do I think skeptics handle in a silly way, then I take issue with a couple: For one, I think we have a hangup about being ‘militant.’ We so want to dissociate ourselves from the militant religionists that we don’t want to appear as passionate and committed. But we MUST be as passionate and committed! The difference is, the thing we are passionate about is evidence. We believe in studies, not stories. The other thing I think we sometimes get wrong is our patience for the seemingly less damaging versions of woo-woo. We’re happy to knock the reiki healer who treats cancer victims and encourages them to forego real treatment, but we’re reticent to condemn the aura-adjuster who just helps you deal with your knee pain via a little placebo treatment. But why? The aura-adjuster still puts money in the pot that pays out to bad medicine in general. By legitimizing their practice, by ignoring their harm, by (at worst) paying them, we let charlatans keep on keeping on. And those who are victimized by alternative medicine continue to visit their practitioners in part because they see their constant presence and barely a word of opposition. The same goes for the liberal religions, the pro-evolution ‘creationists’ and everyone else who promotes woo-woo. They plant the tree that provides the shade under which charlatans lay and wait.
What one skeptical topic do you wish we could find evidence for?
I would love there to be a nice God. I’m not yet in a place where I can say I am just as happy that there isn’t one. I know there isn’t, and I accept there isn’t, and I do love the world as it is. But I think it’d be swell to have a really nice God running the universe, who would pat me on the back when I was done and introduce me to my dead relatives. I’d like that. I would NOT want it to be the God of the Bible… or any other holy book I’ve read. And I know it’s pretty much impossible for a god to exist who is nice AND created this world (and even more obviously, a nice god who runs it). But the thought, on its own, is nice. Sometimes, when I’m sad, I think of a pretty pink lady pig running the universe, and even though I know it’s just pretend, it makes me feel a little better. I’m dead serious. Try it. Her name is Lily.
You are very active in animal rights activism. Could you tell us a little bit about what organizations you are involved in and the work that you do?
Sure! I’ve been involved in some capacity since I was four, and gave up meat. I’ve always loved animals, and always believed they have rights. I doubt anyone reading this disagrees with me; if you believe it is wrong to kick your dog for no reason, you acknowledge that animals have rights. I think those rights extend to not causing them suffering when you don’t have to, and not ending their lives when you don’t have to. I’ve worked with a few different animal organizations– for a few years I worked for a farm animal sanctuary that rescued abused farm animals. Since pretty much every animal who comes through the farming industry is a victim of abuse, we were never short on residents. Now I do outreach and educational work for an animal rights organization. Mostly writing. I focus on farmed animal issues.
Why do you feel activism for animal rights and activism in general is important?
Activism in general is important because we have 80 years– 90 if we’re lucky. If you only had one minute to prove to yourself whether you would do the right thing, you’d do it, right? Say, if you watched a baby fall into a fountain and no one else was around. You’d jump in and save her. Because you had one minute to decide whether to do the right thing, and that makes it easy. You don’t think– you just do. Well, what if you had ten minutes to do the right thing? Maybe you can bet your kids’ college fund on craps. You don’t, right? But it’s a little harder because you have 10 minutes to ruminate. What if you have 8 hours to prove you’ll do the right thing? Say, you’re married and someone you’re really attracted to offers you one night with them. You have one night to prove you will do the right thing. Hopefully, you say no, but it might be the hardest thing you ever did because you had a whole night to fight with yourself. Well, we have 80 years, 90 years. Some of us have 30 years or 40. It’s the blink of an eye, but it feels like we have all this time. That’s the trick. It’s no time at all, but it feels like all the time in the world. Activism means acknowledging that this time is so short. All we can do with that time is try to do the right thing on a global scale. At the end of it all, that’s all we can do with this time. Try to make things better.
Activism for animal rights is important because animals have rights. The pig who is confined in a gestation crate barely bigger than her body for most of her life and then is killed by electrocution has rights that are being violated, the same way a kitten who is thrown against a wall has rights that are being violated. Whether those animals taste good, or have skin we’d like to use, or could entertain us in the circus, or might look beautiful on our wall is morally irrelevant. What matters is that someone who can suffer shouldn’t be made to suffer unnecessarily. And that someone who wants to go on living shouldn’t be made to die for something frivolous, like taste.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved to help protect animals?
Great question! The #1 way people can help animals– by the THOUSANDS, in one fell swoop– is to not eat them. Nothing else you EVER do will save as many animals as that will. You could go help clean up the oil spill for the next 6 years, get your veterinary license, and fight the logging in your nearest forest, and you won’t even come close. The average American pays for the killing of 100-400 animals every year, by eating them. People don’t like to hear this answer because it’s inconvenient (meat, dairy and eggs taste good) and it’s uncomfortable (for most of us, our friends and families all eat those things, and it sounds awkward to renegotiate our lives around that kind of decision). But if you really believe in helping animals, the most important fight you’ll ever have is with yourself, teaching yourself to think about the animals you want to help, every time you eat.
We have discussed briefly that it seems logical that a rational person would become a vegetarian or a vegan could you talk a bit about that and explain why?
There are a couple of reasons. For one, secularists are used to bucking the trend and ‘thinking outside the box.’ We’re disillusioned with tradition and cultural norm. We know that horrible things have been justified in the name of religion, power, status quo. We’re good at questioning things. So it makes sense that a critical thinker questions whether we should mistreat animals over something as unimportant as liking the taste of their flesh or having an affinity for milkshakes.
The second thing is, we’re good at researching and we like to learn. A lot of people think cows just go on producing milk all the time (even though every other species just does that when they’re pregnant or just gave birth), or that animals are usually slaughtered humanely, or that chickens wander around in tall grasses and lay eggs once a week. But secularists often know the truth about factory farming– that animals are crammed into tiny cages, their kids are torn away at birth, they have their throats slit and bleed to death. We know animals are treated in horrible ways to get those products because we’ve read, we’ve been educated. And once you know, you have to ask yourself if you support it. A lot of people refuse to pay for animal cruelty once they know.
And finally, we’re done with religion telling us we’re special. We realize we’re not the center of the universe, that no God put this earth here for us. We need to realize the same is true of the animals. I think the Judeo-Christian world view really still has a grip on a lot of us when it comes to animal rights. The Bible teaches us that animals are ours to treat as we want because they are lesser than us. But science has shown us that animals are as capable of feeling pain as I am. As secularists, we should be moving past treating animals as commodities, and seeing them as fellow sentient organisms that werenâ€™t created for us. We’re not the center of the universe, but we’re not the center of the web of life either– we’re just the species with the most power. That means we also have the greatest capacity for mercy.
Are you vegetarian or vegan?
Yep! I’ve been vegetarian since I was four and vegan since I was 19.
For people who do not know, can you explain what it means to be vegan?
For sure. A vegan is someone who makes every effort they can not to pay for animal abuse. The most obvious ways we do this is by not buying or consuming meat, dairy, eggs or anything that comes from those products, and avoiding leather, fur, wool, and anything else that comes from treating an animal as a product.
What is your favorite vegan recipe?
Ohhh man, toughie. I love to cook, and obviously everything I cook is vegan. I have great recipes for cupcakes, thai food, pastas, anything, really. But right now, the thing I’ve been making a lot is an Indian dish called Bharta:
3 medium or 2 large eggplants
6 medium potatoes
4 medium vine ripe tomatoes
2 large yellow onions
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon cayenne
2 tablespoons salt
2.5 tablespoons chopped garlic
Several fistfulls of spinach (optional)
Preheat oven to 450
Boil some water
Cut the potatoes into 1″ square cubes
Put the potatoes in the water and cook until cooked but firm
Cut slit in the sides of the eggplants so they won’t burst, and then bake them whole for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into big chunks (over 1″ square)
Chop the onions and fry in 1/4 cup oil until transparent
Add tomatoes to onions and cook into a sauce.
Add garlic, cayenne and turmeric to onion/tomato mixture and cook a few minutes on low heat.
When eggplant is done baking, cut off the top, cut up as best you can, and add to onion/tomato/spice mixture and cook over very low heat, being careful not to let the bottom burn. The eggplant and spices should be thoroughly merged.
Add the rest of the oil to the potatoes
Dump the potatoes into the mix (or the mix into the potatoes; whichever has room)
Cook until potatoes soak in spices.
If you’re adding spinach, plunk it on top a fistful at a time, letting the heat from below steam the spinach, then stir it in, and so on until all the spinach is added.
Taste to make sure no one spice is dominating. Tweak with salt, cayenne and turmeric accordingly.
Eat your heart out.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and letting me photograph you, Carrie! It was a fascinating discussion! Until next time, this has been another edition of, The Skeptic Next Door!