Why Juliet Gellatley Went Veggie and Vegan
An interview with Juliet Gellatley about her motivations.
Born into a family of meat eaters, what triggered her to go vegetarian? Why vegan? And why Viva!?
1. Juliet, what made you become a veggie?
I’m vegan now but I was 15 years old when I decided to first become a vegetarian. It wasn’t the outcome of argument or debate, or the process of intellectual investigation, not to begin with at any rate. It was because of a look.
A student friend was working on an agricultural project and needed to visit a model farm. I went along for the ride. My vague notions of stack yards, scattered straw and wandering animals disappeared instantly. There were no animals to be seen, only a collection of ugly, windowless, industrial buildings which could just as easily have been do-it-yourself stores or engineering workshops.We started in the pig house. As soon as I walked through the door, in an atmosphere cloyingly warm and damp and laced with the smells of 100 defecating pigs, the first nagging unease began to gnaw at me. There were no cosy sties, no wallowing contentment, just row upon row of individual concrete stalls.
These pigs, I was informed, were the breeding stock, the pregnant sows who would provide two and a half litters of piglets every year, each litter frequently running to double figures. Ahead of each creature was nothing but iron bars to which were clipped feeding troughs. Beneath their feet was slatted metal through which most of their excreta would hopefully drop. However, when they urinated it splashed up from the floor, wetting the sides of the stall and the pigs’ legs and belly. They would eventually lie down in it. I noticed that any movement tended to result in a scrabble to maintain a firm footing.
Around the middle of each sow was a broad collar with an attached shackle, securing her to the ground. With this restraint she could take little more than half a pace forward and half a pace back. Those sows who tried to lie down did so with difficulty.
At the farm I visited, the poor creatures had given up the fruitless struggles of resistance. They had no option. The effect of their barren and sterile existence was obvious to see. Many of them exhibited a syndrome known as ‘stereotypic behaviour’, moving their heads backwards and forwards in an exact and constantly repeated motion, gnawing on their bars in a particular and regular way with the precision of a metronome.
Many of the pigs I was looking at had quite literally gone mad.
As I stood there and watched the sows in their endless boredom, I could appreciate what a superb example it presented of accountancy and veterinary skills combining to reduce waste, to maximise profit, optimize food intake and reduce staffing. In the planning, design and construction of this model plant every question had been asked and answered except one: what about the animals?
For creatures with such a strong sense of community, active and sociable, the decision to imprison them in solitary and idle confinement denies them even a semblance of their natural existence. Such a policy reflects our greed and lack of compassion. Pigs have become a product, have been manipulated and specially bred to produce particular types of meat. Ones with especially long backs produce more bacon rashers; ones with sturdy hocks produce better hams. The dominance of money, the logic of efficiency, the adulation of profit are epitomized in the pig-breeding shed.
The final act in my disturbing drama came at the end of the rows of sow-stalls where a few separate, only slightly larger pens were set aside from the rest. In each one was a huge boar. The one nearest to me stood motionless, his huge head hanging low towards the barren floor. As I came level with him he raised his head and dragged himself slowly towards me on lame legs. With deliberation he looked straight at me, staring directly into me eyes.
It seemed to me that I saw in those sad, intelligent, penetrating eyes a plea, a question to which I had no answer: ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Without embarrassment or shame I burst into tears, silent sobs shaking my body, and I kept repeating over and over: ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ At that moment, I went vegetarian.
2. Why did you go later go vegan?
We were reducing the amount of dairy in the house because I was questioning what was happening to dairy cows and their calves. My weakness was milk chocolate and I was reducing the amount I scoffed. We lived in the countryside and a cow gave birth to twins in the field by my house. One was a still birth and the other was a male calf. He was separated from his mother at a day old. As the farmer scooped up the baby and carried him up the road, I ran after him asking where the calf was heading. He told me that the calf would be exported for veal. I went inside my house and poured the milk down the sink. I was vegan.
3. How has it changed your life?
Being vegan and all it represents is intimately part of my life, it is me.
4. Did you like animals as a kid? Were animals your motivation to setting up Viva!?
Yes! I was lucky to have a very close friendship with my cat, Pusina. I tried to rescue animals as a little girl and my mum enjoys reminding me of when a stray cat I secretly adopted, gave birth to three kittens in my wardrobe. My mum says I always fought for the underdog. I can't bear unfairness - and it's a remarkably unfair world! I think I was a born campaigner, with an inherent optimism that the world can be changed.
I was a passionate teenager and when I found out about vivisection I felt desperate. One of the first films I watched was Britches, about a little monkey whose eye lids were crudely stitched up in a maternal deprivation experiment. I found it devastating and became outspoken and probably a pain in the backside! I'd do all I could to make people watch that film and others; bribery, corruption, anything! I used to sticker meat at home "WARNING: this product contains a dead animal" and moved on to supermarkets. I found it puzzling and upsetting that others simply didn't feel the same depth of emotion about animal cruelty.
I did a degree in zoology, and switched to zoology with psychology to avoid dissection and vivisection. I was absolutely focused - I had to save animals for my 'career'. In terms of sheer scale, by far the most animals are exploited and killed globally for meat, fish, eggs and dairy. The best way to save animals was to persuade, cajole, nudge and help people go vegan and move towards that goal.
5. What do your friends and family think of your decision to follow the veggie/vegan path?
I’m going back a long time but at first my mum was bamboozled, my dad predictably, and endlessly, took the mickey. He took 20 years to go vegetarian but ended up working at Viva! for 13 years, being an enormous help! My mum went vegetarian pretty quickly after I did, as did my sister and her daughters and my brother. They are loud and proud supporters of Viva!’s work.
6. Do you currently have one or more favourite dishes?
All dishes that someone else has cooked! I’m mad on tofu in any guise in Chinese, Thai and Japanese cooking.
7. Do you currently have a favourite quote?
“Vegan – another word for hope”.
8. Do you think vegetarianism/veganism is expanding, has Viva! helped?
It’s thanks to our Supporters and their kind donations and help, that we are able to campaign. Viva! has helped many people change their hearts, minds and stomachs! Innumerable people have contacted us over the years saying it was our actions that persuaded them to reduce meat, fish or dairy or become vegetarian or vegan, thus saving thousands upon thousands of animals’ lives. We have reached millions of people through our high profile campaigns – from ending kangaroo and ostrich meat sales in supermarkets, to persuading Amazon and hundreds of other outlets to dump foie-gras, to causing a massive slump in horse meat sales in Eastern Europe. I remember when our Bernard Matthews expose hit the front page of the nationals, and turkey meats sales slumped; the same happened with pig meat sales after our Pig in Hell campaign.
Juliet with Jazz (L) and Finn with newly rescued turkey, Bertie
Perhaps the most important sign of our success is that only two per cent of the nation has said it has increased its meat consumption in the last year. One in six 18 to 24 year olds say they are vegetarian and one quarter of the UK cut back on meat last year (2013) – the top reason given was animal welfare. A massive three billion fewer meaty meals were eaten in Britain in 2011 when compared to 2005. And just last year it was reported that five million Brits avoid dairy. The wave is rising.
9. How does your work (an easy one for you, Juliet!) reflect your views?
My work is my views! Veganism is central to saving animals, the planet and the aberrant human race and all our many diet related health problems!
10. What are your relationships like with non-vegetarians?
As with anyone, it depends entirely on the person! It's important to remember that almost all vegans and vegetarians started out as meat eaters. I believe anyone can change.
11. What do you think should be the balance between “table thumping” concern for animal rights and a more softly-softly approach?
Both work but at different times and with different people. You have to do both – it depends on the campaign and the situation.
12. What happens to that balance, in your mind, when for example a right to protest via direct action is in potential danger, such as with the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act in the US?
We must fight for the right to protest. Read Wild Swans for an insight into living in a regime of fear; or join Amnesty and look at the harrowing tales of people arrested for daring to speak out for their beliefs.
We have to make the public understand -- that to demean any part of nature, because we are part of nature, it means demeaning ourselves. That destroying nature means we are destroying ourselves. And that veganism is central to saving animals; and all of nature.
Each and every one of us has a moral obligation to animals and all of nature, and that means that we’re all responsible for helping ensure that animals are protected and secured against abuse and exploitation. We have the right to protest, the responsibility to object; and we must do so to call ourselves humane beings.
13. Have you ever advocated direct action, peaceful or otherwise?
Yes, peaceful. I fully support rescuing animals, for example, from places of abuse. Violence doesn’t work; it just perpetuates violence.
Also, Viva! has held many demonstrations and investigated innumerable farms. You have to reveal the truth behind that piece of cling film wrapped flesh on a sanitised supermarket shelf, for people to change.
14. Name a recent project you are feeling pleased with or passionate?
Recently, a major Viva! investigation into the egg industry shows a story of disease, incarceration, mutilation, short lives and electric shocks.
You probably haven’t heard of Noble Foods but they are Britain’s biggest egg producer and supply almost every supermarket. They claim to be the ‘progressive’ arm of the egg industry and supply 60 million eggs a week under stores’ own labels or their own Happy Egg label.
Noble Foods – and others like them – have taken advantage of consumers’ growing concern for animal welfare and free-range is now big business. With sales around £2bn a year, output now matches that from caged systems because many falsely believe that free range equals high welfare. We filmed thousands of birds in each shed, many bald and bedraggled birds where hens “peck and kill each other.” We filmed plastic yellow bags full of dead hens being carried away. And this despite birds having the ends of their sensitive beaks seared off to prevent pecking.
Whichever way we turn the answer is not to support these industries – it is to spurn them – to go vegan!