VIVA! - Vegetarian Voice for Animals - recently became an IVU member. Here‟s an interview with Tony Wardle who helped Juliet Gellatley to found VIVA!
What is the story of your evolution as a vegetarian?
I had a London-based TV production company and was commissioned by Juliet Gellatley, then at the Vegetarian Society (UK), to make a film on vegetarianism for young teenagers (Food Without Fear). I injected humour into it and used the black actor Vaz Blackwood (Lenny Henry‟s one-time side kick) as the lead character. It was reviewing archive footage of factory farming that deeply shocked both me and my business partner, Yvette Vanson. In all, seven people who worked on that production went vegetarian, including my partner‟s husband, Michael Mansfield QC. I was pretty convinced the film would do what was required of it. It won awards at the New York Film & TV Festival and the Prague Ecofest.
How and when did you become involved in activism for vegetarianism?
Juliet founded VIVA! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) in 1994. By this time she and I were married. I was totally behind her decision to found VIVA and became involved from the start in stuffing envelopes, doing street collections and stalls and supporting in any way I could.
It became inevitable that I got drawn in and used my only talent, as a writer, to become Viva!‟s words person. I wrote the magazine, leaflets, appeals, some guides and so on. It coincided with my partner and I going our separate ways and dissolving our company, Vanson Wardle Productions. It was almost „game, set and match‟ now and my involvement with Viva! grew and grew until I ceased TV production and became a full-time campaigner. What does VIVA! do? Viva! started off by campaigning for a vegetarian world, concentrating on what happens to farmed animals in the UK, particularly in intensive (factory) farming. It was always a multi-pronged approach – exposing the brutality of farming and slaughter but also offering support to people wanting to change their diet. Right from the start we brought in arguments on the environment, health and the developing world but our concentration was on animal abuse.
For the first few years we achieved extraordinary media coverage but it gradually became harder and harder to grab the interest of journalists as they adopted the attitude of „seen that, done that, been there‟. This spurred us to do more first hand investigations – actually going into farms and slaughterhouses and filming what we saw. That reinvigorated our campaigns.
How has VIVA! evolved over the years?
Together, Juliet and I wrote the Silent Ark (Thorsens), a book which sold extremely well and has just gone out of print. Its replacement is being worked on right now. She also wrote The Livewire Guide to Going and Being Vegetarian (all the vegetarian issues for young people) and Born to be Wild (the use and abuse of animals world wide). Both were published by the Women‟s Press). As we grew the quality of our printed material became more imaginative and professional and our successes increased, too.
We were always aware of the cruelty of the dairy industry but have now essentially become a vegan organization. We still use the word vegetarian but that is to be inclusive, encouraging people to engage with Viva! Once they do we help to push them along the road towards veganism. Of our 19 staff, 18 are vegan.
Ten years ago we gave health a specific focus with the formation of the Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation. It works solely on issues of health and nutrition, taking over Viva!‟s charitable status, freeing Viva! up to be more independent and no longer confined by the Charity Commissions rules on "political‟ campaigning. We‟ve opened an office in Warsaw, Poland, which has become the pre-eminent campaigning animal group in Poland.
More recently we have been putting undercover investigators into work situations and the results in the last 18 months in exposing the cruelty of modern farming have been extraordinary. Our publication of a report into the environmental impact of livestock farming is hugely popular (Diet of Disaster) and marks our upgrading of environmental concerns.
What is one of VIVA’s success stories?
I really couldn‟t give just one. The first big success was to empty the shelves of all 1,800 supermarkets in the UK of kangaroo meat. This was followed by other "exotic‟ meats. The ostrich farming industry blamed Viva! for its collapse.
Three Christmases running we exposed Bernard Matthews‟ turkey farms and sales slumped and stayed down. We were the first people ever to expose duck farming, showing it to be as intensive as all other poultry. Sales slumped and stayed down. We have done a huge amount of expose work on pigs and again sales are down.
Poland‟s chief vet blamed Viva! for the collapse of live horse exports from his country to Italy – down from 120,000 to 30,000. In the US, we were part of the team which saw foie gras production and sales outlawed.
We were responsible for Wholefoods Markets completely rewriting its animal welfare code to be probably the best in the world and its chief executive became vegan. The latest success is the abandonment by Nocton dairies of their massive proposed zero-grazing dairy farm. We began the campaign with the local group Vegan Lincs. Meat sales in the UK have fallen by 5 per cent over the last three years despite a growing population and increased immigration from essentially meat-eating nations. We believe we have played a big part in that.
Why did VIVA decide to join IVU?
I think we were too busy doing our own thing and were not fully unaware of the IVU‟s work. A meeting with John Davis convinced me that as the largest veg*an campaigning group in Europe, we should put our experience and expertise at the disposal of the IVU for the benefit of others.
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