Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Joe Espinosa - Award Winning Leafletter

Meet Extraordinary Ordinary Vegan -
Joe Espinosa

What is the name and website of the organization you leaflet for?
I volunteer for Vegan Outreach.

What situation or event inspired you to become vegan?
In October of 1992, Matt Ball, then the head of Students for Animal Rights, was showing video footage of animals on modern farms in the Union at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. 3 weeks after seeing that video, and learning more about the way farmed animals are treated, I became vegetarian, and 2 years later vegan.

Who / what was the biggest influence on your path?
Matt Ball, Anne Green, and Jack Norris who together formed Vegan Outreach.

What are your most significant accomplishments and / or the one(s) you are most proud of?
At the 2008 Animal Rights Conference I was awarded the Henry Spira Grassroots Animal Activist Award for my work in leafletting for farmed animals.

What goals are you still working toward?
I hope to distribute one million Vegan Outreach booklets to college students before I die which should spare many million animals from the horrible suffering of factory farms and modern slaughterhouses.

What was / is your greatest challenge?
Getting other activists to think about being effective in our work and choosing actions most likely to spare the most animals from the most suffering, as opposed to choosing actions based on our own motivations and preferences.

What advice can you provide others regarding challenges and / or criticism they may encounter on their path?
As animal advocates, part of our work is perceived as criticizing others for the way animals are treated. We should be open to critical thinking and discussion ourselves, regarding focus and methods of advocacy, as there is much at stake in terms of massive animal suffering and death. Critics can be potent tools for improvement.

Any final thoughts you would like to add?
Vegan Outreach's Adopt-A-College program is a systematic effort to take the plight of farmed animals to our most receptive audience, college students. Past feedback indicates that for every 300 booklets passed out, 5-10 students go vegetarian and many others reduce their consumption of animal products. This simple action spares animals from the horrors of factory farms and slaughterhouses at a cost of just pennies per animal. It is the best thing that we can do to help animals at this time.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kristina Hulvershorn - Founder of "The Ethic Project"

Meet Extraordinary Ordinary Vegan -
Kristina Hulvershorn

What is the name, website and email address of your organization?
The Ethic Project,

What situation or event inspired you to become vegan?
It was a natural evolution from being an enviromentalist and feminist. I was a sophomore in high school and was critical enough of the dominant culture that I could question its treatment toward women and the enviroment. At the same time, however, it was hard for me to question its treatment of animals. At one point, I just realized that I was critical of some forms of oppression, while accepting another.

This realization opened the flood-gates, so to speak. After that, I allowed myself to read books on veganism and animal rights with an open mind and form my own opinions. Strangely, becoming vegetarian (which I did in 7th grade) was a simple thing for me. It was simply the "right" thing to do for the animals. Becoming vegan, however, was far more of a challenge for me and it forced me into some serious critical thinking and soul searching. I have been vegan now for about 13 years and have never looked back!

Who / what was the biggest influence on your path?
I had a couple of friends in high school who initially showed me that it is possible to live this way. Beyond that, I'd say that logic and concern for the animals are my greatest influences.

What are your most significant accomplishments and /or the one(s) you are most proud of?
I am proudest when I have influenced someone in a positive way. In my everyday encounters with friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances I, truthfully, hardly notice the small conversations we have around issues of compassion.

Nonetheless, I can't tell you how many times people have come to me weeks, months, or sometimes even years later, explaining how meaningful a simple interaction was to them. People often recount conversations or actions that subtly encouraged them to change something in their lives. People often tell me that it is more about the confidence I have in my own choices, my being non-judgmental, or my willingness to explain things to them, that enables them to think about making these changes for themselves. Hearing this is beyondg encouraging. It inspires me and thrills me to witness the ripple effect of kindness.

What goals are you still working toward?
Although I am constantly working toward personal goals in living a more compassionate life, I am also compelled to offer others what I have learned on my journey and from my masters in Humane Education.

Tell us more about your non-profit organization, The Ethic Project.
I am currently building a non-profit called The Ethic Project. It is an organization that offers educational opportunities in humane education. We teach participants about living a compassionate life through the lenses of enviromental, social, animal, and local issues. The idea is to illuminate not only the issues themselves but to also encourage participants to draw the lines themselves connecting how their own actions influence these issues. We have a broad array of interactive workshops, teacher trainings, and classroom activities that cover issues anywhere from where food comes from to modern human slavery.

What was / is your greatest challenge?
I would say my greatest challenge when it comes to humane education is maintaining contact with the participants. Rich, relevant learning takes place when a person has time to process something, to think for themselves, and then to ultimately make a decision. This often takes long periods of time.

I have worked with students before, sometimes even for more than a year and have known that they could use more time to process and come back with questions or simply to have someone act as a sounding board. Change is a difficult process and we can be fairly stubborn creatures when it comes to new ideas. It is hard to work with people to understand something for a short period of time and not be around to help support them in the process of reflecting and following through. This is not to say that people "change" with every educational opportunity, but rather that the educational interaction is of far greater quality when the teacher and student have prolonged access.

It is as if a piano teacher teaches a new method of improvisational jazz to a student. Although it is up to the student to actually make the improvised music, the student has a greater chance to grow as a musician if there is continued exposure to her teacher. The same is true for any educational endeavor and humane education is no exception.

Also, like any other non-profit, one of our greatest challenges is securing funds to do our important work. Most schools work to create an educated community, forgetting that if we are educated and not compassionate, we are creating a world without kindness, concern, or warmth. This is a world of brilliant discoveries, like atomic energy, full of people unwilling and unable to exercise the kindness necessary to save its own people from its own brilliance.

What advice can you provide others regarding challenges and / or criticism they may encounter on their path?
When choosing any path that diverges from the "norm" people may become critical of your choices. At first this is frustrating and it is tempting to come back with the same negativity and anger that they are directing at you. It is far more powerful however to model compassion and kindness not only in our food choices but also in our interactions with other humans. People tend to "get" the idea of living a compassionate life when we speak with a calm, confident passion rather than a fiery, angry passion.

I am of the opinion that the animals need us to do the very best we can for them. I know that others are far more receptive to new ideas when they are delivered in a positive way, so I have learned that is best to bite my tongue and let negativity and judgments be the problem of the person sending them my way. Compassionate people have better things to worry about than the hostility of others. It is far more powerful to walk the walk so to speak, and be proud of all the good you are doing for the planet and the animals!

Any final thoughts you would like to add?
If anyone is interested in inviting The Ethic Project to offer a workshop at your school, in your neighborhood, or simply working with us, please contact us at or or call 312.396.5503.


Lisa Ward - Shelter Volunteer & Organizer

Meet Extraordinary Ordinary Vegan -
Lisa Ward

What are the names and websites of the organizations where you volunteer?
Feline Friends of PAWS

Spotlight Humane: Chicago (HSUS)

What situation or event inspired you to become vegan?
Attending a Farm Sanctuary conference, I was already vegetarian for ethical reasons, but I realized at that conference that if I was really serious about trying to live a cruelty-free life, I needed to be vegan. I decided that day and I've never looked back.

What specifically about the Farm Sanctuary Conference Inspired you?
I think it was a combination of factors--hearing people like Laurie Bauston and Michael Gregor speak, along with the videos we saw, especially the ones of the baby chicks who are by-products of the poultry/egg industry who are literally thrown alive into the garbage.

Who / what was the biggest influence on your path?
All the wonderful organizations which raise awareness of the vegan lifestyle and offer resources for living vegan--PETA, Mercy For Animals, Farm Sanctuary, etc.

What are your most significant accomplishments and / or the one(s) you are most proud of?
Helping to start up and run PAWS Chicago Cat Adoption Program (1998-2007), being part of Spotlight Humane: Chicago (2006-present) and (hopefully) inspiring others by my example/lifestyle...or at least making them think!

Also I finally finished a marathon this year. It took me a really long time to do it, but I do believe that "it's all about the journey".

Can you speak a bit more about these great organizations and why you were drawn to them. Starting a cat adoption is HUGE - is there anything you can share for someone who would like to do the same?
Ha!!! When we started up the PAWS cat adoption center we "didn't know what we didn't know" or we might not have tried it!! :) I would recommend to anyone who wants to do something like this, be sure you have an organization to ally yourself with which has resources like PAWS does... low cost spay/neuter resources, publicity resources, etc. These have been invaluable to us. PAWS provides a great service to the community with its low-cost clinic as well as the awareness-raising the group does.

HSUS is a fantastic organization in a totally different way from PAWS... they do an extremely effective job at advocacy, and are really good at effecting legislative change. It's organizations like HSUS, I think, which are responsible for the change in tone I have observed over the past few years as it relates to animal issues.

What goals are you still working toward?
Getting my husband to go all the way vegan (he's lacto-ovo vegetarian right now), and continuing to live "an examined life".

What was / is your greatest challenge?
Dealing with friends, co-workers, and members of my family (immediate and extended) who don't understand my commitment to not only being vegan, but living a more enlightened life.

What advice can you provide others regarding challenges and / or criticism they may encounter on their path?
Be strong and don't apologize or feel bad for who you are! People are giving you a hard time because you are making them think/examine their own actions, and that's not a bad thing!

Any final thoughts you would like to add?
If anyone is interested in fostering and/or adopting cats and kittens, please contact me! My colleague, Toni McNaughton and I always have wonderful felines available for adoption.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Debby Rubenstein - Animal Rescuer & Sanctuary Founder

Meet Extraordinary Ordinary Vegan -
Debby Rubenstein

Wagner Farm Rescue Fund & Have A Heart Farm
PO Box 2815, Glenview, IL 60025

What situation or event inspired you to become vegan?
The more rescues I did, the more connected I became with animals. Since I did my first formal rescue at age 11, I stared early, and I also primarily ate vegetarian growing up for numerous reasons. Also, respect for animals was a way of life in how I was raised.

Who or what was the biggest influence on your path?

When I was 9 years old, our apartment building had to be evacuated because of a basement-to-roof fire in hte building across the alley. We were given 10 minutes to get whatever belongings we wanted to take with us in case our building burned down, too. My mother spent the entire 10 minutes wrapping up our parakeet so he wouldn't get sick from being exposed to the outside air when we left the building. She told me that he couldn't take care of himself and that we had an obligation as his caregivers to protect him to the best of our ability.

While the parakeet was always a member of our family and never a pet, that left a permanent impression on me as to how important it is for humans to live up to our obligation to protect animals under all conditions with no excuses. As it turned out, we didn't have to leave the building after all, but the respect my parents showed for our parakeet is still one of my most memorable impressions.

My father also told me on a regular basis that a woman can do most anything a man can do, except that she'll ususally do it better becasue she'll put a special kind of heart into it. Both my parents taught me that with a kind heart and the will to do good in this world, anything can be accomplished.

All these examples have given me the confidence to stand up for what is right, and that is also how I am able to be as audacious as I need to be in order to make a positive difference.

What are your most significant accomplishments and / or the one(s) you are most proud?
My founding of the non-profit animal welfare organizations Wagner Farm Rescue Fund (WFRF) in 2002 and Have A Heart Farm (HAHF) in 2006. To date, WFRF has rescued 13 cattle and approximately 60 chickens that would have otherwise been killed by slaughter. WFRF continues to provide for life-long care of our rescues to ensure that they both live out their lives and pass on peacefully. Despite the vast challenges in doing this work, it is always humbling and rewarding to know that these animals are not only spared a brutal fate, but get to live good lives before passing on peacefully.

What goals are you still working toward?
The issues surrounding daily care of our animals, and establishing our own animal welfare/enviromental education center and sanctuary in the midwest.
What was or is your greatest challenge?

Funding for both the daily care and the sanctuary establishment. We have the basic plans and the knowledge of how to implement our plans, and we're working with capable and talented people who also know what to do to make our sanctuary a tribute to animals and their needs. What we basically lack currently is the finding to actually establish and maintain these plans.

What advice can you provide others regarding challenges and / or criticism they may encounter on their path?
Have and keep faith. Remember that if your mission is truly honorable and you don't give up, the people and circumstances that you need to succeed will be guided to you. Critics suffer from wounded self-love who have lost sight of the light. Use their criticism as stepping stones rather than letting them be obstacles. Stay polite and help them see the light of humaneness through your work. Always have a hand outstretched in peace, and remember to share resources. The best and only true way to receive love and resources are to give them as well.

Any final thoughts you would like to add?
Most of us don't choose out missions, the missions choose us. We are guided to the purpose that we were created for. When that Devine mission comes calling, be sure to answer. We may not know to the full extent what innocent lives are depending on us to do so and to keep answering that call. That knowledge will help keep a person going thru the worst of times.