Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Interview Series #2: Farm Sanctuary's David Benzaquen

This interview is really personal for me, because knowing David Benzaquen has been a truly inspiring experience. David is the Campaigns Coordinator of Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization, which operates the largest rescue and refuge network in North America. In addition to rescuing farm animals, Farm Sanctuary also works to educate the public about the abuses occurring on factory farms and ways they can help end these cruel practices, and campaigns for legislation and policy reforms that promote respect and compassion for farm animals. Farm Sanctuary has initiated groundbreaking prosecutions and precedent-setting litigation, and is responsible for the passage of the first U.S. laws to prohibit inhumane factory farming practices.

 David speaking on March 6, 2010 at my benefit, Rock It Out:
A Night to Benefit NY's Farm Animal Sanctuaries.

I met David last year when I almost interned for Farm Sanctuary (I had to turn down the offer because of my conflicting work schedule). Since knowing him through the experience of volunteering for Farm Sanctuary, as well as more recently, working on my benefit earlier this month, I have to say, he is hands-down one of the most humble, kind, and selfless people I know. His passion for animal advocacy is immense, and generosity is at the core of everything he does - whether it is helping to run a NYC Activist meeting or heading up a chicken rescue in the Bronx. 

I love this guy!

David wears many hats at Farm Sanctuary, and he does so with grace, a huge smile on his face, and complete respect for the animals he works so tirelessly to protect. It is my honor to be able to share his story with all of you. 

Kiss Me, I'm Vegan: What was the turning point in your life that led you to veganism? Was it one huge moment, or a collective group of small moments that changed you?
David: It was definitely a collection of moments. I always loved animals as a child (even though I never had any), but grew up in NYC where one isn’t frequently confronted by the animals he or she eats. However, when I was about 7 years old, I witnessed somebody reel in a catfish. The fisherman's hook had gone through the poor fish's eye and I saw the animal's blood. For the first time, I made the connection between the suffering of human animals and non-human animals. After much prodding and continued socialization by my family and others around me to convince me that I needed to eat animals and that they didn't suffer, I returned to eating flesh. 
A few years later when I was 14, I witnessed someone boiling a crab. The animal escaped the pot and started to scurry away for his/her dear life. The cook proceeded to pursue the animal with some heavy object and attempted to crush it, but the crab avoided several blows before being struck. I was awestruck at having witnessed the killing of an animal who was clearly aware of what was happening and had tried with every ounce of strength and courage to survive. It was no longer possible for me to avoid the truth that non-human animals are intelligent, feeling, and self-aware beings who want to live just like we do. I never ate flesh again. 
As time passed, I learned more about the horrendous abuse of dairy cows and egg-laying hens and realized that I could not support these industries. Going vegan was easy once I knew what a tremendous impact it would have on the animals. (It wasn't until later that I learned the amazing benefits of veganism to human health and environmental protection.)
KMIV: What have been the greatest rewards of your vegan lifestyle? 

David: The greatest rewards have been the feelings of fulfillment and joy I have when I remember that this simple choice is saving thousands of unique, intelligent, feeling, living beings that want to play outside, spend time with their loved ones and friends, choose where to go and live without unecessary suffering. Other rewards have included meeting some of the world's most compassionate individuals, no longer suffering from physical ailments like chronic bronchitis, and seeing farm animals (like those at Farm Sanctuary) as companions, teachers, and heroes, instead of as food.

KMIV: How did you become involved with Farm Sanctuary?
David: In 2004, I had the privilege of working for NY State Senator Liz Krueger who was that year's recipient of Farm Sanctuary's Legislator of the Year Award. The Senator was kind enough to invite me to attend the organization's gala as her guest, and I was incredibly moved and impressed by the work they did. Soon after I joined, some friends at Farm Sanctuary's annual NY Country Hoe Down at the farm. During that weekend I met farm animals for the first time and heard from some incredibly inspiring speakers about how I could take my activism to another level. After finishing college in DC, I moved back to NYC to get a master's degree in nonprofit management at The New School and started interning at Farm Sanctuary's NYC office. It was such an enriching and exciting experience that I stayed on as an intern for 20 full months until I graduated from school. In June of 2009, I officially joined the staff. This was the second best decision of my life (second only to going vegan). 
Today I'm working as the organization's Campaigns Coordinator. I am so lucky that I can work at a place where all of my time is devoted to making change for farm animals, and I'm surrounded by some of the most dedicated, compassionate people in the world. 
For anyone who hasn't visited the farm, I highly recommend doing so. If you're looking to change the world, sign up for Farm Sanctuary's Advocacy Campaign Team (http://www.farmsanctuary.org/act/), and I can guarantee that any available time you can devote (whether it's an hour a month from home or an hour a day in the streets) will be well spent saving countless animals.

 KMIV:
What is the easiest part of your job? The hardest?
David: The easiest part of my job is feeling motivated. I've had jobs where I had to push myself or think of my paycheck to get to work in the morning. This is not one of those jobs. I spend my day empowering and training others to be the most effective advocates for veganism and farm animals that they can be. It's exciting work to say to someone that their simple choices are making a huge difference in the lives of animals. 
For the same reasons, the hardest part of my job is to stop working at the end of the day and to have to turn down opportunities. When you do this work you receive hundreds of requests (via email, phone, facebook, in person, etc.) every day to save any number of animals from cruelty. Doing this work well means learning how to prioritize the work that you can do most effectively and keeping a positive attitude by thinking of the tremendous impact you're having, instead of the tremendous suffering out there. 
KMIV: What advice would you give someone who is interested in veganism, but afraid of taking the leap?   
David: For many folks the process of going vegan is a journey and thinking about it one step at a time might make it more manageable. The animal abusing industries benefit from making us feel powerless and disconnected from our food. When I first went vegan, someone said to me, "Every time you sit down to eat, you can save a life." Once you realize the impact of your food choices (and of course, what you buy in the way of clothing, household products, etc), and how powerful you are to make a difference, it's hard to imagine NOT doing it. We all strive to feel like we can make a difference in the world. Going vegan is a simple, fun, tasty, healthy, and compassionate decision by which you tell animal abusers that you won't let them use your money or stomach to commit cruelty. There's no more empowering or effective way to make change. Lastly, seek out support from the incredible resources that are available to anyone who's interested in going vegan or incorporating vegan foods into their diet. Check out websites like http://www.vegforlife.org/ for helpful tips on how to make the transition and use social networking to find others who can help you along the way. (**If you're reading this interview, you are well on your way people!**)   

KMIV: Okay -  you're stuck on a desert island with three vegan food items - what are they? 
David: In order to get a good balance of savory and sweet, I'd have to say Candle 79's seitan piccata, Sacred Chow's marinated kale, and Vegan Treats Bakery's caramel apple cheesecake.

Many thanks to David for making himself available for this interview. To find out more information about Farm Sanctuary, please visit www.farmsanctuary.org.

6 comments:

CurlyLocks said...

Another wonderful interview. I'm truly looking forward to this interview series.

VeganDB said...

Thank you so much for your kind words, Lindsay. I'm so impressed by all the amazing work you're doing with KMIV, with the outstanding benefit you put on and more. Your compassion and excitement are contagious, making you a huge asset to the animal protection movement. It's an honor to know and work with you.

~ David

Lauren said...

Great interview!

Franie said...

Looks like we have another Gene Baur here. Thank you David for all of the love and care you give to The Farm Animals and for all of the time you devote to them and teaching others about them.

Myra Wolf said...

Having met David at Rock it Out and hearing unending stories about him through Lindsay, I can honestly say..I adore him and yes he IS everything that has been written about him here.
Another really great interview in your series Lindsay. xo

ker_17 said...

Wish so much that there were more people like him on this planet!!