10 Questions: Everyday Vegan Changemaker with Michael Harren
Composer, musician, performer and activist Michael Harren is such a talented and powerful voice for the animals, reminding us that living more compassionately is always within reach. His music — hypnotic and evocative but invigorating and always thought-provoking — is available on all music streaming platforms, but I especially recommend checking out his The Animal Book, which is the book that accompanies his album, The Animal Album, and was produced with the multi-media performance piece he created and has performed since 2016, The Animal Show, inspired by his time as artist-in-residence at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary. Michael is a great guy: humble, warm, funny, talented and down-to-earth. I am honored to feature him as this week’s Everyday Vegan Changemaker.
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I had a couple of evolutions, honestly. The first time I heard about people not eating animals was when I was in high school in the ’80s. I was a huge fan of Howard Jones and I read about his vegetarianism in a fan magazine. He had a song called “Assault and Battery” that was about animal rights. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school in 1987 that I made the switch to vegetarianism and started doing animal activism. That lasted for about a year or so until my interests turned to drinking and drugs. The more I lost myself in that life, the less I cared about anything or anyone else. I started eating animals again probably in 1990. I remember the moment I first ate a chicken again and telling my friend, “I just don’t care anymore.”
I hit rock-bottom and sobered up in 1994, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I started thinking about animal rights again. I was interviewing some fur protesters for my podcast MikeyPod — at the time I was interviewing all kinds of activists. In an effort to connect with the four women I was interviewing, I said something like “Oh yeah, I used to be a vegetarian animal rights activist.”
I’ll never forget how shocked they looked. One of them said, “Used to be? What happened?!” I had absolutely no excuse. I started thinking about it again, and while it did take me a while, I finally went vegan for good on November 1, 2008 and I haven’t looked back! Incidentally that podcast interview is still up on my site. It’s a trip to listen to it now!
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
To tell you the truth, I respond really well to aggressive “angry” vegans. On some level I have always known the truth about what happens to animals for us to eat their bodies and their secretions. I am kinda lazy, too, so when people babied me and told me it was okay to take baby steps, I just happily coasted along barely changing anything. It wasn’t until I heard an activist say “The animals don’t need your excuses, they need you to go vegan,” that I got it together and made the change.
So for pre-vegan me, I didn’t need anything sugar-coated. I would need to be sat down in front of Earthlings and told to get my shit together and stop funding this suffering. I know that approach isn’t for everyone, but I need to be smacked around a little.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
This is a continually evolving process for me. My creative work is the thing that seems most effective though. I wrote a show called The Animal Show with music, stories, and videos about my time at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary, as well as important animal relationships and activism in my life. Theater is a really great way to communicate to people, because they show up to receive the creator’s message. I reached some people with that show that I really didn’t expect. I think the thing that really works is that in the show I am explaining my perspective about animals and why I have chosen to fight for them, rather than telling people what THEY should be doing.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
I think we have a tremendous ability to build communities, though as I type, I think of this as a potential strength. I know that I have a tight community of friends around me from the vegan movement, closer than any relationships I have had before. I would really love to see us focus more on the things that connect us so we can capitalize on our shared passion and love.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
Endless circular arguments with one another in the comments of Facebook posts. I feel that if we can redirect the energy we use to fight AGAIN about the Impossible Burger toward helping folks go vegan, these “inside baseball” issues will handle themselves. That’s not to say that the argument about animal testing and the Impossible Burger isn’t valid, I’d just rather use that energy to help folks understand how and why to go vegan.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
I always keep this so simple, explaining that I am vegan because I want to lead a non-violent life and I realized that there is no what to eat animals or animal products without contributing to violence.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
In the early days I learned a ton from Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcast. It really helped me make the switch, as did my copy of Veganomicon. Our Hen House is a fantastic podcast that taught me about the varied ways people incorporate advocacy into their existing passions. Happy to say I went from fan of that podcast to member of the team, which has only deepened what I’ve learned from Jasmin and Mariann.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
Going to sanctuaries is a big one for me. Interacting with individual animals who have been rescued is renewing and invigorating. Other than that, I binge watch old sitcoms with vegan take out!
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
I might be oversimplifying here, but I think veganism is that issue for me. I just want as many people as possible to transitioning away from using animal in any way.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
“… the very least we can do for animals.”