Jodie Wiederkehr is a friend of mine and I am grateful for that for a few reasons: she is a terrific person, I learn a lot from her, she manages to be both fun and dedicated, and her example inspires me. On the other side of that, I am grateful that Jodie’s my friend because I would not want to be on the wrong side of this peaceful fighter against injustice. I don’t know anyone who is as fiercely committed and tenacious as my friend Jodie, and I would really hate to piss her off. As executive director of Chicago Alliance for Animals (CAA), Jodie did what so many other communities have tried to do: defeat the cruel but somehow nostalgic horse-carriage industry and get them banned from Chicago. She did this with the help of CAA activists but it was her unswerving leadership and indefatigable commitment that really made this possible. Please join our Facebook group to learn what CAA and Jodie are up to next.
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?
From a very young age, I remember caring deeply about animals. I grew up in a small farm town about three hours west of Chicago. Many neighbors kept dogs on chains or in small kennels, which upset me greatly as our dogs and cats were a big part of our family and slept in our beds with us. I spent many days and nights sitting in the dirt and giving affection and treats to dogs on chains. In addition to our pet dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc., our family also rescued and cared for a baby lamb whose mother refused to nurse him (in a playpen in our living room), baby skunks whose mother had been hit by a car, raccoons and many other injured critters.
My older sister, Jamie, was also a big influence on my start in animal rights. I remember how I helped her get signatures on Western Illinois University’s campus to ban steel jaw leg-hold traps in Illinois when we both were students there.
In my twenties, I remember my mother giving me a newsletter one day and said, “Read it, but don’t read the last page.” Well, what did I do? I read the last page first. It detailed all the gory that happens on factory farms and slaughterhouses and from then on, I started to change my diet.
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?
Definitely showing me footage of factory farms, slaughterhouses, animal experiments, fur farming, etc. would have worked!
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
I think passion and living by example is what works best for me and sharing the brutal truth as often as possible.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Well, we have compassion and the facts and truth on our side and with that, a more humane society and a much better diet for our health and the health of the planet.
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of in-fighting and disagreements about the best way to deliver our message.
I believe the best way to achieve our shared goals of animal liberation is to consistently educate officials by providing documented cruelty. Decision makers have animal companions and care about animals too, so we must always reach out to them with the facts to enact more humane laws and policies.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
I don’t think getting the word out is difficult at all, especially in our world of social media. What is difficult is getting compassionate people to take action. Most people care, but they must also be willing to take action to make positive change. That’s why I try to make it very easy with CAA’s DAA’s (Daily Action Alerts.) People can take effective action in just a minute or two a day!
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
I believe most people care about the underdog. Many have companion animals and care about wildlife, but they just haven’t stopped to think much about where the meat on their plates or the milk in their glass comes from. It’s imperative that advocates educate others with kindness and compassion, as most of us were once in their shoes.
I noticed at the start of CAA’s horse carriage campaign, that a few people would come up to us during our educational demonstrations and exclaim that there was nothing wrong with the horse carriage rides. I even had friends who doubted why this issue was so important to me. After we documented and exposed the routine abuse, overworking, under watering and underfeeding, working horses when too hot, working them in blizzards and thunderstorms, the lack of enforcement of the laws, etc., we rarely got any negative feedback and most of my friends congratulated me on the ban. It’s all about awareness and education!
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?
I honestly can’t say there was one specific person, book, film, etc. that has had the greatest influence on me. For me, it was a variety of organizations, speakers, books, newsletters, video footage, photos, etc. that educated me and propelled me on the path to veganism.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I try to take a day off here and there and get outside, get some sunshine and exercise, spend time with family and friends and try to get a little nature in my life. After a day or two off, I feel a new energy to get back to work and continue fighting for those without a voice!
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Oh, that is a tough one! I care so much about all animal protection issues! Obviously, animals who are considered food are confined so appallingly and slaughtered on such a massive scale, it is absolutely heartbreaking to me. I’m so happy that there are many activists and organizations dedicated to exposing the horrors of slaughterhouses and factory farms.
And many know how much I love horses and how banning horse carriages worldwide is a lifetime goal of mine.
Then, there are the millions of animals languishing, suffering and being tortured in laboratories. It’s an issue that is so hidden and it’s something I sincerely hope I can get back to exposing again soon. There is such immense cruelty and the absurd myth that animal experimentation will save lives and cure disease couldn’t be further from the truth! Not sure how well I answered this question…
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is…”
Doing my absolute best to cause the least harm to any living being.