Teen advocacy group aims to be a voice for animal rights



Last modified: Tuesday, June 09, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — A group of youths stood in front of the Subway at Wal-Mart on a recent Saturday morning chanting, “Don’t buy the humane lie. Animals do not want to die.” They told people that grain consumed through meat production could instead feed 11 billion people.

After about 10 minutes they were told to leave. But group members called the demonstration a success.

“I was surprised — more people than often actually stopped to listen,” said Emilia Tamayo, 13, an eighth-grade student at JFK Middle School. She said one woman told them that no matter what people said, they should keep doing this.

Emilia is a member of the Teen Animal Rights Activists of Massachusetts, a youth advocacy group that aims to raise awareness about animal rights and encourage consumers to boycott animal products. They have also held marches downtown, chanted in front of food trucks during the city’s Pride parade, organized vegan bake sales and handed out leaflets door to door.

The group, sometimes called TARAM, was founded in February by former member Julia Carpenter, 14, also an eighth-grader at JFK. There are now nearly 20 active members, ages 11 to 18.

Julia was among nine animal rights activists who attracted police attention in late February when they demonstrated in Whole Foods, Applebee’s and Chili’s in Hadley. That protest was organized by Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, an animal rights network with local chapters around the country. The demonstrators had marched through the establishments holding signs with animal pictures and messages such as, “We want to live,” and “We will not forget.” Many of the protesters wore blindfolds.

Hadley police told them to stop because they were disrupting the peace.

Sitting outside the vegan bakery Café Evolution in Florence on a spring day, Julia stressed that her goal is just animal welfare, but to educate people toward abstaining from animal products. She believes her peers are the best place to start. Since young people have not developed a habit of eating meat for as long as adults, she finds that they tend to be more open-minded.

“People have reached out to me, and just like — with a text, and simply said, ‘I’m starting to learn more about animal agriculture, and I’ve decided to become vegan or vegetarian,’ ” Julia said. “That’s where I’m coming from about how receptive the youth is.”

Activism runs in Julia’s family. Her father, the late Tim Carpenter, was the founder and national director of Progressive Democrats of America.

“So he’s like my biggest inspiration,” Julia said. “I’m definitely trying to follow in his footsteps for his type of activism and his passion.” Tim Carpenter died April 28, 2014, after a battle with melanoma.

At the café with Julia that day were Emilia, as well as Rosie Ingmann, 14, also a JFK eighth-grader. All three adhere to vegan diets, and say they have been animal lovers their whole lives. Julia and Emilia were vegetarians since elementary school, and became vegan relatively recently after learning more about the egg and dairy industries. Rosie describes herself as an “on and off” vegetarian, but is making a commitment to going vegan after being inspired by her peers.

They say they get their information from documentaries, books and social media posts by other animal rights groups. All three have also seen the documentary “Vegucated,” by Marisa Miller-Wolfson, a film that follows three New York City residents who commit to going vegan for six weeks.

“So I think that, kind of on a side note, creating vegans is surrounding them with like-minded people,” Julia said.

What they eat

According to the website for The Vegan Society, an organization in the United Kingdom that claims to be the oldest vegan society in the world, the dairy and egg industries can result in the killing of male calves and chicks, as well as the premature deaths of cows when their milk production decreases.

The Teen Animal Rights Activists say their vegan diets consist of lots of fruits and vegetables. They get their protein from tofu, seitan, beans and nuts; calcium from soy milk, orange juice, chia seeds and leafy greens; and omega-3 from quinoa and flaxseed.

Emilia said many people — some she doesn’t even know very well — often come up to her and ask about how she gets her nutrients as a vegan teen.

“Everyone who asks, ‘Where do you get your this, or where do you get your that’ — a big counterargument that people don’t usually think about is, how do people keep their cholesterol levels down? Because vegan food has no cholesterol whatsoever,” Emilia said.

Julia said that though she became a vegan purely for the animals, she has felt healthier.

The group had its first protest in April. They had planned to hold an in-store demonstration at the Target in the Hadley Mall, aiming to discourage patrons from purchasing products tested on animals, but said mall security told them to leave before they could begin.

So instead, they jumped on a bus to downtown Northampton, where they held their signs in front of the bus station, then marched to the old courthouse, handing out informational leaflets along the way.

During the Pride parade, group members stood outside the food trucks serving meat and took turns giving brief speeches about animal rights. Video of these small speak-outs are on the group’s Facebook page, Teen Animal Rights Activists of Massachusetts.

In one video, Julia loudly tells passers-by, “We are here today to celebrate and fight for the right to be who we are. But there are animals being served in these food trucks who had a simple request, and that request was to live.”

They said they find the Northampton community to be generally receptive to their message. One video from that day shows a woman with chicken on her plate telling group members, “I think you’ve got a point. We’re all animals, and I don’t think God meant for us to eat each other.”

Not all favorable

But reactions have not all been favorable. During the Hadley protests that Julia took part in, Whole Foods customers shouted back at them that they enjoyed steak and bacon. Police were called during the Chili’s and Applebee’s protests, with complaints that demonstrators were alarming customers. One Chili’s customer told a reporter that the protesters seemed “angry.”

Group members said they believe people who yell at them need to be educated about the industries that they are supporting. “They’re not bad people or anything, it’s just that they don’t know,” Emilia said.

Or, the group members say, their opponents could simply be in denial.

“In their hearts, they know that what we’re doing is right, and I think they become frustrated with themselves because they can’t come up with a viable excuse as to why they’re not vegan, so it will come out as anger,” Julia said.

As well as organizing and taking part in demonstrations, the Teen Animal Rights Activists donate their time to helping animals locally. On a hot Saturday morning in late May, some half-dozen group members spent over an hour clearing brush from the backyard of Pepper’s Place — a sanctuary for small animals in Florence owned by Cynthia White and Tifani Holt — to make room for goats who will arrive this summer.

Among the animals already in the yard were chickens, ducks and a large male turkey named Tommy within a large fenced-in area. Signs display the animals’ names and describe the purpose of educating others about the value of animals as individuals instead of for industry.

As the girls worked to clear the future goat habitat, Tommy marched around the pen, puffing out his chest as if to try to intimidate. White explained that he feels protective of the smaller birds.

“That’s his nature,” she said with a smile. “That’s his job.”

The sanctuary has 23 animals, including rabbits, parrots and a turtle, along with three household pets — two dogs and a cat.

From Pepper’s Place, the girls went to their protest at the Wal-Mart Subway.

Zach Groff, founder of the Massachusetts and Connecticut chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, believes youth are an important part of the animal rights movement.

“I think there’s a lot of potential out there, and getting young adults involved in this when they’re in middle school and high school is extremely powerful because it creates a commitment,” he said. “That’s how society starts to change.”

Groff, 23, of New Haven, Connecticut, was at the February protests in Hadley. He said a goal is to start conversations among shoppers. “We’ve been protesting to fight against the idea Whole Foods sells that you can raise animals for food in a humane way, and to show that animal agriculture is inherently violent,” he said.

He said he was shocked when he met members of the Teen Animal Rights group that middle schoolers could be so passionate about the cause, and is impressed by the work they have done so far.

“They’re an inspiration for me,” he said. “They’re extremely courageous in their willingness to confront very entrenched social norms .... I think they’re an amazing group of young adults, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.”

The group meets regularly in the Forbes Library to share ideas and develop strategies for future actions. Their meeting times can be found on their Facebook page.

“A lot of people criticize us, saying that we should focus on human rights instead,” Rosie said. “But we believe that every cause needs a voice, and animal rights definitely is one of those causes.”

Gena Mangiaratti can be reached at gmangiaratti@gazettenet.com.




 


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