Q&A: Anita Krajnc, founder of Toronto Pig Save, on veganism, animal rights and getting Joaquin Phoenix to attend a protest
When the Colorado-based animal rights group Be Fair Be Vegan launched their eight-week awareness campaign earlier this week, they had a very special visitor. After the Joker premiere—and before he accepted TIFF’s tribute award—Joaquin Phoenix took the time to join a couple dozen Toronto activists for a tour of St. George subway station (which is currently plastered with animal rights posters). We spoke to the campaign’s Toronto co-ordinator (and founder of Toronto Pig Save) Anita Krajnc to get the scoop on the new campaign, her celebrity connection and why pigs are people, too.
First things first. How did you get the biggest star at TIFF 2019 to show up at your protest?
I invited him. I had met Joaquin before at a few Animal Save vigils in L.A. He’s been over a dozen times, which shows you his level of commitment. We had this campaign that was launching in St. George station and it occurred to me that having a celebrity attend would be a great way to draw attention. I wrote him a message and he said he only had a very small window on Monday, so that’s when we did it. He came and looked at the campaign and posed for pictures.
Was the event a success?
Yes, we definitely got a lot of attention from the kinds of outlets that don’t generally cover us, like eTalk and Entertainment Tonight Canada. Expanding our message into the mainstream is probably our biggest challenge, so that was a big deal. Plus we got quite a few donations following Joaquin’s appearance.
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It can’t be cheap to plaster an entire subway station in posters. How much did you raise to fund this campaign?
I personally started a GoFundMe page on behalf of Toronto Pig Save. We’re aiming for $50,000 and we’re already at $28,000. The campaign is organized by Be Fair Be Vegan which is a Colorado-based organization. They had run similar campaigns in New York, Seattle and Melbourne, and there’s one in Montreal right now.
You say the new campaign focuses on the inner experiences of animals. Can you expand on that?
It means we’re focused on veganism from an animal justice perspective. We want people to recognize that animals are sentient beings, meaning they have the capacity to feel joy, pain, fear. They’re separated from their babies and killed when they don’t want to die. Could anything be worse than having your children ripped away? Having your throat slit? Being thrown into an incinerator?
What do you hope the meat-eating masses will feel when they see the posters?
We want them to feel the fear, the pain and the anxiety the animals experience. People don’t often think about this when they eat a meat burger or a chicken McNugget, so we’re hoping to change that and to influence consumer behaviour.
Be Fair Be Vegan promotes an uncompromising vegan message. How do you feel about people who are doing things like meatless Monday, or just making an effort to consume less meat?
Well, I think this is definitely a trend we’re seeing and it’s really exciting. That said, the point of Be Fair Be Vegan is to highlight animal justice, and that animals have the right not to be exploited—regardless of what day of the week it is.
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What about the fact that veganism has been adopted by celebs like Beyoncé as the trendy diet du jour?
That’s great, too. In any campaign, you’re more likely to be successful if there are co-benefits, whether that’s fighting climate chaos or celebrity diets. One of my favourite recent examples is 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg. She became a vegan because of the climate crisis, and there has been a demonstrable Greta Effect in Sweden and its surrounding countries.
Joaquin Phoenix has been vegan since age three. What’s your story?
In the early ’90s I saw a film called The Animals that was narrated by Julie Christie. I had nightmares for three days and then I went vegetarian. I had never even heard the word vegan at that point. And then when I was teaching politics at Queen’s University, there was this student group that was promoting veganism. I thought they were being extremely radical, but then I did some research it and changed my mind. When I moved back to Toronto I lived around King and Bathurst where the slaughterhouse used to be. I will never forget the first time I saw pigs in a slaughter truck. That’s when I founded Pig Save.
You were arrested in 2015 and charged with criminal mischief after you fed water to pigs in a slaughter truck outside a slaughterhouse.
Yes and I was acquitted. The judge recognized that there was nothing illegal about giving water to thirsty pigs, but it was only a half victory. We lost the fight for pigs to be considered persons under the law. They are still currently considered property.
Just pigs or all animals?
We’re trying to make the case that animals should have their basic rights protected. That might sound like a big leap, but there was a time when people of colour were considered property, when women were considered chattel. And today there are circumstances where even corporations are considered people under the law. Why wouldn’t we afford that same status to our fellow animals?
One final question: Can I have Joaquin Phoenix’s phone number?
Ha! No, I don’t even have his number. I don’t want to say how I got in touch.