Award-winning journalist Jessica Scott-Reid shares her experiences writing about farmed animals, how horses could be the gateway to encouraging people to question animal suffering, and the dangers of greenwashing and ag-gag laws.
Jessica has been covering animal and environmental topics for the last six years and you can read her work on The Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Planet Friendly News, Sentient Media, and other outlets.
Ana Bradley: Hello, and welcome to the Sentient Media Podcast where we meet the people who are changing the way we think about and interact with the world around us. Our guest today has helped expose mainstream audiences to animal and environmental issues long hidden from public view. I’m thrilled to welcome award-winning journalist, longtime animal advocate and Sentient Media contributing writer Jessica Scott-Reid. I am so excited to chat with you today. Jessica, thank you for joining us.
Jessica Scott-Reid: Thank you so much for having me. This is long overdue. I’ve been working with Sentient for so long, I’m so glad to now be able to do the podcast.
Ana: Yeah, I’m thrilled. It just struck me one day, I was like, oh, wait a minute. We haven’t spoken to Jess. But actually, it fits really well. Because this week, we’re focusing on animals in the media. So it’s almost like this was the perfect moment for us to have this conversation. So firstly, it’s pretty self-evident that I love your reporting. You’re always on the pulse with what’s happening. And I guess it’d be interesting to hear a little bit about how you came into journalism, and what drives your desire to write and to tell these stories.
Jessica: Yeah, I didn’t start writing about animals to begin with, it wasn’t really even a niche that existed when I first started working in journalism. I do have a background in communications, and then I ended up doing a master’s degree in cultural studies. And while I was doing that, I started blogging about food and culture, I was living overseas. And then as I started reading within culture that moved into a bit more of ethical eating, and what that really means and the eat local movement and more environmental issues connected to food. And as that was going on, through my professional work, personally, I was going through these thoughts and questions too. And eventually, over time, my work and my lifestyle sort of melded together into this idea of no longer eating animals. And at the same time, I thought to myself, I really just want to write about animals. And then I kind of gave up all of the other superfluous things that I was doing on the side, and really just focused on that, and thought, this is something I could really do just write about animals. And eventually it would, but it didn’t take off right away. But eventually, through different channels of animal welfare and rainbow food systems, it became my full-time gig. And now I’ve been doing it almost exclusively for over six years, and really kind of creating this carving out this space for animal issues and voices in the media. And it’s such an honor and I take, I take it as a huge responsibility.
Ana: Aside from the articles that you’ve written, what is the most recent article that you’ve read in mainstream media that actually centers farmed animals?
Jessica: That’s a good question. I think, more broadly, I like what The Guardian does. I also like, what Vox does, and their Future Perfect vertical. These more broadly, I think, are moving towards centering animals, farmed animals, as actual active players in these stories, not just these sort of commodities, or objects that are, you know, like a mention at the bottom of the story. I think that these places are really starting to see that not only is there other audiences who care about the animal issue within the story, but that the animals themselves deserve to be centred as characters within these narratives, and in particular, their suffering. So yeah, I really look to those two at this point along, of course, with Sentient Media for to get the animal’s perspective on on what’s happening to them.
Ana: Yeah, I think that very often, we see a lot of content that comes out where animals are the byproduct of the story. And it goes through a really human-centric lens. And that is something that we focus on at Sentient Media, we have the Writers’ Collective, we have this community of advocates who want to get this kind of content out there. And actually presenting with a human-centric lens is something that we do recommend to people because that’s something that’s more likely to get published while we’re still waiting for this narrative to get centered, like how do you kind of balance that? How do you like balance the suffering, you know, the animal story and the human story or, you know, the, the financial, like all of these different angles that you could possibly have?
Jessica: Yes, that’s a very good question. So it really depends on the publication because as a freelancer I write for so many, and I really love my work in the Op Ed sections, especially of the newspapers here in Canada. So the Global and Mail the Toronto Star, and Winnipeg Free Press, I regularly contribute there. And they each do things a little differently, but I try to really find that sweet spot of where the animal can be centered, but where a mainstream audience is still going to find it accessible and relatable, and some publications let you do a little bit more some a little less of that. I like to open with the circumstance that the animal finds themselves in to really bring the animal to the forefront of the story. But really, that is the trick of each publication and each piece I write is to really find that sweet spot of where it can be accessible, but also centering animals.
Ana: Yeah, that’s really good advice. And I think it also makes me think of the of the numbers like the numbers of farmed animals that we talk about whether it’s, you know, land animals or aquatic animals, these, you know, billions and trillions are so difficult to talk about and so difficult for people to comprehend, like, what a factory farm looks like, and what it looks like, on a global scale. So bringing it down to kind of an individual animal, or an individual story. Yeah. Are there any stories that you’ve done that you remember telling like, because I know you used to do a lot of reporting on like rescue sanctuaries and things like that? Is there any story of any individual animal that like, that comes to your mind?
Jessica: Yeah, I really, I had a really great gig for a while, with Tenderly magazine, it’s now no longer but you can see it through medium.com, where I got to write sanctuary stories on a monthly basis. And it saved my life, after writing about such horrible things, to be able to focus on these incredible rescue stories of a particular animal or a small grouping of animals that, you know, become named characters, the front running characters of these stories, where they’re rescued, the individual people who are behind the rescue, you know, play the supporting role, which is something you never see. And it really was a great gig, I’m so sad it’s over. Tenderly magazine is no longer but the stories are still there for all to see. And often I would tie it to the issue of the month sort of thing. So if I was writing about, say, the horse meat industry here in Canada, I would try and find, you know, a rescued horse and tell that story for Tenderly magazine, so that after, again, all the horrible things I had to write that month, I’d find a silver lining a happy ending story to do there. And it really, it really was a great balance for a while.
Ana: Yeah, and I think that that like just thinking about animal advocates in general, I think that going to a rescue sanctuary and thinking about the stories of these individuals, not just the animals, but the people at those sanctuaries, who are rescuing these animals, it’s like it gives you know, a bit of positivity, it gives you something nice to think about. But zooming out, in your eyes, what does the media landscape look like for animals?
Jessica: It depends where you look. Definitely. I mean, you could say that about media landscape in general, right? Like, we’re seeing a lot of different mediums within the media landscape, we’re seeing a lot of different voices, platforms, political bias happening. In a good way, this is opening up space for a lot of other voices and perspectives, including animal advocates and animals themselves. But more broadly, it can be problematic depending on where you go with it. I think it’s in general, a good thing because it gives people like you and I, and other advocates space to tell these stories. And I’m grateful for that. The internet is limitless. And I think the work that Sentient Media is doing to get these stories on the forefront of search engine pages is really prolific. And it’ll allow us to continue pushing these stories towards the audiences that aren’t seeing them, which is who needs to see them. And the internet’s giving us that tool. So I think I think the media landscape is looking good and I cautiously say that.
Ana: That’s really nice to hear. And I know you’re you’re writing about the use of pronouns for animals. So I know like, obviously, at Sentient Media we have in our editorial standards, that we use pronouns for animals, and we use you know, it, especially if the gender is known of the animal. And other outlets, like the Guardian do have that in their editorial standards, but they don’t always use it even when the gender of the animal is known. So yeah, I’m curious to hear like, you know, your take on that.
Jessica: Yeah, I’m working on a piece right now, maybe when the podcast comes out, the story will be out, discussing how, you know, typical media style books say to use the word “it” to refer to animals when the gender name isn’t known. And that this might not hold a lot of power and a lot of people’s mind, but I think it does, because, you know, media mass communication in a variety of forms feeds our understanding of the world around us. It permeates culture, it permeates the legal system. Right. The fact that we can refer to animals as “it” in mass media, and then that they can be considered property within the legal system. I don’t think that that’s an unrelated issue. And it’s important that we move forward being able to do it. And I think even just writers, advocate writers like us have the power to push that on an individual basis because I do it. When I write for different publications, newspapers, I use, you know, the appropriate pronouns to give personhood to animals, and I haven’t really been stopped. Sometimes they change it. Oftentimes now, you know, the last couple years, not so much. So it’s good to see that there’s flexibility it’d be great to see it really put as the standard and the rule, but the fact that it’s even being allowed outside of the style guides is a good sign.
Ana: Yeah, that is a good sign. Do you have any idea of the history about how that even came about? Is it just because we believed that animals were inanimate objects?
Jessica: I think you’re right. I think that’s what it is. I think that this is just a concept that had never been considered before. And you know, like this idea of, you know, granting personhood legally to animals is a brand new concept to somewhat right, it’s in the last few years, at the legal level. So the fact that these things are happening sort of simultaneously, I think, really just shows that it was never even thought about before.
Ana: I think this idea of language and how we talk about things is so important to us as individual advocates, and also, you know, for publishers, and I’m really curious about self-censorship, when it comes to advocates and like how we talk and do we censor ourselves when it comes to writing for non-vegan media, do you feel that you ever self-censor, when it comes to presenting, you know, animal suffering?
Jessica: All the time, all the time. Again, different publications have different audiences and different editors who will be looking for you to write in a certain way. And as a freelancer, I have to constantly be flexible, and melding myself to these different standards, I always push the limit, because that’s what I’m here to do. But I definitely have to censor, you know, my word usage, my emotive language. But I kind of take pride in that too. And that’s often something I will tell people who are, you know, taking some of my workshops about how to write op-eds about animals. The truth is horrific enough. And also, mainstream non-vegan audiences expect us to be crazy. So be clever. Not crazy. Right? Let the truth speak for itself. let the facts speak for themselves. Let the stats speak for themselves. So maybe it’s less self-censorship and more working with your audience, meeting them where they’re at, and not giving them that crazy vegan vibe?
Ana: Yeah. And it can be that like, if you do go in with like, all of the big, like, you know, all of the things like, “Oh, don’t you care about animals?” you know, blah, blah, blah, all of these emotional things that you end up pushing people further away?
Jessica: Yeah, it’s a tricky balance. And I’m grateful for editors who have in the past reeled me in sometimes, because when I look at old drafts of things, if I would have sent it the way that I sent it, I might not still be doing what I do now. I think being able to rein it in somewhat, for lack of a better term, is it’s helpful sometimes.
Ana: Yeah. So we’re talking about farmed animals, but what about when it comes to reporting on companion animals? Do you feel that editors are more open to stories that center companion animals? Do you feel more free to talk about their suffering when it comes to talking about say, dogs?
Jessica: So, so accurate. Yes. The leeway to discuss our suffering puppy is huge, because you are going to invoke emotions that 90 percent of the population share with you, doing that for a pig is much more difficult and less likely to be effective. Unfortunately, there was one publication, I won’t name it, here in Canada that I wrote for a while that I haven’t in a long time, that really wouldn’t let me write about farmed animals at all. If anybody was Googling, they’d see I’ve only written about dogs and cats for this particular publication for the most part, because that’s all they cared about. And that’s all they let me do. And that’s how I started writing about, you know, dog rescues, and even things like circus animals, and you know, captive cetaceans, things that are more broadly cared about by mainstream audiences. That’s sort of a way of talking about farmed animals. So has its place it’s an effective tool. But it’s absolutely true that to write about, you know, the suffering of a killer whale, or puppy, you can, you can definitely be much, much more expressive.
Ana: Yeah, and it’s interesting, at Sentient Media our focus is farmed animals. But when we tell a story about zoos, or about circuses, or about animal testing, especially animal testing on companion animals, like on dogs, that that ends up getting way more traffic than the stuff that we we write about on farmed animals, and we, you know, that’s a delicate balance to have, because it’s like, well, that content if we just produce that, then we could, you know, have even more potential reach but actually, that’s not our mission, but it does help bring in you know, we’ve spoken about this before, like it does help bring in different audiences that hadn’t then considered farmed animal suffering as well.
Jessica: I find that even with my own work that I have to balance it out, you know, with certain editors and certain publications that I’m not constantly reading about farmed animals, you know, coming, you know, issues about dogs and cats or, you know, animal testing as well, balancing out with that, because it keeps editors interested, too, which is an interesting thing.
Ana: Yeah, right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I feel like if you’re presenting editors with a potential article that’s making them question, you know, their moral compass that’s even harder, right? Because they want to think about that.
Jessica: Yes, being an opinion section editor has got to be a particular mind game. I can’t imagine that.
Ana: Yeah, it would be really hard. I’m interested in the role of horses here. Like, horses are a companion animal, but they’re also, you know, used for work. They’re also eaten and farmed. What’s been your experience? Because you’ve reported on all different aspects of horses and horses lives? What’s been your kind of take on, on the way that we talk about horses and our relationship with horses in the media?
Jessica: They really are a particular type of animal in that way, within the social context, they really check so many different boxes. And I find that when I’m writing about horses, because here in Canada, we have an issue with the horse meat trade, it’s one of the biggest animal rights and welfare issues that we have here. We’re still fighting it, we’re making progress. And when I write about horses, I have a lot of different readers than I would normally have, because they are pets, but they’re also working animals, like you said, and also talking about things like police horses. That’s a whole other issue. And then what about the use of horses in the carriage industry? That’s a whole other issue. We had that just recently, that horrible issue in New York come up again, it really shows what your audience could potentially look like. Because it bridges this concept of companion animal, working animal, and farmed animal. I think studying audience reaction to stories about horses in different degrees can tell us a lot about how we could go forward talking about farmed animals.
Ana: That’s a really interesting idea. And I wonder, like, Do you have any idea of, of the numbers of horses that are bound up in any of these individual industries?
Jessica: I know, interestingly enough, as we were sort of mentioning before, this misrepresentation of animals in the media in Canada, when we talk about the horse meat industry, to get the actual number of horses is not easy, but to get the monetary value of the business, it’s in the millions. It’s in the millions. And isn’t that an interesting point? It’s like the same as when we talk about fish farming, you know, if there’s a fish farm that has had a horrible issue, and all fish have died, and often you’ll hear about it in weight, right monetary loss and weight of product. But yes, so back to the horses. It’s a massive industry here in Canada, the horse meat industry, unfortunately, both the export of live horses to Japan, for sashimi, but also the export of slaughtered meat.
Ana: I remember, I believe it was for Sentient Media, but it was definitely one of your pieces where you were speaking about the horses that were being transported to Japan, and some of them used to be pets, they had rosettes and stuff. It’s tragic.
Jessica: It’s tragic because this is where horses end up whether they’re, you know, a pet who could no longer be ridden, isn’t that interesting? But for horses as companions that’s often where their use ends, right, like a dog or a cat is our companion pretty much for the most part forever, until they’re till they pass away. But with horses, it’s often until their use is used up, right? Whether they’re used as racing or barrel racing, whatever it is, or riding. Once they’re no longer able to do that. It’s like they’re no longer your companion, right, and so many of them end up at this horse auction. That happens across Canada, and the horse auction is typically bought up by the meat buyer. That’s what they’re referred to as. So it’s not like you just like, you know, send your dog to the shelter. And hopefully somebody, you know, rescues it with a kind heart, they go to the auction where they can either be bought by someone who wants to take on an old horse or the meat buyer. That’s a crazy concept
Ana: That is a really crazy concept. And actually, this week, we’ve seen articles coming out about the horses, the female horses in Iceland, who have the hormone that’s extracted in order to be fed to pigs and cows to make them more fertile in the UK. So in the UK, we have this, you know, this kind of argument with France a lot of the time about, you know, the consumption of horse meat and you know, a lot of British people you know, a very against the consumption of horse meat. And riding schools are a very big deal in English culture in particular. And the idea that, you know, people who love riding horses or people who have horses or believe that, you know, they have a relationship with their horse, and then they go and eat a pork sandwich that has been created from the exploitation of a horse in another country. Like, it’s just, it’s insidious, like the whole system, the whole animal agriculture system. It’s insidious, and people don’t often question it or think about it like that.
Jessica: Right. But what a great opportunity to have that conversation, right? Horses give us that opportunity to talk about hypocrisy within these thoughts towards what animals we eat and what animals we love.
Ana: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, it’s really interesting. Another area that I’m interested to get your take on, we just published an article, I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it’s one study and five different headlines. So there was this one study that came out. And five different outlets reported on it, Caroline Christen wrote it for as one of our staff writers, and it’s it’s on this one study about the health impacts of meat free diets on children. And basically, yeah, each outlet like picked a different aspect of the study to highlight, essentially one that supported their bias. So there’s a couple of examples. One is that from children, so children are twice as likely to be underweight as those who eat meat. And then there was another one that said, kids who live on vegetarian food are no less fit than those who eat meat. And it’s like, okay, so you have these two, like kind of polar opposite things. One says, kids are going to be dangerously underweight. And one is saying, actually, it’s totally fine. But it’s all coming from the same blooming study. And I was wondering how do you navigate conflicting information or conflicting news and headlines.
Jessica: Cherry picked stats, oh, my gosh, it is such a prevalent problem. I actually just published a piece with Corporate Knights magazine here in Canada, about the meat industry’s efforts to fund research to be able to undermine climate change claims associated with animal agriculture. And then also to cherry pick information from existing studies in order to publish news articles or, you know, further publications are the things that really change the narrative about how impactful animal agriculture is on the environment. It’s constant. And having to go down that rabbit hole, clicking those extra links, going back to the actual study is key always. And I work in the media. And I can say that the media can cherry pick things and totally tell a different story. I think going back to the study, and then looking at the conflicts that are have to be disseminated with from the researchers, and who funded them. You have to look at that. Unfortunately, science is not black and white. And it’s important to go down that rabbit hole every single time.
Ana: Yeah, and it can be really difficult to find out the actual funder of a piece. So you know, the industry has all of these, you know, nonprofits and charities…
Jessica: …and think tanks and things. Yes, it’s so true. Or it’s a seed company or a feed company that sounds wholesome but then you go and see, well, who owns the feed company? Who are they feeding? Yeah, so you’re so right to have all these different foundations and things.
Ana: Exactly. And I, you know, especially when it comes to like climate crisis, and numbers around the impact of different, you know, different greenhouse gas emitters. I think that I read a piece yesterday, there was from, you know, a meat industry, I think it was a, you know, the National Hog Farmer or something like that. And it was saying that the animal agriculture if we eradicate animal agriculture, it would only remove 0.7 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s like, okay, so you go back to how they kind of made that conclusion. And actually, the article that they were looking at was U.S. specific, and they’d had this number that had been approved that said it was 10 percent. It contributed 10 percent to emissions. And it’s this kind of, like getting these numbers and kind of understanding the complexity of them, you know, and Nicholas Carter does a great job of addressing this.
Jessica: That’s my go-to guy. The guy who crunches the numbers for me, because it can be dizzying and even like the measurement tools, right? Like, they come up with a new way to measure the, you know, the methane impact. And I always have to go back to Nicholas Carter, and say “What the heck is happening here” and he explains it to me like I’m five years old, so shout out to Nicholas. He’s the only one that keeps me in the know about all of these different measurement tools and claims that the industry is making about how not only is their impact lower, but that they’re actually saving the planet.
Ana: Yeah, exactly. And I think, is it the National Chicken Council? Was it last year, they just started to release their climate impact reports. You know, they’re setting their own parameters. They’re setting their own Net Zero guidelines. But yeah, his website Nicholas Carter’s is plantbaseddata.org.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s right. And I think about the chickens. I have another word for Corporate Knights that I wrote about here in Canada, the Canadian Chicken Council, I think it’s called. There’s they’re trying to sell chicken meat, as you know, the most sustainable meat and their parameters. One of the things they talked about was their renewable energy. And because it was something like because their feed was grown by the sun, they were accounting that towards their use of renewable energies or something. It was like my editors were like, is this what we think it is? Is this what they’re really saying? We have to go back and check it and qualify it with them.
Ana: That’s incredible. Yeah, I guess this would be a good time to kind of think about greenwashing, which is something you’ve covered a lot. For us at Sentient Media. I was wondering if you could just explain. Firstly, what greenwashing is. And secondly, you know, what the problem is with greenwashing.
Jessica: Greenwashing is such a widespread problem. And now it’s actually fed into these new versions of humane washing and even blue washing. But basically, it’s, you know, the use of, of bogus claims about any kind of product that is somehow eco friendly, or even eco beneficial, when it’s not the case. And we see this so commonly now, you know, down the meat aisle or dairy aisle, where we’re seeing buzzwords us that are often not at all qualified in any way are not regulated by say the USDA in any way, that are just marketing terms that are trying to make consumers feel better, you know, eco-conscious, or socially conscious consumers who are just looking for a way to eat these products and feel okay about it. They’re gonna go towards often texting in green, saying that, you know, this, this egg is somehow better for the planet than this other egg beside it, and you’re probably gonna pay a little bit more to make it feel good.
Ana: Yeah, exactly. And that kind of segues into labeling as well as how meat and dairy industries label their products, like there’s one here in the UK called Happy Eggs. And, and there’s literally just a happy chicken on the front of the packet. And actually, they’re one of the worst. You’ve written about the labeling and certification stuff for us, as well, right? Like, what’s what’s been the biggest battle that you think that we’re facing with that.
Jessica: And the unfortunate thing is, is now to see the meat, dairy, and egg industries fighting back with the labeling issues, and taking companies like say, tofurkey to court and costing all this money and using up all these resources over stupid labeling issues, which is really just a defensive play, right? To be able to use words like, you know, meat and milk and butter. Under the guise that consumers are confused, nobody’s confused, nobody’s confused. It’s all just a way to try and undermine these products use up their resources, these companies. And it seems to be an ongoing problem, especially in certain states in the U.S. And I worry that that’s gonna get worse. As the defense gets stronger, because these products, these plant-based products are becoming more and more popular.
Ana: Yeah. Yeah. It is concerning. And it is not just whether or not they win, it’s the waste of resource within an organization that like, you know, has far less resources than, you know, Tyson. Whatever.
Ana: I mean, on that topic, it’d be great to cover ag-gag laws. This is something that obviously we’re, you know, acutely aware of in the space that we’re working in. But I wonder if you could explain what are ag-gag laws and what’s the status in Canada at the moment? What are we fighting? What are we up against?
Jessica: It’s an ongoing issue. It started in the US and it’s now spread to Canada. They’re basically laws that to varying degrees deter undercover investigations, deter journalists, deter activists from entering agricultural spaces and gathering evidence and footage and disseminating it to the public. Here in Canada, we now have ag-gag style laws here in my province of Manitoba, in Ontario in Alberta and some on Prince Edward Island, and they really came about once activists started entering farms pre-pandemic and capturing evidence and putting it on social media or giving it to mainstream media. And also groups like Mercy for Animals that were doing a lot of undercover investigations whistleblowers, that, you know, staff who started having an issue with things that were going on who were setting up cameras, like we’ve also seen in the U.S. through Direct Action Everywhere in particular. So currently, I’m part of a lawsuit against the government of Ontario along with animal justice, and animal rights law firm here and an activist stating that it goes against our rights and freedoms to not be able to have this information. You know, my work as a journalist is being impeded. So much of the work I’ve done in the past has been based on information gathered by undercover investigations, whistleblowers and activists and you know, we have a lot of evidence based on articles that would not have been able to be written without that very important work. That’s of great public interest. So it’s an ongoing battle. A lot of them have been struck down in the US as unconstitutional. And we’re hoping the same thing happens here.
Ana: Do you find the media outlets, because this is something that impacts the media industry so acutely, do you find that media outlets are more open to covering stories about ag-gag laws? Or is it another kind of no-go area?
Jessica: It depends on the timing, I think there has been a lot of good coverage about it. I know I’ve been able to write a lot about it. But it’s usually just when it’s kind of happening. So now that it’s sort of in the background, I will say the issue of bird flu, avian flu. I tweeted a couple days ago saying that, you know, we have millions of animals being “depopulated”, these horrific on-farm depopulation methods, mass killing of animals that are stuck in barns and the heat cranked or the gases added. But we don’t get to see what that looks like. In the U.S., we saw that horrific undercover footage from a whistleblower. And what was it Iowa that Direct Action Everywhere was able to acquire. In Canada, no one knows what this looks like. Because in the provinces, where it’s probably happening the most, we now have these laws. And it’s, it’s a huge, fine and possible jail time in places for people to go in and gather this information. So it’s impeding our work right now. But to have that go into the media, they don’t really want to talk about right now, I’ve been talking a little bit about avian flu, as a, you know, broader sign that our animal-based food system is flawed. But as far as ag-gag goes, it’s usually just if it’s, you know, making headlines at the moment,
Ana: Do you feel that we’re like, kind of entering pandemic fatigue, where we’ve been reporting, you know, COVID has been a news cycle, you know, for two years, and now we have this other, you know, avian flu coming out, we constantly have these outbreaks, right. But avian flu seems to be bigger than, a lot of the other ones that we also saw during the last two years, do you feel that the kind of reluctance to cover it is just this pandemic fatigue?
Jessica: I think it’s a combination of that. And also the fact that it’s animals are not people, right? Like, if avian flu was really, I mean, we have seen a couple of cases within people, but it’s really, as soon as expert advice comes out that it’s not really a risk to humans, people lose interest. You know, no one cares about the fact that social distancing was such an important thing for us during a pandemic. But now that we’re cramming 1000s and 1000s of birds into barns, and they’re all getting sick and having to be gassed to death. Where’s their social distancing? Right, no one’s talking about that. Because it’s not people and they don’t care.
Ana: Do you think that’s like the crux of it? That’s like, I mean, that’s essentially the, you know, why we don’t talk about these issues is it’s not people.
Jessica: 100 percent we’re selfish as a species. And the fact that, you know, an outlet like Sentient Media has to exist, is because we’re having to, you know, claw and scrape the space for animals within the media landscape. Because if we didn’t do it, nobody would, because a lot of people don’t care. But that’s our, that’s our mission is to make people care. And I think we’re doing a good job of it slowly, but surely, bringing in that empathy for other beings, proving to people that animals can suffer. And that should matter to them. And I think it’s working and it’s happening. And, you know, great writers like through the Sentient Media community who are going out there with the skills that are being taught and you know, writing those letters to the editor, and trying to get in those pieces of conversation with animals in the media, it’s all working.
Ana: Yeah. And I also like, one of the things that we’ve been working hard to do at Sentient Media is cover the intersections. So covering the human animal, like the exploitation of humans that goes hand in hand with factory farming and industrial animal agriculture. Yeah, and we actually get some we’ve had some pushback on that, in the sense of some, you know, animal advocates would rather we just spoke about the animal issue, what was your take on that?
Jessica: I think it’s a good strategy. Not everybody’s gonna get it. You know, it’s this odd dilemma of do we empathize with slaughterhouse workers? Really, that’s what it comes down to so much, or farm workers. My personal perspective is, of course, you know, being vegan in my perspective isn’t just about animals. It’s political. It’s intersectional. That’s my perspective. And I think there are different victims, the agricultural system, the institution, victimizes, almost everybody that it touches, except for those at the higher up. And I think there’s a strategy to talk to telling the stories of those humans that are involved in order to get more sympathy from selfish humans. And I think to speak only about animals has a place, but it’s strategically not effective.
Ana: I saw you on Twitter, yesterday, I think of the day before, talking about, like, you know, you were talking with Marina about like, life would be so much easier if an editor would just give you a factory farming column, like, I feel like we’ve kind of we’ve covered this, but I mean, why why doesn’t every outlet at least have have that like some because food and agriculture is everything, you know, you eat at least three times a day, you know, most people, right?
Jessica: People don’t want to hear the fact that what they’re eating three times a day is bad. I think that’s what it comes down to. I think it’s going to come, I think Marina will get a factory farming column. And once she does, then it’ll make way for me. And I think it’ll happen. But for the most part, it’s so much of what we see now with this discourse about good meat, right and good farming, regenerative, holistic, grazing, small family farm, people are trying to find a way to feel good about it. Right. I think it’s a general consensus now that factory farming is bad. But to have the factory farming is bad conversation, move into well, kind of all animal farming is bad, is a much harder thing to do. So, you know, we see a lot of these animal welfare organizations who are trying so hard to make chicken farming better, you know, the better chicken commitment. And I think that will be more accessible to broader audiences at this point in time, because it means they can still keep eating what they want to eat, they’re just going to pay a little bit more for it. So I think there’s a ways to go to get this idea that there really isn’t a right way to farm animals before we can really have this as a mainstream regular conversation.
Ana: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, I saw recently a Faunalytics released a study. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but it highlights that news articles and social media content are like among the most highly effective methods of influencing diet change. Did you see that study at all? Yes, yeah. It’s awesome. And I think, you know, on the one hand, that is super great news. But on the other hand, it’s also kind of scary because the plant-based message gets so muddied. And I’ve already mentioned this article, you know, that, you know, the, the one study five different headlines, and this, you know, the cherry picking what you say. And the other day, I saw a piece in The Telegraph that said, the title was “how a vegan diet takes the joy out of life”. I saw that oh, my gosh, I couldn’t even I couldn’t even engage with it.
Jessica: You know, how many people will click that? Because they’ll be like, Yes, I agree with that. Let me have my confirmation bias, please.
Ana: Exactly. Confirmation bias is exactly it. We all want confirmation of what we’re doing is the right thing.
Jessica: Yes, yes. And I wrote about that for a Sentient Media just I think they reshard it yesterday on Twitter. But that psychologist who talked all about that, that if you have to think about this, that’s going to make you take an action, otherwise, you’re going to feel bad about it. Sticking with him was very was very helpful.
Ana: Yeah, that was a great piece. Yeah. That they link to that for sure. I mean, I feel like we’re because it’s such a small percentage of content that’s going out that is sharing like a positive, you know, vegan message. Like, I don’t know, I wonder how you feel about the impact of your articles? Like do you get feedback from readers? Do you feel like I mean, good feedback. Do you feel like it you know, you’re, you’re you’re starting to make waves at least. I mean, you’re very present on social media. You have a great following.
Jessica: I think it depends. It depends on the topic. I find when I write anything against the dairy industry, I probably get the most flak of all people are really not really wanting to give up their dairy. It’s crazy to me which because to me, it’s like the coolest of all, but it really depends, like so for example, when I wrote this recent op-ed for the Toronto Star about how Niagara Falls was wanting to have 144 consecutive nights of fireworks and how horrible that’s going to be for the surrounding environment and wildlife and animals and people. People really don’t want to get fireworks, I get so much hate from people whenever I write against fireworks. So it depends some things it seems like people are willing to talk more about and consider. So when I wrote about plant-based chicken becoming more popular and you know, this influx of new products in Canada of plant-based chicken being available at convenience stores and stuff, people really were into that, because I think it’s giving people something that they can do to try that’s not that hard. You’re not talking about what you have to give up, you’re talking about something you can try. So it really depends on the content, some works, and some doesn’t.
Ana: And I think that’s also interesting psychology, talking to people about what they can add rather than what they have to remove.
Jessica: Yes. Which is unfortunate, in some ways, because you see this influx and say plant-based milk, but not really a decline equally in dairy. So there’s a lot of people adding plant-based to their life without taking the bad stuff away.
Ana: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, like you said before, meeting people where they’re at, like, I know, like, in my circle who have like, slowly, slowly, slowly reduced and there’ll be one leftover, you know, residual thing from from meat and dairy in their diet. But yeah, it’s way less than before.
Jessica: Yes, that though that whole reduceterian concept. There was a great documentary by the reducerterian group called “Meat Me Halfway” which I thought was really well done. Really, really appropriate for the here and now. And late and you know, this idea of perfectionism within veganism, I think is counterproductive. And the reducing thing, a lot of people don’t like it, I like it.
Ana: I mean, I I’ve been vegan/vegetarian, I’ve been aware and, you know, of animals, like, since I was six, I made that decision. And I like, I didn’t realize I didn’t actually join the animal protection movement professionally until I joined Sentient Media, like a couple of years. So I’ve been working in different fields. And for me, like, when I came into this space, I did not realize all the nuances.
Jessica: Totally so yes, and so in my work, too. I can get flack, also from, you know, the animal community too, because sometimes it’s, it’s as if I’m not saying enough. And I appreciate the work at Sentient Media in particular because this really gives me a space to say those extra things that I can’t always see in the mainstream media. And so this, this is the outlet where I can say what I really think.
Ana: I mean, that’s good. I’m really glad that we can provide a home for you to be able to create that content and all of the other writers that we have with us. But yeah, it has been a funny experience, like I was never aware of, you know, the animal welfare versus animal rights debate, right?
Jessica: It’s a big one. It’s a big one. And I put in my bio that I write about both animal welfare and animal rights. And some animal rights folks don’t like that. But I consider writing about companion animals, animal welfare. And I do sometimes write about, you know, improvements to animal agriculture, which I don’t like to do, but sometimes there’s a time and space for it.
Ana: Yeah, it’s like, there has to be a balance. It’s, you know, and also just in the sense of like, meeting people where they’re at and bringing people into the conversation. And something’s gonna resonate. You know, one thing that somebody says is resonate with somebody else. And yeah, I think it’s totally so important to be versatile and open to things.
Jessica: No vegan policing, please.
Ana: Like, let’s just be nice. So I guess it’d be great to hear. I mean, you always have so many ideas, like I said, at the start, like your fingers on the pulse. Like you’re always coming at me in my inbox with like, awesome things and…
Jessica: …all your different inboxes “I have a thought I’m just writing this here so I don’t forget.”
Ana: Exactly. So I was wondering if there was like, one story or one untold story that you were desperate to write that you feel needs air time? What would it be?
Jessica: I think this is something you and I have been talking about. And I really, really am excited to work on it with Sentient Media. It is really tapping into indigenous voices and indigenous perspectives on animal farming and climate change and how we can better listen to those who know the earth and know the land. And really to learn and to listen to those voices. That’s something I really want to get into. And I think it’s something that is not being tapped into as much as it should be by any means. especially here in Canada it’s such a top of the mind issue with truth and reconciliation, something that needs to be told. And I really want to give voice to those who know the earth the best.
Ana: That’s awesome. Yeah, I’m so excited to work on this with you. And yeah, I can’t can’t wait to get started. So finally, to just wrap things up, like how can our listeners and viewers, how can they find you and support your work?
Jessica: Most of my written work I share via Twitter @JessLReid and then on Instagram @jesslsr, where I share more of my plant-based food, my vegan parenting, more of my personal side of my advocacy and also my work too. So you can get it all through those two channels.
Ana: Yeah. And I would recommend people have a full belly when they look at your Instagram because every time I look at your Instagram, I’m like, Oh my gosh, I need to eat some more food now.
Jessica: Cooking plant-based food has just opened my world. It is my favorite hobby. And eating it.
Ana: I don’t know about you. For me, cooking is so important. Like and I don’t get to cook every day because I have to work late. But on the days when I get to cook, it’s just like, right shut the world out.
Jessica: Therapeutic right. Oh my god on a bad day. Making a good soup saves my soul. Yeah. Not chicken soup for the soul, veggie soup for the soul.
Ana: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. We’ll share all of the links in the notes here as well. Well, it has been so awesome. I could keep speaking to you for 50 million hours.
Jessica: I know, right? We can do this forever. Yeah. Thank you. I forgot we were doing a podcast.
Ana: Probably overshared. But no, it’s been awesome. Talking with you. Thank you so much for your time.
Jessica: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to keep going forward with Sentient Media.
Ana is the Executive Director at Sentient Media. Her background is in content production and startup consultancy.