"The message here is really quite simple: I believe in ways that count we're all the same," the soft-spoken Kathy Stevens told the fashionable crowd in a rented NYC loft, marking the launch party of her new book Animal Camp. As guests nibbled vegan treats, Stevens told quirky and heartwarming stories about Rambo the sheep, his friend Barbie the chicken and other residents of the Catskills Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York.
Steven's message was one of simplicity and inclusiveness. She talked about her own long journey, of becoming a vegetarian in middle age, and a vegan just a few years ago. She said her message to vegans is to "don't be so angry. We gotta give people some room, and invite them." Stevens lamented that only two percent of people are vegetarians, with a smaller percent vegan.
"There are all kinds of reasons why; denial, compartmentalization," said Stevens. "But the concept I'd like to leave is kindness as a universal value. We don't say, 'I'll be kind to this neighbor and not to that one.' Yet every time we pick up a fork, we subject someone -- not something -- to a level of unkindness we wouldn't wish on a rapist."
Stevens then outlined some of the major motivations for her own switch to veganism. "Animals are tortured from birth to death," she said. Stevens dismissed "free range," saying, "that term is misused, and in any case it's only a tiny percentage." Stevens also touched on human health concerns over meat consumption (obesity, diabetes), and pointed out "what agribusiness is doing to the planet."
Stevens' central message was one of compassion. "If we know it about dogs and cats, why is it such a stretch to chickens and pigs, who have emotional lives, and feel pain and suffering?" Stevens asked. As she read a few passages from Animal Camp about the unlikely bonds and complex behavior of the sheep, pigs, goats and others at the sanctuary, the theme was clear: we're all more similar than different, and we all want the same things in life -- food, water, a place to lie down at night, dignity and companionship.
Stevens founded the Catskills Animal Sanctuary in 2001 after she bought a dilapidated farm upstate, eventually turning it into a safe haven for some 1,100 animals. Stevens is a former teacher who also wrote the book Where the Blind Horse Sings.
"If animals could speak our language, the world would surely be different," said Stevens.
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