Animal Protection Day (Dyreverndagen) is a new event taking place for the first time on the 21st March 2015 at DogA. It is a one day event consisting of two parts, an inspirational seminar, and an awards ceremony / party. The objective of the day is to create an arena for animal protectionists in different subgroups to come together, talk and inspire others to take a stand against animal cruelty. Vegan Oslo are excited to attend and wanted to find out more so I sat down with Hilde Valbjørn Hagelin (project leader, social scientist and blogger at Vegetarløperen) and Frode Bakke Bjerkevik (seminar coordinator and vice chair of Minding Animals Norway) at Funky Fresh Foods to chat with them about the event and to talk generally about animal rights in Norway.
Interview by Sally Renshaw, photography by Nick Hagger.
Sally: One thing I noticed about Dyreverndagen is that your seminar is very diverse covering many different perspectives on animal rights, from people who have a mild interest in animals to vegetarians and vegans. I think that the speakers that you have got on board are an interesting bunch! This was good to see as often these kind of seminars can be subjective and hone in one particular perspective. Showing many different perspectives can really open peoples eyes to just how broad a subject animal rights is, and make animal rights issues accessible. Often people are afraid of engaging in any activism at all, or becoming vocal about their vegetarianism or veganism because they feel like they don’t fit into the mould of what an activist is. They don’t want to be affiliated with ‘the scary ones’, ‘the weird ones’ or be judged for having opinions which aren't the status quo.
Hilde: I’m very glad to hear that because that’s exactly what we have been aiming for; a great spectrum of animal protection. An example of how each individual can make their own life story related to animal protection. We aim to inspire people who care about animals in general to get active and start doing something, and that’s one of the reasons we want to cover a large area. We don’t want to scare anybody away by talking about abolitionism, we don’t want to show a narrow view of what animal protection is. We just want to start the fire and get people to do something, anything.
Frode: There are many different approaches people can take to animal rights, for instance in our lineup of speakers we have the movie maker (Ola Waagon), a dog trainer (Line Skaugerud), we have talks from a veteran activist (Odd Harald Eidsmo) and so on and so forth. We just want to showcase various ways you can get involved.
S: I’m really interested to know how you both became involved with animal rights activism, what led you to organising such an event?
H: Well, for me it actually started with my family. They’ve always been very interested in animals and nature. In my masters degree I studied Islam and when I came home for the holidays all they talked about was animals and nature and I was kinda fed up with it but I wanted to chat with them about their interests. I started thinking, ok, I’ll find out what Islam and muslims say about animals, nature, animal protection and environmental protection so that we can chat about it. After this, I dug up some literature, started studying it, and it was so interesting that I actually dedicated my whole masters degree to studying the relationship between Islam and animal- and environmental protection. After this I started working in a Danish animal rights group as part of my studies and that took me to Dyrevernalliansen (The Animal Protection Alliance) here. When I was done with my master thesis I just started working there, and it went on naturally from there.
S: It must be quite interesting for you right now as the subject of halal and the ways that religion and animal rights can function together at the same time has been a hot topic of discussion for everyone.
H: I know! In my master thesis I interviewed two muslim women in Britain. One was english and one was from the Netherlands. They converted to Islam. They were animal protectionists who actually converted to Islam. They felt that Islam was the best religion for animals, but they were vegetarian, because they felt that the real halal thing to do was not eat animals.
S: I suppose we could go on debating religion and animal ethic there all day!
H: Yes, It all comes down to interpretations of what ‘halal’ actually means.
F: The short version of how I became involved with animal rights is that I studied philosophy and ethics and especially aristotelian ethics. Without being too nerdy, I studied questions regarding the moral status of human beings and the moral thing to do with regards to human beings and questions started popping up about how and why our relations to other animals are different. I started investigating I suppose and I ended up writing my master thesis in animal ethics. So for me it was a very philosophical journey rather than an emotional one. So we both had an academic approach.
S: Well that’s really interesting for me, as I haven’t really taken the academic approach to my animal rights activism at all. I guess mine is more of an emotional journey. I’m just a designer really, and started out the way many people do, by not really fancying the slimy pink meat that I was faced with preparing for dinner. This then led me to consider why I was actually eating meat in the first place and that allowed me to think about animal rights properly and I guess I educated myself from watching a load of documentaries, reading books and just getting to know more people who care about animal rights. I think everyone has their own approach and interesting journey to becoming aware, that is why again it’s great that this event is so inclusive of different approaches.
H: On another note I just want to say that we are both vegan.
S: Well, that’s good to hear!
H: Yes, but at this event, we don’t want to reduce animal protection to veganism.
S: I totally understand and that is something that I hope comes across OK in Vegan Oslo. I mean I know it says ‘vegan’ in the name, but the app is totally accessible for vegetarians, health food lovers, people with certain allergies and anyone who isn’t vegan but feels like trying it. It’s all about making veganism an accessible option for people and not forcing a vegan lifestyle upon them, even though veganism is the focus of the app. (Download Vegan Oslo app for iPhones here.) Speaking of focus, are there any specific themes that you will be highlighting in this event or will it be about animal rights in general?
H: In the beginning we wanted to just focus on animal rights in general but as we started contacting the contributors to the programme we soon ended up with a great focus on fur which is actually great because it is the biggest animal protection case in Norway at the moment and people seem to really feel strongly about the case. We think it’s inspiring.
S: The documentary Pels has gained so much media attention. How do you feel about peoples reactions to it?
F: A really good article just came out the other day, we posted it online. Rushprint characterised Pels as the most important documentary in 2014. It’s good to see a more reflective approach because so much of the criticism has obviously been biased from various standpoints.
H: The great thing is that regular people saw this documentary and are just disgusted by the fur industry and they want to do something! We are really happy that the director is coming to our seminar. We will talk about what you can do for animals in the media and a bit about film direction. We expect that a lot of people will have questions for him so we have set aside lots of time just for that. There will also be a panel filled with all the main animal rights organisations that will talk about their unique and varied approach to abolishing fur.
S: I was waiting for the bus last week and there was a lady at the bus stop in a big fur jacket. I actually saw a young guy approach her and tell her ‘your coat is disgusting and you should be ashamed to wear fur.’ I was just sat there thinking ‘Wow, it is so great that everyone is recognising how abhorrent it is to wear fur now and even typically quiet and reserved Norwegians will raise their voice in a public place and speak out against it. It’s not just something that you disagree with but keep to yourself because it is an unpopular opinion, it’s a conversation that is in focus right now and that is a clear signal for change.
H: I had an old colleague that actually put stickers on peoples fur coats. I think they said ‘I’m a jerk’ or something!
F: This year’s Dyreverndagen will really bring everyone together. The fight against fur is brought by the animal rights people mostly but everyone else is getting on board. People who don’t care about animal rights as such but perhaps mostly about pets will come along too.
H: The Fakkeltog is a political demonstration organised by NOAH (for dyrs rettigheter) which involves a lot of people carrying torches from Youngstorget all the way to parliament and there are a lot of political speeches in front of parliament. It’s the biggest political demonstration in Norway and the largest animal rights demonstration in Europe.
S: How do you think the government have reacted to the controversy surrounding the Pels documentary?
H: Personally, I am quite hopeful! The parliament has asked the government to consider abolishing the fur industry. That’s a really great signal that it’s about time that we closed down the whole industry and that we find it unethical. The committee last year had a mandate from the previous government to research opportunities for closing down or finding sustainable development of the fur trade. The great thing was that even before the committee published their opinion about this, our parliament went out and asked the government to consider abolishing the industry signalling that they really didn’t care about this committee's opinion at all. Animal rights issues have progressed in Norway in recent times. Now there is a lot more focus on vegetarianism and veganism and I think that there is a stronger opinion against fur now than previously.
S: Do you think it’s been similar progress across all of Scandinavia or do you think it stands out as an example in Norway?
H: It stands out more in Denmark I think, because in Denmark the industry is much bigger. Mink fur is actually Denmark’s second largest export product. So the industry has a much stronger hold of the politicians there. But my general feeling is that they have progressed further in Sweden and that there are a lot more vegetarians in Sweden. The organisation for animal protection in Sweden has got about a hundred thousand members and that’s just incredible. We have nothing like that here.
S: How do you feel about Norwegian companies in terms of their use of animals and animal products. Are they upfront about it? For example, how well do you think food is labelled?
H: No, it’s really terrible. One of the greatest examples here is caged eggs. In the EU all egg packets are marked with for example ‘caged eggs’, ‘organic’, ‘free range’. The caged eggs in Norway are not labelled as such, they are confusing to consumers and the only supermarket conglomerate who has taken any interest in this is our sponsor Rema 1000 who actually have stopped selling caged eggs all together. They’re the only one out of the big 5 supermarket conglomerates in the country to take a stand on this. That’s why we wanted them as our sponsor. In general, labelling here is really lacking.
F: The same goes for a ‘suitable for vegans / vegetarians’ labelling. We have nothing like that here. Do you know the project that Norsk Vegansamfunn have at Meny in Bogstadveien? NVS have made some labels that say ‘vegan’ next to the price tag on the shelves. Hopefully Meny and other supermarkets find out that this is a good thing and bring it into other stores too.
S: Yeah I went there to check it out, and I have added them to the Vegan Oslo app. It was so great to walk through the supermarket and see products clearly marked as vegan! They didn’t veganise the whole shop, just a few aisles, but I think it’s a great example to other supermarkets and it seems to have got a lot of support! I hope they will be able to do it for the rest of the products there as well.
H: And as for clothes, I noticed that some brands are starting to inform in their advertisements that the wool is not from sheep that are exposed to mulesing and that’s brave. I am active in triathlons and running and when it comes to training outdoors in winter, there is strong opinion that you need wool and down jackets, they’re really popular.
S: Everyone goes around telling you how important it is to wear wool in the winter. Its just instilled into people without a second thought about synthetic warm fabrics. It’s always assumed that wool and fur is better for you. Nowadays I think that people are starting to be open to other options and are learning that they can be just as warm and in some cases warmer!
S: When it comes to technology and activism, how do you feel that the landscape has changed? As we welcome new tech into our lives, using online tools for most people is just like breathing in and out.
H: Well, on one hand it’s much easier to show support but I get a bit concerned that people feel that they have done enough by commenting on facebook or hitting like. Of course it’s great that they are getting involved at all but we have to do more than that.
S: We could be living in a culture of armchair activists...
F: But what would people do if they didn’t do that? I think it’s better that they are armchair activists than nothing.
H: Of course! I want people to carry on commenting on facebook and getting inspired there (Check out Dyreverndagen on facebook), but what I hope to show in our seminar is that there is even more that they can do. For instance Line Skaugerud started by taking the dog trainer education, realised that the way most people treat their dogs is horrible and started a publishing firm to publish books about the correct way to treat dogs and to do that she took a degree in economy. So you see there are so many ways you can be active! Then there is an author and rabbit expert who started by buying a rabbit from a store, took the rabbit home in a cage and then wondered what she should do with it. She thought that she couldn’t just have a rabbit in a cage so she started taking up literature and ended up being Norways rabbit expert and now she is teaching veterinary students about rabbits. So these are real life things you can do.
S: Yeah I think it would be great if we can utilise the new technology we have now and the access we have to unlimited information out there to advance our interests and specialist skills. We can use all of that together to help fight for animal rights effectively and actually make a change! Everyone can write something on facebook, but not everyone is a rabbit expert or a film director or a dancer. Lets use everything we have in interesting ways to push animal rights into focus.
F: Another thing with technology is that it brings people together and creates many different communities. I think that the growth in vegetarianism and veganism in Norway is definitely partly down to facebook groups and people having the opportunity to easily ask more experienced people how to get by. We have quite a few really big facebook groups and it makes it easier to at least make a change in your own life.
S: It’s interesting to imagine how we might use future technology to help the animal rights movement. Now that we have access to so much data and we are living in an age of data exchange, it’s exciting to think about what can we do with this wealth of information. How we incorporate it into apps and everyday tech makes it easier for people to do small things that contribute to animal protection.
S: Do you recommend any good books, movies, podcasts etc for our readers? What should people check out if they want to find out more about animal rights?
F: There is so much to recommend. Reading about the cognitive lives of different animals has been very important to me. If I was to recommend one book it would have to be Jonathan Balcombe’s book ‘Pleasurable Kingdom’. It goes through various experiences we have as sentient beings, so it goes through food, sex, love etc and the scientific literature on various animals and explains how they also partake in these pleasures. That book is important because so much animal rights talk is based on the animal suffering and how we don’t want animals to suffer but that is only one part of the picture. For me it is equally important to realise that animals as well as us are beings who are able to have rich and valuable lives. That book really brings that out. I think it’s interesting to consider what it means to be an animal. When I was studying I started to read a lot of books about elephants, wolves, chimpanzees and bonobos. I also used to binge watch David Attenborough!
S: Haha! Attenborough is the absolute best! He certainly helped a lot of people become interested in animals. What do you hope that Dyreverndagen will achieve?
H: Just to inspire more people to get active, for the animals. We should also point out that everything in the seminar and the party will have positive focus and there won’t be any negative things that you have to worry about seeing.
F: We also hope that people will have a great day, have fun at the party and maybe get a little drunk too!