Scholar-Activist Spotlight with Chris Shapard – May 2020

Annie Bernatchez – When and how did you become an animal activist? As up today, what keeps you motivated?

Chris Shapard – After graduating from the University of Utah in 2013 with a degree in marketing, I worked for a local software company for a little over a year, before I decided marketing definitely wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time and energy. I decided to apply for an internship with PETA, knowing very little about the animal advocacy world. I had grown increasingly passionate about animal advocacy and animal agriculture issues throughout college, the spark of my interest being the book Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, but had never put that passion into any practice.

Since then I’ve become more engaged with the ideas and strategies of animal advocacy, but I’ve also become more engaged with the wider world of social justice advocacy. The endless learning about the interconnectedness of social justice issues is one of the central things that keeps me most engaged today.  Of course I am motivated by the intense gravity of animal’s situations in our world today, but I also firmly believe that we must focus our attention on the roots affecting all social justice issues if we truly want to succeed in our activism.

AB – You now do outreach and other activist work with FFAC. Could you tell us more about this organization and your work?

CS – Factory Farming Awareness Coalition (FFAC) is an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people on the impacts of industrial animal agriculture, and the power of our food choices. FFAC’s biggest component is our educational presentations, which are free presentations tailored to different subjects, the most numerous of which are focused on: environmental impact, health impacts, and workers. The bulk of our presentations are given in high school and college classes, but we also present regularly to other stakeholder audiences, including local governmental bodies, corporations and community groups.

In addition to the presentations, we also push for institutional change through our Green Monday program, where we work with institutions to implement more sustainable, plant-based menus. Some of the events we host around the country include Oakland VegFest, Vegan Mac Down, and “Eat, Drink, Learn” community and corporate events. Our concert outreach program during the summer reaches thousands of festival goers with powerful virtual reality experiences and informational materials. We also mentor dozens of high school and college interns throughout the year, with the goal of empowering them to become social justice advocates in their own communities.

AB – As a full-time activist, what types of objection have you met while educating people about nonhuman animals and modern industrial agriculture? How have you been able to overcome such arguments? Would you like to share an anecdote with us?

CS – There are many common objections I’m sure many of us have faced when it comes to educating others on factory farming and our relationship with nonhuman animals. Food is a volatile and political topic, which is why FFAC’s approach as a fact-based organization is so critical in allowing us to reach previously indifferent audiences by speaking directly to their interests.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that diet change is difficult. One of the reasons we promote incremental approaches to larger-scale change like Meatless Mondays is that people are typically much more comfortable taking a small step towards new habits, rather than completely abandoning the habits overnight that have been developed over a lifetime. Once people take that step and try something like plant-based beef crumbles in a taco, or non-dairy milk, they quickly realize diet change is much less difficult than they imagined.

Another common belief most people hold is that eating animals is necessary, and so our eating them is justified, no matter how terrible the circumstances may be. One of the presentation formats we offer classes is a discussion-based lesson, where we guide students through a series of critical thinking questions to help them arrive at the conclusions themselves. Using this approach, we can help students dig behind their pre-existing ideas and beliefs to uncover some of the illogical premises they are often built on.

AB – How is your current advocacy and outreach work intersect with ICAS principles?

CS – Much like ICAS, FFAC’s approach to advocacy and outreach is rooted in evidence-based research, with a goal of dismantling the destructive and unjust system of industrial animal agriculture, along with other related oppressive systems. We are very deliberate in making sure we are intersectional in our approach, and avoid being a “single-issue” organization, making sure to draw the connections and attention to other social justice issues like workers rights and environmental racism, revealing how the impacts in one area are inextricable from the rest.

AB – What are your future projects with FFAC and ICAS?

CS – FFAC is continuing to conduct outreach to schools and other institutions by offering a variety of online resources, including virtual classroom visits and webinars addressing a variety of the topics that intersect with our work. We are also continuing to pursue institutional changes with our Green Monday sustainable food program, as well as exploring new partnerships with other organizations like Default Veg to push institutions to adopt more plant-based food services. I’m also working with a local group of college interns who are working with college administrators to help shift the institution’s food services towards a more plant-based menu.

I’m excited to continue being a part of ICAS’s network of incredible scholars and activists working to create a more just world, whether in the form of partnerships with FFAC, or personally helping to manage book clubs or other projects within ICAS.