By Nicole Rivard
Marchers dressed up as animals and vegetables, waving signs that showed their support for animal rights and their pride in leading a plant-based lifestyle, processed through the old meat packing district before converging on Union Square during the eighth annual Veggie Pride Parade and Expo in New York City Sunday. “Don’t just say you love animals, go vegan,” they chanted.
More than three dozen exhibitors, including Friends of Animals, were on hand for the festivities. Dressed in a rabbit costume, Marci Frishberg, of Brooklyn, asked people who came to her table to boycott Whole Foods because the grocer sources slaughtered eight-week old domestic rabbits. Across the way, vegan restaurant V-Spot of Brooklyn gave out vegan empanadas and announced it hopes to expand into the city next year.
Eric Walton, a vegan since 1991, activist, photographer and founder of the pro-vegan website, veganfuturenow.com, kicked off the lineup of speakers who took to the stage following the parade.
“We are here to say enough is enough,” Walton said. “Every year on this planet one hundred billion, that’s billion with a B, land animals are enslaved, slaughtered, dismembered and eaten by human beings who think and believe that their status as human beings somehow confers upon them the right to exploit, oppress and murder their fellow creatures. And we are here today to say, ‘No, absolutely not.’
“It’s a moral outrage, an environmental calamity and it is a social justice crisis. We are here to advocate for a more loving, peaceful, compassionate, sustainable world…a world in which the rights and liberties of all animals, human and non-human, are recognized and respected. If you agree with me, put your fist in the air, and say with me, ‘One struggle, one fight, human freedom, animal rights.’ ”
When it was her turn to speak, Edita Birnkrant, Friends of Animals’ campaigns director, warned attendees not to be fooled by marketing tools such as free-range, cage-free, grass-fed and humanely-raised labels for animal products.
“Animal products labelled as ‘free-range,’ ‘grass-fed,’ or ‘cage-free’ are not the answer and consumers and the public, and all of you here, should not buy into the myth that these products are somehow more humane or sustainable for the environment,” Birnkrant said. “Factory farms are hell on earth for animals, but these smaller scale farms that are often positioned as ethically and environmentally superior to factory farms are anything but.
“As the demand for free-range animal products grows, so does the demand by ranchers for more livestock grazing areas. The reality is that substituting free-range grazing practices for intensively confined animals would drastically increase already perilous levels of wildlife habitat loss, and species endangerment or extinction. Wild horses and burros, bison, wolves and coyotes are already being wiped out by government agencies who act in the interests of ranchers. USDA’s Wildlife Services killed four million endangered and predator species in 2013 to help livestock operators.”
Birnkrant also pointed out the importance of activism for animals beyond just adopting a plant-based lifestyle and encouraged everyone to get involved with issues happening in their own backyards, including those affecting wildlife as well as domestic animals.
“We all must get politically active to enact laws to protect wildlife and other animals. Here in NY we need to ban horse-drawn carriages and barbaric practices such as declawing of cats and devocalization of dogs and cats and wildlife killing contests,” Birnkrant said. “There are many other laws that are currently pending in the New York legislature and City Council. We can’t get victories for these issues without the help of all of you.”
In addition to the guest speakers, throughout the afternoon, passersby were also encouraged to tell their stories about why they chose a plant-based lifestyle at a Soapbox Testimonial Station that was set up near the exhibitors.