Activist. Organizer. Snap Pea Lover.
Clare Farrow is the New York City Grassroots Director for The Humane League, a farmed animal protection nonprofit. After joining THL as a summer intern in 2014, she went on to intern at and volunteer with multiple other major animal rights organizations, including Mercy for Animals and Farm Sanctuary. Clare has since returned to THL's team to help launch their NYC Grassroots office. She shared her broad perspective on the animal rights movement and her love of pad thai with me over a cup of tea in Brooklyn.
How do you respond to the argument that we shouldn't worry about animal rights until we’ve rectified the many human rights violations in this world? How do you engage with that line of reasoning?
I think many people don’t realize that the way that we raise animals for food today is detrimental to humans as well: factory farm workers face some of the most dangerous working conditions of any profession. For example, an Oxfam report came out a few months ago revealing that poultry workers are wearing diapers because they’re not allowed bathroom breaks. It’s pretty horrific, and that's just on a very small scale.
On the local level, these farms emit an unbelievable amount of toxins from animal waste into the surrounding communities. It gets in the water supply; it even gets into the air, because the animals produce so much poop—the farmers have to put it somewhere, so they literally spray it into the air.
And then on a broad spectrum, factory farming is simply not sustainable. The land, water, and energy usage for farmed meat is astronomical. If all the resources used to grow food to feed animals were used to grow food to feed humans directly, they would go a lot farther.
Factory farming is simply not sustainable. The land, water, and energy usage for farmed meat is astronomical.
What was the root of your interest in farmed animal protection?
I saw a video of a factory worker holding up a baby piglet and slamming the piglet's head into the concrete to kill him/her, and that was it for me. My passion was sparked by that shock. I could not believe what was going on. The way that we raise animals for food right now is one of the biggest issues that our generation and our world is facing: an extraordinary number of animals are suffering—not to mention the disastrous environmental and health consequences of our meat consumption. Because of the scale of what’s going on in this industrial system, I feel like I can make the biggest impact by working for change within the farmed animal sector.
How does THL incorporate data and social research into its activist efforts?
Factory farming is a giant industry; they have a tremendous amount of money; they’re great at marketing; and—in the U.S. at least—they’re subsidized by the government. We’re really facing a challenge here, and there are lives at stake. THL has a research wing called The Humane League Labs that runs tests on how we can most effectively perform outreach. For example, we give out a lot of literature to educate as many people as we possible can, and we’ll test the verbiage we put out to make sure that the messaging in the literature gets the most done for animals as possible. For instance, we’ve found asking people to “cut out or cut back on” meat is more effective than asking people to go “vegetarian” or “vegan.” The goal, of course, is for everyone to go vegan; but we'll use the most effective verbiage, because every animal that’s spared makes a difference.
The way that we raise animals for food right now is one of the biggest issues that our generation and our world is facing.
What do you do as a grassroots director?
I organize leafleting (passing out booklets to target demographics)—the people I want to reach are women in their late teens and early twenties, because studies have shown that they’re more likely to be willing to change. I also table at events: If there are any veg-related events throughout the city, I will be there. And I give Humane Ed presentations to high school and college students.
Additionally, I do a lot of community building, and I host social events. We recently held the NYC Grassroots office launch party, and it was such an amazing success. I was floored. We had only been in the city three weeks, we announced it one week ahead of time, and we had 50 strangers show up.
What has the New York experience been like so far? How is doing this work in New York different than it has been for you in North Carolina or Philly?
The New York experience has only been positive so far. To see so many people come out for our launch was absolutely inspiring. Totally heartwarming. However, New York is a challenging place in that people here are really busy. People have a lot going on, and people are used to saying “no.” When I’m leafleting out on the street, the take rate in New York is unbelievably low compared to North Carolina, where the take rate was 95%. But it’s just part of the culture. With that said, because there's already such a strong vegetarian & vegan community to build on—and because New York is such an influential city—I feel like it holds a lot of opportunity for this movement.
What are some things you’ve learned? What has surprised you?
These are just little things, but I’ve found that when I’m leafleting if I give someone a compliment, they’re way more likely to take the leaflet. And figuring out what messaging appeals to people the most is really key: for youth, the animal suffering messaging inspires them the most, followed by the environmental messaging, and then finally health. They don’t generally care about health. But maybe in New York city, people do care more about health—so that’s definitely something that I’m going to have to figure out.
Do you find that for adults, it’s the inverse? Health, environment, then animal suffering?
Hmmm I don’t know off the top of my head. In my personal experience, that’s kind of what I’ve found: adults definitely care about their health more than the animal suffering aspect. I’m not sure where the environment fits into that. I think that just depends.
How do you make sure that the messages you’re sending out on social media escape the echo chamber and make it beyond the circle of people who already care about animal rights?
One of the most valuable things you can do on social media is create a variety of content—maybe you have a picture of delicious food one day and then a cute video of a pig and a cat cuddling the next day: those two things appeal to very different audiences but each person that “likes” that content will start to see our stuff in their feed in the future. So having a variety ensures that you're hitting as many people with different interests as possible.
Another aspect of that is thanking your volunteers publicly. It’s important that they know that they’re appreciated. So If I have someone come out to leaflet, I will post a picture of them on our Facebook page, tag them in it, thank them in it—and then all their friends are going to see it.
How did you first get involved in animal advocacy?
I went vegan in college at Elon, after seeing the pig video that I mentioned. I was looking for a community that felt similarly. I didn’t find it on the campus; I didn’t find it in the surrounding area. But my family is from outside Philadelphia, so when I went home on a break, I bought a student ticket for the The Humane League's winter gala in Philly. It was the first time I had ever been around that many vegans or veg-friendly people. They had some speakers there who were leaders in the animal rights movement, and I saw for the first time that there’s more you can do for animals than just not eat them. The next day, I applied to intern.
How has the activist community shaped your experience in this work?
Community is everything. It has been the backbone of every social justice movement we’ve seen to date; it can be a huge driver of change. We’re working with a grim reality. Having that community support is what keeps people going: it’s tremendously helpful for people’s personal health—for both professional activists who are working with animal cruelty every day and for volunteers. Having other people who understand your emotional tie to this work is so big in preventing burn out. A strong community also helps reduce recidivism for people who are trying to eat less meat.
I saw for the first time that there’s more you can do for animals than just not eat them.
Speaking of the grim work that you’re doing and the challenges before you, what keeps you optimistic?
I’ve only been in this movement for less than three years, and the change that I’ve seen in that time has been tremendous. One of the things that’s so great about doing this work with THL and other organizations is that you see tangible results right in front of you.
For example, in June, the United Egg Producers came out with a statement that they're going to end the culling of male chicks (which is when male chicks are ground alive because they can’t produce eggs) because of their work with the humane league.
Before my time, a lot of people were lobbying to abolish the use of gestation crates in pig farming, and now in a lot of states, that practice is illegal.
Can you explain what gestation crates are?
They are crates maybe two inches bigger than a pig on each side where a mother pig will spend essentially her whole life, unable to even turn around. She essentially can’t move at all. A lot of the pigs in this situation literally go crazy and chew on the metal enclosure until their teeth crack, or head-butt against the bars, or become depressed and never move. So seeing pork producers transition away from gestation crates is incredible.
We’re working with a grim reality. Having that community support is what keeps people going.
And then generally, it seems like it has become much more normalized now to want to eat less meat—that’s something that even two years ago, I could never say. There is still a stigma, but it’s so much better. I studied psych in undergrad, and something that has stuck with me is this principal in social psychology that explains that for people to consider making any kind of change, that thing has to be normalized. And to normalize something, people have to hear about it at least seven different times before they even consider changing. When I think about the work that I do, every pamphlet I hand out is one out of seven. Every conversation that I have with an individual is one out of seven. Every photo of delicious vegan food that I share is one out of seven.
Speaking of delicious plant-based food, is there a recipe that you’d like to share with Chroma?
Yes! It’s a Lighter recipe—pad thai. I love asian foods, and this one is SO simple and easy to make. I usually add a few things: This has tahini in the recipe, and I usually swap it for peanut butter, and then I add peanuts or cashews—just something crunchy—and then snap peas. Snap peas are my favorite vegetable.
What have been the most gratifying experiences for you in this work so far?
Professionally speaking, coming to New York to launch the grassroots office has been really rewarding. This is my dream job, and I think this city has so much potential—in its size and in that there is already so much to build off of. There are already so many veg-restaurants and veg-groups, not to mention that there are a lot of powerful people here.
In my personal life, what gets to me most is when friends and family reach out to me, and say, “Hey okay, I’ve been seeing your stuff; I kind of get what you’re saying now, and I’d be interested in giving this a try. Can you help me out?” That feeling cannot be beat.