The Satya Interview with Joseph
Joseph Connelly is the editor
and founder of VegNews, a monthly national newspaper that focuses
on all aspects of vegetarianism, including food, ethics, nutrition,
travel and education. VegNews is unique in that it expressly
supports vegetarian societies all over the country by designating space
for them. VegNews is a sister publication to Satya, so
Catherine Clyne had
a conversation with Joeeditor to editorabout VegNews
and about the connections between nonviolence and the world we live
Whats the story behind VegNews?
I founded a vegetarian society in Syracuse, New York in 1996 and
began producing a local vegetarian society newsletterjust like dozens
around the country. Within the first nine or ten months, I realized
just how fragmented the vegetarian movement was. For example, at the
time there were vegetarian societies all over upstate New York within
an hour or two of each other; but yet, if a speaker came to the area,
the heads of these societiesall of whom knew each otherwouldnt
coordinate to get the speaker to do a sort of mini-tour. Often even
people who agree cant work together to get their message out
efficiently. So, I got the idea to try to bridge the gap by doing
an upstate New
York vegetarian community newsletter. It never got off the ground
for various reasons.
With the idea of If you build it, they will come, I decided
to take the concept of a vegetarian community paper to a national level.
I came up with the name VegNewsits simple, its
shortand in July 2000 the first issue was published. Its
been going ever sincea year and a half nowand were
still growing every month.
What sorts of things do you do to reach
out to the different vegetarian and animal rights factions?
First, we try to include everybody that we can. For instance, when
I was doing the Syracuse newspaper, I noticed that when a new book
published it would be reviewed in a bunch of small newsletters, where
300 or 500 people would read the review. Thats great. But I thought,
what if a review appeared in a national vegetarian newspaper and 100,000
people read it? Isnt that a better use of our resources? At
VegNews we have an open-door policy where anyone can submit book
reviews, etc., so VegNews functions as a community newspaper on a
national (and international) scale.
Another way that we reach out to the community is through the Society
Page Network, where individual vegetarian societies receive a
page in VegNews. Instead of producing its own newsletter every three
months or so, any vegetarian society can get a copy of VegNews sent
to each of its members. Its not that bigger is better,
which I dont believe at all. Its actually cheaper for us
to produce and mail a 44- or 48-page newspaper than it is for a local
group to do one on their own. Its an economy of scale thing. We
can reach more people less expensively with a product that I think most
people enjoy. Thats how we try to build community.
The effects of S11 are mind-blowing,
worldview-shifting and yet can be very subtle. Ive been trying
to encourage people to focus on and support vegan businesses right now,
which is something you do in your November editorial. In the wake of
S11 and with people returning to their turtle shells, I feel the best
way to support a nonviolent community is to do just thatsupport
it. That means educating the public, reaching out to other like-minded
people to give and receive support, and
buying cruelty-free stuffincluding
publications and books. Its kind of a different spin on our government
telling us to go buy stuff to support the economy and keep the engine
of capitalism running, to buy a huge SUV with zero percent APR. But
is encouraging folks to buy vegan so different?
The first thing everybody needs to do after reading this is purchase
subscriptions to Satya and VegNewsthen the world
will be saved!
If the repercussions and the fallout from S11 can in the long run
create a world where people are a little more aware and compassionate,
some good will have come out of such horrible tragedy. In the short
term, people are stunned and in shock, and the government is trying
to convince everyone to go about their business, without much having
really changed. Were spending millions of dollars a day bombing
Afghanistanwho cares? Of course, you and I care but most of the
people in this country dont. Theres no denying that. We
need to create that compassionate world and we need to figure out how
to reach people. Thats why you and I do this work.
You know, Americans getting back to their normal lives may not necessarily
be a good thing; it could be construed as the problem. If everything
goes back to normal, nothing will have been learned. My biggest fear
isnt really what happens to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and
Afghanistan in 2001. My biggest fear is whats going to happen
over the next, say, 50 yearsthe rest of my lifetime and your lifetime.
It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out that sooner or
later weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them will
fall into the hands of an Osama bin Laden or a Saddam Hussein. And if
we dont address that question, if we just continue to think that
we can bomb people back to the Stone Age, then it doesnt really
make a difference. Our species is pretty much doomed, and I say that
not as a naysayer because Im actually positive that we can recognize
the problem and correct it. But I dont think we can do it with
the current administrationwhether its Republican or Democratand
the old-school mentality.
It used to be that somebody could strap a backpack on with some dynamite,
walk into a disco and blow up 25 people. Now with a box-cutter you
hijack a plane and kill 4,000 people. Whats it going to be 10,
20, 30 years down the road? When are people in this country going to
recognize and realizeand they should read Octobers Satya
if they havent yetthat its our governments
policies that create these monsters? We fund them; the weapons are
made and sold
from this country and have been used in just about every military
conflict of the last 50 years.
You just touched on something that
is close to my heart but Im still in denial about, which is last
months mayoral election here in New York. A lot of my friends
were so sickened by the dirty campaigning that they just didnt
vote. Only one person I know actually had the courage to vote for the
Green Partys candidate. I did that with the presidential election
last year; but this time around, with the two candidates being so close,
I didnt want to feel the sting of the Nader put Bush into
office accusation. I now regret pulling the lever for Mark Green
because I think youre right. If we still maintain our complacency
and allow this one-party system to continue dictating our internal and
external policies, were simply not going to get anywhere. And
if we dont start now, when will we? How do you draw that linevoting
from the heart and believing its going to make a real difference,
rather than voting out of fear for the lesser of two evils?
I wish I had an answer. Its part of the whole education process.
Over the last 20 or so years weve seen Vaclav Havel get out of
jail and become president of the Czech Republic. Weve seen Nelson
Mandela get out of jail and become president of South Africa. Weve
seen the Berlin Wall come down. And were taught from the time
we enter school at five years old that this is the greatest country
in the world and anybody can become president, when the reality is,
we are probably the democracy least likely in the world today in which
a radical (and those people I just mentioned are radicals) who thinks
differentlya Ralph Nadercould actually become an elected
official. Because we have this entrenched one-party system and because
money controls everything, we have forgotten the radical roots that
formed this country. Its almost impossible to believe that somebody
like Mandela or Havel could get to that position in this country today.
As sad as it is, I think that if anybody ever came close, theyd
It comes down to what can the people
of this country actually do? Can they vote somebody in who would
things up? In America today, so many people are complacent, theyre
wealthy compared to the rest of the world, theyre not willing
to shake things up. I think theyre afraid to vote for a third
party candidatethe election of 2000 certainly didnt help
It gets back to educationof a worldviewan awakening of the
whole consciousness, whether its towards the planet, the people
or the other beings on the planet; getting away from the idea that America
is it and thats the only thing that matters.
We were talking earlier about the parallels between the numbness
that people have toward animals here, and towards the people that
policies and buying habits affect negatively.
Its unfortunate that most people in America today feel the same
way towards people in foreign lands as they do towards animals in factory
farmsalmost as if theyre just a means to an end, whether
its to put cheap meat on your table or cheap oil in your gas tank.
Who or what species we need to go through to get there becomes something
that people either dont think about or, if they do, they put
it out of their minds so that they can go about their daily lives
Carol Adams recently talked about her
new book Living Among Meat Eaters: The Vegetarians Survival
Handbook (Three Rivers Press, November 2001). Her idea is that
meat-eaters are actually blocked vegetariansrepressed if you will.
That could sort of apply in the case of our attitudes towards foreign
people. For example, when people have a compassionate and personal interaction
with, say a dog or a cat, all of a sudden, those animals are not considered
edible. Its similar when there are people involved. For example,
we in America never really talk about the woes of dropping bombs on
Japan. However, we have a whole national museum dedicated to the Jewish
Holocaust. Both are tragedies responsible for the annihilation of innocent
people who happened to be Jewish or residents of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
In the case of the Holocaust, a lot of this has to do with representation
and bringing the value of Jewish people and culture to the forefront
of our consciousness. Theres also the understanding that we were
not directly responsible for what happened; whereas with Japan, its
entirely different. Theres no meaningful national discussion about
the victims, no major memorial or national museum, and in this case
we were directly responsible. What Im getting at is: Is there
sort of a blocked socially conscious and caring American
in all of us?
Its basically the old bumper sticker Why do we call one
pet and the other dinner? It is interesting
to look at Carol Adams repressed vegetarian theory
on a larger scale, to ask: Are Americans repressed compassionate people?
Because even if we can donate a billion dollars to the victims of September
11, we certainly dont appear to be compassionate. Every day 30,000
people starve to death. If theyre not within our country, or even
if they are, it doesnt matter. Our values seem to be out of
skew. Being the lone superpower and the richest country of all time,
capable of showing the compassion that we need to bring about equality
to the population of the world and every animal on the planet as
so that we can truly live the way we all say we want to? I hope so.
It boils down to: Are people in rich nations willing to do what is
to ensure that everybody can live safely, peacefully, without being
hungry; and what are you willing to give up to do that?
Obviously you and I, personally,
and VegNews and Satya, generally, have big aspirations. I admit that
these publications to help change the world; and thats the inherent
optimist in me, believe it or not. But I recently interviewed Arun Gandhi,
the grandson of the Mahatma (see A Legacy of Nonviolence
p. 6), who explained why he is not vegetarian. Basically, he feels that
many vegetarians are complacent, something you and I have just been
criticizing Americans of being. His contention is that some people who
become vegetarianpresumably for ethical reasonsfeel that
the violence that their lives cause has ended. He wants to make the
point that there are so many other areas of violence that animal rights
people and vegetarians are not immune topolitical, social,
financial, etc. What do you think about that?
With all due respect to Mr. Gandhi, even if his theory is true, to
inflict violence on other beings to prove your point seems counter-productive.
Hes like the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopranone of them see
the connection. We need to see that violence is violence. There have
been many great thinkers before the three I just mentionedwhether
Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi or Leonardo da Vinciwhove
all recognized the connection between violence towards animals, violence
towards other people, and towards the planet in general. In my opinion,
violence towards animals and the planet is at the root of what we need
to change in order to attain the peaceful, balanced world we are striving
for. I dont understand the logic behind people like the three
we just mentioned who arent vegetarian and cant make
that connection. Are they dismissing it as not important?
Arun Gandhi actually said that vegetarianism
is the ultimate level of nonviolence.
The work that you and I do is absolutely groundbreaking. Were
blazing trails for people to come behind us to see where nonviolence
and having empathy for everybody can go. And of course, we have to hope
and pray that we are going to be successful. It is importantI
believe more so than everto encompass all of life because of how
far weve actually fallen. Our job is to make people see that.
To do that, I believe you start with nonviolence in your diet.
There are two things I see in life that every single person, every
single being on this planet, share in common: the environmentthe planet
we live onand the fact that we all eat. Everybody wants to live
in a non-polluted environment and everyone needs to eat. The reason
I choose this line of work is because it is imperative to connect the
common bonds that people share in order to ignite a movement towards
an understanding of where we are today, where were headed, and
where we can be. Where were headed and where we can be are, obviously,
almost 180-degree opposites. Vegetarianism or veganism is not a fad
or an aside. Veganism, along with environmentalism, (which to me are
the same thingI wish there was one word that encompassed both)
need to be the basis for a worldview where peoples consciousness
is awakened. I believe the opposite of Mr.. Gandhi. I believe that
can educate people to see the larger picture by focusing on something
as simple as what you put in your mouth during the course of your
What does the future hold for VegNews?
VegNews is a project of the Vegan News Network, a nonprofit organization
that works towards educating in all of the different areas that we
talked about. In five years, I hope that the Vegan News Network is
viable and able to produce other VegNews-like newspapers, but for
of the movement, maybe an environmental newspaper or a paper that
focuses more on the animal issues. My hope and my goal are to bring
Im not a movement unifier, I just hope to be a piece of it. I
hope that there is somebody out there that is able to be the charismatic
leaderthe Gandhi of India or the Martin Luther King of the civil
rights movementwho will be able to unite the people in this movement.
Somebody like Julia Butterfly Hill, who bridges both wonderfully, who
can show that its about compassion and respect for life, and
that we can get there. We can change our point of view and live peacefully,
and everybody can have enough without anyone going hungry.
To learn more about VegNews and to order a subscription ($20), visit
www.vegnews.com or call (408) 358-6478. Joseph Connelly can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a free sample copy of VegNews, e-mail email@example.com.