Thursday, June 24, 2010

Juliet’s Story: An Inspiring Life Devoted to Campaigning for a Better, Kinder world

Growing up with intense emotions, an affinity with animals and fire in her belly to right wrongs, Juliet Gellatley is a natural campaigner. She was the kind of child who rescued stray dogs and pregnant cats.

However, being raised in a meat eating home, like most of us, she didn’t make the connection between her love of pets and the food on her plate.

But all that changed when, as an impressionable teenager, she came across an Anti-Factory Farming leaflet. Enraged by the cruelty it exposed, she challenged adults who rebuffed her with the question: “Do you eat meat?” When she said “Yes”, they retorted: “Well don’t lecture me about the horrors of factory farming.” It was a revelation and a turning point.

Not content to read about the issue, the feisty and courageous young 15-year-old wanted to see a factory farm for herself. So she visited a show farm in the Midlands that gave guided tours to demonstrate the economic benefits of ‘manufacturing’ eggs and meat.

“It was so surreal seeing the battery unit. Films or photos do not prepare you for the reality. The first thing that hits you is the deafening noise of tens of thousands of birds crammed in a concrete shed and they all stop clucking when you walk in and there’s momentary silence.

“You look around and see a vision of insanity, a vision of hell. You see rows of cages stacked on top of each other containing dead hens, deformed hens and hens with no feathers covered in sores in pain and distress.

“The official was citing impressive statistics about the output of eggs and the efficiency of production without one jot of concern for the welfare of the birds.

“All I could see was the obvious suffering. I felt such deep sorrow. You take birds that are meant to fly and enjoy freedom and feel the sun on their backs and shove them in cages. It was heart-breaking.”

That same day, Juliet visited a pig unit full of thousands of pregnant sows lying miserably on barren, concrete floors, unable to move in tiny stalls. She realised that anyone with common decency would see how cruel it was but the guide was oblivious.

Empathy Prevents Cruelty

It was the first time in her young life she had met someone devoid of empathy, cut off from their own feelings and the feelings of other living creatures.

“I always remember the blank look in his eyes. People without empathy have got dead eyes that have lost their vibrancy. When someone cuts off from their compassion and their morality, they become dangerous and destructive and capable of cruelty.”

That shocking personal experience crystallised Juliet’s resolve to devote her life to championing the cause of animal protection. That fateful day determined her destiny. She had to awaken empathy in people so they would extend the same love they feel for their pets to “food” animals.

The first radical act she did when she returned home to suburban Stockport, south of Manchester, was declare herself a vegetarian, much to her mother’s dismay!

Viva! Means Life!

Fast forward 30 years and Juliet is now the founder and director of Viva!, the most successful campaigning organisation for animal protection in the UK. Its impact reverberates around the world. The name Viva! is an acronym for Vegetarian International Voice for Animals and it celebrates life!

Viva! aims to save the lives of billions of pigs, cattle, sheep, hens, turkeys, ducks, geese and fish slaughtered for food by advocating a meat-free, plant-based diet for every human being on the planet.

In the UK alone, 850 million animals and hundreds of millions of fish are killed every year to put meat on tables; that’s more than three million animals a day. The days of genteel family farms are gone. There are now 171,700 animal agricultural holdings in the UK raising animals in massive volumes. These animals are subjected to cruel and agonising deaths in 428 abattoirs, hidden away from public view.

“When someone becomes a vegetarian they save lives, says Juliet. The average British meat eater chomps through four cattle, 18 pigs, 23 sheep and lambs, 1158 chickens, 39 turkeys, 28 ducks, one rabbit, one goose, 6182 fish and 3593 shellfish in their lifetime. This is a grand total of 11,046 animals.

“This simple dietary decision is the pivot of effective protest against the daily atrocities of factory farming. And we can protest three times a day; breakfast, lunch and dinner. And as consumers we make a real difference to demand for meat.”

Viva! claims that a meat-free diet is not only ethical but healthy, preventing sickness and disease. And if enough people ‘Go Veggie’, it would alleviate world hunger and solve most of our global environmental problems.

For a woman constantly aware of the horrors of animal suffering and mass slaughter, Juliet, at 46, has learned to moderate her sadness and outrage. She laughs heartily at herself! She speaks eloquently with the charming diction of actress Emma Thompson. This seasoned campaigner is joyful and fun loving as well as compassionate and strident.

Natural curls frame her radiant face and clear blue eyes. Her softness and sensitivity belie a fierce determination and intelligence that led to her being awarded the Pride of Britain Linda McCartney Award for Animal Welfare in 1999 and the Australian Wildlife Protection Council’s achievement award in 2002 for her gutsy confrontation of outback farmers in a controversial media campaign to save kangaroos.

The Making of a Campaigner

How did the idealistic teenager journey from a lonely stretch in the wilderness as a sole crusader to the influential campaigner she is today?

Determined to devote her life to animals, Juliet studied furiously at Reading University and emerged with a degree in Psychology and Zoology. At 24, she landed a job as youth campaigner with the staid Vegetarian Society and grabbed national media attention with a campaign called SCREAM targeting at school children.

Talking to curious students in classrooms throughout the UK and publishing upbeat magazines, she was inundated with 500 to 900 letters daily from enthusiastic young converts and succeeded in influencing an entire generation.

Her innovative work was flourishing when the Society suddenly changed direction. After seven years of solid dedication, Juliet was disillusioned and tempted to emigrate. But decided to stay in Britain, believing in the country’s potential to lead the world in animal protection. So she set about creating her own organisation!

It was your classic ‘garage success story’. Starting from scratch was a daunting prospect. With no premises, no equipment, no staff and no funding, Juliet worked from home in Cheshire with the support of her husband, Tony Wardle, a talented print journalist and television documentary maker. Benefactor, Audrey Eyton donated £20,000 to get Viva! underway.

Juliet devoted every waking hour. She recalls the early days: “If I hadn’t been a complete workaholic giving every ounce of myself, it would have failed. I would get up in the morning in my dressing gown and go straight to my office. At some point I’d get dressed, and carry on working throughout the day then jump in the car with sacks of mail and drive like a maniac to catch the evening post and come home, eat and carry on working until midnight. We also had volunteers living at our house, which was very challenging!”

Viva! was officially launched, amidst a media frenzy, in 1994 with the endorsement of Paul and Linda McCartney. The famous Beatle said: “For far too long animals have had no voice to speak against the cruelties done to them in the name of diet. Viva! has given animals a voice.”

“It was amazing to have such powerful support. Right from the beginning we were punching way above our weight. We had such limited resources yet the cause was attracting national publicity.

“We launched on a campaign called Convert a Parent. On these issues young people are more knowledgeable and older people should listen. It is their world and their future.”

With a goal to empower youth with the facts, the fledging Viva! produced 12 definitive booklets covering ethics, nutrition, global hunger and environmental issues. The case for boycotting meat spread like wild fire.

Just 18 months after launching, Viva! set up a Helpline advising people how to Go Veggie and mailed out thousands of inspirational starter packs.

On reflection, Juliet surprises herself with Viva!’s phenomenal reach, admitting: “At the end of the day, we were just a small group of idealistic people in a garage!”

From a garage in Cheshire, smack in the middle of hostile farming country, Viva! grew rapidly and within two years had attracted a loyal team of volunteers and enough funding to employ four staff members. The team moved headquarters to Brighton and gave the trendy seaside town, the prestigious title Vegetarian Capital of Europe.

Juliet explains: “We put all our strength into being a practical campaigning organisation. We are very hand to mouth. We don’t sit on money. Donations get spent straight away on tangible projects. Supporters can see what we were doing with their donations.

“We believe that we can’t tell people about the horrors of factory farming if we haven’t been into the farms. People have the basic right to know where their food comes from. Most Brits live in cities or suburbia and buy plastic-wrapped meat in supermarkets without thinking about its origin or they are consoled by images of happy farmyard animals running around idyllic country fields.”

Impressive Victories

In 15 years Viva! has spearheaded several hard-hitting campaigns including Pig In Hell. Undercover footage of the appalling conditions of Britain’s factory pig farms was screened worldwide.

The disturbing film, Ducks Out of Water was screened by the BBC and GMTV Viva! exposed the biggest turkey farm in Britain for three Christmases in a row with front page newspaper coverage and television showing the terrible reality behind the festive lunch.

Viva! is currently fighting to stop a senseless government-sanctioned massacre of badgers in Wales.

Viva! has stopped UK supermarkets from selling kangaroo and other ‘exotic’ meats and has exposed the horrendous cruelties of the fur industry.

Viva’s graphic Anti-Dairy campaign has smashed the myth of contented cows grazing in lush fields by revealing the misery of cows who are incarcerated in concrete pens, kept permanently pregnant, have their calves removed days after giving birth and are forced to produce 120 pints of milk a day from swollen udders infected with excruciating mastitis.

Juliet says: “People have a huge emotional attachment to milk because we were given it as babies so we think it is all-nourishing no matter what species it comes from. However it is unnatural and dangerous to consume milk meant for a calf. Dairy is linked with a host of diseases.”

On-line Bonanza

The Viva! website is a dynamic, resource-rich platform offering a bonanza of articles, booklets, magazines and books and a dazzling array of healthy treats and colourful merchandise to order online.

Viva! has galvanised the support of 20,000 members who stage events across the UK every week. And an impressive line-up of celebrity supporters includes patron Heather Mills, Martin Shaw, Joanna Lumley, Chrissie Hynde, Hayley Mills, Sir Paul McCartney, Michael Mansfield and Benjamin Zephaniah.

In 2002, Juliet launched the national charity, the Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation, to focus on nutrition and health education. As a qualified nutritionist and zoologist she fervently believes a non-meat diet is the ideal, healthiest diet for humans.

“Fundamentally what’s gnawing at people is the misguided idea that humans are meant to eat meat even though they know that vegetarians have less heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes, obesity and countless other health problems.

“Humans are not natural born killers. Our physiology, with grinding teeth and long intestines, is designed to eat wheat not meat.

“We have so many other food choices for protein. In fact, people thrive on a vegan diet, reducing their chance of chronic diseases and increasing their energy to enjoy life.”

Juliet is indeed living life to the full. Six years ago Viva! relocated to Bristol and with twin sons Jazz and Finn, aged seven, she enjoys a natural lifestyle in the picturesque countryside.

The family recently rescued Alflie, an adorable St Bernard who Juliet says behaves more like a lolloping bear than a dog!

The also have Bertie, a pet turkey. Juliet says: “When you massage his head he trembles down to his wing tips! He is so curious, communicative and affectionate, following us around, making his little gobble-gobble noises. When you spend time with animals and bond, you know what complex, emotional creatures they are, not objects.”

Juliet admits she has never been a fitness fanatic but that didn’t stop her from pulling on her hiking boots to climb Yorkshire’s mountain peaks as a fundraiser.

Her latest project is setting up the Revive Clinic to help sick people regain health and vitality. She regularly speaks on the benefits of the humble Soya Bean, goes on the road with Veggie Cookery Shows, promotes Fruity Fun Days and is currently re-writing her acclaimed book, The Silent Ark.

Friends say that Juliet Gellatley is blessed to have a sense of purpose and meaning. Every day she wakes up knowing she is making a profound contribution to creating a better, kinder world.