Shari Black Velvet: I read that you became vegetarian at the age of 5. How did that happen so young?
Amanda Schemkes: A friend of mine told me that meat came from killing animals. I loved animals, so as soon as that connection was made, I decided that I didn’t want animals to die for me to eat. That night at dinner I told my mom that I wasn’t eating the meat that she had prepared, and that was it. I was a vegetarian before I even knew the word, and my feelings of caring more about animals than any food never changed.
SBV: Growing up what did kids and teachers at school think of you being vegetarian? Did anyone ever try to get you to eat meat?
AS: Sometimes I would get questions, but I was very shy so I’m not sure how many people really knew that I was vegetarian. I remember always feeling proud of being vegetarian though, so I liked when people found out. I’ve never had anyone try to get me to eat meat. I always had pretty positive encounters with people about my vegetarianism, and I feel like how I talked about it made people understand why I was vegetarian and so they didn’t bother or tease me about it. And my friends were always great—at birthday parties and other events, they would always make sure that there was a lot for me to eat.
SBV: It took a while before you became vegan – at the age of 21. How did you initially prepare to go vegan – or what were the first things you did when you became vegan?
AS: Going vegan was an instant decision for me, but a gradual process. When I was 21, I found out that the veal industry is supported by the dairy industry (Cows must have a baby to produce milk, and those babies are often sold for veal and their milk is taken for people.), which made me realize that there was a lot that I didn’t know about how animals are used. It wasn’t good enough to just be a vegetarian. So I just started researching everything I could about all of the different animal exploitation industries (food, clothing, testing, entertainment) and knew that if I cared about animals, I had to be vegan. It wasn’t even a choice, really. It was something I had to do. That decision was simple, but it took a few months for me to become vegan. I started cutting things out of my diet and finding new recipes, used up foods I already had, transitioned my wardrobe to not include any leather or wool, started reading labels for ingredients and if a product had been tested on animals… It was a time of learning, and that worked for me. I finally got to the day where I was all the way there, and I was happy for that. One of the first things that came with becoming vegan was getting involved in animal rights activism. With everything I had learned about what animals were going through for people to use and profit off of them, I had trouble sleeping at night knowing that all those animals were out there and dealing with terrible fates. I couldn’t close my eyes without seeing them, so I knew I had to do something. Like with becoming vegan, it wasn’t a choice but a must. At first I just did stuff on my own like writing letters to companies, and then I got involved with the group on my college campus, and then Action for Animals. I’m so glad to be in the position that I am now of being able to devote so much of my life to activism. If I start to feel exhausted by the work, all I have to do is think about any individual animal and his or her story—and need for hope—and I’m right back in there for the long fight. This is where becoming vegan was supposed to lead me.
SBV: Action for Animals was founded in 1999 by Dave Bemel and Kevin Gallagher. You started off as a volunteer and are now vice president. How did that rise in position come about? And do you now get paid a salary for your work at Action for Animals?
AS: The first day I volunteered, I knew that I’d found something I wanted—needed—to be involved in. That night, I literally did not sleep a minute because I knew that my life had changed. A few years before, I’d been to Warped Tour and visited an animal rights booth that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in wanting to help animals, and that first day of volunteering I found out that it had been the Action for Animals booth. I knew how much that booth had meant to me, and I couldn’t believe that I’d stumbled into volunteering at that organization and had the chance to be a part of affecting other people. So I just started volunteering as much as possible—at the office, at outreach events, bringing work home, anything I could do—and that brought with it more responsibility and more core involvement with the organization. After a couple years, that led to my being elected to the board of Action for Animals and I now feel very lucky to be one of the people running it and getting to devote so much of my life to animal rights activism. Action for Animals is an all-volunteer organization, so no, I don’t get a paid salary.
SBV: What are some success stories that Action for Animals has had a hand in?
AS: My favorite success stories are simply when we hear back from someone who has become vegan or gotten involved in activism because of our work. We receive very touching letters from people, and it’s such a powerful and humbling feeling to know that Action for Animals makes people aware of animal issues and inspires them to do something to help. People always tell us thank you for the work we do, but from where I see things, it’s all those people who are at the moment of making that change in awareness and taking on the responsibility of what’s happening who deserve thank yous. That’s a hard moment to be in—where the magnitude of animal exploitation is overwhelming—and to not turn away. The animals need all of us to have that moment and be there for them, and each person who decides to go vegan and get involved is a wonderful success. I’m just so glad that Action for Animals does work to spark that and defines success by those life changes.
SBV: You’re based in Seattle. Have you helped make any changes specifically in Seattle?
AS: One of the cool things we do in Seattle is put out a Vegetarian Restaurant Guide for the city. We’ve distributed hundreds of thousands of the guides—at street fairs, festivals, etc.—and I think that contributes to the success of vegan establishments in the city. We have vegan restaurants, a grocery store, bakeries… it’s great, and we want as many people as possible to know about them and support them so they can stick around and introduce people to amazing vegan foods. Our Seattle Vegetarian Restaurant Guide is online at http://afa-online.org/docs/seattleguide.pdf, and we also have one for Portland available at http://afa-online.org/docs/portlandguide.pdf.
SBV: What are some of the best vegan places to go while in Seattle?
AS: Sidecar for Pigs Peace: an all-vegan grocery store
Wayward: vegan comfort food
Pizza Pi: of all the places I’ve had vegan pizza, this is my favorite—awesome calzones
Mighty-O: vegan, organic donuts in all kinds of amazing flavors
Araya’s Vegetarian Place and Bamboo Garden are the places I go most, and they are great supporters of Action for Animals, so I like for people to show them support in return.
SBV: The Action for Animals logo includes the words ‘taking sides’. What do those words mean to you?
AS: That comes from a quote by Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” It’s a quote that I see as being an inspiration to speak out against wrongs being inflicted on others—whether they be people or animals. We have a responsibility to not remain silent in the face of suffering, torture, exploitation, killing, or any other threat to the life or dignity of any individual. And something that we tend to not pay enough attention to in the fight for animal liberation is that the animals themselves are on a side—it’s not just about the activists versus the people benefiting from the use of animals. Animals are trying to fight—they cry, scream, kick, struggle—do everything they can to try to save their lives—and that is whose side I want to be on.
SBV: Action for Animals has a booth at Warped Tour and some other festivals such as Bamboozle. How beneficial is it having a booth at a festival like Warped Tour? Would you say you’ve converted many people at the event?
AS: Having a booth at a festival like Warped Tour is a very effective form of activism for Action for Animals. People at Warped Tour tend to be young, interested in meaningful causes, care about animals… it’s a really great target audience for vegan education, and it definitely affects a lot of people. I’ve watched kids stand at our booth crying after reading the information we have available about how animals are exploited and killed, and I’ve talked them through that moment of having their eyes opened. We get a lot of people who come up to our booth because they’re interested in veganism and they want information, and it’s great to know that we’re able to give them the resources they need to take that final step into veganism and give them a support system. After tour, we always get emails from people who stopped by our booth and are writing to tell us that it made an impact and that they’re becoming vegan, getting their friends to become vegan, starting a club at their school—it’s really cool to see how kids get inspired and run with it. And each summer, we have kids who come up to the booth to tell us that they’ve been vegan since stopping by the summer before. I think it’s neat that visiting our booth becomes their yearly anniversary of being vegan.
SBV: You do outreach work at other shows such as Rise Against, Cobra Starship, Propagandhi etc. Which have been some of the best band shows that you’ve had Action for Animals on site at? Do any specific moments stand out?
AS: Oh, wow. Lots of memories. Having bands like Propagandhi and Pennywise show their support for Action for Animals on stage is pretty cool. Cobra Starship has awesome fans—super excited about wanting to help animals. We’ve recently started working with The Material and they are so passionate about supporting our work—it really makes them great to be involved with.
SBV: Since Action for Animals and also PETA most often seem to table at rock gigs and events, would you say the rock contingency in general are more compassionate or open-minded people when it comes to change – more than say pop, rap, hip-hop artists or other music fans?
AS: I’d say that the events we’re at mostly has to do with what things are set up to include nonprofit organizations (such as Warped Tour and some big festival events), and which bands we have relationships with. We’re open to being at a variety of music events, but so far it’s been mostly rock, punk, and pop bands who we’ve managed to cross paths with. Perhaps that’ll change in the future, and I look forward to seeing in what ways we’re able to expand the outreach we do at music events.
SBV: Since ‘The Patrick Miracle’ is a current news topic – the dog in New Jersey that was starved and thrown out in the trash, and now thankfully being treated and recovering, what are your thoughts on people who get a dog and then don’t look after it properly and mistreat it? Do you think with the economy being how it is at the moment, some people can’t afford to look after pets like they used to? Is there anything people can do for their pet if they’re on low (or no) wages?
AS: I have a dog who was abused, and now when I watch her getting to be happy, it makes me so glad for her. But it also makes me so upset to think about what her life started out like and to think of all the animals who are still in horrible situations. I urge anyone who is considering bringing a dog into their care (and remember to adopt from a shelter!) to seriously consider if they can handle the responsibility. Having an animal means caring for another life for years, and you have to be prepared for all of the responsibilities, expenses, time commitments, etc. that come with that. If you have doubts, find other ways to interact with and help animals. Volunteer at a shelter or sanctuary, walk dogs for busy friends, get involved with animal advocacy work. Sadly there are now a lot of people who have found suddenly themselves in situations in which they can’t care for their animals as they used to. Whatever situation you find yourself in, please remember that if you have taken animals into your care, you have a responsibility to do what is best for them for the rest of their lives. Some shelters have loan programs to help people out, and you should be able to ask your local veterinarian or animal shelter about what’s available in your area. It also may be a time to ask friends and family for help. Please never dump your animal at a shelter or try to give them up through any kind of advertising. My dog was left at a shelter and she ended up on death row, which is what happens to many animals. If it hadn’t been for a rescue group, she would have been killed and never experienced the happy life she has now. Do not advertise in the paper, or anywhere else because some labs will answer ads and then subject the animals to horrible and deadly experiments. If you ever see an animal ad, please take a moment to call the person and warn them of the danger.
SBV: What other animal issues/acts of cruelty have shocked you recently?
AS: Unfortunately, it’s hard to still be shocked by anything considering the degree to which I’ve learned about various aspects of animal exploitation—from the forms we see it in to its roots in people’s minds. I feel like most all of the cruelty towards animals stems from the same basic place of having a culture that accepts the exploitation of animals. If you allow that to be okay in one form, it’s going to extend to other places and set the stage for horrific things to happen. Most people say, “It’s okay to use animals,” and regardless of how they think that the animals should be treated during that use, the fact that the use is accepted is the foundation of abuse and killing. What does amaze me is that people will be shocked by the abuse of a puppy (as they should be) but then think absolutely nothing of the piece of cow sitting on their plate. I hope for a day when any instance of animal cruelty shocks all of us—both because of its rarity and because we no longer tolerate animal exploitation in any form.
SBV: What action for animals have you got coming up in the near future?
AS: Getting to work on our Warped Tour plans for this summer, we have some new literature coming out that we’re excited to distribute, we have bus ads in the works… stay tuned for more and more from us. For current updates, you can always check out our posts on Facebook (facebook.com/actionforanimals) and Twitter (twitter.com/action4animals), or get in touch with us to be added to our email list.
SBV: If a band is interested in having Action for Animals table at their concert what should they do?
AS: Email me: email@example.com
SBV: And if someone is interested in being an Action for Animals volunteer what sort of things can they do?
AS: You can email Action for Animals at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk through ideas with you, get you set up with materials, let you know about projects we have going on, etc. We’re happy to hear from anyone who wants to help animals, so please get in touch! You can also visit http://afa-online.org/volunteer.html