Friday, 15 January 2016


"It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims." - Vegan Sidekick

As of the time of writing, January 2016, veganism is in its embryonic stage of going mainstream in the Western world after years of being derided as a cultish movement for freaks and nutjobs.

It is often artists who bring about widespread social change and the vegan cause is no exception. Satirical cartoonist Vegan Sidekick has inspired and educated thousands of people to stop funding animal abuse through consuming animal products. His Facebook page is becoming exponentially more popular, shooting to almost 85,000 likes in only a couple of years.

It took 400 years to persuade America that black people were deserving of equal rights and not inferior beings to be used as slaves. It took 400 years until women were given the right to vote. The queer movement is still in its infancy. And the majority of society's attitude towards speciesism is still stuck in the Middle Ages.

Certain species, such as dolphins, lions and bees, stir up defensive behaviour in many people, but due to speciesism most people still do not care about the suffering of the billions of animals murdered every year in what is euphemistically called "animal agriculture." Pigs, sheep, cows, ducks and geese are routinely abused, tortured and murdered by the billion whilst society turns a blind eye and makes excuses.

Vegan Sidekick is single-handedly doing more to fight speciesism and campaign for animal rights through his cutting and brilliant satirical work than any other artist on the planet. I interviewed him recently exclusively for Into View.

How did you come to be a vegan?

I had been vegetarian since I was a child, ever since I learned what meat was. Over time, I just gave more and more thought to the idea of "owning" animals, and using them in whatever way seemed unreasonable to me. When I started at university I was buying milk and cheese etc for myself, and I realised how totally unnecessary it was. Looking at entire food stores with so many options, and I was specifically buying stuff which required exploitation of animals. So I stopped buying it. I never met a vegan, and I didn't have it explained to me that males are a byproduct and get killed in the egg and dairy industries, and that their sisters get killed when their production is less profitable. Now that I know that, it's one of the first things I tell vegetarians, as surely they cannot support that.

How did you start making comics? Had you been producing art prior to the Vegan Sidekick comics?

I began the page as a more informative project, trying to get across to other vegans how you can respond to typical arguments etc and I made videos and graphics relating to that. But as I made more memes, I noticed that the ones with a little humour did better, so I continued in that way and it just expanded into what it is now. I have always produced art since I was little, it is what I studied at college and university, and it's what I do for a living as a graphic designer.

How do you draw your comics? What software do you use and how long does it take you on average to produce one? 

I draw them with a graphics tablet and stylus using Adobe Photoshop. Most of the comics might take about ten minutes to draw. Others take a bit longer if they're more complex pieces like the wall of excuses, or the "I love animals" pieces that I do from time to time.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your comics? 

It is basically from my experiences of talking to people, and hearing what they consider to be justifications for harming animals. I also spend a lot of time in the day just trying to think of ways to get it across in an interesting manner to make people say "Hmm, I've never thought of it like that before". A lot of that is done by trying to view the entire planet and what we're doing from an outside perspective. If you hadn't been brought up with animal agriculture being the norm, then it surely would seem horrendous (which it is). Many people dismiss it as "just how it is" without really considering what they're advocating, and that it's so unnecessary.  Spelling it out, talking about meat as a dead body, talking about animal slaughter as stabbing animals, and holding people accountable for the results of the egg and dairy industries, is something that I feel is very important to get people to put two and two together. So much of non-vegan vocabulary hides the reality of what they support.

You've produced a handy guide to which I regularly refer when talking to non-vegans, listing all the common defenses that they use for eating meat and cheese and consuming other animal products. How did you compile this guide? Do you find that people refer to it and use it?

I compiled it after spending so much time in the same conversations over and over again as a result of so many people being drawn to the page. I realised that it wasn't only myself facing this Groundhog Day phenomenon, and that a guide would aid everyone for copying and pasting, along with perhaps educating vegans on what to even say, and indeed non-vegans to just look through without me having to type it every time. I know that people use it, I even see them copy from it and direct others to it. And I think that some of what I am saying has influenced how people approach these conversations in the first place.

What is the most stupid thing that anyone has ever said on your page, can you remember?

Many to choose from.

"What about microorganisms?"

"Killing is part of life, you can kill my entire family and me if you want, as long as you found a use for our bodies"

"Plants create oxygen, and animals use it up. So by killing plants rather than animals, you are causing the world to run out of oxygen."

"Rape is a choice. I'm not trying to justify rape, I'm just saying, raping someone is a choice, as is eating meat."

"Giraffes would run factory farms if they could."

"I don't see a distinction between a mammal and a skin cell"

"Until the 1990s, marital rape is legal. You can campaign against these things as much as you like, but it is a person's right to act within the law"

"It is a person's right to kill animals. You are violating the rights of others to try to stop us killing animals"

"I would bet that the cows that I eat had a much better life than the cows that you don't eat"

"If cows produce methane which is harmful to the environment, then surely it makes sense to kill them"

"Eating meat is a matter of survival. Don't tell me that we don't need meat to survive, I know that, I'm not an idiot"

And what is the nicest thing anyone has ever said on the page?

I can't really decide that one. So many people have said that they love or adore me, and that my work means so much to them. Several people say that the comics are the first thing they look for every day when they wake up. One thing that is clear from a lot of people is that they feel very alone. They might be the only vegan in their area and they are made to feel like a freak. As well as giving them comebacks and a logical method or arguing, the comics remind them that they are sane, and it is the world that is so fucked up.

Veganuary has been more popular than ever this year and there are articles regularly appearing in the mainstream media about veganism. When I first discovered your Facebook page it had less than 5,000 followers. Now, less than two years later it has over 84,000 followers, and your Intagram page is growing exponentially and suddenly has almost 84,000 followers. Do you think veganism is finally going to go mainstream, and that vegans will stop being regarded with derision and suspicion by most people?

It is very hard to say. Veganism is definitely becoming more popular and is slightly better understood by the general public. However, we are still a tiny minority, so it's very early to say that it will become mainstream. Personally, I don't see any reason why not. I think that despite the many flaws that humans seem to have, society in general is becoming more civilized over time (some societies slower than others, and depending on who is in power at any given moment...). I think that over time, animal rights will be taken more seriously, and of course, that means not exploiting and killing them (veganism). It is a very slow process however.

Although your page is incredibly popular with more people liking it every day and constant positive feedback from thousands of fans - your images now regularly attract more than 2k likes - almost every day a troll will appear seemingly only to argue with you and cause disruption, or some idiot will appear saying ludicrous things to justify eating animals. How do you deal with them and does it ever get you down?

I experiment all the time, in terms of what could be effective in getting a troll to rethink what they're doing, getting them to rethink how they perceive vegans, and also preserving my sanity. I go through phases of ignoring comments altogether. I often block trolls immediately if they are posting images of meat or hunted animals, because they are clearly there for no other reason than to upset us and get a laugh out of it. I don't know what the answer is really, everyone is different.

Some trolls might not be malicious, rather, they think it is all in good fun and they can sometimes react well if you say "Look, vegans just want to avoid harming animals, why are you so against that?". But some really are just arseholes, and the best thing I can consider is ignoring or blocking them. Immediate trolls like that don't get me down. But sometimes these pseudo-intellectual types piss me off when they are just hopping from foot to foot with justifications, changing their argument as they are proved wrong again and again... They want to appear legitimate, like they have a genuine interest in debate, but when it comes down to it, there is literally nothing that anyone could say in a debate that would talk them down from bacon. Sometimes I wonder if they go through these conversations to validate it to themselves more than anything.

But the best you can do is calmly respond, and wait for them to inevitably either freak out, insult you, choose nihilism, or say "Plants tho".

These conversations aren't about them becoming vegan at that moment. They won't like being proven wrong or selfish. But they may go away and think about it later. That process is pretty tiresome to me so I am more inclined not to get involved. 99% of people who contact me to say they've gone vegan because of me, are people that I have never said a word to. My comics do the job, so spending hours in the comments is perhaps a trivial use of my time comparatively.

For one of the most important satirical artists of our time, you're very modest. Do you sometimes find it hard to take in the relatively sudden and enormous impact you're having on stopping animal cruelty the world over through your art?

Well I find it hard to even accept the phrasing of the question! I certainly have not taken in the impact I have made, and I doubt I ever will. Meeting people at Vegfest really opened my eyes, with them wanting me to sign books and have their photo taken with me...

So many people call me a celebrity and I try to talk them out of it, but have to give up because people are just so into what I'm doing, so in their eyes I am a celebrity. From my perspective, I'm just a guy who is sick of how the world works, and a lot of people are feeling the same way, so I guess the comics are a way for everyone to express this frustration.

Both the Facebook and Instagram pages have over 80,000 followers now. I can't even imagine what that many people would look like in a crowd, and the Facebook page reaches easily 500,000 people a week in terms of image views etc... I don't think the human mind is equipped for it really. I just keep doing what I'm doing, and don't worry about it. We should all do what we can, and I'll try to make the best of this opportunity that I have.

When did you start weight-lifting? Are people surprised to discover that you lift weights as a vegan?

I used to be pretty overweight in my teens, and I got into fitness when I was 17, and I've done it on and off ever since. When I am in decent shape, people are surprised that I am vegan and say "Well you don't look vegan...".

I've often given training and diet advice to people, including non-vegans.  There are some really good examples of vegan bodybuilders and fitness people now, I'm just a guy who draws comics and tries to stay healthy and active.  (For anyone interested these are all worth looking up: Max Seabrook, Josseline Nayad Jeria, Ed Bauer, Chakabars Clarke, Jessica Ortiz, Ed Goins, Robert Cheeke, Mindy Collette, Derek Tresize, Patrik Baboumian, Kelly Schlegel, Paul Kerton, Simone Collins and Torre Washington.)

What do you do to relax?

I like having long baths, or watching some TV shows that I enjoy like Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Sopranos etc. Stuff I've watched a million times so I can just zone out and get comfy. I also enjoy ASMR, and it's cool that it is becoming recognised and that there is a nice community around it now. I'll often stick a video on and just take a nap.

Do you care for any companion animals? Many people ask what vegans do to feed the animals in their care. What advice would you give?

My partner rescues a lot of injured or unwanted animals, and any that can't be released into the wild end up staying. Regarding feeding carnivorous animals, I recommend doing your own research. It is an area which causes massive rows between vegans. Nobody wants to support animal agriculture. But if someone thinks that feeding their animal a plant-based diet would harm them, then they'd say they would do what was necessary for their animal which is part of their family. The reason people argue so strongly is because we all love animals and we're doing what we consider is best.

From my own research and reading a bunch of articles over the years, it seems like dogs can very easily be fed a plant-based diet. Cats have some requirements which must be met to avoid certain hazards, but it can still be done. One of the main things that cats need is taurine. This doesn't have to come from animals, and indeed, most meat-based cat foods have taurine added to them anyway.

Of the cats we've got living with us, three have chronic health conditions which require specific food, and there is no plant-based alternative that we know of. The other two cats are healthy, and are fed a plant-based diet, and there have been no problems so far.

My primary advice regarding companion animals is to adopt from a shelter or sanctuary, and never support a breeder. There are too many of these animals needing homes and being neglected, and shelters are constantly overrun, and if they're fed animal products, then of course this funds animal agriculture. So the first step is to control the breeding.

There are people who would say "If you're vegan, don't adopt a cat, then".  That might seem like reasonable advice, but those cats are going to exist in shelters either way. If they're in a shelter, they'll be fed meat, that's a fact. So whether it is the shelter doing it, or you doing it, doesn't actually change how much money the meat industry gets.

So really, it is just your own accountability that you're removing, you aren't actually changing the numbers. To actually alter the numbers, you'd have to kill all carnivorous companion animals, which the majority of vegans would object to (although I have met people who advocate this).

The remaining alternative is to release all carnivorous companion animals into "the wild" and let nature take its course. The trouble with that is, they are not a natural breed, and releasing millions of animals into an ecosystem will surely cause all kinds of problems.

So I don't know what the solution is for the animals which exist today - I can only advise that people stop breeding them, then we won't have this dilemma in future.

Why are non-vegans obsessed with bacon, routinely using it to justify their eating habits?

I think it has become part of this strange culture of being proud to be unhealthy. Obviously, bacon is fatty and salty, so I assume that is the physical appeal of it. But it has become a perpetuated meme in itself. It seems to be cool to indulge in clearly unhealthy food, like it is macho to have no regard for your own health. I don't really know what else to say, you won't get any sense out of the people who go on about it.

What are your hopes for animal welfare over the next 50 years or so? Do you think there will ever be a time when animals will be treated as equals to humans and not enslaved, tortured and murdered for our pleasure?

Well my hopes are, everyone goes vegan tomorrow. But realistically, I hope we see a steady increase in intelligent, logical people standing up and pointing out the problems with farming animals, to educate people, get rid of these excuses, and change how people perceive animals.

I think that as more people become vegan, it will inevitably lead to a tipping point in societies around the world where it just becomes socially unacceptable to harm animals. Just as we still have massive amounts of racism, sexism and homophobia - it is as least understood to be unreasonable as a rule of our society (at least here in Britain), and not tolerated, which is how harming animals will end up. No idea when that will come about. But all these documentaries like Cowspiracy, Vegucated and Earthlings are so readily available that education can spread rapidly, if people are willing to open their eyes.

Veganism to me is just a logical practice.  We know that we can avoid harming animals, and so it doesn't make sense to choose anything else.   One large aspect of veganism is a plant-based diet which more and more people are adopting.  Whether they're doing that for health, environmental, spiritual or religious reasons, I think it is a good thing to do. But as a vegan it is 100% about ethics and it is acknowledging that animals are not our property.

It is something deep inside me that opposes injustice, exploitation, sadism, cruelty and suffering. It's simple to me, that I don't want anybody to suffer, and these animals are among the most vulnerable victims. When you see so many healthy athletes out there doing well on a plant-based diet, and as I know first hand how easy it is and inexpensive, there really is no excuse that I'll hear in modern society.

If you're not vegan already, you can find help on any vegan page, or google for vegan recipes and ideas, it's easier than ever before.  Cheers for reading.


You can see Vegan Sidekick being interviewed below, there are more interviews with him on YouTube and some on his YouTube video channel too.

No comments:

Facebook Blogger Plugin: Bloggerized by Enhanced by

Leave a comment

Best-selling author Jude Calvert-Toulmin interviews creative people. Please choose a user name if making comments.