Jacinta McDonnell is a Toronto animal activist and a vegan who, five years ago, was one of the original founders of Toronto Pig Save. The group now has chapters around the world and was instrumental in shutting down the Greasy Pig Contest at the South Mountain Fair.
McDonnell says her group has 5,000 members on its Facebook page, meaning members could be from anywhere in the world.
McDonnell agreed to a telephone interview with Farmers Forum editor Patrick Meagher, who said she was very personable in spite of philosophical differences miles apart. Here is an edited version of the interview.
Were you involved in protesting against the Greasy Pig Contest at the South Mountain Fair?
It wasn’t a protest. There was a petition online. We gathered a lot of signatures. The only way I was really involved was posting it on Facebook.
You’re an animal activist. What does that mean?
It basically means I relate to animals. I connect with them. I understand that they feel pain and joy and when I look at an animal I don’t see food. I see another species that has a right to live. It is my responsibility because I can speak for them because they can’t speak for themselves.
Later in the interview she returned to the Greasy Pig.
Pigs are as intelligent as a three-year-old. They feel pain. They feel joy. Would someone allow their three-year-old toddler the same experience as one of those pigs? I don’t think so.
I think it would be a lot of fun. I have kids who do that.
In the pictures (on Facebook), there were actually adults helping them and holding the pigs down. I’m not sure you’d allow your child to be taken away by strangers and put in a pen.
They wouldn’t be strangers if it were all planned out, right?
To the pigs they’re probably strangers.
But they’re pigs?
That’s the thing. I don’t think of them as pigs. I think of them as someone who should be treated with love and kindness.
Equal to a person?
Let’s say there is a handicapped child next to a pig. Which one would you save if you could only save one?
To be honest, I don’t know what I would do in that situation. We don’t know how we would react.
Animals are not people. They don’t think like people. They don’t analyze the way people do. They cannot change their environments like people do. Animals can’t understand the significance of their death. They react to instinct. They do not have free will. So, why would you say a pig is equal to a person?
I believe they have equal rights to live free from harm.
I like hamburgers. I like steak. I like bacon. I like lamb very much. What do you think of someone like myself who doesn’t have plans to change?
I would say that you haven’t really connected with animals. You don’t connect with animals.
Not eating meat is your choice. Other people eat meat. Why don’t you respect their choice?
It’s not that I don’t respect their choice. They’re not thinking of the other living being that has no choice. I am standing for the victims. I read a book about 27 years ago and I stopped eating meat because I thought these animals are so unhealthy by the time they get to the slaughterhouse. How can that be healthy for me?
So, every animal is unhealthy to eat?
Oh yes, definitely I believe that animal protein is not good for our bodies because it takes so much longer for our bodies to break down.
The medical field would argue meat is a good source of protein.
Some in the medical field. Have you heard of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine? It is a group of doctors based in the states who advocate for veganism as a much healthier diet.
Why should animals be allowed to eat meat and not people?
Because we have a choice. We don’t need to eat meat to live.
Do you see in the future, based on the momentum of animal activism, the banning of meat as food?
There’s a group called Direct Action Everywhere and they believe we could have a vegan world in 40 years… It’s not just animal activism, it’s environmental activism and even human rights that are moving toward a vegan world. The UN actually said we’ll have to become a vegan world because of climate change. You can probably just Google that. They said it recently.
If you were prime minister for a day, would you ban eating meat?
So, yours is a voluntary movement?
Yes. Most people, especially children, don’t want to eat animals. We’ve become desensitized. There’s a good quote. If you gave an apple and a rabbit to a baby in a crib, the baby would play with the rabbit and eat the apple. Would you bring your child to a slaughterhouse?
If they were given a bacon sandwich, they might eat that.
Sure they would. I work with adults who eat bacon and the thought of looking at a video of a slaughterhouse terrifies them. They would never do that. We can eat a bacon sandwich and we don’t even think about where it comes from. They think, “Hmmm, bacon.” They don’t think of the little piglets that had a terrible life and were slaughtered.
If you were prime minister for a day would you ban raising animals on farms?
You’re trying to put me in a position of controlling people.
I’m just wondering how far the movement feels it should go?
There’s lots of different types of animal activists and people who believe different things at different levels. It’s not like we all believe exactly the same thing and follow the same rules. There are so many different kinds of people who are vegans. There are extreme vegans. There are angry vegans. There are gentle, kind vegans. There are all kinds. What attracted me to the Toronto Pig Save movement is a loving, caring movement that follows the thoughts of Gandhi and Tolstoy. We have silent vigils. We don’t yell and scream. You just show people the facts and they make decisions themselves. The truth is you can’t force someone to do something. They are going to rebel even if they agree. That’s human nature.
McDonnell also talked about how she got involved in activism.
I was at an event against dairy, handing out flyers. My friend said that the dairy industry is so cruel and I opened the flyer and I was shocked at the pictures. I couldn’t believe it. When I discovered the cruelty behind dairy it was completely transforming for me.
Have you been to dairy farms?
Only in Ireland.
You would need to be at a dairy farm in Ontario before you can say a dairy farm is a cruel place for an animal.
Well, what happens to the male calf? They become veal. They are of no use on a dairy farm and they become veal. What happens to the mother cow on a dairy farm? She’s raped once a year and her baby is taken away from her.