Like Ingrid Newkirk, but not as scary: Stanford’s loudest animal rights activist talks about Stanford’s animal research facility, famous vegans in history, and why he frequently foregoes footwear.
[Blog for Stanford]: Can you tell me what ARF is about and what your goals are as an organization?
[Jack]: ARF stands for Animal Rights on the Farm, and we exist to promote animal rights. Interestingly, we’re also Stanford’s only undergraduate and graduate student group that focuses on animal rights. Our main goal is to extend compassion to all sentient beings because we think that any being that has interests or can feel pain deserves respect. Just because they happen to belong to a different species doesn’t mean we shouldn’t respect their interests. That’s bigoted, I think.
[BFS]: I’ve heard the speciesist argument before. Is that sort of what you guys are getting at?
[Jack]: Yeah, it is. The most widespread form of disregarding members of other species is eating them, and so we’d like to promote vegetarianism and veganism among all people, but especially students on campus, since we’re a Stanford group. Another activity that uses animals in painful ways is research, and there’s an animal research facility on campus. They don’t release any information to the public about what animal research is going on. We’d like to find out more about what’s happening at the animal research facility and be able to hold a public debate about what types of animal research people might feel are acceptable or unacceptable. Because we feel that when you’re doing research on an animal, you’re harming him or her, and you need to ask whether the benefits outweigh the harms. And if you don’t have any information, you can’t ask those questions. We are doing a disservice to the animals and to ourselves as ethical people.
[BFS]: Is it a medical research facility?
[Jack]: The research facility is in the medical school; it’s in the basement of the medical school.
[BFS]: Oh, so you know where it’s located. Very key.
[Jack]: Actually, recently a couple of us – myself and the co-chair of ARF, Dan Elstein, a grad student – got a tour of the research animal facility because we arranged a meeting to ask Stanford whether they would release more information to the public about what was going on. Basically, the answer was, “No, but we’ll give you a tour of this basement with animals in it.” So we’ve been there. Also, last year there were a few protests, so that’s how I know where it is.
[BFS]: So I want to touch on this because I think it’s an issue a lot of people don’t understand. Do you have a problem with meat in general or just the way the meat industry is run?
[Jack]: I do have a problem with meat in general because I don’t think that the pain and suffering caused by killing an animal for food is worth the small piece of pleasure it gives us. If people had a farm with animals that they raised so that people could come by and have sex with them, we would think that’s exploitation, right?
[BFS]: Right. Certainly.
[Jack]: People would say, “That’s totally wrong! You can’t be doing this to those animals just for your sexual pleasure of a few minutes, or whatever!” Likewise, we shouldn’t accept the raising of animals for them to be killed. Certainly it can be done in more humane ways than it’s done now, but it would still be violence. If you’re going to raise animals for food, they’re just pieces of property, and you’re making a profit off their flesh, their milk, and their eggs, and so you have an incentive to treat them as objects instead of beings with their own feelings. And I’m opposed to eating animals even if it doesn’t involve the meat industry. For example: fishing. Even if you caught the fish yourself, suffocating to death is a very painful way to die. The pleasure of a meal is not worth causing that suffering.
[BFS]: It’s interesting that you use the term “pleasure”, because, as all vegans know, you can get a nutritious, well-balanced diets exclusively from plant-based foods.
[Jack]: Exactly. You don’t need to eat meat to survive. If you’re doing it to survive, certainly you might think, “My survival is worth this animal’s life.” It’s really just about pleasure – you can replace a lot of these foods, and there are pretty tasty alternatives. Why continue to cause the suffering?
[BFS]: So I lived with you freshman year when you decided to go vegan. What catalyzed this decision?
[Jack]: I became a vegetarian my senior year of high school, and around that time I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. From that I concluded that eating eggs and milk causes just as much pain and destruction as eating meat does. To be consistent, I felt like I should stop eating eggs and dairy. But, going straight from meat eater to vegan is a big step, so I decided to just give up meat first.
[BFS]: Your father, John Kamm, is heavily involved in political and human rights in China. How much influence do you think that your upbringing had on you?
[Jack]: A lot of influence. All these issues are interconnected. If you care about other people and think that it’s worthwhile to give part of your life trying to help others, if you really believe that, then helping other animals should also be worthwhile – they can suffer too. A lot of human rights leaders in the past have cared about animal rights. Gandhi was a vegetarian, Cesar Chavez was a vegan, Martin Luther King’s son and wife are both vegetarians — I think his wife is vegetarian and his son is vegan. Human rights and animal rights are connected because both are about believing that others have value in themselves, and that we can’t use them as means for ourselves.
[BFS]: What do you say to people who say that veganism and vegetarianism are bourgeois?
[Jack]: I think there are vegetarians and vegans from all walks of life. Certainly, in a lot of other cultures it’s less prevalent. For example, when I go to Hong Kong there’s a lot fewer vegetarians there. It’s not an issue that people necessarily care about. And so I guess you could say that it’s “bourgeois” in that vegetarianism and veganism seem to be more popular in first-world countries. At the same time, it’s not like eating meat is cheaper than eating vegetables. In a lot of places around the world, there are people who can’t afford meat. And, in fact, it’s wasteful of resources. It’s a lot more economical to be vegetarian or vegan because you’re not spending money on meat or consuming those extra resources.
[BFS]: My last question is that I often see you around campus without shoes. Why do you choose not to wear shoes?
[Jack]: I don’t always not wear shoes. When it’s cold, I do wear shoes. But when it’s warm, in the sun, I feel like it’s just more comfortable not to wear shoes. That’s all there is to it.
Jack Kamm is sophomore at Stanford and the co-chair of ARF. You can learn more about them at stanford.edu/group/vegan. There will be no more meetings in Winter Quarter, but to find out what at time and place ARF will be meeting in the Spring, e-mail Jack at email@example.com.