by Native Foods Cafe
We had the chance to interview Nathan Runkle from Mercy for Animals for the May Edition of our Native Newsletter... he is one awesome guy! And MFA does amazing work for the animals. Here is the full interview:
Where are you from?
I grew up on a small farm in Saint Paris, Ohio—a rural village about an hour west of Columbus.
What is your sign?
What inspired you to become vegan/vegetarian?
I’ve always had a deep affinity, interest in, and respect for animals. Our family companion dogs and cats taught me that other animals shared the same spark for life that we do, and seek freedom, friendships, joy, pleasure, and kindness. They experience pain, fear, and distress just like us, too.
When I was 11 years old I saw images of factory farming and learned how calves are kept chained by the neck in tiny crates for veal, mother pigs are kept locked in stalls so small they can’t even turn around, and egg-laying hens are packed in wire cages so small they can’t walk, spread their wings, or engage in even basic natural behaviors.
I decided I didn’t want to pay someone to abuse animals on my behalf. By going vegan I knew I could put my ethics on the table and choose kindness over cruelty at each meal.
What inspired you to get involved in animal activism and subsequently found Mercy For Animals?
I’ve always been a firm believer in the Golden Rule: treat others the way you’d want to be treated. I extend that ethic to animals, as I feel one of the greatest tests of our character is our ability to take the side of the weak against the strong and show empathy and compassion towards creatures that are often completely at our mercy.
I founded Mercy For Animals 12 years ago after an animal abuse case at our local high school. The teacher of the “agricultural” class was also a pig farmer. One day, for a dissection project, the teacher brought to school a bucket of baby piglets he had tried to kill that morning. When he arrived, one of the piglets was still alive. A student in the class, who did part-time work on the teacher’s farm, took the piglet by her hind legs and slammed her headfirst into the ground in an attempt to kill her. The piglet—determined to survive the assaults—didn’t die and was now bleeding out of her mouth, her skull fractured. Cruelty-to-animals charges were eventually filed against the student and teacher, after an animal protection organization learned of the incident.
When the case went to trial, the cruelty-to-animal charges were dismissed because it’s considered “standard agricultural practice” to kill piglets in this manner. The method is known as “thumping” in the pork industry and is widely used. In Ohio, like most states in this country, practices considered “standard” on factory farms—no matter how cruel—are exempt from cruelty prosecution. This case was a wake-up call that farmed animals needed a voice in this rural community. Mercy For Animals grew from there.
What advice would you give to someone interested in getting involved in animal activism?
Go for it! The animals need you to speak up on their behalf. As Elie Wiesel said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I firmly believe there is a unique place for everyone in the animal protection movement. You should ask yourself, “How can I best utilize my strengths to help the largest number of animals?” If you’re an artist, use your canvases to bring attention to the cause. If you’re a cook, bring delicious cruelty-free cuisine to the masses.
I think it’s also important to understand that we have limited time, energy, and resources, so it’s vital that we be focused. Working on behalf of the over 8 billion farmed animals raised and killed under horrific conditions is, in my view, the best use of our time. Simply by inspiring one person to move toward a vegan diet, nearly 100 animals are spared from cruelty and violence each year.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are so many. Perhaps the most rewarding is on a person-to-person basis when I encounter people who have changed their perspectives on farmed animals and have started to view these animals as “someones” not “somethings.” When people make this connection, many are moved to adopt a vegan diet.
Further, I feel we are really at a tipping point in our society in terms of our diets and the way farmed animals are treated. In just the past few years, groundbreaking new laws have been passed, and major corporations have improved their animal welfare policies.
Not only that, but on college campuses the number of vegetarians has increased by 50% and the number of vegans has more than doubled in just the last four years!
The most challenging?
Being confronted on almost a daily basis with the harsh and brutal reality of how animals are treated on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. It’s heartbreaking. In this movement, each day you see the darkest side of humanity and are reminded of the level of violence and suffering we can impose on other creatures. But, at the same time, each day I see the brightest side of humanity—compassionate and selfless people with so much empathy on behalf of animals they will do anything to protect them from harm.
Which Mercy For Animals campaign do you feel has had the most significant impact on improving the lives of farmed animals?
We operate in four main areas: education, cruelty investigations, corporate outreach, and legal advocacy. I think to move society forward, you need to address these issues on multiple levels. Our investigations have resulted in precedent-setting criminal and civil animal cruelty charges against some of the largest meat, egg, and dairy producers in the nation—sending a strong message that animal abuse will not be tolerated. Our corporate outreach efforts have successfully convinced major retailers to change their policies, including getting Costco to ban the sale of veal from calves chained by their necks in narrow crates. Our legal advocacy efforts have been successful in helping to pass landmark animal protection laws, including Prop 2 in California, which requires that pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens be given enough space to simply stand up, turn around, lie down, and extend their limbs.
What is your favorite current menu item at Native Foods Café?
Nuevo Native Nachos
What is your favorite Native Foods dessert?
Peanut Butter Parfait
Do you cook at home? If so, do you have a signature dish?
Unfortunately, I’m not a big cook—which is why I appreciate and adore Native Foods all the more!
What do you do in your free time?
Laughing, yoga, cycling, creating art, watching documentaries, traveling, and long walks on the beach.
If you were to come back as an animal what would you LIKE to be and what do you THINK you would be?
Good question! I’d probably like to come back as a raven. I’ve always been fascinated, and a bit jealous, of a bird’s ability to fly. It must be so liberating to experience such freedom. Further, ravens are incredibly intelligent and have been documented using leaves as makeshift “sleds” to slide down the sides of rooftops over and over again for pure pleasure.
I think, however, I would end up as a mouse—whom I also adore. They are extremely clean, smart, and affectionate. However, they can’t fly, which is disappointing.
Native Foods Cafe, vegan, vegan food, vegan restaurant, Mercy for Animals