Today's featured guest is the kind of person that makes you wonder, 'but when do they sleep?' (Spoiler: she schedules it!) Dara Lovitz is a lawyer, a law school professor, an animal advocacy group co-founder and president, and a published author, with books on topics ranging from animal activism to being a mother of twins...oh yeah, she's also a mother of twins! She has been a vegan and an animal activist since 2004, and over time has only grown more and more committed to making the world kinder for animals.
The charitable organisation that she co-founded, Peace Advocacy Network (PAN), is a main focus of our conversation today. You can find them online at Peace Advocacy Network.
Make sure you read to the end to catch a great recipe as well as Dara's answers to The TAAP Ten!
The following interview has been edited.
We at TAAP are so impressed by the work of Peace Advocacy Network. Can you tell us how that began and how it has grown so much?
Peace Advocacy Network promotes a peaceful existence through veganism, social justice, and respect for all the inhabitants and resources on Earth. We started in 2010 with our Vegan Pledge program, in which members of the community pledged to eat vegan for a certain length of time. We led in-person meetings and discussion groups and cooking classes, providing a great deal of guidance and assistance to help ensure that those pledging were successful.
So PAN began as a very localized, community-oriented organization, and now we have had it become global -- people from Spain, UK, Turkey, South Africa and more all participated in our most recent vegan pledge.
It was always our goal to experience growth so we could expand our vegan community. We started with only volunteers, and now have full-time employees! Being able to hire people is really what helped PAN make the jump to fulfill the board's vision, thanks to grant funding. It makes all the difference having people who are able to really be committed to furthering the organization's goals.
Our Vegan Pledge program went virtual during the pandemic, and that has allowed people all over the world to become involved. The Vegan Pledge is a five-week program; it was our first project and it's our biggest. As our resources changed, we were able to update the program in terms of speakers we brought in and advice we gave. Also, the availability of vegan food makes it a lot easier to take the pledge now than it was even in 2010.
PAN's growth in a lot of ways reflects how successful the Pledge was: the Pledge participants did their five weeks, and when it was over, they said, 'well now what? Now what can I do to be a helpful member of the vegan community?' So our further programs are an answer to that question. We now have the Vegan Activist Academy, in which people learn to build animal-focused campaigns, to empower communities, to fundraise. They learn how to forge their own activist path to achieve their own goals. Everyone wants to do something different, but everyone wants to do something. Maybe they create their own VegFest; maybe they support local campaigns. They choose what kind of activist they want to be, and we train them. We teach them to build coalitions, and our requirement is that they must incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity in whatever they go on to do. In the Academy, they have to do homework - it's a legitimate training academy! - but the work is interesting and it gives them the necessary tools for future success. We keep wanting to move forward and build our community of activists in new and creative ways so that they can be successful.
How has the pandemic changed how PAN operates?
I'm really proud of how much PAN has grown. Originally, it was based on in-person programs, so having to shift to virtual has let us grow exponentially across the globe. Adjusting for the pandemic to working online helped us turn this awful situation into something positive for the organization. We made the most of needing to be virtual by being able to reach more people and expand our community, bringing people in who may not have otherwise been able to join.
In the PAN virtual space, we also have a speaker series, we stream documentaries, we have book clubs. We're trying to reach and include as many people as possible to create community in a largely virtual world, to create friendships across the globe.
What are PAN's current goals?
We are always trying to grow and get more funding. We want to do a 2022 vegan activist training academy, but we need a grant to pay the person who holds them! Our goals are always to continue growing while being able to hold our academies and vegan pledge programs. And we are always trying to do something new with each passing year. Last year was the activist academy, and next year we want more VegFests, and we are always thinking of the next big idea for us.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I'm most proud in general of our growth, and how we have always been able to uphold our group ethos of veganism and diversity. Our board is very diverse and our recognition of the importance of that is a core tenet of PAN.
What advice to you have for anyone wanting to work in this area?
I recommend finding communities online. Join groups, follow social media accounts, and talk to people! Find your community. With the internet, we can find and reach our communities so easily, it doesn't need to be defined by physical location. Don't be stuck by old definitions of community. We have the world at our fingertips and can take advantage of that.
If you want to be an activist, I do think PAN's training academy is amazing!
What are your relationships with the animals in your life like?
Our family unfortunately can't have an animal. But I grew up with cats and previously had two cats. I love dogs, though there's one dog in the world that hates me - my neighbor's dog. When I see a dog, I know what to do because I've worked with dog behaviorists, and dogs love me. People are always amazed at how much their dogs love me, and I think they can sense that I'm not a threat to any animal. I feel connected to animals. I'm sure I'm anthropomorphizing a lot; sometimes I'm applying my human lens to the situation, but I do feel connected to all animals. Except this one dog.
What other communities are you a part of and how do they treat animals and veganism?
I'm active in my synagogue, which has an environmental group and a social justice group, and I'm on my township's sustainability committee. These are all organizations that are interested in social justice and environmentalism, but they don't see the connection between those two goals and animal exploitation and oppression. I try to be that voice and remind people of the connection. I don't want to organize an event for these groups if there will be nonvegan food, so either I organize and the food is vegan, or I don't organize the event. I do get into 'peaceful conflicts' at times, but people are generally respectful. It's almost harder, though, to change the mindsets of people like this because they are already doing so much good work.
Let's talk about one of your other many positions: teaching animal law at Temple University's School of Law.
Every year I change it up, I update the syllabus with new cases to have the students read. I have to stay on top of everything! There's a section in the class called Animal Law in the News, so that shows students that animal law is super relevant and so current. To be learning animal law at this time is so exciting; there's always growth and development. Sometimes it moves backwards, sometimes forwards. But the point is that the law is changing all the time. The fact that I'm able to come up with news for my students says a lot of how much the area is evolving.
What kinds of students do you get? Is it always the vegetarians or those who are already activists who take your class?
I actually very rarely have a vegan in the class, which is interesting. But it's cool that I get to reach people who aren't the typical audience. Often we have people who grew up on farms, or maybe who before law school worked in animal testing. So I'm always interested to hear those personal stories of these different backgrounds. It's always a nice and respectful group, and though discussion can get intense, it doesn't necessarily get disrespectful.
It's been a steady sized group over the years, not shrinking or growing by significant numbers. It's an evening class so it's more popular among the evening students, which can be frustrating for the day students. I feel bad that so many students, in my class and across the world, want to go into this field. I have to give them the news about how hard it is to actually practice animal law full-time and get paid. But it is getting better, and it's great that they want to do it. I always advise them to first to pro bono work in the field, and then that might lead to a paid position, or it might not, but either way they get to help.
The following are some quotes from Dara's most recent students' end-of-year instructor evaluations! Peaking behind the curtain!
"I really liked this class. I learned a lot, it was stress-free, and I felt very comfortable participating"
"The course opened my eyes to new perspectives and philosophies"
"This course was very engaging and I both enjoyed and learned a lot from it. At times it was very sad, but only because of the truths of the agriculture and lab testing industries"
"it made me a vegetarian"
Do you have recommended reading/listening for animal advocates?
I'm particularly interested in animal liberation, which my book 'Muzzling a Movement' is based on. I just think that the people who do this work are heroes. They are willing to suffer the risk of jail to save animal lives. They are the ultimate heroes.
A few off the top of my head are Free the Animals by Ingrid Newkirk, and From Dusk 'til Dawn by Keith Mann. The page turners for me are true stories of animal liberation.
Dara's recipe is a truly sustainable vegan feat - a butternut squash soup that also uses the seeds of the squash that we would normally throw in the compost. With a great mix of spices, it's a delicious and healthy option for those cooler days, or, heck, for these hot summer days if you like to live dangerously!
PRESSURE COOKER BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
2 lb medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, roughly chopped**
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
3 cups vegetable broth
½ teaspoon ground ginger (or pumpkin pie spice)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup coconut milk (or other nondairy milk)
2 TBSP corn starch
¼ to ½ cup agave nectar or maple syrup, to taste
**preserve the seeds if they are large enough to roast
Add the first 9 ingredients (up to the pepper) to a slow cooker or pressure cooker – use the setting for soup. (You could make this in a regular pot too, just cooking until the squash is super soft.)
Once it’s finished, remove pot from machine and add milk, corn starch, and agave nectar.
Blend with immersion blender or transfer to a normal blender and blend all ingredients together until pureed.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH SEEDS
1 TBSP vegan butter
¾-1 teaspoon cumin
¾ -1 teaspoon of chili powder
½ teaspoon of salt
Mix the butter and spices into the seeds (I use my hands which helps soften the butter and spread more easily).
Spread seasoned seeds on baking sheet over parchment paper or sprayed tin foil.
Roast seeds at 350F/180C for 10-15 minutes or until crunchy/crispy.
The TAAP TEN
The TAAP TEN are fun, more personal questions we ask every Rebel to end our time together!
1. What's the best advice you've ever been given?
The best advice -- and the worst advice -- I’ve ever been given was to schedule everything. I mean everything! When I was in college, I had to make money so I got a job selling knives. In this job, you’re an independent contractor and you try to schedule as many people in a day so you can sell as many as possible. You have to schedule as many appointments as possible. My boss advised me to schedule everything, and I took that advice. So if you want to work out for an hour, fine, but schedule that in. It taught me time management for everything. If you want to sleep eights hours, schedule it in. The boss sent us home with these scheduling charts, like hour by hour. I found it so helpful, especially now. I know how to manage my time. People say, how is that all possible, all she does? (Ed. note: It's me, I'm people!) It’s because of time management. There’s time for doing things; you just have to make the time. I schedule in TV breaks, and rest, and time to read books. Otherwise time runs away.
I can see the downside, though, because it makes me annoying to other people. Like I would have to schedule time with friends specifically too! It might have lost me a few friends!
It's the antithesis of flying by the seat of your pants, and I get that. It's not flexible. So I've had to learn to also be flexible. And with having kids, you have to be flexible because they'll mess up all your plans! So don't let it ruin your life.
2. What's your favourite food to cook?
I love baking and turning it into an affair with my kids. It's always fun to try to be artistic with it, letting the kids make a mess with fondant and food coloring. It's fun to make pretty cakes and designs, and it's great to do it together.
3. Would you rather order in, or go out to eat, and if so what/where? (in a non-pandemic world)
I'd rather order in, especially from Tomato Bistro in Manayunk. They have a really great plant-based menu, as they call it. They have always been really good for vegans. They're always changing their vegan cheese, trying to find the best one as new ones come around!
4. Cake or pie?
5. What never fails to make you laugh?
Stories from our past that we retell that are so funny. Stories that our family tells.
6. What’s your favorite movie or book?
I love Harold & Maude. It's a classic!
As for my favorite book: it's so much my favorite book that I would give it to people as a gift. I was such a deep kid that when I first read it, I bought multiple copies and gave it to people I was close to. It's Thoreau's Walden! I was so pretentious!
7. What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I don't like using paper towels but we do buy them as we need to. We don't even get the 'half sheet' kind, we buy the quarter sheet kind, and still my husband and kids will take HUGE amounts and use it for something so small! It's so frustrating that they use too much paper.
8. What is one ability that you believe everybody should possess?
Kindness. Everybody should be kind. I think kindness can make the world a better place.
9. What are the songs that make you sing along whenever you hear it?
"No Rain" by Blind Melon. Whenever I hear it, I sing along, I snap along!
10. Were Ross and Rachel on a break?
Yes I think they were!
Thank you so much for your time, Dara!
For more information about PAN, visit peaceadvocacynetwork.org/