June 10th, 2013 by Gary Smith
Rory Freedman is best known to the world as the author of the Skinny Bitch series of healthy lifestyle books that introduced millions of people to veganism. But within the animal rights community, Rory is known as an activist willing to give her time, money and assistance to help animals. She’s a walking, talking example of how compassion and service creates changes, internally, externally, and in the world.
Her latest book, Beg, is intended for dog and cat lovers who need to take their perspective to another level. Beg goes beyond diet and personal health to a greater understanding of animal exploitation, confronting issues surrounding pets, animals used in research, entertainment, clothing, and of course food.
Beg: A Radical New Way of Regarding Animals (Running Press) is a quick read but very comprehensive. Are there any issues you didn’t cover in the book that you wish you had, or anything you decided to cut out? Now’s your chance to mention them.
When I wrote Skinny Bitch, my primary motivation was revealing what happens to animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses. I specifically chose the topic of “animals for food” based solely on numbers – more animals suffer and die for human consumption than for anything else. While I was glad to be getting the food info out there, I was frustrated that I couldn’t talk about all the other issues. I wrote Beg so I could touch on all the issues. I wanted to offer dog and cat lovers an A-to-Z guide on how to be better animal lovers across the board.
You made an unusual choice of including a letter to the reader part way through the book, but seemed to regret it even while writing it, saying, “I’m bored with this letter.” What was the thinking behind the letter, and what do you want it to accomplish?
I start Beg talking about my dogs, then dogs in general. Then I talk a little about cats. Then comes all the stuff that animal rights activists know but that “animal lovers” don’t. When I was reading the manuscript, it almost felt like two separate books: the dog and cat book and the other book. The dog/cat stuff seemed kind of fast and easy. The other stuff was a little denser and a little longer. The letter to the reader was a necessary literary device to help make the transition from the easy breezy section to the denser one. Me saying “I’m bored” was just stream of consciousness. For better or worse, I often share what I’m thinking as I’m writing, as opposed to just editing everything and making it perfect and pretty.
Compared to your previous books, Beg is a step down in persuasiveness but a step up in its effort to relate to the reader. Is this simply a reflection of the new kinder, gentler, less profane Rory, or was this approach an intentional choice on your part?
I don’t consider Beg any less persuasive than my other books. I think the information is just as compelling, unflinching, and unapologetic. But yes, in the eight years or whatever it’s been since I wrote Skinny Bitch, I’ve changed a lot. I’m no longer swearing, which is definitely a big shift. And I’m also trying, unsuccessfully at times, to stay away from dualistic language – the us vs. them mentality. It’s challenging, but I’m really trying to honor people where they are on their paths. I believe it’s possible to effectively advocate for change without pitting myself against people who are at a different place in their journey. Some of these shifts came just before I had to hand the manuscript in to my editor. I asked a friend of mine to read the manuscript to help me solve a different problem but the notes he gave me said, “Rory, you don’t have to keep telling people over and over again how ‘terrible’ everything is. Just by giving them the information, they can come to that conclusion themselves. You don’t need to tell them how to feel about it.” I so appreciated his feedback and I think taking out some of my heavy-handedness made the book a lot more readable for intended audience: animal lovers.
Your press materials say that Rory has become more spiritually connected. Can you share how veganism and spirituality connect for you?
With regards to the spiritual path I’m on, it’s a narrow path. Some of my old words and behaviors are no longer acceptable on this new path. If I want to awaken spiritually, I need to change old patterns, form new ones, and be vigilant to stay conscious and connected. Going from meat-eater to vegetarian to vegan was very much the same. If I wanted to avoid contributing to the suffering of animals, I needed to wake up, change my habits, and stay conscious and connected.
The book’s cover photo is by one of our favorite photographers, Sylvia Elzafon who not only captures the beauty of animals, she seems to capture their souls. How did the collaboration come about, and who is the gorgeous cover model?
I thought finding the perfect picture for the cover would be a breeze. I explained exactly what I wanted to my publisher and eagerly waited to see what they came up with. But time and time again, I was disappointed. The dog was either not that cute, not my type, or didn’t have the right expression. One night, I trolled Facebook, determined to find the perfect dog. I happened onto Sylvia’s page and saw all these stunning pictures of dogs she photographed at a shelter in Dallas. She had done so many shoots and captured so many incredible images – it was a virtual jackpot. And when I saw the picture of sweet, precious Roxy, I emailed my publisher Sylvia’s contact info and the images I pulled off her page and said, I think we’ve got our cover model. I’m so thrilled that Sylvia’s work gets to be featured; what she does for these animals on death row is truly heroic and life-saving.
Beg also includes several helpful pages of pet care do’s and dont’s. I was outside with my dogs while I was reading this section, about being present with your dogs and not yelling “NO” all the time. But I was so absorbed in the book I didn’t notice that Freddie was eating poo. Then I yelled “NO” at him. Would you mind sharing a few tips for people like me who clearly need guidance?
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is being present with my dogs. For example, if I’m on the phone when I pull into my driveway, I tell whoever I’m talking to that I need to get off the phone before I walk in the door. I want to really be there with them when I come in. I also kept seeing people walking their dogs while talking on their phones or texting or emailing. They’d be mindlessly pulling their dogs along, barely conscious of what their dog was experiencing. We would never give our friends or loved ones such limited respect and attention. Our dogs deserve to have our full attention and presence of mind. I know we’re all busy and sometimes we need to multi-task. But sometimes we don’t need to multi-task, we’re just addicted to our phones. I think getting clear on that and making the effort to be present can make a big difference in our animals’ lives and our own.
How are Lucy, Timber and Joey enjoying their new fame?
Timber thought he was famous all along, so nothing has changed in his mind. He’s still handsome, bossy, and the center of the universe. Joey is too pure of a dog to let it go to her head. And she’s too busy doing dog stuff. Lucy is still just trying to conquer the simple things in life—the other day, there was a package on the stairs; she was afraid to walk past it and needed to be picked up.
Give us the elevator pitch for the Beg For Change challenge.
A month of fast, fun, daily challenges to give animal lovers tangible ways of becoming better animal lovers.
I can envision vegans and activists giving many copies of Beg to friends and family members so they’ll understand why vegans make the choices we do. What would you like people to write in the flyleaf when they give your book as a gift?
Thank you for caring.
Beg is available nearly everywhere books are sold: http://roryfreedman.com/buy.php