Bob Harper makes record breaking gains for farm animals

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The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper is well known for helping people break habits and lose weight, and has now become the first ever celebrity spokesperson for the 'Walk for Farm Animals' a national event to promote compassion for farm animals and raise money for the rescue, education and advocacy work of Farm Sanctuary. Thanks partly to Harper's star-power, the event has gained a record breaking 78 participating cities across the U.S. and Canada and a steadily growing list of registrants, making this year's 'Walk for Farm Animals' the largest organized North American event for farm animals in history.

With several walks already completed, and 70 more still to go throughout September and October (including a virtual 'no-walk' walk), the 2010 walk is proving that the cruel treatment of animals raised for food has become an issue of national concern. The addition of Bob Harper as a celebrity spokesperson further demonstrates the mainstreaming of a movement that began in large part with the factory farm investigations and legal reforms of Farm Sanctuary's President and co-founder Gene Baur.

"The astounding growth of the 'Walk for Farm Animals' is an encouraging sign that we are getting closer to the day when agribusiness' treatment of living, breathing animals like unfeeling machinery is a thing of the past," said Baur. "Through the vast resources of the internet, undercover investigations, public education campaigns and popular films like 'Food Inc.,' people are learning in record numbers about the intolerable abuse, neglect and confinement endured by billions of animals raised for food on factory farms throughout North America, and they are increasingly rejecting these abhorrent practices in favor of mercy and compassion. No one likes cruelty to animals and the Walk provides a terrific opportunity to spread a message of hope for farm animals in your own hometown."

Farm Sanctuary recently interviewed Harper about the walk and his transition to veganism. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:

On getting involved with Farm Sanctuary and the Walk for Farm Animals:

“Well, I’ve got to tell you, when I was first approached about Farm Sanctuary, I was very, very excited. I knew that this was going to be a movement that I wanted to be a part of. It just all made sense to me. The lifestyle I live right now, my history, where I’ve grown up – so me being able to be a part of Farm Sanctuary is like having a badge of honor. I wanted to be able to talk about what I know and be a part of an organization that I believe so wholeheartedly in.”

On going vegan:

“It was actually pretty seamless. I was on vacation a couple of years ago and a friend of mine gave me a book called Skinny Bitch, and that started the ball rolling. But it wasn’t until I read T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study that my life absolutely changed. And bringing in the connection of ‘you are what you eat,’ that old adage our mothers have always taught us, it just started to make even more sense.”

On how his life has changed since going vegan:

“Well, it’s interesting because one thing I’ve really been able to do is talk to so many people about what they eat and their diet, for lack of a better word. I’ve worked with overweight Americans for such a long time and it’s about a stepping process … every day is a step because I get people I’ve worked with before saying to me now “What? Are you just going to take out all my meat and dairy?” I want to say “yes” immediately, but I know it’s about getting them to take steps. It’s a process for all of us, but I just get very excited about the platform I’ve been given and the information I now have to give out.”

On myths about vegan nutrition:

“I’ve really had to do my homework because my work is all about informing people and giving them the right information. One thing that I’ve realized is that, yes, our bodies need protein, but we don’t need as much as all these websites out there tell us that we do. And there are definitely ways to get all your nutrients within a plant-based diet.”

On how growing up on a cattle farm in Tennessee shaped the way he views farm animals:

“I have to tell you that because I grew up on this cattle farm it was just the way of life then. On the farm I grew up on the cows were treated relatively respectfully. They had pastures, they lived a good quality of life, of course until their death. To me there was more compassion back then because now … the thing that really pains me … is that these factory farms are just treating these animals like they’re light fixtures, like they’re not real and don’t have blood running through them. It’s just shocking to me.”

On the egregious abuses of modern farming:

“Well, I think the biggest thing is that animals are treated like they are not real. But these animals have emotions; they can be afraid; they can be happy. It’s like people tend to forget about that and that scares me when I think about slaughterhouses and what goes on in these places. When I started getting more and more informed about farm animals and how they were treated it made me feel like I needed to do whatever I could to help.”

On how people can make a difference for farm animals in their lives:

“They need to get involved, get informed and get their voices heard. To me, that is the number one step. One thing I tell people all the time when it comes to going to the grocery store, it’s like you are making a vote. Everything you get is a vote … it’s all about the foods you are eating. And I think you got to know what is going on out there … because we can no longer have blinders on; we can no longer just think ‘okay, well it doesn’t affect me,’ because these issues affect us all.”

Earlier this year when Harper was first named as the walks spokesperson, he spoke about the added health benefits of farm advocacy. “Getting and staying physically fit is a lot easier when you have a powerful motivation, and I can’t think of a better reason to get moving this fall than to raise vital funds and awareness for farm animals,” said Harper, who states that since he adopted a plant-based diet he has felt “more clear headed and strong” and that his genetically high cholesterol dropped more than 100 points. “When I think about the billions of sensitive, intelligent beings who are confined and mistreated on factory farms to produce foods linked with obesity, heart disease, cancer, and stroke — that is all the motivation I need to make healthier, more conscientious choices. I am honored to be the national spokesperson for Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 Walk for Farm Animals.”

Bob Harper's interview with Farm Sanctuary can be viewed in full on YouTube. Harper's 'Walk for Animals' PSA is also available on YouTube.

Bev Hahler | @redhotvegan
Bev, a vegetarian since she was 14 years old, became more interested in veganism several years ago after studying Agro-business as part of an Ecology degree. Follow Bev on her blog and Facebook.

Photo credit: video screen capture

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