Nathan Runkle, the founder and Executive Director of Mercy for Animals, is not only the driving force behind one of my favorite Animal Rights organizations, he’s also one of my favorite people on the planet. If you’ve never met him or heard about his work, here’s some insight into his advocacy.
Allison Rivers Samson: What inspired you to go vegan? How old were you?
Nathan Runkle: I went vegan when I was 15 years old. I grew up on a small crop farm in rural Ohio and always had a natural affinity and connection with animals. Even at a young age, I felt that cruelty towards animals was unethical and unnecessary. When I was 11, I came across literature about factory farming at a local Earth Day event. I remember reading with horror about the way pigs are locked in tiny gestation stalls barely larger than their own bodies, how hens are crammed into tiny wire cages where they can’t spread their wings, and how baby calves are torn from their mother’s side and chained in tiny crates for veal production. I immediately went vegetarian and became active in animal rights advocacy – circulating petitions, giving presentations, and learning more about the issues. At the age of 13, I convinced my parents to drive me to Washington, DC, for the National Animal Rights Conference. That event had a profound impact on me – inspiring me to become even more dedicated and committed to speaking up on behalf of farmed animals. The more I learned about the dairy and egg industries, the more disturbed I became. I knew, in good conscience, I couldn’t support these cruel industries – which often subject animals to abuses worse and more prolonged than the meat industry. It was then, at the age of 15, that I went vegan. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made.
ARS: Going vegan was the best choice I’ve ever made too! I am grateful to have the privilege of living this lifestyle. You run Mercy For Animals, one of our very favorite animal advocacy groups. How has the experience been for you and what’s your biggest challenge?
NR: It’s a complete honor and joy running Mercy For Animals. I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to work with a group of amazing individuals, who are amazingly talented, dedicated, focused, strategic, and most of all, compassionate. Although it can be difficult constantly facing the brutal reality animals endure on factory farms and in slaughterhouses, at the end of the day I am filled with deep hope. I truly believe we are making great strides – moving society towards a day when all animals are treated with the respect and compassion they so rightly deserve. We’re on the right side of history and justice.
ARS: With your numerous truth-revealing, leading-edge expositions, is there an MFA victory that’s most meaningful or memorable for you?
NR: There are so many. Each investigation we release – whether it be at a pork, dairy, or egg factory farm, hatchery, or slaughterhouse – brings us one step further in raising important awareness about these issues, pushing for new laws and regulations, changing corporate animal welfare policies, and inspiring more people to adopt a vegan diet.
ARS: You’ve been named one of the country’s “Top 20 Activists Under 30 Years Old.” Would you like to share any advice for young people eager to adopt a vegan lifestyle and support our animal friends?
NR: Go for it! It’s never been easier, or more enjoyable, to go vegan or become an animal rights advocate. With Facebook, YouTube, and a million other online resources, all the information, tips, advice, and support you need to get started are just a click away. When doing advocacy work, I think it’s important to also think about what’s most effective, the best use of your time, and what will help the most animals. We owe it to the animals to be as strategic as possible – and that involves thinking about the most impactful and positive ways to reach out to others and inspire them to begin the journey towards a plant-based diet. Mercy For Animals has lots of “how to” guides and resources on our website – detailing ways to being highly effective and easy grassroots outreach efforts in your community, such as passing out literature, setting up educational displays, video screenings, lectures, and even promoting the cause on your Facebook page and to friends.
ARS: Running MFA, surely you clock countless hours! Do you have any time at all to cook? If so, what is one of your favorite vegan meals to make at home? Are there any whole-food staple grocery items you can’t live without? (Favorite fruits, veggies, beans or grains?)
NR: Unfortunately, I don’t find much time to cook – but it’s a New Year’s resolution to do more of it. The closest I get to culinary artistry on a regular basis is in the morning when I make smoothies – filled to the brim with bananas, frozen blueberries, goji berries, strawberries, mango, pineapple, orange juice, flax seed, and kale. So good, and so good for you. I’ve also been on a quinoa kick recently– a real superfood. And I’ve been really into dried seaweed snacks.
ARS: Maybe I’ll come to L.A. and cook for you sometime. Do you have a favorite goodie from Allison’s Gourmet or an AG gift you most enjoy giving?
NR: Oh wow. I love it all! For holidays and special occasions, I typically give Allison’s Gourmet vegan gift baskets – that way I can share a wide variety of all the tasty, delectable offerings with my loved ones.
As an advocate for both animal rights and gay rights, I want to share the link to your insightful and in-depth interview on Our Hen House, which is another organization we love. You speak eloquently about extending the circle of compassion throughout our society as well as the connection between the LGBT and AR communities. Thank you for speaking out and thank you for being born to do this work, Nathan.