I have known Kim Stallwood for a few years now.
I remember when I met him in Brighton, a very progressive city on the southern coast of England where I lived in the early 2000s. We both were animal protection consultants then. At the time, though, while having a lovely vegan lunch at the vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre, I did not know how important he was in the animal rights movement.
Many years later, when I was writing a chapter in my book Ethical Vegan about all the types of vegetarians and vegans there are, I wanted to add examples of known people for each type. I used Kim as the archetypical “animal rights ethical vegan”. This is what I wrote about him:
“His pedigree is impressive. Vegan since 1976, he started his career as the national organiser for Compassion in World Farming in the UK, then he became the campaigns officer for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection until 1985, then the national director of PETA in the US from 1987 to 1992, and later he was one of the founders of the animal rights think tank Animal Rights Network (ARN), now called the Animals and Society Institute.”
That was just a small taste of his long curriculum. Kim Stallwood has done much more. He has written books, he has been a trustee/director of the Vegan Society and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), he edited an animal rights magazine called The Animals Agenda, he co-founded an organisation called Coordinating Animal Welfare (CAW), and much more. So much, that I had to ask him how he wanted to be defined. He replied: “Professionally, I am now an animal rights activist and theorist who is an independent author, scholar, and consultant. From a personal point of view, I’m a vegan animal activist. My activism may have changed over the years but at heart, I am what I was 40+ years ago.”
Kim has certainly made a long-lasting profession of being an animal rights activist, something that many young new vegans may have wondered if it is even possible. Well, it is. You can start your activism as a volunteer, and then make of that a full career (even without the use of YouTube and Instagram, believe it or not!). I thought new activists may be interested in the thoughts of someone who has done it and knows first-hand all the obstacles to overcome — from finding the right paid role to negotiating successfully the complex internal politics of animal protection organisations. So, I thought I would interview Kim, asking about his “journey”, and his opinion on a few topical issues.
He had many stories to tell.
Kim’s Vegan Journey
All vegans who have been vegan for decades have always an interesting story to tell about their journey to veganism. Kim’s starts in Camberley, a small town in the county of Surrey, about thirty miles southwest of London, England. That is where Kim’s vocation as a chef began.
“I ended up being a vegan because of various steps that I took that led me there. When I left school, I went to a college in London to learn how to run hotels and restaurants. It was a three-year course, and each of the two summers we were expected to work in the profession for work experience. Which is what I did in the first summer of 1972. But in the summer of 73, I chose to do something else instead. I needed to earn some money, and I thought that I was going to be doing that kind of work for the rest of my life anyway. Friends who were also students at that time told me about a chicken’s slaughterhouse in a nearby town to where I was born and raised, and were still living with my parents, and that they were looking for temporary summer employees. So, I got a job in the chicken slaughterhouse. I worked on the post-slaughter part of the production line. I bagged up freshly killed chickens so that they could be frozen and then sold as frozen oven-ready chickens.
I didn’t like the work, but I needed some money. I never worked on the killing part of the production line. I could never bring myself to watch the chickens being killed. But I still ate chicken.
Then, after that summer experience, I went back to college for my final year, and at the college, in the year below me, there was the only vegetarian I knew at that time. And she was a good friend, and once we got back to college after the summer, I started arguing with her about what I’ve had been doing. Playing the sort of macho look. But she argued back, and we had a whole series of arguments and conversations. Eventually, I realised that what I had been responsible for was wrong, that I could live very happily not eating meat, and so I decided to go vegetarian at the beginning of 74. So, I gave up that career.
The Vegan Society had their ‘Open Door’ program on BBC 2, and by this point in time, both my mum and I were vegetarians. We decided that they made a reasonable point. If we wanted to not eat meat because of animal cruelty, then we should stop eating eggs, cheese, and drinking milk. So, we together decided to become vegan at the beginning of 76. I’ve been vegan ever since.”
Kim’s Animal Activism Journey
As with many vegans, after stopping consuming animal products a growing feeling creates an urge to do something more. Not just to reject products and choose better alternatives, but to act to improve the world. In other words, to become “activists”. Either vegan activists doing vegan outreach, environmental activists dealing with the climate crisis, social justice activists challenging food injustices, or animal rights activists addressing the exploitation of animals. This is how Kim became the latter:
“In 76, in the summer, there was what was then called an animal welfare bazaar in the local Town Hall, which was basically the forerunner of a Vegfest. Some organisations came together to organise it. I was vegan and I was not clear as to where my career was going to go next. I contacted the Vegan Society and I asked if I could help in any way. They said they didn’t need help, but they knew that the people at Compassion in World Farming, who also had a stall there, did need help. So, I met the only then full-time employee of Compassion. She was their organiser, and I helped her. And then, eventually, in the autumn of 76, she invited me to go down to Petersfield to meet Peter Roberts, because they were looking to employ a second full-time employee who would be their ‘assistant campaigns organiser’. So, I met them, got interviewed by Peter, and was offered the job. I quickly stepped into the network of the emerging animal rights movement of that time and met people who were doing other animal rights stuff — many of whom I’m still in touch with today.
In 78 I went from Compassion to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in London. Basically, a group of us democratically took over control of the BUAV and we elected a board of directors who were progressive. Staff got appointed, including me, who were progressive. From 81 to 86, I organised with others BUAV’s campaigns. I think we were the first organisation to do corporate identity for the organisation. We organised very large national antivivisection demonstrations and local networks of contacts, and lobbied on parliament.
My work there was recognised by the founders of PETA in America, so I was invited to become PETA’s first executive director in 1987. From 87 to 92 I worked at PETA, and so 87 was the beginning of the 20 years that I lived and worked in America. And the other role I had in America was working as a consultant for a little while with various animal groups. Then I took on the role of editor of the Animals Agenda Magazine, which eventually got reinvented into the Animals and Society Institute.
I came back to England to live with my partner in 2007, and at that point, I no longer wanted to run organisations. I wanted to work as a consultant and then really begin to get on with the projects that I wanted to do personally, which was mostly writing. So, since 2007, I’ve lived here, and I’ve worked as a consultant for groups in Britain, America and Europe. My focus now is writing the biography of an elephant called Topsy, doing various projects related to the preservation of the history of the animal rights movement, and various duties involved with being a board member of the Culture & Animals Foundation.”
The Culture & Animals Foundation is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support artists and scholars in advancing our understanding of and commitment to animals. It was founded in 1985 by Nancy Regan and her husband Tom Regan, the famous animal rights philosopher.
Life Lessons in a Book
Kim is an author too. In 2014 he published his book Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate, which I thoroughly recommend, especially for those who would like to make animal protection their profession. It will give you a good historical perspective, an insightful philosophical approach and a useful campaigning framework, coming from someone who has done it “on the ground” in different countries. It is particularly illustrative of the common inner political struggles within animal protection organisations which are often only experienced when working in them. I asked Kim to summarise what the book is about:
“Growl was a memoir of my involvement with animal rights and it’s got two parallel narrative arcs. First, is basically a story of myself and how my interest in animals began. What influenced me, what I think and how I saw it within a progressive agenda of social justice. And then the second parallel narrative arc is the history of my involvement with various animal organisations and the work that I did for them.
The two arcs come together because I talk about the four key values of animal rights as I understand them. These are: Compassion, Truth, Non-violence and Justice. They sort of overarch. I’m not a philosopher. I don’t espouse a philosophical view, but what I do articulate is a way of thinking about animal rights which is embedded by these four key values. So, there’s a chapter about each key-value and there are chapters about the various organisations I’ve been involved with.”
Another Story on Vivisection’s Investments
The reason a publisher approached me to write a book was the success of my legal case that secured ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. This came as a consequence of two years of litigation after an animal protection organisation I was employed with fired me for telling colleagues information about the organisation’s pension fund — which was investing in pharmaceutical companies involved in vivisection.
As I had not enough money, I had to run a campaign to crowdfund for my legal fees, so I approached many people for support. Kim was one of those who supported me, but then he told me that he had experienced something similar many years ago. I asked him to explain it again for this interview:
“In the 1980s, well when I was working with Compassion about farming, I began to meet local activists, and then key players. And a group of us started an organisation called Coordinating Animal Welfare (CAW). It was an organising tool that was built around two things. One was a bi-monthly bulletin, like a forerunner of an animal rights magazine, and then the second thing was organising public meetings in London on a Sunday afternoon, where people who cared about animals in whatever way could come together and network.
In the public meetings, we had two halves. The first half of the meeting was when anyone could take the microphone and talk about an issue that they were concerned with, but if they did do that, they had to propose some positive action that people could do — they couldn’t just get up there and moan about something. Then the second half of the meetings was organising a theme, a special unique event — one of them was Peter Singer coming to give a talk.
In one of these events, we met Richard Ryder. He was at that time on the RSPCA council. And the council was still very influenced by foxhunters and pro-blood-sportspeople. He came to us and said: ‘I want to encourage all these young activists to join the RSPCA and get involved in the elections to the council’ — because at that time, for people like me, young and angry activists, it was a badge of honour not to be a member of the RSPCA, because they were so awful. We had to sort of sell the idea that we could actually change the RSPCA.
We had done a similar thing before. We sort of infiltrated the BUAV, and through the election process to their board of directors, we took control of it. And people could see as the 80s progressed the benefits of us doing that. We could do a similar thing for the RSPCA, but that was a bit more difficult because it’s a bigger organisation and more complicated. Eventually, I stood for elections to the RSPCA Council, and as a national representative, and got elected.
At that time, the conservative government was in the process of passing the Animal Scientific Procedures Act 1986. A split became apparent between the antivivisection section of the organisations on one side, and the RSPCA and a couple of other bodies on the other side. The RSPCA adopted a role of working cooperatively with the government, trying to exert as much pressure as they could on them. Whereas the anti-vivisection organisations opposed the legislation because it wouldn’t even ban these most egregious examples of animal research.
I then discovered the RSPCA had shares in companies that experimented on animals. The RSPCA produced a report which criticised companies for their use of animals — and it criticised a company that it had shares in. To cut a long story short, I made a fuss about this publicly, and it led to my expulsion from the council and the RSPCA membership. They said I brought the Society into disrepute, or something like that. But it highlighted the fact that they didn’t have an ethical investments policy — not that ethical investment policies were talked about much then. I’m pleased to say that subsequently, they do have an ethical investments policy and I think they’re fairly strict about which companies they invest in — although they’ve got all that farm recognition thing which I don’t like.”
Plant-Based Options in Main Fast-Food Chains
The day before I interviewed Kim, I noticed he posted something on Facebook about fast-food chains (such as Burger King, KFC or McDonald’s) offering plant-based options now — and how vegans, and vegan organisations, reacted to this. So, I asked him about his thoughts on this topical issue:
“I’ve been vegan for so long, so it has not been part of my life that I would go to fast-food restaurants to eat — because there has never been anything to eat for me there. I just look at them as public toilets because if I couldn’t find a public toilet I would go into McDonald’s and use their toilets. So, to me, they’re only toilets, they’re not restaurants. it’s a bit like looking at meat. I don’t see meat as food. I see meat as a dead body and body animal parts.
Having said that, I generally welcome what’s happening with the development of these various alternatives to meat and animal-based products. I never really enjoyed the experience of eating meat and even though I learnt to cook French cuisine, I actually preferred the patisserie side of French cuisine, more than the savoury entree side. I was always more interested in cooking vegetables and sweet things. So, the actual experience of eating meat, the visceral experience, the physicalness of chewing on meat, repulses me. I can’t do it. There are even some forms of mushrooms that when they get so chewy and meat-like I actually feel sick. I’m one of those vegans who doesn’t miss it and finds it revolting.
All these developments that are going on, I generally welcome them, but I recognise they’re not for someone like me. They’re products for people who are eating meat and looking for alternatives, and want to continue with that visceral experience of eating meat because they enjoy it — but they want to eat plant-based meat rather than animal-based meat, and that’s fine.
I generally don’t like fast food. I mean, I do eat it. We do cook burgers at home sometimes, and sausages, and so on, but generally, that’s not the type of food that I would like to eat. For me, I think is a step backwards in the development of vegan cuisine, with its obsession with things like burgers, fake meats, cupcakes, and dirty vegan food — which I find repulsive.
What prompted me to post something on Facebook yesterday was because I was very irritated by a statement that was issued by a vegan organisation instructing vegans not to ask restaurants to cook their vegan food items separately from where the animal food items are cooked. I thought: ‘No, you can’t do that. You can’t tell vegans not to do that. You can say if you are not bothered by the fact that your burger is going to be cooked on the same grill as a meat burger, then fine, eat it. But if you are uncomfortable with it, then I think it’s legitimate that you respectfully ask the restaurant to cook it on a separate thing’.
We live in a town on the south coast that has a lot of fish & chip shops, and we’ve discovered, as far as we can tell, that every chip shop in this town cooks their chips with the same oil where they cook their fish. We kept eating chips that smelled of fish, and then we started asking around and discovered that you can’t buy chips that are only cooked in oil with no fish going in. To me, those chips are no longer vegan, so I won’t eat chips anymore — which is probably a good thing from a health point of view.
There’s a lot of money going into all these companies producing these vegan alternative products, and that’s great. But when these new vegan-based companies start making lots of money, I hope they are going to commit to returning a percentage of the profits back into the animal rights movement, because they only exist because of the work of people like us, activists who worked on the front lines of animal rights.”
Intersectionality and Social Justice
Kim and I have many things in common. I also become a professional animal rights activist/campaigner, I also worked as a freelance animal protection consultant, I also have written a memoir-style book about veganism, and I even was a member of staff from PETA as well — for just a few months, though. But there is another thing I have in common with him: intersectionality.
“It’s always been intuitively about how I understood veganism to be. Being vegan wasn’t an isolated issue solely about the way animals are used. It’s about human health too, it’s also about feeding people, protecting the environment, and so on. It’s all about how we frame and understand life on the planet.
Often, the same impulses that abuse animals abuse people. So, I’m very much intersectional. I don’t go around calling myself an intersectional vegan, but as far as the messaging that I put out there, is that I always try to frame the animal issue as part of the progressive agenda of social justice.
In ‘Growl’ I talk about how, in a way, being honest about myself as far as becoming vegan and animal rights, helped me be honest about myself as being a gay man, for example. I find disagreeable people who only see it as an animal issue and people who bring their prejudicial attitudes to the vegan table. I think it’s okay to say animals are my priority of concern as far as beings who need help, but that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t care about anyone else, I hate anyone else. I mean, there’s a bit to me that’s a bit misanthropic, to be honest. When you spend decades confronting animal abuse and looking at what people do to animals, you can’t help but be a bit misanthropic. But that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t care about people because I care passionately about people. So, yes, I am intersectional.”
The First Pig Heart Transplant to a Human
Another very topical issue is the recent news about the first transplant of a pig heart into a human in the USA. I know Kim had a lot to say about it because he recently had a big heart operation.
“I have an office where I work and where my archive is. One day, last June, I was walking to my office from my home — which I do most days — and I wasn’t feeling well. I collapsed unconscious in the street. Eventually, I came back to consciousness, and a group of strangers literally came and helped me. That led to was nearly four weeks of being in two hospitals and I was diagnosed with having been born with a faulty heart valve. That morning the heart valve had given up, it just stopped working. Consequently, it became necessary for me to have open heart surgery whereby the faulty heart valve is taken out, and a new heart valve is put in.
The surgery was at a hospital in Brighton. The surgeon who did the surgery, a very smart, Indian-origin kind man who told me he was vegetarian, had looked at me up online for some reason and discovered who I was — a known animal rights activist and vegan. So, when he told me that I had to have open-heart surgery and that they had to put a new valve in, I thought, ‘okay, where’s this valve coming from?’ He said it came from a cow who had been killed for food, and it was okay. I said, ‘well, it’s not okay. Why are you not growing these things in a lab now?’ Eventually, it became apparent that there was no other alternative. The only alternative was not to have the surgery, which would probably lead to me dying early. So, I had to have the surgery if I wanted to live to carry on with my work. How ironic that I, as a vegan, had no choice, because I was given lots of drugs to take, and I’m going to be on medication for the rest of my life, and because I’ve got a piece of a cow in my heart.
I think about it all the time. And even now I’m getting upset thinking about it — because I don’t like it, of course. Do I have any choice? No, I had no choice. But there’s also this profound meaning or symbolism of a piece of cow woven into my heart. The heart, presumably, is where one’s compassion and love come from, metaphorically speaking. Try to make sense of this is really difficult. I can’t say that it’s changed my life in any meaningful way as far as what my own personal belief systems are, because it really hasn’t. But it’s made me appreciate how complex things are.
So, I posted something online written in response to someone else who’d commented on the recent pig heart surgery in the States. The point that she was making — that I agreed with— was that it wasn’t so much that one should hate the person because they had the surgery and they’ve now got a pig’s heart in their body. It’s that we hate the fact that the medical system has gone in a direction that makes this a licensable thing that they should do.
I’ve always thought about veganism as being something that was a journey and not a destination. That no one in this world can ever end up being 100% pure vegan, because animal products are all over the place. We can do the best that we can do to be as vegan as we can be. And sometimes, compromise is the only way to move forward. I don’t think I would have brought any benefit to anyone or any animal by refusing to have the surgery because only an animal-based material could replace my faulty heart valve.
I still haven’t really quite worked out what I think about it all, other than I don’t like it but I had no choice. I don’t want to go down the road of thinking that this is some sort of metaphysical ‘thank you’ from the animals to me. That they’ve saved my life and they put a bit of them in me. I don’t like that kind of thinking. It’s not about me.”
Understanding the Animal Rights Institutional History
One of the most recent projects Kim has been involved with is to find ways to share his enormous collection of books and documents related to animal rights and its history, so everyone can benefit from them. The current vegan and animal rights movement is composed of many young people who don’t have much of an idea of what the movement had been doing in the past, what worked and what failed. Therefore, Kim’s archives may become crucial to solving this.
“I don’t know why, but I just collected stuff as soon as I got involved with working in Compassion, and then particularly it grew as I got involved with producing the bulletin for Coordinating Animal Welfare. I would join organisations, I’d keep their newsletters, their magazines, their badges. And so, I built up a big archive. There’s like two and a half thousand books here to do with animals.
I thought I’d got to do something with all my archives and my books. I had an introduction to the British Library through an animal studies scholar who was working on Richard Ryder’s archives. I had hoped originally that the British Library would take everything that I had here, but I was very naive and I didn’t really understand the process. It never occurred to me that they already had the books. It’s the British Library. Every book that’s published is supposed to go to the British Library. So, when they came to look at the materials, they never even looked at the books. Eventually, what we focused upon was what they called research materials. So, they eventually ended up taking 36 big archival boxes of research materials, which was mostly a system of files that I built up over the years and used in my work. The library is now cataloguing them, and eventually, they’ll be made public so that people can access them and use them.
And then I’ve got all the other materials and I needed to find a home for them. I then discovered an organisation in Switzerland called Tierrechte, which is basically animal rights, and it’s a law organisation. They have a library. So, I’m working with them now on their acquisition of the rest of my materials that I have here and helping them further develop their library internationally.
A major asset, because one of the things that’s a real problem with the movement is that it doesn’t understand its institutional history. And a lot of people — I was guilty of this myself— when they get involved in animal rights, they actually sort of believe the animal rights movement started when they got involved. They’ve got no understanding that there are generations of people and organisations that preceded them, that got the issue to this point in time. That’s the reason why we make the same mistakes over and over again because we don’t understand how to move an issue forward — which is one of the other things I talked about in Growl — through the five stages of social justice movements.
Animal organisations are in large part fundraising machines whose program activities are designed to do good work but also to generate money and to keep the machine going — which isn’t necessarily the kind of work that needs to be done. I hope that doing these various projects I’m having some long-term impact in not only preserving the history of the movement but helping to get people aware of it in order for them to be more effective advocates.”
The present can be seen as the intersection between the past and the future. We can live it mindfully to improve our spiritual and psychological wellbeing, but if we want to impact society, if we want to change the world, we need to learn from our real past and aim for an achievable future. The vegan world we dream about is easy to conjure from our hopes and aspirations, but to learn from our past, to embody the momentum created by those who preceded us, we need to pay attention. We need to read what they wrote. We need to understand what they did. And we need to listen to what they say.
To listen to people like Kim, grounded with a foot in the past and another in the future.
Always a worthwhile experience.