Interview: Jo-Anne McArthur – photographer, activist, Ghosts In Our Machine

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Today we sit down with Jo-Anne McArthur to learn more about her, her passions, her journey, and the importance of telling the stories of those who can’t speak for themselves. The newly released documentary, The Ghosts In Our Machine directed by Liz Marshall, tells the story of abused animals through the eyes and lens of Jo-Anne. Her photographs are captivating and show clearly the emotions and feelings of her subjects who are used for food, clothing, entertainment and biomedical research. It’s a must-see film.

HC: Why did you go vegan? Was it an overnight transition or did it happen overtime?

The long transition was to vegetarianism, but going vegan was overnight and it’s sort of a fun story. More than ever, I was getting into animal rights and I decided I’d benefit from an internship at Farm Sanctuary, where I could learn more about animals, and rights. One of the requirements to the internship is that you be vegan for its duration, out of respect for the animals and other reasons. I thought “Hm, well that’s a bit extreme, but I’ll do it, and go back to being vegetarian after the internship”. To my surprise, after one day of being vegan, I actually felt a weight had lifted, I felt almost elated that I’d gone a day without harming anyone, and it felt right. That was April 1st, 2003 and no, I didn’t go back to being vegetarian. What I learned over time was that eating a plant-based diet isn’t extreme, it’s the needless killing of billions of animals each year, not to mention the rape of the planet in the process, that’s extreme. I’m so happy to be vegan!

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HC: What inspires or pushes you to tell the stories of animals abused in our modern world?

Well, we all have different skills, things we’re good at, things we love to do. I’m a story-teller by nature (got it from my mom!) and ever curious to find out what’s going on behind what we think is going on. Becoming a photographer made sense to me, as I’m endlessly curious, love to record everything and need a creative outlet. Over time I realized I could combine my passions – photography, and, my concern for animals – to help make the world a better place for our non-human kin. It’s so important that lots of people share stories about animal abuse so that we can collectively pull back the veil on these atrocities, and show industry not just at the macro but the micro level as well. For example, showing a factory farm with 5,000 turkeys in one shed is important, but equally important is getting close and documenting the individuals that make up the 5,000. In that way, we can feel more, perhaps relate more, to the individuals, to the suffering, and to the enormity of the injustice.

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HC: Why is it important for us to know the truth about how animals are treated?

We can’t change or care unless we know. Unless we’re told, shown, explained. Exposing the truth is the only hope for animals. And animals are like us – sentient – capable of joy and fear and curiosity and all of those great things, so if we can show that animals suffer as we do, the “truth” of animal cruelty becomes all the more urgent. And it is so urgent. It’s an emergency, truly, all of this needless suffering; I hope that more and more of us can see it as such.

HC: What went on your holiday table?

Oh boy. I’m sort of all about whole foods these days. The table had copious amounts of mashed potatoes. I love them with a bit of nutmeg and olive oil. Also, some long green beans with toasted sesame seeds along with roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts, in my not-so-secret recipe including mustard seeds, balsamic, maple syrup and garlic. I’ll make my mad cheese/garlic sauce (nutritional yeast!) and pour it on something. And Tofurky? Sigh. Gimme some of that. With my homemade mushroom gravy!

Sadly for those I cook for, I have no sweet tooth, so they will have to DIY. Having said that, I recently ate some doughnuts at Dun-Well Doughnuts in Brooklyn. OMG. Think they deliver to Toronto?

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HC: Do you have a favorite dish you serve to non-vegans that wins them over?

I like to veganize the comfort foods, like grilled cheese sandwiches and BLTs, pesto, mac ‘n cheese. I also make colossal salads and the key is to serve them all spread out on a large dish and not in a bowl. All the good stuff falls to the bottom of a bowl! On a large plate, all the ingredients can be laid out and beautiful, that way it looks uber appetizing.

HC: What is your favorite veg restaurant in the world?

I travel a lot with my work and one of the joys of that is discovering vegan restaurants around the globe. They are everywhere! One favourite? Really? Don’t make me choose. Hogtown Vegan in Toronto. Aux Vivres in Montreal. Blossom and Candle 79 in New York City. Sage Bistro in Los Angeles. Finding a Maoz on any busy corner in Europe is always a dream: cheap falafels and huge salads! The $1 dinner stands in Luang Prabang. Ethos in Bangkok. The kitchens on the Sea Shepherd boats!

About Liz Marshall
Liz Marshall is a Gemini-nominated, award-winning auteur filmmaker who fuses character-driven cinematic storytelling with social and environmental justice issues. Since the 90s she has created a body of documentary projects shot all over the world which focus on a range of subjects including: animal use and animal sentience; the right to water movement; HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; sweatshop labor; censorship affecting writers and journalists, war-affected children; music icons and the written and spoken word. Liz is well versed in the craft of conceptual point-of-view storytelling as a means of exploring complex issues.

About Jo-Anne McArthur
Award-winning photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over ten years. Her documentary project, We Animals, is internationally celebrated and over 100 animal organizations, among them Igualdad Animal, Sea Shepherd and the Jane Goodall Institute, have benefited from her photography. Many organizations have also worked with her closely on campaigns and investigations. The first We Animals photo book is being published by Lantern Books in late Fall 2013. Recent awards and accolades include: Co-recipient (with Liz Marshall) of the 2013 Compassion for Animals Award in Toronto; the 2011 Canadian Empathy Award (art category); one of CBC’s Top 50 Champions of Change; Farm Sanctuary’s 2010 “Friend of Farm Animals” award; HuffPost WOMEN’s “Top 10 Women trying to change the world”; one of 20 activists featured in the book The Next Eco Warrior; and the “Shining World Compassion Award” by Supreme Master Ching Hai.

How can you get involved? Visit The Ghosts In Our Machine website to find out how you can help spread the message and help animals everywhere.

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About eatyourveggies

Christy Morgan, The Blissful Chef, has been tantalizing taste buds for years as a vegan chef, cooking instructor, blogger, and cookbook author. Find out more at theblissfulchef.com. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Stop by and say hello!
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