Vegan Fight! Activist Doesn't Want PETA Getting Credit for Vegan Meals in Jail

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​Last month, SFoodie discovered that if you're vegan and you go to jail in S.F., you can get vegan meals. Eileen Hirst, chief of staff at the Sheriff's Department, told us that vegan food in S.F. county jails came about because of vegan PETA protesters who were arrested in antifur protests in the '90s.

We're sure that news prompted celebrations all over the Bay Area, but at least one person was infuriated: activist Anita Carswell, who called up SFoodie to set the record straight. PETA had nothing to do with getting vegan food in jails, she says; the credit belongs to her and her organization, In Defense of Animals.

In an e-mail to SFoodie, Carswell writes:

PETA had nothing to do with this vegan victory. Gerard Livernois who worked for In Defense of Animals (and where I work to this day) was serving a concurrent six month sentence for pieing [Mayor] Willie Brown and for a anti-vivisection sit-in at UC Irvine. He was vegan and not served vegan food. He went on a hunger strike and after a long campaign by independent animal rights activists in SF, Act Up San Francisco, and In Defense of Animals, Sheriff Hennessy sent a letter confirming that the SF Jail would start serving vegan meals.

PETA also have nothing to do with the anti-fur demonstrations at Neiman Marcus. As a co-founder of Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade San Francisco and an activist with Animal Rights Direct Action Coalition who has done anti-fur demos in front of Neiman Marcus weekly for almost ten years, and an employee of In Defense of Animals who organized Fur Free Friday locally for years, I can assure anyone reading this that independent activists formed this CAFT group.

Carswell also sent us an article to prove her involvement in Livernois' arrest and subsequent sentence.

SFoodie called up Hirst, who said she couldn't recall exactly who had been protesting, but that after Livernois and the antifur maybe-maybe-not-PETA protesters were arrested, the sheriff's department was flooded with mail from around the world asking them to serve vegan meals. "We got over 200 letters, with many of the writers identifying themselves as PETA," she says.

Hirst added that besides Act Up and In Defense of Animals, the Biotic Baking Brigade was also involved, providing the pies that were used for pie-ing Brown. "There's credit to spread in many, many places," says Hirst.

SFoodie also called PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to inform the group that its involvement was being disputed.

"I think PETA did start the protests years before any other group came along, not that it matters, and I can't swear by it, but what I do know is that at some point a group started to specifically target Neiman Marcus ... and then we called out our members to join them at their demos. I remember being part of those demos myself," Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, responded to SFoodie via e-mail. "I regret that's all I recall as it was long ago, but I'm happy to let anyone take credit for it if they would like to!"

So PETA is happy to share, or even give away, the credit -- everybody should be happy now! If anyone else would like to chime in and tell us about their involvement in the crusade to get vegan food in jails, please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section below.

Now that that's been cleared up, the only question lingering in SFoodie's mind is this: Were the pies used to pie Willie Brown vegan pies?


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19 comments
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Jorge B-C
Jorge B-C

Good job Anita Carswell! Although I understand some of the sentiment that it all goes toward vegan awareness it is important to give the individual/organization the credit they deserve. PETA has been influential but they don't control or influence all of the animal rights movement. The ARE others who contribute. Thank you Ms. Carswell for your contribution.

Logic Lover
Logic Lover

Vegans are people too.  Should they not expect credit that they deserve because it would look bad towards vegans, even though any other person would want it too?  When credit is owed, credit should be given.  And this is a prime example of how the media will paint a simple correction to their article as a big fight so they can get more ratings/followings and excuse their own journalist mistake in the process.

Murry J. Cohen, M.D.
Murry J. Cohen, M.D.

I beg to differ with eatmorebrusselsprouts. Vegans, of which I am one, are no more or less credit hungry than anyone else. Everyone would like that his or her efforts in correcting a wrong be appreciated and acknowledged. Vegans, although more compassionate to the planet, to other animals, and to themselves than other people, and in that sense, more advanced, still have the very human need to be rewarded for their successes, not with money, not with fame, not materially, but rather with acclaim from their peers, as well as from feeling the thrill of the little voice inside that says “job well done”. Being empowered and validated by the admiration of other, like-minded people helps to accomplish this. Eatmorebrusselsprouts is incorrect in assuming that, if Anita Carswell didn’t focus on and correct the problem, then someone else would have. It is just that attitude that results in the apathy, passivity, and blind acceptance of injustice that seems to be endemic among Americans. It takes caring, individual initiative, persistence, and guts to oppose what is considered to be an acceptable norm in our society, and most people do not possess these virtues. Anita Carswell does. There is a good chance that, if she would not have stepped up to the plate and insisted on vegan meals for Gerry, he would not have survived, and, contrary to eatmorebrusselsprout’s assumption that someone would have done so, we would now be mourning Gerry and beating our breasts, wondering why someone didn’t rise to the occasion. Well, Anita Carswell did. Murry J. Cohen, M.D.President, In Defense of Animals

Ryan Moore
Ryan Moore

I'm certainly infavor of activists and organizations working together; however, I don't feelit's petty to expect credit where credit is due.  I work full-time foranimals and volunteer as well.  I do the work I do for the animals, but Ialso do it to earn a living.  Like all humans, I want to be recognized fordoing good work.  Vegans want to earn A's in school, get raises andpromotions at work and want to be winners in sports and other competitions.  Yes?

Eatmorebrusselsprouts
Eatmorebrusselsprouts

A victory for animal rights is a victory, but this article makes it look as if vegans are credit hungry. I agree that PETA is an organization that gets credited (and BLAMED) for lots of things it didn't do. However, this publicity seeking from Ms. Carswell isn't becoming and the tone of the letter is negative toward other animal groups working toward a common goal. It's one thing to have someone else stand up and say, "Hey, I think you should give some credit to XYZ." It's another thing to appear greedy for credit. It's childish, petty and takes away a little bit from the victory and the spirit in which the deed was done. It doesn't matter who did it, as long as it got done.

Christine Garcia
Christine Garcia

Cheers to the animal rights movement of fellow activists striving for the same end goal:  To End Animal Exploitation...  It's an awesome movement of compassion to be a part of ~  Nonetheless, I am happy to see a fabulous long time activist like Anita Carswell receive kudos when I know she often does work for our animal friends and rarely receives a pat on her back.  Rather, I know she has received her un-fair share of scrapes and bruises along the way ~ Way to go Anita, my inspiration to go vegan =)

Lidia Belknap
Lidia Belknap

I remember Anita and Gerry campaigning for vegan food in jails back then - don't remember a slight involvement of Peta in it.   In response to the question about money spent for jail food: who pays for the food for vegans: vegans or taxpayers, I would like to note that in my understanding most of the jails are supported by taxpayers: by those, who pay taxes.  Anita and Gerry and many other vegans are taxpayers, BTW.  At the same time animal agribusiness is heavily subsidized by taxpayers money.  We all have to pay a lot to keep the meat, dairy and egg industries to stay extremely profitable while they are ruining our Earth, our health and exploit and kill sentient beings.  Vegans have no choice so far to not participate in that.  If someone worries about the government spending money on "special meals" for vegans - vegan food requires in average 10 times less resources and it is way less expensive than conventional, animal based food. 

fearnot
fearnot

do the vegan groups bring the food to the jail for the prisoners .. or does the taxpayer have to provide special meals for prisoners?

Rick Bogle
Rick Bogle

Eeesh. Not Alec, Alex Pacheco. The details matter.

Rick Bogle
Rick Bogle

Although everyone working in a movement might be justified in feeling that they can take at least some credit for every victory and advance, it is also important to preserve and record  history as accurately as possible. We celebrate Rosa Park's efforts and would be rightly miffed if someone else claimed to have started the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Closer to home, Ingrid and Alec are responsible for exposing Taub's hideousness, not someone else. Although in both cases, all champions of an individual's basic rights can rightly feel some pride in these victories.

The San Francisco jail provides vegan food to everyone not willing to consume the standard meals because of Anita Carswell's work on behalf of Gerard Livernois. Those of us who were there at the time know this is as a matter of fact.

Although Anita tries to share the credit with IDA, IDA's involvement was entirely due to Anita's untiring efforts. PeTA and IDA have both done great work, and I personally feel a shared pride in all their accomplishments -- those I contributed to and those I did not.

As a reader and writer of the history of the animal rights movement, I depend on an accurate record of that history and believe that a failure to recount and record it as it happened does a serious disservice to those who will read and write about it in the future. 

Carla Brauer
Carla Brauer

The sad fact is that your average person assumes that everyone who uses the word "animal" and "rights" in the same sentence is a card-carrying PETA member. Just another unfortunate stereotype, as there are a lot of small, independent groups and individuals (Anita included) who work their butts off without the backing of a giant organization. Grassroots groups in every type of activism get the short stick from lack of name recognition and resources.

Lpauleau
Lpauleau

I was working at In Defense of Animals when vegan meals were provided to San Francisco county jails. I remember Anita Carswell talking endlessly with the jail about getting Gerard Livernois vegan food. It was a long and dedicated effort by Anita and IDA.

It's true that it doesn't matter who gets the credit, but so many times whenever there is a victory, the press or the public assumes it is PETA. There are so many countless other animal rights organizations who work diligently, with less funding, and with just as much heart and dedication as PETA. We are a huge community!

margobun
margobun

I remember when all this happened and Anita worked her butt off to get vegan food for Jerry and other prisoners. Great job Anita!

fearnot
fearnot

all prisoners should be forced to eat vegan foods.... leave the good stuff for the rest of us..

Ingrid Newkirk
Ingrid Newkirk

I think the confusion comes from the Neiman Marcus part:  I believe PETA started the demos in Washignton DC against NM, and then Compassion over Killing came along and took over entirely when PETA moved its HQ to Virginia, but for a while we were all out there, multiple groups, it was great. I can't speak to SF, but I can speak to the fact that there should be a sense of joy that we are all out there in different ways, getting veganism into everywhere from cafes to jails and getting fur out of everything from closets to stores.  It is a diverse movement, with lots of different actions and methods and even opinions but we are all united in a common cause and our biggest challenge is to enlist more and more people who can take all the credit for everything they do. 

Parma Guardian
Parma Guardian

Glad to see Anita get the credit she deserves.  She is probably the best animal advocate in the entire world, and it is completely understandable for her to feel strongly about something she speant so long on.  Keep up the great work, Anita!  Also, glad to see In Defense of Animals (IDA) get mentioned.  People like to think PETA first, but the great people at IDA are some of the best and toughest fighters for animals.  Get involved with IDA, and you will not regret it!

Sarahjane Blum
Sarahjane Blum

Yes, it matters very little who gets the credit, but the fight to get people vegan meals in keeping with their deeply held ethical beliefs goes on across the country.  Our organization, Support Vegans in the Prison System, fields inquiries from inmates nationwide who are having trouble getting vegan options while incarcerated.

Anita Carswell
Anita Carswell

Thanks SF Weekly! And yes, the pies the Biotic Baking Brigade used were all vegan!

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