[PORTRAIT OF A VEGAN: JAMES ASPEY, ACTIVIST]
“I am deeply passionate about helping animals, the most oppressed victims of all time”
I first heard about James Aspey about a year ago when he made international headlines for refusing to speak for an entire year. He spoke his first words after his 365 day long vow of silence on live television. When asked why he did it, he responded: “The reason I took a vow of silence was to raise awareness for the voiceless victims of this planet – the animals. We all say we love animals and we all are against animal cruelty, but we pay people to mutilate, torture and slaughter animals and it’s not for any necessity, it’s not because we need to for our health. It’s just because we like the way they taste. So, I went voiceless because they’re voiceless – I thought – but then I realized, they’re not actually voiceless. They cry in pain, they scream in terror and when they do that, they’re using their voice to tell us they’re suffering. But the problem is, we’re not listening, because they have wings instead of arms, they have fur, they have scales. They’re a different species, so we don’t take their suffering seriously.”
In the year since ending his vow of silence, James has continued spreading the message of veganism throughout Australia and the rest of the world. He’s an inspiration to me and many others and being able to interview him has been an absolute honor and pleasure. Here’s what James shared about his experience, his life, surviving cancer at age 17, veganism and what inspires him.
“They’re a different species, so we don’t take their suffering seriously.”
For those who may not be familiar with you yet, could you tell us a bit more about yourself ?
I’m a life loving 29 year old from Sydney, Australia. For fun, I love to surf, skate, snowboard and party. I was a Personal Trainer for 8 years and worked on cruise ships giving health lectures and teaching classes around the world. My intention in life is to contribute to making this world a less violent, more peaceful place and also to be an instrument of truth and inspiration. I am deeply passionate about helping animals, the most oppressed victims of all time, achieve what they rightfully deserve – justice and respect.
What is “Voiceless365” and how did you get the idea?
In 2014, I took a 365 day vow of silence to raise awareness for animals and promote peace over violence. I travelled around Australia writing a blog and also cycled 5000 km’s from Darwin to Sydney. I named the campaign, Voiceless365. The inspiration came to me during a silent meditation called Vipassana which involved 11 hours of meditation each day, for 10 days. On the 5th day, I thought to myself, “Wow, this is the longest I’ve ever gone without speaking! I wonder how long I could keep this up? Imagine not talking for a whole year! That would be so hard… Actually, that could be a really effective way to raise awareness for a cause!”
What was the most surprising experience you had during those 365 days?
I spent 6 weeks at a rescue farm nursing a baby cow named Rupert after he was rescued from being shot in the head and having his throat slit. I had hardly spent any time with animals before this and it was through taking care of Rupert that I learned animals are so much more than I ever gave them credit for. For a long time I believed animals and humans were separate. I finally learned that an animal is not ‘something’, they are a someone. There is someone behind those eyes looking right back at us. My time with Rupert helped me understand that they are individuals. They have a heart and a brain, friends and family, wants and desires, just like us. They are our neighbours on this planet and their lives matter to them. It is only fair we treat them with the same respect that we would like to be shown.
When and why did you go vegan? Did you find it difficult?
Initially, I cut only flesh from my diet for health benefits and I thought that was good enough. After more research I learned it is not just flesh that animals are enslaved, abused and killed for. All the ways humans exploit animals is wrong, whether it be for food, entertainment, clothing or testing. Being vegetarian meant I was still part of the problem. I went vegan when I learned that it was the only way to align my core values of peace, justice and respect for others with my actions and until I did I would still be causing horrific and unnecessary suffering and killing of other innocent beings.
“I was absolutely shocked at how easy I found it.”
I was absolutely shocked at how easy I found it. I thought I wouldn’t have much food to enjoy and that I was making a huge sacrifice. I was definitely not expecting this, but I actually eat more delicious, satisfying foods now than ever before and I have gained so much purpose, confidence, peace and happiness from becoming vegan. There were a few times I found it challenging, like when I was trying to stop eating ice cream. I started forcing myself to think of the victims while I would eat it and also that every time I ate that food, I was the reason they were being abused and killed. It helped me want it less and less. Then I learned how easy it is to make delicious (and healthy!) ice cream out of only frozen bananas!
I read on your website that you were diagnosed with cancer when you were 17 and told you had 6 weeks to live unless you started immediate treatment. Luckily for all of us, you won your battle with Leukemia. What are the main lessons you keep from that time and how did the experience change you?
I learned that life is such a precious gift and to be suffering is one of the worst things in the world. Also, that life is a limited time only experience and we should make the most of it by being positive and contributing to the happiness of ourselves and the happiness of others.
“I’m inspired by kindness and generosity.”
What inspires you?
I am deeply inspired by dedicated and committed activists who stand up for justice and make sacrifices in their own lives for the benefit of others. I’m inspired by kindness and generosity. I’m inspired by people who make positive changes in their life. I’m inspired by the good in people.
What would you tell someone who might be interested in a vegan lifestyle but is scared of it or finds it too overwhelming?
I know it seems overwhelming. It felt overwhelming for me, too. You are going to be amazed how easy it can be, how delicious the food is and how much better you can feel. Knowing that your choices aren’t the cause of the suffering and killing of animals is amazing! If you aren’t already motivated to become vegan, then watch the following documentaries: Earthlings, Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy and 101 Reasons to be Vegan.
“It is going to be one of the greatest choices you ever make in your life!”
If you’re already motivated to become vegan, then my advice would be to stop thinking about it and do it! Every non-vegan choice you make in the meantime is hurting animals. Make a vow to yourself like this one. “From this day on, I vow to be vegan.” There is so much info online and so many groups willing to support you. You will become part of an inspiring community that is growing every day! The animals deserve it. The planet deserves it. You deserve it. It is going to be one of the greatest choices you ever make in your life!
“We’ve all been taught that harming and killing animals is normal and necessary.”
Why do you think many people get defensive when it comes to ethical veganism?
Veganism is proof that exploiting animals is completely unnecessary. It makes it impossible to justify! It forces people to question why they are still paying people to use and kill animals for foods and products they clearly don’t need. Sometimes people get defensive and take it personal, but it isn’t personal. We’ve all been taught to love some animals and kill and eat others. We’ve all been taught that harming and killing animals is normal and necessary. There are two choices: Get defensive and continue being on the side of violence, injustice and oppression towards innocent and vulnerable beings, or be on the side of peace, justice and respect. Non-vegan, or vegan. There’s no third option.
Can you walk us through a typical day of vegan meals?
Breakfast: Banana ice cream + peanut butter.
Snack: Avocado, salt and pepper on toast.
Lunch: Satay tofu rice paper rolls + roast potato wedges.
Dinner: Thai green curry + tofu and brown rice.
What’s your all time favorite vegan dish?
Sweet: Choc-chip pancakes with banana ice cream, chopped strawberries and maple syrup
Savoury: Indian veggie masala with potato, peas and mushrooms!
[Banana Mango Ice Cream Recipe: 1. Blend frozen bananas and mango with big splash of almond/rice/soy/oat milk. THAT’S IT!]
If you could give people just one piece of advice, what would that be?
Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
What do you want to be remembered for?
Inspiring great change in this world.
Your favorite quotes?
“Speak up for animals the way you would want to be spoken for, if it was you in their situation.” – Gary Yourofsky
“Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” – Bible
“Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act.” – Albert Einstein
“Because the heart beats under a covering of feathers, scales, wings or fur, it is, for that reason, to be of no account?” – Jean Paul
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi
James’ first words after 365 days of silence: