A few months ago a good friend told me about this funky new book called Thanking The Monkey by Karen Dawn that “I just have to read.” Now even though I’m a loudmouth vegan who preaches the gospel to tens of thousands each day, in real life I hardly have ANY vegetarian friends. So you can imagine how impressed I was that a book which reexamines the way we treat animals had managed to catch the attention of my omnivore compadre. Long story short: I bought the book and by page 30 I’d contacted Karen to set up an interview.
Besides being endorsed by just about every heavyweight vegetarian celebrity out there, Karen Dawn has most recently received praise from the Washington Post and NBC. As the founder of DawnWatch, Karen was given the Farm Sanctuary’s 2008 Outstanding Activist for Farm Animals Award. Dawn recently sat down with Ecorazzi for an exclusive interview and shared with us a BRAND NEW star-studded promo video. Enjoy!
Hey Karen! So great to have you on the site! Now I know you’ve been involved with animal rights for a while, but tell our readers what prompted you to sit down and write Thanking The Monkey?
People who enjoy DawnWatch would sometimes ask me when I was going to write a book. But our movement already has so many wonderful books! Then a friend of mine at a major publishing house went to work for a division aimed at the “18-35 Celebrity Driven Market.” And I realized our movement sorely lacked a book aimed right there. Though I am a little older than that market, I am hopelessly immature — I still watch the VH1 top 20 every Saturday morning and a friend hosts it. And my writing style, while not for morons, has a casual feel, probably well suited for a younger audience. So one morning, in the shower of course, I envisioned a warm, friendly, hip animal rights book, packed with cartoons and gorgeous art and quotes from thoughtful celebs. My friend’s division didn’t end up picking it up, but there was loads of interest from other houses. Harper Collins bought it and Thanking the Monkey was born — an animal rights book aimed at the college crowd, who like some levity with their lessons — or a few beers with their health food.
It’s been estimated that right now on earth there are more vegans and vegetarians than any other time in history. Are people finally starting to make a connection between diet and the world around them or is this all just one big trend?
It is definitely a trend — the whole Green thing. A terrific trend! Trends often become part of solid mainstream thinking and behavior and I am sure that is where we are headed with vegetarianism. We aren’t going to have a choice. The esteemed naturalist EW Wilson has said that the earth could support about 2.5 billion people on a standard American diet and about 10 billion people on plant based diets. Well, there are a lot more than 2.5 billion folks in the world, and even those who don’t care much about animal issues have some interest in feeding all the people, so we are going to have to change our ways. How perfect that compassion for animals and people turns out to be directly linked. I have always said that compassion is not species specific — now that is becoming true in a practical and literal sense.
Ok, this question’s two-fold. What I loved most about Thanking The Monkey was that it offered tons of hard facts and really meaningful information all kind of baked inside this delicious little congenial read. While I’m always pro-vegan, I’ve very publicly expressed my distaste in the somewhat archetypical screaming plant-eater approach to long-term, successful change. Is the animal rights world finally embracing new tactics and did you purposely write the book in a friendly, approachable tone?
Yes, the animal rights movement is coming of age, and looking fabulous! We are seeing groups like the Humane Society of the United States grow ten million members strong. They don’t call themselves an animal rights group, but as they recommend plant based diets and phasing out animal testing, who cares? And you see HSUS using a warm, approachable tone — no in-your-face tactics. Such tactics certainly had their place but they may now have seen their day as animal rights is no longer a fringe issue. We don’t have to risk alienating potential allies in order to attract attention. We have attention. The last chapter of the book, Compassion in Action, discusses effective activism and inadvertently explains my approach with the book: It documents social science experiments that show that while you can scare people into changing their ways, if you want the change to stick, you have to make them want to change, and feel that they have chosen to change, rather than that you forced them.
You’ve done a great job at getting a slew of celebrities to endorse your book. From Gloria Steinem to Bill Maher, Emily Deschanel and David Duchovny, the famous folks seem to LOVE your work. What do you think makes you so popular with the big wigs of Hollywood?
Well, I live there, so I know those folks. And I have always been involved in acting circles. When I was a starving musician I was dating starving actors. Now that I am older and not starving my actor friends are working actors, which is great, because they can do a lot to help spread the good word. And they appreciate the opportunity to help. I sure don’t take that popularity” personally! Actors (or talk show hosts or whomever) are people, and some of them are activists — we call them “actorvists.” And they love the chance to come to a function and answer questions on the red carpet about the link between diet and global warming instead of the link between diet and dress size!
The Farm Sanctuary just recently gave you the Outstanding Activist for Farm Animals Award, the Washington Post is basically in love with you and VegNews thinks you’re dreamy. The iron seems to be hot right now! What’s next for Karen Dawn?
Ha ha. I think Veg News is dreamy too! And so is Ecorazzi! You know, it is true that Washington DC treated me and Monkey beautifully. I have a whole lot more travel coming up in October — back to New York and DC, on to Nashville where I have never been despite my musical aspiration history, then off to the Vegetarian festival in Orlando. But I have actually done very little so far in my current home town, Los Angeles, so I am going to focus my attention there in September — do some readings and shows, and hang out with my beautiful canine companions.
Last question…and this one’s just for fun. If you could go back in time and meet any famous pioneer of the vegetarian movement who would it be and why?
George Bernard Shaw without a doubt! Even before I found out he was vegetarian I always thought he would be a great person to have dinner with — fun and witty. But I have been told he didn’t drink. And sadly, Dorothy Parker, my other fave, who famously said “Three martinis I am under the table, four I am under my host” wasn’t veggie. Could I have cocktails with Dorothy and dinner with George?
Here’s Karen’s new promo video. Besides previous commentary by Alicia Silverstone and 13 other green celebs, the video has been recently updated and features Jorja Fox, Daryl Hannah, Isabel Lucas, Heather Mills, Esai Morales, John Schneider and Hal Sparks.
Don’t forget to pick up Thanking The Monkey at your favorite bookstore. Seriously ya’ll, it’s a magnificent read!