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PETA Volunteer Spotlight: Samuel Hartman

The following article was written by Lauren Stroyeck, PETA’s Action Team coordinator for volunteers in the U.S. from Minnesota down to Texas.

Samuel Hartman is an activist, a writer, and a vegan living in Louisville, Kentucky. He works with local sustainability organizations to promote green living and is an active member of the Louisville Vegetarian Club, a group now in its third year and thriving. Sam enjoys just about any form of physical fitness, including biking, weightlifting, rock climbing, and running, and his love for these is surpassed only by the giant vegan meals he eats afterward. He lives with his fiancée and their two rescued French bull dogs, Peter and Clover.

Here he is in his own words:

How did you first hear about the animal rights movement, and what made you get involved?
My first entrance into the more political and ethical side of veganism was through a book called Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating by Erik Marcus. I read this book shortly after going vegetarian, and it, along with the support of my friends, helped me go fully vegan. Since then, I’ve been influenced by Peter Singer (as well as abolitionist Gary Francione), Jonathan Safran Foer, and countless other authors and scholars who have taken the time to write about the ethical imperative of not exploiting animals.

With veganism, I found that I could be deeply passionate about something and instill that passion in other people. Veganism, while profoundly important, was also the catalyst to simply be an activist: to stand up for something, to not be afraid of looking weird or different while holding a sign or (in the case of PETA) laying half-naked in 28-degree weather in front of a meat-packing plant to protest the slaughterhouse and factory-farming industries. When I made the realization that it was actually quite easy to abstain from eating animals, I felt it a necessity to fight for that cause. Going vegan was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

You’ve been volunteering at PETA events for several years and were a big part of PETA’s Kentucky Fried Cruelty campaign in KFC’s hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Can you tell us about your experiences with PETA? What are your favorite memories?
I was introduced to PETA through campaigner Lindsay Rajt, who played a large role in the anti-KFC work here in Louisville. We did a lot of great demonstrations, including the “scalded alive” one with the blood tank as well as serving vegan chicken nuggets and, of course, waving signs and banners. For a while, PETA bought the office across from KFC just to show graphic videos in the window. I also helped move Matt Prescott’s tombstone out of the city after the cemetery realized that the first letters on it spelled out “KFC Tortures Chicks.” There’s been a lot of work against KFC, yet they continue to use antiquated animal “welfare” standards and serve up millions of dead chickens every day. Until they stop, we won’t stop.

Other PETA work has included demonstrating at the Southern Baptist convention—dressed up as Jesus, which was quite ironic for an atheist—and passing out the totally awesome “Animals Belong in the Wild” coloring books at all the local circuses. The last time we did that, the Shriners were not too happy and had the police run me out. In general my work with PETA has been very positive, and all the staffers I’ve met have been totally down with the cause, as well as genuinely good people.

A few months ago, you helped me with a demonstration against killing animals for their skins in which you and two other female volunteers bravely stood in your underwear inside coffins holding posters that said, “We Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Wearing Animal Skins.” I think the fact that men as well as woman participate in sexy and naked PETA demonstrations gets overlooked most of the time. What kind of reaction have you gotten from your participation in these kinds of events, and what are your thoughts on their effectiveness?

I agree, whenever PETA gets flak for their “sexism,” it’s always sexist in nature! People assume they only want half-naked girls in the demonstrations, when the two I’ve participated in and hundreds that countless other men have participated in speak otherwise. Not only that, but all of the women I’ve done these demonstrations with have been strong, courageous individuals who were fully committed to ending animal exploitation. We weren’t being exploited: We are using the fact that skin, nudity, or anything “taboo” draws attention. Attention to what, you might ask? That fact that animals are being bred, tortured, and killed, simply for their skin, including up to 3 million mink alone in the U.S. each year. Millions of animals die every year, simply for what the public believes to be “fashion.” That’s an injustice and one worth drawing attention to, in my opinion.

As for the effectiveness of the sexy/naked demonstrations, I’ve had the most random encounters with supporters at demonstrations. People you wouldn’t expect come up to say “Good job” or go to a vegan potluck that my friends at the Louisville Vegetarian Club put on. People make the decision to go vegan in a day, a week, or sometimes years, but seeing a radical visual will often make them think. I am not under the delusion that they are “shocked” into veganism immediately, but it often takes the planting of an idea—and PETA is quite good at this—to blossom into a full-on belief later in life.

What do your friends and family think about your activism?
My immediate family, consisting of my mom and fiancée, are incredibly supportive. My mom actually ended up going vegan about three years ago and never looked back. She was raised on the typical American diet, but with a strong emphasis on local foods, gardening, and canning. For her, eating plants was something she’d already been doing for her whole life, so it was just a matter of removing the meat and dairy. The same thing happened with my fiancée, April: She went totally vegan after we spent enough time together and she saw how easy it was. Her love of rescuing dogs and adoption promotion allowed us both to focus on outreach in that area and veganism in general.

Granted, a lot of my friends probably think I’m radical or “out there” (you know who you are!), and that’s fine. Life is about balance, and I tend to balance the friend group by being the boisterous (but compassionate!) vegan. I have a lot of vegan friends across the board, from militant to passive, but even my nonvegan friends recognize it’s hugely important to me and respect my decision. I will say that the majority of them, over time, have become accustomed to eating vegan food, so it’s been wonderful to expand their horizons with new plant-based food choices.

Are you vegan or vegetarian, and what’s the story behind your decision?
I’ve been vegan for a little over six years, and as I previously described, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Every time we eat a meal, we can be an activist, and I thank veganism as well as the countless friends who showed me that eating plants can be awesome, for turning my once apathetic-life into one of passion and compassion.

You run a very informative blog called “The Nail That Sticks Up” about “people, things, and ideas that are changing the world,” including the increasing importance of going vegan. Can you tell us about your vision and inspiration for the blog and the story behind the blog’s name?
The blog was born out of a desire to have some sort of outlet for all the cool stuff I would find on the Internet, usually in some progressive or vegan lean, as well as kind of be a guide for those looking to live a more sustainable and compassionate life. The name is part of the Japanese phrase “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down,” which relates to their culture: one of conformity, discipline, and properness. A friend was recounting his recent visit to Japan and how everyone lines up, no one cuts in front of you, and all actions are done with so much humility and order. While I appreciated that, at the same time, I felt a weird patriotic desire to “buck the system” as I do so often here. I relish that—the idea of the nail sticking up—and the phrase really stuck with me.

Merely a week later, my boss at the time told me to reprimand a fellow employee for simply asking about how she was to be paid. He said, “She is a nail that sticks up.” I sympathized with the employee and hounded the boss about the information—she deserved to be paid, after all. Soon after, he fired me, and that’s when I realized that I was the nail that stuck up. The blog title quickly wrote itself and the content tends to follow that theme: people or ideas that buck the system, are doing something radical, or are trying to make a change.

What are your favorite foods?
Like most vegans, I love food! My favorite is still pizza or a good stir-fry. I love using Daiya to melt on top of some veggies and marinara sauce, and I’ll eat stir-fries with Tofurky sausages all day long. I’m a sucker for all the vegan junk food out there, like Dandies marshmallows or Go Max Go candy bars, but I try to keep my diet pretty healthy, and during our summer and fall, Louisville has an abundance of local produce. We also have a really strong vegan-friendly restaurant scene, so there’s no shortage of good eats when we go out either.

Thanks so much for chatting with me. Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to the World Wide Web?
You’re welcome! Thank you, Lauren, for all the work you do for animals. It’s my hope that some of the “passive vegans” out there will give activism, and PETA, another chance. We’re really on the same path, one of not letting our fellow animals be killed for food or used for entertainment and research. While I enjoy philosophizing and talking about the ethics of animal rights, we have to wake up to the reality of how many billions of conscious creatures are killed each year. This is what we need to change, and groups like PETA and concerned individuals around the country are making a huge difference. For those travelling to Louisville, come say “Hi” at a Louisville Veg Club meeting or eat at one of our delicious vegetarian restaurants!


Interested in getting active? Contact Lauren at [email protected] and join the Action Team!

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