Everything you need to know about Veg Fest speaker Jo-Anne McArthur

Last week, we introduced our speaker line up for Veg Fest 2012. Now, we are going to introduce this year’s personalities through a series of Q&A interviews.

The NCVA’s Dee Campbell-Giura interviews Jo-Anne McArthur, an Ottawa-born and raised photographer who will be coming to Veg Fest from Toronto. Jo-Anne was named one of CBC’s Champions of Change in 2010, among other accolades.

Read on…

Jo-Anne with a little primate.

Dee: HuffPost Women named you one of 10 Amazing Women Trying to Save the Planet. CBC named you a Champion of Change for your work on the We Animals project. Farm Sanctuary named you a Farm Animal Friend of the Year. And you’re only 35! (right?) To those who think they just don’t have it in them, what advice can you offer?

Jo-Anne: Yep, 35! 🙂  Well, about achieving some success and recognition with the We Animals project, I think I’m just uber focused on the many issues of our abuse of non-human animals. There’s a lot to do and many amazing animal organizations to work with, so, why waver? And we all need to know that every single decision we make counts. Everything we do makes a difference. Where there is compassion, there is hope! 


Dee: You photograph brutality, and document investigations, animal releases, and our relationships with animals. After seeing all that, how do maintain such positivity?

Jo-Anne: We’re living in exciting times. “Vegan” is now a word that people know and understand. Changes are happening. People are making more compassionate decisions about animals. I see a lot of positive feedback from the work I do. If my work was sitting on a hard drive and no one wanted it, I’d be depressed. However, it’s the opposite; I get requests for photos almost daily, from groups who want to use images from We Animals to help get their message out. The work I do is useful and that keeps me moving forward. I won’t deny it’s very painful to see so much horrendous and unnecessary animal abuse though; I feel pretty dark sometimes. 

Calf in Toronto.

Dee: We Animals is in its 14th year. Do you have any plans you can share with us? We promise to tweet it. We have 357 followers.

Jo-Anne: I hesitate to say it’s in its 14th year. I thought of the project in 1998 but it only started becoming what it is a few years ago (seven or eight years ago?). There are endless plans for We Animals. There’s no end to the organizations to work with, investigations to do, ideas and stories to share. Quite often I can’t share the plans until the investigation is executed but I can say that I’ll be abroad quite a bit this year, and there is also a book in the works. And, of course, filming for the documentary “The Ghosts In Our Machine“. 

Dee: You must have many memorable experiences, from ecstatic to terrifying. Tell us about a few?

Jo-Anne: Yes, there are thousands of stories. Doing an investigation in a pig factory farm and realizing on our way out that we were walking on hundreds of severed pig tails which littered the floor, probably docked that day.  Seeing one of our Sea Shepherd boats get  cut in half by a Japanese whaling ship in the Antarctic. The constant sorrow of leaving so many animals behind after shooting a story or an investigation. The joy of open rescues and sanctuary visits. Meeting playful bears and joyful chimpanzees who’ve been rescued from the cages of torture within our medical and research systems. I’ll let my photos tell those stories; they do it best! 

Sad pig.

Dee: At what age did you change your diet, and what prompted it?

Jo-Anne: I became vegetarian at about age 23 when I realized I didn’t want to eat my friends. I wish I could have gone veg sooner, but I didn’t know other vegetarians and I thought it would be really hard. I became vegan April 1st, 2003; my first day as an intern at Farm Sanctuary  🙂  Interns are required to live a vegan lifestyle while volunteering at the Sanctuary. I thought it was a bit extreme and that I would just do it for that month. What I learned was that there was immense peace that came with ending my consumption of animal products and that I would never ever go back to that lifestyle! I also learned that I don’t lack for good food, and if anything is extreme, it’s our present animal agricultural system, not veganism! 

A goat being led to slaughter.

Dee: How did change in diet + talent in photography = We Animals?

Jo-Anne: I realized that I could combine my talents and passions to help try to make the world a better place for animals. There were some key moments as well when I was in a situation where I knew I was seeing things differently than everyone else around me (we animal rights people all have that! Normal things seem crude and freaky to us, like animals used in entertainment, the meat section of the supermarket, Canada Goose jackets, etc). I realized I could document the way *I* was seeing things, and share that perspective with others.


Dee: Who or what would you like to photograph? Your photo-bucket list, if you will.

Jo-Anne: I’d just like to keep having more amazing experiences with animals and people around the globe. Actually, here’s one: I’d like to be the person to photograph the rescue of the LAST bear in a bear bile farm, ever. I’d like to document the closing of all the brutal industries we put animals through. Think I can live that long? 😉  I know that one day my photos will be considered an unfortunately large archive of what was once, and will never be again. I’d like to keep photographing history. 

Mink at a fur farm.

Dee: When you’re on the road, what are your must-have backpack foods?


– Vega!

– Vega!

– Vega!

– Vegan multivitamins

– Peanut butter

– Emergen-C

Dee: Can you tempt us with some teasers for your talk at Veg Fest?

Jo-Anne: I love sharing the photos and stories of the individual animals I’ve met along this journey with the We Animals project. It’s a way of honouring them, and of moving people deeply, getting them excited about change. It will be an honour to introduce the people at Veg Fest to the likes of Ron, a chimp who was rescued from biomedical research by Save the Chimps, and a beautiful sun bear named Arkte, who loves peanuts and being with his friends. The stories are sad but the true focus is the change and the joy, and about how we can all make such a huge difference. 


Dee: What question do you wish interviewers would ask, but rarely do?  

Jo-Anne: Some people have trouble thinking of how they too can help animals. So, a great question could be “How can we all help animals?” – a few answers here! 🙂 http://weanimals.org/howtohelp.php

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