- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Every winter, ducks and geese journey across the Earth to land where their babies will be warm but factory farm ducks and geese are caged behind bars and force fed to make them fat. The skies above them are endless, but these birds will never fly.

-That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, by Ruby Roth

When Los Angeles art teacher and illustrator Ruby Roth wanted to explain to her elementary school age students why she is a vegan, she found little in the way of teaching materials.

“The kids were curious why I did not drink the milk,” says Ms. Roth, who became a vegan — eating no animal products — in 2003. “When they wanted more information, I looked into finding a resource, but I couldn’t find anything that was not about a talking animal or vegetable. There needed to be a book that was not sugarcoated.”

Ms. Roth recently wrote and illustrated a picture book, “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians and All Living Things,” which, she says, explains how animals feel when they are crowded in factory-farm conditions. Each animal on a farm is contrasted with the animal in its natural, social habitat through entertaining drawings.

“All animals deserve the care and protection we give our pets,” Ms. Roth writes. “A factory-farmed pig may spend her whole life alone, fattened in a pen so tiny that she won’t even be able to turn around. … Pigs need the sight, sound, and touch of one another. … Love is part of their nature.”

Ms. Roth’s book, naturally, has been well-received by animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. However, a review in Publishers Weekly says, “Children may find the heart-tugging descriptions and images (such as the all-gray scene of jungle animals stranded in a charred wasteland or sad chickens ‘crammed into cages on factory farms’) a little overwhelming.”

Ms. Roth says she is trying to present an honest view of the treatment of animals.

“It is absurd to suggest that the vegan voice has to remain considerate to the meat-eating point of view,” she said in a phone interview. “On any day, how many times are children exposed to media messages that normalize meat eating? This is one little book against a gigantic machine of industry that wants kids to eat meat. Any kid knows the other side pretty much already.”

Ms. Roth says she has done many book readings and has never seen a child “who was overwhelmed or freaked out by the book.”

“I’ve found, in fact, the opposite,” she says. “Children show incredible interest and insight. They ask questions and relate the information to their own lives - their pets, their gardens, their vegetarian relatives. One fourth-grader told me that factory farms reminded her of what her class was learning about slavery. … When they find they can help save animals and the planet simply through their choices, action is not a question, but a conclusion.”

Research for the book was collected from zoologists, animal behaviorists, neuropsychiatrists, pet therapy programs, oceanographers, farmers and animal sanctuaries, Ms. Roth says.

“I wanted to provide examples of both the emotional similarities and the incredible difference in abilities between humans and animals, because either angle inspires compas sion,” she says.

The book covers all sorts of animals, even if they are not traditionally food: house pets, chickens, fish and rain-forest dwellers among them. Ms. Roth says she is trying to show that different people live different ways and that vegetarianism is just one choice people can make.

“From birth, most of us are exposed to programming that normalizes meat eating, from fast-food commercials to the USDA’s food pyramid,” she says. “We learn to see meat as a fundamental part of existence, no matter how destructive it is to our health and the planet. People are so deeply and emotionally attached to meat that they can’t imagine life without it. However, there are nations of people thriving on plant-based diets - and loving it.

“I see my book as anti-propaganda,” Ms. Roth says. “Children can’t make choices if they don’t know there are any.”

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