CHARM

Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement

Dr. Faraz Harsini

June is Pride Month and we had an opportunity to talk with one of the brightest minds in the animal rights movement and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Dr. Harsini’s personal sacrifices and commitment to the animals and the movement is unprecedented. Founder and CEO of Allied Scholars for Animal Protection (ASSP), Dr. Faraz Harsini is a scholar, scientist, mentor, educator, public speaker, and philanthropist.

We sat down with Dr. Harsini to offer our readers a peek into his extraordinary life and to learn how he is making major strides for social justice and youth seeking a career in the field of medicine.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I grew up in Tehran, Iran, as the only child in a middle-class family. My mom was a true believer in the power of education, and she went to great lengths to support my learning journey. She even sold her jewelry and some of our household items to afford my piano lessons and ensure I could attend a good high school. 

My parents are divorced, and my mom is the only family I have left in Iran. However, due to my identity and the work I do, such as advocating for LGBT rights, it’s not safe for me to return to Iran. This means there’s a real possibility that I may never see my mom again. It’s a difficult situation, but we both understood the sacrifices we needed to make for the sake of my freedom of speech and my ability to speak out against oppression, whether it’s affecting humans or animals.

At what age did you become vegan?

I became vegan at the age of 22, right after completing college. Initially, I transitioned to a vegetarian diet without being aware of veganism. However, after a year, I learned about the realities of the dairy and egg industries and made the decision to embrace a fully vegan lifestyle.

How was veganism introduced to you?

Veganism was introduced to me through a conversation with a friend. She gently pointed out that it’s contradictory to claim love for animals while still consuming them. Although her comment initially upset me, it got me thinking about the ethical implications of my choices. A few months later, I decided to become vegetarian.

Around that time, I was also advocating against the purchase of goldfish as part of Persian New Year celebrations. It’s a tradition to keep live goldfish in water tanks, symbolizing life and freedom. Ironically, many fish suffer and die during this process. My friend told me that I make no sense because I’m advocating for this fish while I literally eat fish! This realization played a significant role in my journey towards embracing veganism.

What circumstances led you to become a doctor and a champion for the animals?

I have always questioned what I can do with my life to make the greatest impact. Initially, I entered the field of biomedical sciences with the intention of saving people, especially after volunteering in cancer hospitals and witnessing the plight of cancer patients. However, during my cancer research and studies in biomedical sciences, I came to realize that many of these diseases originate from animal consumption. 

Numerous diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, zoonotic diseases, and antibiotic resistance are directly linked to animal consumption. It became evident to me that promoting a plant-based diet would be the most effective way to save lives. Additionally, as I delved further into the subject, I discovered the harsh reality of animal cruelty and exploitation prevalent in various industries. Witnessing the unnecessary suffering endured by animals deeply impacted me, and I could not justify advocating for anything other than animal liberation.

As I always say, show me something more impactful in terms of saving lives and reducing suffering, than promoting veganism, and I will quit what I do today and I will go do that!

Did you have any vegan family members or friends to inspire and support you?

The day I decided to go vegan I had precisely zero vegan friends, in real life or even virtually. I was so uneducated about what to eat that I literally thought I have to eat lettuce and tomato for the rest of my life.

However, my passion for animal rights led me to volunteer for multiple animal rights organizations. I became a PETA campus representative and was even recognized as the campus representative of the year. I made it a point to attend every animal rights conference and event.

The nearest major city around me with any animal rights events was 6 hours away from me, so I used to drive 6 hours just to attend and volunteer for a few hours before I came back to my city.

Today I have many like-minded people around me who don’t compromise for animals. They are good friends and if I feel discouraged or lose the courage to speak up for animals as well as I should, my friends hold me accountable and always push me out of my comfort zone to be the best advocate for animals as I can be.

Do you feel being a doctor makes it easier for you to encourage veganism?

Having a doctorate in biomedical sciences certainly provides me with a unique perspective when it comes to discussing veganism. My entire doctorate was studying proteins, so I definitely love when people ask about where vegans get their proteins from. It’s not too common that an animal rights activist gets to say “I’m glad you asked, I did my entire doctorate on this, let me tell you!”

However, I believe that promoting veganism is not solely dependent on having a doctorate or formal education. What truly matters is the passion and dedication we have for animal advocacy. There are many effective and articulate animal advocates who may not have formal education but possess the drive to create change. I always encourage individuals, regardless of their background, to utilize their education and skills to promote veganism, as it is one of the most impactful things we can advocate for.

What is the most significant experience you have had as an animal rights advocate?

As an animal rights advocate, the most significant experiences for me are the instances where I have directly influenced individuals to pursue careers or dedicate themselves to animal advocacy. It is truly impactful when someone witnesses my advocacy work, such as tabling or engaging in animal advocacy activities, and as a result, decides to change their major or career path to work full-time on animal advocacy. These moments emphasize the importance of being vegan and speaking up whenever we have the opportunity, as we never know whose lives we may impact.

Moreover, receiving emails and messages from people who have gone vegan because of my activism or something I shared on social media is incredibly satisfying. It is heartwarming to hear from high school students, as well as medical doctors, who credit my activism for inspiring them to become animal advocates themselves. I strongly believe that we need more vegan activists in the world, not just more vegans. Being able to inspire others to find their voice and actively participate in animal advocacy is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work. It is why I joined AAM (Animal Advocacy Mentorship) – to inspire and train other activists, amplifying the positive impact we can make together.

What other activists inspire you or have inspired you?

There are several activists who have greatly inspired me in the animal rights movement, including renowned figures such as Ingrid Newkirk, Paul Bashir, Gary Yourofsky, Ed Winters, and Gary Francione. These individuals fearlessly speak the truth and refuse to compromise when it comes to advocating for animals. Their dedication and unwavering commitment to the cause are truly admirable, and if I were an exploited cow, I would want advocates like them fighting for my rights.

However, some of the most inspiring individuals I’ve come across are not famous. When I receive messages from high school students seeking my support to make a difference in their schools, and witness the positive results they achieve, it fills me with inspiration. Similarly, when students reach out to my non-profit organization, Allied Scholars for Animal Protection, to seek support in becoming effective voices for animals, it motivates me immensely. Additionally, seeing my friends who face various challenges, such as homelessness, transgender issues, and family problems, still manage to maintain their veganism and speak up for animals is incredibly inspiring.

Volunteering and organizing events for Anonymous for the Voiceless has played a significant role in my personal growth and effectiveness as an advocate. It has transformed feelings of depression and powerlessness into a source of empowerment and inspiration. Through these experiences, I have learned the power of effective outreach and have been inspired to continue my activism for the sake of animals.

What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated is the potential to change lives. Every day, I wake up knowing that behind the walls of resistance and negativity, there are genuine and compassionate individuals who are ready to embrace veganism. It’s the thought that by speaking up, I can reach them and inspire positive change. Additionally, I recognize that there are many vegans who may not yet feel the urgency to actively advocate, but with the right conversation and encouragement, they can become powerful advocates themselves.

Above all, I am motivated by the understanding that if I remain silent, countless people will miss the opportunity to learn the truth about animal exploitation and the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. I cannot bear the thought of lost opportunities to make a difference. This awareness fuels my determination to speak up and empower others to join the movement for a more compassionate world.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, do you find animal rights to be an easy sell within your circle of influence?

In my experience, I have found that individuals who have experienced discrimination, such as those within the LGBTQ+ community, are often more receptive to understanding the concept of speciesism and animal rights. Discrimination, whether based on race, sexual orientation, or other factors, shares a common root in focusing on differences to justify oppressing others. This shared understanding can make it easier to engage in conversations about animal rights within my circle of influence.

Moreover, individuals within the LGBTQ+ community tend to be more inclined to be authentic and true to themselves, rather than conforming to societal norms that may be harmful. 

Breaking free from societal conditioning and questioning established beliefs requires a certain level of courage and open-mindedness, traits that are often present in the LGBTQ+ community and in individuals who challenge societal norms.

Can you describe 3 major benchmarks in your story that are responsible for where you are today?

Firstly, the decision to go vegan, which was sparked by a friend challenging the inconsistency of claiming to love animals while still consuming them. This fundamental shift in my lifestyle and values set the foundation for my journey as an animal rights advocate.

The second benchmark was joining the Cube of Truth organized by Anonymous for the Voiceless. This experience introduced me to like-minded individuals and revolutionized the way I approached animal advocacy. It reshaped my perspectives on effective strategies, such as focusing on veganism rather than animal product reduction, and emphasized the importance of ending animal exploitation rather than temporary measures.

Lastly, a pivotal moment was realizing the missed opportunity to organize and unify the animal rights message in universities. This led me to establish my non-profit organization, Allied Scholars for Animal Protection (ASAP), which aims to address this gap. By expanding ASAP and establishing chapters in universities, we can bring consistent outreach, education, and empowerment to both vegans and non-vegans. The goal is to make veganism accessible on campuses and support students in becoming future leaders in various fields. This realization has ignited a passion to make a significant impact and marks the beginning of what I believe will be the most impactful work of my advocacy journey.

In what ways are you a different person today?

I have learned to always push myself outside of my comfort zone because that’s the only way that we can do better and get things done. I also have learned to look at obstacles as things that can only slow me down but not stop me. The only thing that can physically stop me would be my death. But when I’m successful, even my death wouldn’t stop the work I have started! 

Name the top 3 life lessons you have learned thus far being an activist.

 

1- no one will change if they are comfortable. For us to help people change there needs to be a degree of lack of comfort. We are told that any negative reaction to our outreach means that we are not effective. But that’s not true. Many people get upset first when they’re faced the truth, but they will change. That includes myself as well.

2- Even the best animal rights advocates are humans, and as such have insecurities and they can compromise for animals when it comes to their personal life. I often see animal rights advocates get into relationships with non-vegans. I don’t say vegans shouldn’t date non vegans, I think everyone deserves a chance. But after some point it’s not possible to fight for animal liberation when our partners are literally the problem we are trying to solve. Most importantly, many advocates lose their voice and fire when they are in relationships with non vegans. They often lose their courage and they compromise for animals. Relationships have to be fruitful. The right partner is the one who will hold you accountable and encourages you to do better and become a better advocate, not the other way around.

3- Life is not about what we want to do, rather what we need to do. I’ve done things that I really enjoy, such as working in a lab developing therapies for diseases. But the mission was not fully aligned with what I wanted to do which was promoting veganism, especially knowing that many of the diseases I ever worked on were caused by animal consumption to begin with. 

Today, I don’t enjoy the nature of a lot of things that I do, but I do that happily because I believe in the mission and I know if I don’t do them no one else would. When it comes to outreach, I’m the most introverted person ever, and the last thing I want to do is to go on the street and talk to people about their diet. But I do it because someone has to. Because animals need me to. It’s not about what I want to do, it’s about what needs to be done and what needs to be said. 

What do you think of the relationship the vegan community has with other social justice communities?

I think as our movement is becoming more inclusive, we should proactively invite other movements to be just as inclusive about animal rights. There definitely lies a lot of potential in other social justice movements. We should help them to see that we can never reach a just world for as long as we are oppressing members of other species. For as long as we bully and harm people of other species, we will not find peace and justice amongst our own people. 

Since it seems a profound interest for you, can you discuss animal testing and how we can encourage the medical world to do away with these practices?

Animal testing is both inhumane and hindering scientific progress. It is crucial to advocate for its discontinuation in the medical world. Animal testing is outdated and lacks relevance to human biology. Fortunately, there are now better alternatives available that are more accurate, reliable, and ethically sound. These alternatives are also faster, cheaper, and safer for humans.

To encourage the medical community to move away from animal testing, we need to focus on education and raising awareness. It is important to speak up against animal testing, whether in classrooms or within companies. Supporting organizations like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and promoting policies that promote alternative methods is also crucial.

At what past events have you been able to tell your story?

The AVA Summit, Food transformation course at Harvard, talks at MIT, Columbia, UT Austin, International Animal Rights Conference,  climate march, and more. 

What advice do you have for young activists just getting started in the movement?

For young activists just starting in the movement, I have several pieces of advice. Firstly, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Even if you feel unsure or inexperienced, remember that practice makes perfect. If outreach is an area of concern, I recommend watching workshops by organizations like Anonymous for the Voiceless, which provide practical tips and make outreach more accessible for everyone.

Secondly, view veganism as an ethical standpoint, similar to other forms of injustice. Before advocating for something, ask yourself if it aligns with your principles and if you would recommend it for any other form of oppression. Consistency and integrity are crucial in effective advocacy.

Remember that you can be firm and respectful at the same time. Honesty and sincerity are often respected more than pandering. Speak your truth with compassion and understanding, but never compromise for the well-being of animals.

Lastly, strive to incorporate animal advocacy into your life and career rather than treating it as something separate or on the side. If making it a full-time career isn’t feasible, consider donating your time, skills, or financial support to the movement.

Any advice for true animal lovers who want to become medical professionals?

We definitely need more health care professionals to speak about the benefits of whole food plant-based diet. But just like anything else the true impact is to be a vocal advocate. For instance you can be a doctor who sees a few patients or you can be someone like Dr. Neil Barnard. We need more physicians and healthcare professionals who tell the public about benefits of a whole food plant-based diet, that it is perfectly possible to be vegan and healthy, there is no reason for anyone to consume dairy, egg, or other animal products, and work on policies to remove these harmful products from dietary guidelines.

We also have to educate the public that many top causes of death and major global threats to human life and public health are linked to animal consumption. 

What would you change about the movement and how we interact with each other?

If I could change something about the movement I would put more emphasis on organized outreach, for instance in universities where we can long-term change the outcome and help students choose impactful careers and become the future leaders. I would also put more emphasis on abolition of discrimination rather than spending all of our resources on temporary measures that at the end of the day make people feel better about consuming animal products. 

What are some additional challenges you feel the movement and the vegan community are experiencing?

One challenge is the temptation to prioritize appealing to the masses over doing what is morally right. The effectiveness of a movement should not be solely based on its popularity, but rather on upholding its core values. History has shown that leaders like MLK and Gandhi achieved success by staying true to their values, even when they faced resistance.

Another challenge is very little money is donated to animal causes, and the majority of that money goes to cats and dogs, and the majority of what’s left goes to temporary measures such as giving chickens an extra inch of space. There is no money left for fundamental work aligned with vegan values. There is so much talent and potential in universities which goes to waste because we don’t have a strong presence in universities. We waste a lot of energy trying to work with politicians that don’t care about animals. But if we had invested in universities and trained the future leaders, today we would have had more people like Cory Booker, Eric Adams, and other impactful politicians. This is exactly what I’m trying to address with ASAP. 

Any advice for vegans when they are judged and criticized by friends, family and co-workers?

Don’t be afraid of judging or being judged. Of course we will be criticized because we are going against the flow. Animal cruelty is the most normalized form of cruelty and oppression and it’s rooted in culture, tradition, religion, etc. Don’t expect it to be easy, it is challenging, but we have to do it. Your approach may change depending on whom you’re talking to, with friends and family and colleagues it can be a different strategy than with a random stranger on the street. But at the end of the day, whatever you do, speak up because in the face of injustice silence is not an option! Use anything in your power.

How would your friends and family judge you? Will they call you judgmental or rude? Remember that vegans are just like a mirror, we reflect other people’s cognitive dissonance and misalignment between their actions and values. Of course no one likes to see that, that’s natural. And no one wants to change, so they naturally want to resist and one way to do that is to call you rude or judgmental. 

But please don’t let that stop you from speaking up! There is nothing wrong with judging, we only have to judge righteously. If someone is beating a child in front of us, we will take action immediately without being worried about being judged! We may even consider getting physically involved to protect the defenseless child. When it comes to promoting veganism we are literally using the most peaceful way, our words, trying to educate others on what happens to voiceless animals. 

At the end of a conversation we should ask ourselves were we the activist animals want us to be? Did we say everything we had to say? Or were we worried about our own insecurities and discomfort?

What keeps you going?

Making the world a better place and promoting veganism!

What frustrates you the most about your work? How do you overcome it? 

Facing ignorant people and trolls can be draining. And like any other movement there are setbacks. At the same time I try to focus on the bright side. Focusing on people that I have already changed and the lives I will touch if I keep going. Also recently there seems to be more propaganda by the dairy, meat, and egg industries. While at the surface this can be frustrating, it shows that we are transitioning to the next level of our fight in animal liberation. Remember, first they laugh at you, then they fight back, then they will change. So the fact that I see dairy and meat industries so desperately promoting propaganda, more than ever, means that they are taking us seriously and are threatened, as they should be. Because no evil lasts forever. 

Do you experience compassion fatigue? How do you overcome it?

Rarely nowadays, it used to be more in the past when I didn’t have a good supportive community and like-minded people around me. Also while I thought I was a good activist, I really wasn’t. My outreach before joining anonymous for the voiceless was very inefficient and as such I felt very disappointed many times. But today I get to see how easily I can make people vegan compared to the past, and I see the results and things like that keep me going.

That being said, there are days that I feel down and I think we are human and there’s nothing wrong about feeling sad and tired. But what I do is to acknowledge the tiredness and sadness and remind myself that it’s still harder to be in place of animals exploited every second of every day, deprived of every right they have. So it’s good to acknowledge our sadness but the most important thing is to keep going despite some days that we feel down. Because if we stop speaking up then who would?

Are you willing to talk about any new projects on the horizon for you?

I’m very excited that ASAP is starting new student chapters in many universities, like MIT, Harvard, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Texas A&M, etc. I’m really looking forward to working with some of the most dedicated and determined students in the coming semesters and years, and organizing effective animal rights advocacy throughout all universities in the US before going international.

I’m also excited about bringing plant-based physicians to medical schools and ensuring that every healthcare student gets educated on benefits of whole food plant-based diet. 

To meet Dr Harsini in person, join FARM at Planet Bethesda on Sunday, June 4th from 12 Noon to 6:00 PM at Elm Street Park located at 4600 Elm St., Bethesda, MD where he will be one of many leaders in the animal rights movement speaking about all the many benefits of a vegan lifestyle. 

Follow Dr. Harsini and ASAP on social media:

ASAP:

Allied Scholars on Twitter and Instagram

Dr Farsini

Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIN

 

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Celebrating Heroes in the Animal Rights Movement (CHARM) is a micro-program of Farm Animal Rights Movement FARM.
Do you know an ethical vegan who practices an abolitionist approach to animal exploitation, still active in the movement, has an interesting story to tell and is an unsung hero to animals and their vegan community?  We would like to hear about them.
 Suggest a candidate for a future CHARM feature below.

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