As a young child, Shannon Blair remembers going to pool parties and spending half her time setting up paper towel hospitals and rescuing bees and ants who were drowning in the pool. Her family even saved insects and spiders whenever they needed relocation or help. Her sense of empathy was instilled in her at a very young age.
A charming upbringing, Shannon grew up in a small town in Upstate New York with a population of under 500. As an only child, she remembers her youth fondly. Going to county fairs often, she spent most of her time with the farmed animals; adoring their cuddly faces and warm personalities.
Holidays were spent at her grandma’s house (on her mom’s side), where her mom’s sister’s family would always join them as well. Her cousin Aaron was the closest relationship she had to a sibling — and Aaron’s older sister Zoë was the cool older cousin whom she wanted to be just like.
In 1996, at the age of 9, Shannon’s ‘cool’ cousin Zoë showed up for the family’s Thanksgiving holiday and was now calling herself a vegan. Before the holiday dinner, she dared Shannon to not eat meat for the whole day. Enamored by Zoe’s rebellious nature, Shannon took the dare. “There was plenty for me to eat,” says Shannon, “everyone knows the sides are the best part anyway.”
Shannon’s grandmother had already prepared vegan dishes in anticipation of Zoë’s visit. This made it easier to not eat any animals on that day.
Shannon’s family was Italian on her mom’s side, so food was always a big part of their lives. The family would always enjoy a second dinner after the traditional holiday feast. This Italian supper included grandma’s vegan meatballs, which were “just as delicious as any other time, maybe even better,” said Shannon.
After supper, her cousin Zoë popped a VHS tape that she had brought with her from college into the VCR.
“What I saw changed my life forever, I immediately decided to never eat a sweet, innocent animal again!”
Shannon was off and running…
She remembers her grandmother generously donating to several animal-related organizations. In return, her grandmother would receive stacks of books and tapes which she would share with Shannon. A young Shannon would listen to and read them every time she visited her grandmother’s house. This would expose her to all types of animal species from all over the world.
“I’m so grateful for the empathy that my family instilled in me.”
Leaving the Nest
At the age of 17, Shannon left her family’s home in New York and moved to Florida. Working and attending school, she was already a very vocal vegetarian.
In her early 20’s, “a messy time in my life,” says Shannon, she gave birth to her first child.
A boy who would later become ‘VeganEvan.’
In 2015, at the age of 28, Shannon would finally learn the truth about the dairy and egg industries when a co-worker accused her of being a hypocrite. She was told If she wasn’t vegan she was supporting rape, kidnapping, and unspeakable atrocities. Of course, Shannon at the time had no idea. Offended by such harsh accusations, she decided to research the matter.
What she found out was horrifying! “My co-worker was right,” says Shannon.
“I was a hypocrite! That same night I watched COWSPIRACY on Netflix, and it reinforced the idea that I should probably try this whole vegan thing.”
This undoubtedly struck a chord with the younger version of herself, that little girl who spent her time at parties saving insects with her mom.
Shannon resolved to do something to help animals. She began reviewing materials she had gotten from organizations like FARM and PETA when she was a young vegetarian activist. She was inspired by what she considered an accident; discovering the truth about the dairy and egg industries lit a fire within her.
There is No “I” in Team
Inspired by her son Evan, then a mere 5 years old, they both immediately began planning strategies on how to become more involved and active in the movement…and they did!
Shannon’s first Animal Rights National Conference (ARNC) was in Washington, DC. This was a life-altering experience for both she and her son Evan. This would be the first time they were around a large group of people who shared the same goals, setting the tone for the future of their animal activism journeys.
Both Shannon and Evan were inspired, motivated, and invigorated. It was a learning experience for both of them. They networked with others, furthered their knowledge, and made lifelong friends.
Shannon’s first time visiting the largest slaughterhouse in the world, in North Carolina, was a very powerful day. Seeing the pigs being trucked in for the first time, and hearing their cries and screams, is something she says she will never forget.
“I was a complete wreck for the first 7 trucks, I could barely hold it together — I had seen the videos, but seeing them in person, while they were still alive, and not having the ability to help those individuals brought about new emotions and feelings for me.
That day, I also witnessed how corrupt our country’s legal and justice systems can be — officers arrested a dozen fellow peaceful activists and even beat one right in front of us (who happened to be the gentleman that Evan and I had traveled with from Florida to North Carolina). It was a shocking and eye-opening experience.”
“I have become very brave when speaking up for the animals,” says Shannon. “I think this is because I have seen so much suffering firsthand, and I know they need us.”
Other events Shannon has attended include her first-ever DxE’s Animal Liberation Conference (ALC) in California – another life-changing experience. Shannon and Evan participated in multiple trainings and intense actions in a very short span of time. It was the largest group of ‘boots-on-the-ground’ activists they had ever participated with.
They were also able to storm factory farms, occupy large businesses, and speak up for animals in an incredible way that just isn’t possible without the large numbers.
Shannon and Evan have also been fortunate enough to have been a hands-on part of rescuing many individuals. She recalls a special memory:
“One time, I was able to help rescue a chicken off a truck headed to the slaughterhouse. One of the crates had opened and the driver offered just one minute to try and grab him before he started moving again. It was a success, and “Leo” now lives happily at Blueberry Lane Sanctuary in North Carolina, where he receives so much care and love.”
As a mother, Shannon understands the special relationship she has with her son Evan and how he has inspired and motivated her through the years.
She says motherhood has been more amazing than she could have ever imagined, thanks to Evan. He is the most compassionate, sweet, rational being she has ever come across.
During our interview, I had an opportunity to speak with Evan and listen to his 11-year-old wisdom on animals, the planet, the animal rights movement, and how his approach to children vs. adults differs when discussing veganism. Speaking to a 50-year-old man squeezed into an 11-year-old body describes it.
Coincidentally Evan attends one of the world’s only plant-based schools – Solid Rock Community School, located in Tarpon Springs, Florida. This is by design, as his attendance was personally requested by founder Michele Fasnacht after she heard Evan and Shannon speak during a VegFest event. Shannon moved her family 3 hours away so Evan could be a student at Solid Rock.
Shannon is not biased when she says Evan has the ability to offer so much hope for the animals and for the future of the planet.
“As a son, from day one, Evan has always been an inspiration,” says Shannon. The morning after watching Cowspiracy, during their daily drive to school, Evan insisted on both becoming vegan. While Shannon was in the “Let’s try this vegan thing” phase, Evan replied, “If animals are being hurt, and I don’t need it, then I don’t want it.”
With Shannon’s support, at the young age of 5, Evan recorded a video only 22 weeks after going vegan. He was insistent on encouraging others to take a 6-week vegan challenge. This would inevitably become the precipice to ‘VeganEvan.’
For those of us who are familiar with ‘Vegan Evan’s influence in the animal rights movement, it has been his mother’s supportive nature and encouragement that has fueled his work and all of his success. Including his participation in the Million Dollar Vegan Challenge and AnimalHero Kids.
Their relationship is special because, as a mother-son team, they can talk about animal rights from a very interesting point of view. Especially when it comes to the horrifying way dairy cows and their calves are treated by the dairy industry.
As a nurturing mother, Shannon is genuinely happy with and proud of the decisions she’s made involving Evan at such a young age. Attending slaughterhouse protests and visiting farms, Evan has had more activist experience at the age of 11 than most of us will have in our entire lives.
With his mother by his side, Evan has been to the largest slaughterhouse in the world more times than he can count and stormed farms that supply Whole Foods and Amazon.
He has been to the largest pig farm in the United States and has had the opportunity to walk turkeys to safety. He has disrupted dozens of violent establishments and traveled to Glasgow for COP26.
He knows exactly WHAT and WHOM they are fighting for, and it doesn’t matter what anyone says to him — he knows what he does is right. Visiting nearly 30 Farmed Animal Sanctuaries throughout the US & UK, Evan knows that being a Vegan Animal Rights and Liberation Activist is the most important thing in the world.
As a mother in the movement, Shannon is fighting for her son’s future and the future of her expected baby girl, Saige. Due in May, Saige will enter the world as a vegan right from conception. Shannon hopes the future will be easier for Saige and she will not have to work as hard for the animals as Shannon and Evan have had to. This is what keeps her motivated.
The Forgotten Mothers on Mother’s Day
“Being a mother makes me especially empathetic and sympathetic towards the female animals who are often used as breeding machines or milk-producing machines in many animal agriculture industries. So many female animals are exploited for their reproductive systems, forced to carry babies, and then have their precious children ripped away from them. As much empathy as I have, I can’t truly fathom this happening to me. This is their reality, and it happens to them over and over again, until they are dead or deemed useless. I know the bond I have with Evan, and I also know how much love I already have for my unborn baby growing inside of my womb right now. This helps me speak out for the female animals — and for their babies.”
In 2020, when most of the world cowered in fear and pulled back their activism efforts, Shannon was determined to rethink her strategy in order to remain relevant and to continue to make an impact in the movement.
After rigorous brainstorming, Shannon, along with her peers Trey Morrow and Mikee Yago, created a solution. Their aim was to grow the AR movement by inspiring and providing new activists with the tools and resources needed to put their own skills into action.
Animal Activism Mentorship (AAM)
In April of 2020, the three founded Animal Activism Mentorship (AAM).
What Shannon has created with her co-founders has now become a global network of mentors and mentees all working together to help each other to be as effective as possible in whatever way possible.
All of the AAM in-person events that have taken place since then have been significant. There is also their Animal Liberation Hour podcast, Zoom workshops, training videos, and their campaigns, Done with Dairy due to re-launch in May and June as well as Signs for Change.
Shannon humbly explains AAM is mutually beneficial. One of the best ways she copes with “compassion fatigue” is by spending time with fellow activists, new and experienced, and working together to better help animals. AAM has filled a void for her and so many others during these unprecedented times.
In Shannon’s opinion, AAM has become an amazing tool for everyone involved…and as a mother, she has involved Evan every step of the way. She is grateful that he has been able to be a part of such an incredible process.
One of AAM’s own mentors had this to say.
“I joined AAM last year after I learned about their existence and mission. My first mentoring assignment was with a lovely individual living in Australia. We worked together for three months, meeting on Zoom every Saturday, discussing her goals and concerns as well as her misplaced sense of inadequacy relative to animal rights activism; I would offer suggestions and share my own experiences as an activist.
Ultimately, our work together was a growth experience for both of us; she was much more capable and involved than she gave herself credit for, and she was actually an inspiration for me as to how adaptable and transferrable our skills and ideals are!
AAM is a great resource for fledgling activists as well as a confidence booster for those of us who have been involved with animal rights activism, to share our experiences and insights with a new and growing wave of animal rights activists.” ~ Shemirah Brachah
Where Are We? Where Should We Be?
As Shannon and I discussed the movement and its current state, I got the feeling this woman, mother, activist, and heroine is a critical thinker.
“We don’t need to be best friends with everyone or even agree on everything, but we need to set aside our differences and work together for the animals,” she added.
She is concerned about the present state of the AR movement. As someone who has experienced depression for the past 2-3 years, she is disappointed in the drama and infighting. Shannon hopes we haven’t lost sight of WHAT and WHOM we are fighting for. She expresses hope though, knowing there still are many amazing organizations and individuals who continue to work together.
Shannon believes we as vegans need to arm ourselves with facts and information. She is very insistent that educating ourselves is a vital part of being a card-carrying member of the animal rights movement…and Shannon herself is no slouch in this department. When I asked Shannon how important a vegan world is, she confidently replied ‘with no notes in hand,’ with this:
“We need a VEGAN WORLD ASAP! Killing Animals is Killing Our Planet. I’ve been telling people this since I learned the information in February of 2018 — We are currently in the 6th Great Mass Extinction of Species on Earth, losing up to 200 species of wildlife every single day. We are down over 83% of wildlife and on track to have virtually no wild vertebrates left by 2026!
We are also on track to have fishless oceans by 2048. We’ve done more damage to the planet in the last 50 years than we’ve done in all of human existence (estimated 250,000 years), and it’s because of World Animal Agriculture. We cannot keep unnaturally bringing over 70 billion land animals into existence each year just to use and murder.
It’s common sense — every single one of these animals needs to drink water, eat food, flatulate, urinate, defecate, etc. The amount of waste produced is astounding — and far more than we, as humans, could ever produce ourselves. Greenhouse gas emissions are insane — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, methyl bromide — all by-products of raising animals for ‘food.’ We need to act fast; we are running out of time.”
Sharing her knowledge is a big part of what she and Evan do regularly. This mother/son team has spoken at over a dozen Veg Fests, multiple workshops for Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW), and countless animal rights marches.
As a mother, she has done all she can to make sure that everyone has a home. She believes everyone should find local activists to work with and share with. She encourages those who live in places where this is not so, to get it started. And if this is not possible, her Animal Activism Mentorship has got you covered!
Shannon believes most people are good at heart and therefore have a hard time admitting and understanding they are participating in something so violent towards the most innocent and vulnerable beings on the planet… so they just keep doing it, because it’s still the norm, and it’s too painful and inconvenient to accept the truth and change. She combats this by continuing to find the people who are willing and wanting to change, focusing on them.
“Do whatever we can to normalize veganism and activism — and make them Cool!” ~ Shannon Blair