Actor Peter Egan helps dogs in war zones, welcomes foxes to his garden and is deeply moved by the plight of moon bears. He also abhors factory farming. Last week, we met up with our newest patron to discuss farm animals and the future of food.
We’re sitting in the dappled shade outside the café at Stepney City Farm in the heart of London’s East End. The sound of traffic from the roads encircling this three-acre plot is drowned out by the lively chatter of visitors and volunteer farmhands, as well as intermittent noises from the chickens, ducks, pigs, donkeys and goats who live here.
Peter Egan is with us, visibly charmed by the cats who are basking in the sunshine in front of us. The celebrated TV actor, who has appeared in everything from the 1980s sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles to ITV’s much-loved period drama Downton Abbey, spends most of his spare time campaigning against animal cruelty.
“I'm passionate about animals and their lives and freedom...and the fact that animals do not belong to us. We have no right to treat animals the way we do”, he says.
Acting and animals
Arguably, the two dominant forces in Peter’s life in recent decades have been acting and animals – he’s been rescuing dogs with his wife for the past twenty years (they have six at home). But it’s in the last five years that he’s started dedicating much larger portions of his time and energy to the cause, helping several charities spread the word.
“I wish I'd got into animal welfare earlier, because I think I could have made a greater contribution to it when I was younger and I was on television a huge amount of the time”, he says. “But what I love now is having whatever degree of celebrity I have, and using it energetically and in the most positive way possible.”
One thing a day
A great example of Peter’s energy and positivity is his “one thing a day for animal welfare” Twitter initiative, which encourages people to do something every day to help ease the plight of animals, whether it’s a practical, hands-on step or simply helping to get the message out there. And although the actor does an awful lot more than that himself, it’s a powerful rallying cry and a great way to get people involved.
“Often people say to me: ‘I feel so helpless – I don't feel like I am doing anything!’. So I say: ‘You can do one thing, you can share this. Just share it. Even if you've got 20 followers…. And don’t stop!’”
The madness of factory farming
Peter, a committed vegetarian, is vocal in his views on the evils of factory farming – not only for animals, but for the planet and everyone living on it: “It’s not sustainable”, he declares. “I think that industrialised farming of any kind is totally ‘anti’ our planet. Totally ‘anti’ the health of the individuals on our planet.”
The actor discusses how factory farming’s behind-closed-doors culture has “disconnected” people from their food, and praises the urban farm we’re sitting in, which helps people to “relate a hamburger to where it comes from, or a slice of bacon”.
Questioning society’s bizarre habit of perceiving companion and food animals differently, Peter highlights the sentience that unites so many living creatures: “Once you...look into any animal’s eyes and you realise that they are receiving you, you start to wonder – do all animals function in the same way? And of course they do.”
Changing the world
Despite the actor’s horror at the treatment of animals all over the world, listening to him talk is an incredibly uplifting experience. And that’s because, above all, he is hopeful that things will change.
“Education, education, education! All change is about education”, he declares. “I believe that animal welfare should be part of the curriculum in all schools.”
But it’s not just about giving children the right information, he insists – adults also need to be better informed, in order to make better choices at the checkout.
“This government has got to insist that all meat is labelled...so people have a choice. The government has a responsibility to all those people who...choose to be compassionate and eat well-sourced meat...they have the right to know that they can choose and support their belief.”
A final word
Peter describes himself as “animal-welfare ‘glue’” because he holds together so many discussions on the issue – and it’s easy to understand why. This is a man who lives and breathes animal welfare, who travels the world to ease the pain of all kinds of creatures, and whose impassioned remarks on the subject cannot help but move you.
If you take one thing away from our conversation with the ardent animal-welfarist and popular TV actor Peter Egan, let it be this: “Insist on knowing how your food was produced...everything has to be designed with the future in mind rather than the present, if we are to sustain the planet. And it’s a wonderful planet.”
We’re delighted to have Peter as our newest patron and look forward to continuing our work with him to raise awareness about the wrongs of factory farming.