This time last year, I was holding one of the first copies of Farmageddon hot off the production line, anxiously wondering what the world would make of its release a month later. After all, the words now wrapped in a glossy white cover were the culmination of three years research into the world of industrial agribusiness, a journey I embarked on with political journalist, Isabel Oakeshott. After what has been one of my busiest years ever, I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception.
Farmageddon was launched on a February night in a packed London bookshop, with Joanna Lumley declaring it ‘food’s An Inconvenient Truth’. It gained widespread media acclaim in the UK and beyond with the icing on the cake being selected as one of The Times writers’ books of the year.
It’s truly been a ‘roller coaster’ year of literary festivals, conferences and other speaking engagements, all excellent opportunities to get the word out about how factory farming affects animals, people and the planet. In all, I’ve done more than 40 speaking engagements in six countries throughout the year.
Literary festivals were a new experience for me and a great opportunity to talk to fresh and diverse audiences. It was inspirational to speak to such engaged people at every event. I spoke at Ways With Words in Devon, Swindon Festival of Literature, and Bristol Festival of Ideas and many more. A real highlight was speaking at the prestigious Hay Festival of Literature – one of the largest and best-known festivals in the world – in conversation with Boris Johnson’s food advisor, Rosie Boycott. Also at Hay, I took part in a debate with the National Farmers Union’s vice president, Guy Smith about the pros and cons of intensification.
Another high point was in the US where I spoke at the Decatur Book Festival, the biggest independent book festival in America. It’s an exciting gathering of 600 authors and many thousands of literary enthusiasts. I was honoured to be one of a dozen chosen for special profile at the festival and to be joined by the iconic Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, the man who I featured in the solutions chapter of Farmageddon.
Making waves in Europe
I wrote Farmageddon to get the message out that we don’t need factory farming to feed the world. Among the people I wanted to reach were the decision makers. I was delighted to have a number of opportunities to speak in Brussels, the decision-making heart of Europe.
In February, I spoke at a special conference hosted by the Greek Presidency of the EU which picked up on the Farmageddon theme. At the event entitled, ‘Averting Farmageddon: Sustainable food for all’, I explained that the biggest cause of food waste on the planet is feeding human-edible crops to farm animals and that we need to get farm animals back on the land where they convert what people can’t eat – grass – into what we can – meat and dairy products. I shared a platform with Olivier De Schutter, the then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food who spoke passionately along similar lines.
In June, I spoke at the Eurogroup conference: ‘Putting animal welfare at the heart of the EU’. At the conference I was thrilled to be awarded for being an “outstanding campaigner” for Farmageddon and bringing the debate over sustainable food into the mainstream.
International audience for an international issue
In April, Farmageddon was launched in South Africa with events in Cape Town and Johannesburg. While there, I presented South African retailer Woolworths with a Good Egg Award. Woolworths became the first African retailer to receive a Good Egg Award for its ongoing commitment to leading the free-range egg industry in South Africa. By September, I was back in South Africa to give a keynote address at a leading agricultural industry conference in Pretoria: AMT South African Agricultural Outlook Conference 2014.
From South Africa, it was on to Toronto, Canada, where the book was launched thanks to publisher, Penguin. It was a trip that was met with more national media coverage and gave me some great opportunities to meet up with fellow campaigners.
In June, I was honoured to deliver the opening keynote address to more than 1,000 people at the Taking Action for Animals conference hosted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in Washington. I was joined on stage by the wonderful Paul Shapiro of HSUS for a memorable discussion about how factory farming will end because the world can no longer afford such a wasteful, inefficient and inhumane way of producing food.
September saw Farmageddon launched in India where I spoke at the India for Animals Conference organised by the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO). Government minister Mrs Maneka Gandhi spoke strongly about the need for action on farm animal cruelty and praised Compassion for being one of the best lobbying organisations for animal welfare.
2015 is set to be another busy year. I am thrilled to be taking part in a debate at the prestigious Oxford Union in January as well as speaking at the rival Oxford Real Farming Conference taking place in the Town Hall. I’m currently sifting through a number of speaking invitations for next year – so watch this space for further details – and starting work on my next literary project… all to be revealed!
But most importantly, looking forward to making the interest generated by Farmageddon count for farm animals through working with you and the wonderful team here at Compassion.
Thank you so much for all your support, wishing you a very merry Christmas and hoping to see you in 2015.