Leah Garcés On Turning Adversaries Into Allies — Leveraging Empathy To Change Animal Agriculture

“My purpose is to reduce suffering.

Leah Garcés

Meat is complicated. Political, divisive and often polarizing.

The most common story focuses on cows. Perhaps the most ethically fraught of farmed animals, red meat production is an environmental disaster. It’s incredibly resource intensive. And linked to an array of human illnesses.

A common response? Swap that beef for chicken.

America’s favorite meat, chicken constitutes a staggering 95% of all factory-farmed animals. The U.S. currently consumes 9 billion chickens per year with worldwide numbers in the 50 billion range. That’s about 137 million chickens a day. Every day.

But is chicken actually healthier than beef? Is it more environmentally responsible or ethical in comparison to other alternatives?

Today Leah Garcés joins the podcast with a public service announcement: everything you think you know about chicken is wrong.

The new president of the international non-profit Mercy for Animals, Leah Garcés has spent her life on the frontlines of the animal welfare movement exposing what actually transpires inside industrial chicken farms. Devoted to improving conditions for factory-farmed animals, she has made significant progress not through a traditional strategy of antagonism, but instead by pursuit of cooperation, working alongside some of the largest food and agriculture companies in the world — including Perdue, Popeye’s, Panera & Chipotle — to produce positive change.

In her new book, Leah chronicles her experience teaming up with whistleblowers in the megafarm industry. Part memoir, part investigative thriller, Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry is a great read that not only elucidates the ills of our broken food system, but also casts an optimistic lens on a better future for food, animals, and humans.

This is a story about empathy. Not just for the animals, but for the people most animal rights folks consider the enemy: the factory-farmers; the slaughterhouse workers; and the corporate executives that control animal intensive farming.

Rather than fight against these people, Leah adopted a different approach, working with them instead.

It’s a tactic that might strike the hardened animal rights activist as anathema. Controversial and perhaps even unacceptable. But the cornerstone of the vegan movement is compassion. And lasting change can only come from directing that emotion not just to the animals, but to all — including the people behind the animals.

Today we unpack all of it.

It’s a conversation about the insidious reality of industrial chicken farming. An exploration of the modern-day farmer’s plight as an indentured servant. And the industrial complex that entrenches our broken and undeniable cruel system of food production.

But ultimately, this is a conversation about empathy. It’s about practicing what you preach. And the strategies required to create sustainable change to forge a better world for all.

The visually inclined can watch it all go down on YouTube. And as always, the audio version streams wild and free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Note: For those who shut down at the mere mention of animal rights, I ask only that you set aside your preconceived judgments. Because this conversation isn’t just about the suffering of animals. It’s about the suffering of people. And it’s about a system that is hoodwinking us all, including the chicken farmer with his boots in the ground.

Final Note: this conversation was recorded pre-pandemic on January 31, 2020. Our world has since changed. But given what we are learning about the relationship between large-scale intensive animal farming and the propagation of disease, Leah’s message, experience and wisdom is more relevant now than ever

I am grateful for Leah’s advocacy and passion. May you find this conversation as impactful as I did.

Peace + Plants,


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Thanks to Jason Camiolo for production, audio engineering and show notes; Margo Lubin and Blake Curtis for video, editing and graphics; portraits by Ali Rogers; and theme music by Ana Leimma.

*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.


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