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June 30, 2008

A Personal Commitment to Quantum Wellness

Any strong social movement must have foundational ideals. And the cause of animal protection is indeed built on time-tested iron struts. The trick is, though, to translate these ideals into practical action. When you consider the scope and intensity of human-caused cruelty to animals—in the forms of factory farming, animal testing, the killing of animals for clothing and accessories, recreational killing of animals, and so much more—there is an urgent moral imperative to change the circumstances for animals. At the end of the day, HSUS is about putting our ideas into practice, inculcating humane values, and embedding them in the law and in our culture.

That's why I've always particularly admired writers whose works have activated people and demonstrably strengthened our movement. Very few books will ever have the impact of Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation." Accessible in its prose, logical in argument, and jarring in detail, it triggered a wave of grassroots animal activism still being felt 33 years after its original publication. Matthew Scully's "Dominion" did remarkable work in drawing conservatives into the cause of animal protection, dampening their hostilities, and reclaiming for our cause the long-accepted virtues of human mercy and responsibility in our dealings with animals.

In an entirely different way, Rory Freedman's "Skinny Bitch," has been something of a popular cultural watershed, with more than a million copies sold to women of all ages, especially girls and young women, and sometimes shocking them with irreverent language and straight talk to get them to rethink their diets and to shun meat-eating.

Kathy Freston, Quantum Wellness Now comes another kind of book that's apt to create a ripple effect with a long radius. I'm speaking of Kathy Freston's "Quantum Wellness." Her book is not an animal protection manifesto, though she does embrace vegetarianism in an unhesitating and powerful way. She writes, "Eating the 'omnivorous' diet that is a part of our modern culture requires that we wear blinders to the immense suffering involved in delivering animal protein to our plates." But her book reaches far beyond the boundaries of conventional animal protection. It is a practical guide to living well—a self-improvement plan of action that, she argues, also yields improvements for the larger society. In a personal way that engages the reader, Freston addresses the way we work, have fun, exercise, eat, and relate to others. It's back to the basics, but in working to strengthen the individual, we build a healthier society.

When she writes about diet, and her own metamorphosis, I felt like she was speaking for me. When I went vegetarian and then vegan 23 years ago, I did not feel like it was a sacrifice or a chore. Rather, I felt liberated and empowered. When I remedied an emotional disconnect in my life, I added vigor and clarity, and I have the same ardor for change that I had two decades ago.

Freston's discussion of emotional wellness also rang true for me. In 20 years in full-time animal protection, I've seen many people come and go. Bad lifestyle habits shorten the advocate's productive lifespan. Unhealthy eating habits sap us of strength. Emotional tumult and turmoil distract us and cause us to lose our focus. Many others simply quit the cause because of an inability to deal with the pain of knowing what animals go through.

When we as individuals make a larger commitment to wellness, as Freston encourages us to do, we inoculate ourselves from these threats. We live longer, we work harder, we are more appealing ambassadors for animal protection. It's all connected, and for us to be the best advocates, we have to live well and be well—in mind and body.

And here she brings a realistic approach. Seldom do we read a book and follow its prescriptions without fail. We adopt changes at different rates, if at all, and there are roadblocks along the way. Freston urges patience, for ourselves and for others in our lives. She has it exactly right. We must balance impatience for the change with a tolerance for individual circumstance.

Freston has been a best-selling author, and "Quantum Wellness" has also been fantastically successful in its opening weeks. It's again number three on the New York Times best-seller list for hardcover books of its type. Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey are fans, and both had Freston on their programs within recent weeks. Both women are now publicly experimenting with veganism, and the cultural impact of their embrace of the book and its message is hard to overestimate.

I recommend reading this book, since there's something in it for each one of us. Those on a mission to protect animals need to find balance in their lives and a broader commitment to wellness to keep them strong and focused on the challenges ahead. In giving us "Quantum Wellness," Freston has made a wonderful contribution, and I'll be doing a Question & Answer with her on the blog sometime in July.

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