“Making the kind choice becomes this gift” – Molly Elwood – Elwoods Dog Meat CEO – Sentientism Ep: 175

Find our Sentientist Conversation here on the Sentientism YouTube and here on the Sentientism Podcast.

Molly is a writer, copywriter, editor, creative strategist and an animal rights activist. She is Founder and CEO of the non-existent farm, Elwoods Organic Dog Meat.

In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?”

Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the YouTube video above the audio is on our Podcast here on Apple & here on all the other platforms.

We discuss:

00:00 Clips

01:35 Welcome

03:20 Molly’s Intro

– Writing, copywriting & animal rights activism

– 15 years in advertising

– Starting the #ElwoodsOrganicDogMeat web site: “a vegan journey… through their own cognitive dissonance… to the realisation that they love animals and they actually don’t want to eat them.”

– Going viral

– “I think everyone’s #vegan already… I don’t think they’re given the space to act on that… not given the moment to give it the thought… this gives them the chance to make all the vegan arguments that are already in their heart”

05:39 What’s Real?

– Not going to church growing up

– Occasional visits to Lutheran church “but I didn’t know what was happening… thinking the pastor was Jesus because he had long hair.”

– Dad: “There’s just too much work to be done to waste a Sunday doing this”

– Hearing of child abuse by a pastor

– “It was never an #atheistic view… we never even talked about it… just ‘this isn’t our family – this isn’t what we do'”

– Parents in military. Travelling a lot, long hours “just going through the day”

– At 12 yrs moving to a small, rural town “everybody was religious – I felt pretty left out”

– Attending church youth group in high school “it was the boys and singing I wanted to go for 🙂 – I really wanted to fit in. I got a Bible and I read it.”

– Asking youth group leaders questions: “If you can tell me what happened to the dinosaurs… why my parents are going to hell… why animals don’t have souls… Once you’ve solved those for me… I’m ready to be baptised!”

– “Let’s isolate her away from the children… she’s asking too many questions.”

– “It doesn’t make any sense… Christianity had me in their palm and they rejected me”

– “Going through the motions” in church youth group

– At college youth group became a lot more religious “I realised this was not a group for me and I couldn’t use this as my vehicle to belong.”

– “#Spirituality and #religion  was never… even today is not part of my life”

– Reading “The Buddha Got Stuck” then psychology

– “I find personal growth to be my kind of spirituality”

– A difficult time growing up “I was bullied… I was a bully… I have a lot of self-work I have to do”

– “As we explore ourselves and find more peace with ourselves then we can be more at peace in the world”

– “We all deal with so much suffering… if we understand ourselves we can heal a lot more in the world than we ever do through spirituality”

– #trauma and “chips on our shoulders”

– “We can make the world a lot better through personal growth than praying”

– JW “We can have the benefits of spirituality without the spirit and without the supernatural”

– The harms of supernatural beliefs via established religions, new age movements, wellness spaces, #conspiracy #conspirituality

– JW: Spiritual bypassing of issues and ethics “just manifest” (Jonina Turzi episode)

– JW: Risks of motivated reasoning among animal activists & vegans “veganism cures cancer!”

– JW: Animal exploitation fabrications “animals can’t suffer”, “animal farming is humane”

– “I did a lot of online activism… I had all of the facts…”

– Building Elwood’s Dog Meat: “What is the one inarguable fact… animals suffer… and you as a human would not want this to happen to a dog… if you can just agree on this one thing everything else [health, climate, tradition…] just goes out”

– “This is the one thing I think all humans can agree on – that if I had a dog in front of me right now I would not kill it [them] for no reason”

– The risks of getting bogged down in details vs. the ethical clarity

– “The other person wants to be right and will keep arguing… but they won’t argue about pain… I found a lot of strength in that.”

– JW: “You’re starting from their values… they already know”

– Taking the other side as Elwood’s “‘You can step on a dog’s foot and they don’t even feel it.’… and dog lovers will go ‘no’… and then they argue it for me.”

24:15 What and Who Matters?

– “Veganism really became my moral compass in the last 7 years… it just opened up my eyes to the concept of doing less harm and being kind… the low-hanging fruit that you could do every day”

– “Growing up and realising you’re not the centre of the universe”

– “I was bullied and I was a bully… I behaved in a way that… what can I get away with… how can I get ahead?”

– Self-reflection, seeing a psychiatrist “that helped”

– “I was not sentimental about animals when I grew up – I cared about them… I’d rescue birds… but I also went fishing and I went hunting with my family”

– “I couldn’t shoot the deer… I couldn’t do it… I fished but I couldn’t kill the fish”

Molly’s pinned Tweet

– “The scope brought me right into her face… right next to her… the sun was rising and she was eating and I saw her jaw moving as she was eating… this is beautiful… I am twelve… I am with this being and why would I want to end this moment?”

– “That was such a big moment in my life. I was there with my dad and I was going to make him proud.”

– “I knew at that point I was never going to go hunting again”

– “I’d gone through a whole year of hunter’s training… my family… would take me to this class every week to learn how to do this.”

– “My family kept hunting – it made me sad…. I had an uncle who mounted his kills on the wall… his death room… why would you want to look at them like this?”

– “My family was pretty sadistic about animals… because they are other we don’t have to give them any consideration”. Neglected dog chained to the porch. Killing squirrels and birds for enjoyment and to protect crops “just what you do in the country”

– “Where does the suffering stop?… It just built up over time… I couldn’t handle thinking about all this unnecessary death”

– Teaching English in China “That was my first time seeing the animals I ate – they’d alive before-hand… the goats on the street tied up in front of the restaurant, or the cages full of chickens, or the aquariums of full of the fish”

– A boyfriend who “enjoyed picking the animals he was going to eat… I stopped going out to eat with him”

– “But it still took me years after that to go vegetarian… this haunting feeling that just depressed me and I didn’t understand why.”

– Eating a basket full of rabbit legs in China “it was such a unique thing that shocked me out of my perspective”

– Piling up chicken wings at a friend’s birthday party “Oh my god – how many chickens?”

– “Oh my god I see them – I finally see them – I can’t unsee them… these are bones, this was a body… I don’t have to do this any more…”

– “It was such a relief to let go of all this cognitive dissonance… my whole life feeling bad and never doing anything about it… A lot of us live that way… with this pain – and we don’t ever do anything… we don’t have the opportunity to think about it – or we don’t take the opportunity.”

– “It is like leaving a religion – if you’ve come from a family that hunts and fishes… to leave that and to tell people they’re wrong and to say that I’m not going to live that way any more – it’s an affront to their way of life… turning your back on your upbringing.”

– “I was vegetarian… I’m a good person now and I don’t have to think about it” then watching a Humane League video re: sorting of male chicks in egg production… “wait a minute – why do vegans not eat dairy?… it was one night up until 4am of reading everything… I had no clue.”

– “Texting my husband… I have to go vegan… can we go vegan?”

– “The journey was really a lot harder… I was so embarrassed to have been making these choices.”

– “I went vegan but I didn’t want to tell anybody… I didn’t want to use that word.”

– Reading Jonathan Safran-Foer’s “Eating Animals”… “It fuelled me with all those facts – now I can tell people… this isn’t just some emotional feeling I have.”

– “It’s so funny for me to come back and say ‘no I think that that is it’ – the heart of it is that feeling… If you held a bird in your hand you wouldn’t crush it [them]”

– Veganism as a philosophy, a practical ethics, as an identity

– Normalising veganism vs. “don’t use the ‘v-word’”

– JW: People using the vegan identity as a reason not to engage. Not ethics, environment or even taste/price/convenience but: “I am not a vegan so I will choose the non-vegan option”

– JW: “The [non-vegan] identity means that they completely bypass any other decision parameter whatsoever”

– “Especially in the US – the machismo associated with eating meat”

– Dad making fun of a vegetarian friend “she’s pale, she’s weak, she’s thin… this is why she’s in theatre and not playing a sport”

– Being “outed as the vegan” at a company event “suddenly you’re the spokesperson for veganism… suddenly everybody’s telling you how they only eat a little meat…”

– “I was always just trying to fit in… I’ve always felt weird… struggling to be part of an in-crowd… trying to get along”

– “This ended up being this huge life-changing thing for me… to finally have this identity… now I have this label that I have to represent”

– “If I’m vegan – me, the last person on earth who should ever be vegan – maybe I should talk about it to other people… especially do it when I’m newly vegan… I still have the stink of meat on me.”

– “It’s hard because we don’t want to let go

43:49 A Better World?

– “I am a writer – finally I can use my gift for something that I think matters”

– “At first when you go vegan you think… ‘I’m going to show you the same video – you’re going to change… I’m going to turn my whole office vegan by the end of the month’”

– “People would read it and go ‘good job Molly… but I’m not changing’”

– The theory of Elwoods: “If you speak to everyone as though they’re already vegan… reach people where they already are… you’re more empathetic with them”

– “We need to empathise with where people are… what is blocking them… their fears, their identities, their anxieties… their day to day lives”

– “’I have too much work to do… I don’t have time to learn about what nutritional yeast is or how to make my own tempeh… I’m just getting by’”

– “At the beginning you don’t have empathy for people – you only have empathy for animals”

– “The future will be changed when we’re able to talk to people as humans and see them fully – talk through these blocks that they have”

– “Put their hand on an animal and feel that it’s body is warm and go ‘do you agree that you don’t want to harm this animal?’”

– “…take a vegan approach to activism… be kind, do the least amount of harm, even if we can’t do everything do something…”

– Different approaches to activism: make it easy, shaming, ethical argument…

– The risk of ethical bypassing if we just “make it easy”… and whether that’s patronising?

– JW: The respect and belief the Elwood’s campaign shows in humans. That they do want to be “good people” and might be willing to make positive changes

– “When people message me on Facebook… when somebody gets really mad and they’re standing up for the dogs… I say ‘I’m very happy to meet you – you’re a very compassionate advocate for animals’… congratulating them on their anger ‘you’re going to stand up for other animals… I know you will’”

– “One of the things veganism brought me was this joy”

– Our Alexandra Paul episode

– “I find great joy in letting bugs outside… it mattered to this one”

– “Making the kind choice becomes not a hassle but becomes this gift… every moment in your life can be that way”

– “It’s a childish joy too”

– When advocacy focuses on factory farming. The risks of welfarism and the implication that non-factory farming is ethical

– J”: “Elwood’s is not a factory farm… it is the farm that everyone pretends they get their animal products from… humane, organic, grass-fed, backyard, ‘just one bad day’”

– “The audience is myself right before going vegan… standing in the grocery store looking for these humane, ethical, cage-free eggs that my heart told me I needed to buy”

– Working in advertising “I see all these words tossed around that made me feel good about not making any changes”

– “By reaching out to the people who are already concerned about the welfare of animals you already have a foothold – they already want better – they already think they are doing better – I need to show them that is not the truth”

– Working for a farm sanctuary editing the animal stories “the stories of abuse on these small family farms were so horrific… they just broke my heart… that is your neighbour who you’re getting the eggs from”

– Most people don’t support factory farms while buying ~90% (~99% in the US) of their products from them

– “If we can get them to even understand that you’re not OK with mom and pop killing a cow in their back yard it immediately scales up to the factory farms”

– On-line trolls: carnivore diets, anonymity, animal industry funded, links to far-right / reactionary / conspiracist / antisemitic / white supremacy movements

– “There’s a woman I’ve interacted with and she has the same speech patterns all the time and she has hundreds of accounts. I’m like ‘Caroline, is that you?’ She’s like ‘no, it’s not me’”

– Responses to Elwood’s “I have a lot of meat-eating trolls who genuinely like Elwood’s… I’ve had private conversations with these people… this is what gives me hope for humanity… they might talk about shooting animals, farming them or hunting them… but they generally agree with me…  I get what you’re doing… I’m not there yet but good for you.”

– “’You’re my favourite Instagram account… I eat meat but I think people are doing you wrong… I’m not vegan but I’d consider what that’s involving”

– “Especially young men… reaching them with this humour and this logic…”

– A good friend who is a “logic troll… let’s argue about everything… but when he grasped that veganism is this contrary, extremely logical, counter-culture thing that he could do… maybe I’m recruiting the worst vegans ever 😊… he went full vegan and… he’s introduced that troll-y nature to veganism” (fallacies, vegansidekick)

– “… a sweet-spot I’m getting to… counter-culture, angry, wanting to be right people who enjoy the darkness of it”

– “I get vegans who hate it… that has also been really hard for me – the things they say are true: I am making light of something that is extremely dark. Dogs are farmed… am I helping, am I hurting?”

– “The comments… it’s a rollercoaster for me to go through them”

– JW: “It’s like punching someone in the face… but with their own ethics!” ME: “With their own fist” JW: “Their own values – the things they already believe and with content that is largely re-purposed from actual marketing from real animal product marketing people”

– “Facebook is much more gentle… an older crowd… a lot more women – I just offer the farm stories”

– “On Twitter… responding to a viral tweet about a wolf being killed… The dead animal is right there and I am desecrating his memory…. but at the same time you’re getting people… who are already upset about something… you just inject this idea while they’re already at that height. May that wolf forgive me because… somebody responded: ‘well that was a rollercoaster, thank you’”

– JW: “You’re giving individual people and perhaps humanity as a whole a chance to be the people they really want to be – that’s an opportunity”

– How institutions respond to Elwood’s (London Underground, Instagram, animal industries…)

– “The London Underground turned me down four or five times… I had to write this passionate letter… do you want to make a difference in the world?… you have one chance to do something that sure, it may make people upset but it’s giving them the chance to feel feelings that they already feel… they changed… I never heard why.”

– “I really love that each piece of Elwood’s activism is also activism to these companies. There was a board that had to sit around and every week they’re like ‘oh my god the Elwood dog meat ad is back and why are we against this and how do we feel about this?…”

– “Instagram took my account down for two months… they said I was showing graphic violence… even though my graphic violence is a piece of chicken [not dog flesh].”

– “There’s no one in charge – it’s all run by robots”

– “I’ve had print shops refuse to print my stuff… he thought I was lying to him – that I actually did sell dog meat and that I was joking that it was animal activism”

– “The man wouldn’t even talk to me – I’m in a rural place, in a farming community – and I’m sure that upset him”

– “We’re not leaving – they’re [animal product industries] going to have to share the same space with us – our messages are going to be rivalling… the more we see people wiling to put up these messages the bigger impact we’re going to have.”

– Optimism, pessimism or “somewhere in between”

– “I’m speaking to people who have this latent emotion towards animals that they just haven’t acknowledged… it’s just right below the surface… I’m very encouraged by how easy it is to harvest those vegans…”

– “But at the same time… conversations with people who, even friends or acquaintances, who are like ‘I really admire your work – you’re doing great things – but it’s not a choice for me’”

– “You’ve done enough digging to learn about this whole project and yet you don’t agree with it!… it’s always going to be an uphill battle… but that’s not any reason to give up”

– “Not having religion – that is a purpose – do good while you’re here… see what change we can make and make it matter to that one animal or those 500 animals”

– JW: “As society shifts I think those people will switch pretty quickly as well. They’re still too drawn to society’s centre of gravity and as that centre of gravity shifts… things could move really fast”

– JW: “If animal agriculture and exploitation just didn’t exist at all – who would actually suggest starting it?”

– Differences between Europe and America. The increasing acceptance of veganism at least as an option

– “Be kind when you’re reaching out to those pre-vegans”

01:16:02  Follow Molly (buying Elwood’s merch, free activist downloads and ways to get involved)



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Thanks to Graham for the post-production and to Tarabella and Denise for helping to fund this episode via our Sentientism Patreon.

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