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  • Transcriber: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

  • In the summer of 2014,

  • I found myself sitting across from a man

  • who, by every definition, was my enemy.

  • His name was Craig Watts,

  • and he's a chicken factory farmer.

  • My career is devoted to protecting farmed animals

  • and ending factory farming.

  • And up until this point in my life,

  • I had spent every waking moment

  • standing up against everything this man stood for,

  • and now, I was in his living room.

  • The day I met Craig Watts

  • he had been raising chickens for 22 years

  • for a company called Perdue,

  • the fourth largest chicken company in the entire country.

  • And as a young man,

  • he had yearned for this way to stay on the land

  • in one of the poorest counties in the state.

  • So when the chicken industry came to town,

  • he thought, "This is a dream come true."

  • He took a quarter of a million dollar loan out,

  • and he built these chicken houses.

  • Perdue would give him a flock, he'd raise them,

  • and each flock he'd get paid,

  • and then he'd pay off in small increments that loan,

  • like a mortgage.

  • But pretty soon, the chickens got sick.

  • It's a factory farm, after all,

  • there are 25,000 chickens

  • that are stuffed wall-to-wall,

  • living on their own feces, breathing ammonia-laden air.

  • And when chickens get sick, some of them die.

  • And you don't get paid for dead chickens,

  • and Craig started to struggle to pay off his loan,

  • he realized he made a mistake,

  • but he was all but an indentured servant at this stage.

  • When I met him, he was at a breaking point.

  • The payments seemed never-ending.

  • As did the death,

  • despair and illness of his chickens.

  • Now, if we humans tried to think of some super unjust,

  • unfair, filthy and cruel food system,

  • we could not have thought of anything worse than factory farming.

  • Eighty billion farmed animals around the world annually

  • are raised and slaughtered.

  • They're stuffed in cages and warehouses never to see the light of day.

  • And that's not just a problem for those farmed animals.

  • Animal agriculture,

  • it accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions

  • than all of the planes, trains and automobiles put together.

  • And one third of our arable land is used

  • to grow feed to feed factory-farmed animals,

  • rather than ourselves.

  • And all that land is sprayed with immeasurable chemicals.

  • And ecologically important habitats,

  • like the Amazon,

  • are cut down and are burnt,

  • all so we can feed and house farmed animals.

  • By the time my three kids grow up,

  • there's very unlikely to be polar bears,

  • Sumatran elephants, orangutans.

  • In my lifetime,

  • the number of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals has halved.

  • And the main culprit

  • is our global appetite for meat, dairy and eggs.

  • And for me, up until this point,

  • the villain was Craig Watts.

  • And as I sat there in his living room,

  • my fear and my anger turned into something else.

  • Shame.

  • My whole life I had spent blaming him,

  • hating him,

  • I even wished him ill.

  • I had never once

  • thought about his struggle, his choices.

  • Could he be a potential ally?

  • I never had thought

  • he feels as trapped as the chickens.

  • So we had been sitting there for hours

  • and the midday turned into afternoon,

  • turned into dusk, turned into darkness,

  • and he suddenly said,

  • "OK, are you ready to see the chickens?"

  • So under the cover of darkness,

  • we walked towards one of these long, gray houses.

  • And he swung open the door

  • and we stepped inside,

  • and we were hit with this overpowering smell

  • and every muscle in my body tensed up

  • and I coughed and my eyes teared.

  • I was too overwhelmed by my own physical discomfort,

  • I didn't even look around at first,

  • but when I did,

  • what I saw brought me to tears.

  • Tens of thousands of newly hatched chicks

  • in this darkened warehouse

  • with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

  • Over the next few months, I returned many times,

  • with filmmaker Raegan Hodge,

  • to record, to understand,

  • to build trust with Craig.

  • And I walked his houses with him

  • as he picked up dead and dying birds,

  • birds with messed-up legs and trouble breathing

  • and difficulty walking.

  • And all of this we caught on film.

  • And then we decided to do something

  • I don't think either he or I ever expected to do when we first met.

  • We decided to release that footage.

  • And that was really risky for both of us.

  • It was risky for him because he could lose his income,

  • his home, his land, his neighbors hating him.

  • And I could risk getting my organization sued,

  • or being the reason that he would lose everything,

  • but we had to do it anyway.

  • "The New York Times" broke the story

  • and within 24 hours,

  • a million people had seen our video.

  • It went viral by every definition,

  • and suddenly we had this global platform

  • for talking about factory farming.

  • And working with Craig got me thinking.

  • What other unlikely allies are out there?

  • What other progress,

  • what other lessons can I learn if I cross those enemy lines?

  • The first lesson I learned

  • is that we have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  • Only talking to people who agree with us,

  • it's not going to get us to the solution.

  • We have to be willing to enter other people's space.

  • Because quite often,

  • the enemy has the power to change the problem

  • that we're trying to solve.

  • In my case, I'm not in charge of a single chicken.

  • The farmer is and so are the meat companies.

  • So I need to enter their space if I want to solve the problem.

  • And a couple of years after working with Craig,

  • I did something again I never expected to do.

  • I sat down with an even bigger so-called enemy:

  • Jim Perdue himself.

  • The man I had made the villain of my viral video.

  • And again, through difficult conversations

  • and being uncomfortable,

  • Perdue came out with the first animal care policy

  • of any poultry company.

  • In it, they agreed to do

  • some of the things we had criticized them for not doing in the viral video,

  • like put windows into houses.

  • And pay for them.

  • And that was a really important lesson for me.

  • The second lesson

  • is that when we sit down to negotiate

  • with the enemy,

  • we need to remember, there's a human being in front of us

  • that very likely has more in common with us

  • than we care to admit.

  • And I learned this firsthand

  • when I was invited to visit at a major poultry company's headquarters.

  • And it was the first time that my organization had been invited,

  • and any organization had been invited, to visit with them.

  • And as we walked through the corridor,

  • there were literally people who were peeking our from the cubicles

  • to get a quick look at what does an animal rights activist look like,

  • and we walked --

  • I look like this, so I don't know what they were expecting.

  • (Laughter)

  • But as we walked into the boardroom,

  • there was an executive who was in charge, sitting there.

  • And his arms were crossed

  • and he did not want me to be there.

  • And I flipped open my laptop,

  • and my background photo came up,

  • and it was a picture of my three kids.

  • My daughter clearly looks different than my sons.

  • And when he saw that photo he uncrossed his arms

  • and he tilted his head and he leaned forward and he said,

  • "Are those your kids?"

  • And I said, "Yeah.

  • I just got back from adopting my daughter -- "

  • And I babbled on way too much for a professional meeting.

  • And he stopped me and he said,

  • "I have two adopted kids."

  • And for the next 20 minutes,

  • we just talked about that.

  • We talked about adoption and being a parent

  • and in those moments,

  • we forgot who we were supposed to be

  • at that table.

  • And the walls came down,

  • and a bridge was built and we crossed this divide.

  • And more progress was made with that company

  • because of that human connection that we made.

  • My last lesson for you

  • is that when we sit down with the so-called enemy,

  • we need to look for the win-win.

  • Instead of going in with farmers like Craig Watts

  • and thinking, "I need to put them out of farming,"

  • I started to think how can I help them be different kinds of farmers,

  • like, growing hemp or mushrooms.

  • And a farmer I later worked with did exactly that.

  • He did do the exposé with me and filmed,

  • and we went with "The New York Times" again,

  • but he went beyond that.

  • He quit chicken factory farming,

  • and it turns out

  • that those big, long, gray warehouses

  • are the perfect environment

  • for growing something else.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • That's hemp, people, that's hemp.

  • (Laughter)

  • Here is an environmentally friendly way to stay on the land,

  • to pay the bills,

  • that a vegan animal rights activist

  • and a chicken farmer can get behind.

  • (Laughter)

  • And instead of thinking,

  • how can I get these big meat companies out of business,

  • I started thinking, how can I help them evolve into a different kind of business.

  • One where the protein doesn't come from slaughtered animals,

  • but rather, plants.

  • And believe it or not,

  • these big companies are starting to move their ships in that direction.

  • Cargill and Tyson and Perdue are adding plant-based proteins

  • into their supply chain.

  • And Perdue himself said that,

  • "Our company is a premium protein company,

  • and nothing about that says that it has to come from animals."

  • And in my own home town of Atlanta,

  • KFC did a one-day trial with Beyond Meat,

  • for plant-based chicken nuggets.

  • And it was insane,

  • there were lines wrapped around the corner,

  • there was traffic stopped in all directions,

  • you would think they were giving out free Beyoncé tickets.

  • People are ready for this shift.

  • We need to build a big tent

  • that everyone can get under.

  • From the chicken factory farmer,

  • to the mega meat company,

  • to the animal rights activist.

  • And these lessons,

  • they can apply to many causes,

  • whether it be with a problem with an ex,

  • a neighbor or an in-law.

  • Or with some of the biggest problems of exploitation and oppression,

  • like factory farming,

  • or misogyny or racism or climate change.

  • The world's smallest and biggest problems,