As we near a historical hearing at the Employment Tribunal about the discrimination of ethical vegans, we find out more about the man behind this landmark case for veganism
You’ll likely have heard about Jordi Casamitjana and his legal case against the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). Jordi claims that he was sacked by LACS, following his discovery that the company invested its pension funds into firms that are involved in animal testing.
Jordi brought the information to the attention of his managers, but when, after many months nothing was changed, he informed other employees, and he claims was sacked as a result.
Jordi asserts that he was unfairly dismissed because he ‘blew the whistle’, and was discriminated against for being an ethical vegan, yet, LACS denies it. Before the Employment Tribunal rules on this matter come February 2020, the judge has ordered that on October 17th-18th, Jordi must be part of a public pre-hearing to determine whether ethical veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
Jordi’s case is extremely important – if he wins, then all ethical vegans in the UK may become better protected from discrimination.
We chat to Jordi, to find out more about how he became the man he is today.
Tell us about your childhood. How did your upbringing influence the beliefs you hold now?
Looking back, I think that my upbringing was an important factor for me becoming an ethical vegan later on. I grew up in a state of oppression, which allowed me to identify more easily with other oppressed victims, such as all the animals that people use.
I am originally from Catalonia, and I lived the first 11 years of my life under the fascist dictatorship of the Spanish General Francisco Franco, who severely oppressed Catalans, Basques, and everyone else, who did not conform to his supremacist views.
I remember being stopped several times in the street to be told off for speaking Catalan, my mother tongue. Even my name, ‘Jordi’ (George, in Catalan) was an illegal name when I was born, so my parents were not allowed to write it in my birth certificate.
Being an introvert and an unremarkable child, I felt personally bullied, and my entire culture was also persecuted by another one, which gradually pushed me away from humans and closer to the other animals I encountered.
And then, when I discovered how much non-human animals were being exploited, that ignited my empathy for them, a flame which later grew into my veganism.
Why did you decide to study zoology and animal behaviour at university?
Growing up within an oppressed culture moved me closer to animals, so very early on in my life I realised that I wanted to spend more time with them away from humans. It seemed safer at the time.
On TV, I saw documentaries of the zoologist Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, who spent time studying wolves and other wild animals, and I realised that is what I wanted to do. Growing up, I kept discovering that the jobs I wanted to do actually existed and have names.
When first came across the term ‘naturalist’, a person who studies nature – I knew I wanted to become one. Then I discovered ‘biologist’, someone who studies life – I wanted to become one too, and I went on to the University of Barcelona to start a degree in Biology.
Then, I discovered ‘zoologist’, someone who studies animals, so this is what my choice of degree specialisation became. And finally, I discovered ‘ethologist’, those who study animal behaviour just by observing them in their natural state, so this was exactly what I wanted to be when I first watched those documentaries, and I went on to complete my PhD studies on that.
How did your studies influence your beliefs?
I chose the comparative study of animal societies as my ethological specialisation, and for my first subjects of study, I selected the amazing world of social wasps. I chose wasps because everyone seemed to hate them, and would run away from them or kill them at every opportunity. Nobody appeared interested to find out about ‘who they are’. So, my initial motivation to study them was selfish, as I thought I would not have much competition and soon, I would become an authority on them.
However, the very first day I went to observe a wild nest, something extraordinary happened. One of the wasps working as a ‘guard’ at the time, saw me approaching. She looked at me, assessed my intentions, and she judged me as ‘safe enough’, so she did not raise the alarm.
My heart was pumping fast when I realised that I had been correctly judged by a one-inch tall individual. ‘She’, and not ‘it’, was a wise person belonging to a mysterious civilisation I was about to enter. And when I did, I discovered things I would never have imagined. These creatures were not that different to us.
In fact, they seem superior in so many ways… but people would kill them. My studies awoke me to the realisation that all animals are far more similar to us than we initially think. Yet, they are all so unfairly and cruelly treated – something must be done about it. They need help. They need protection.
With that first encounter, with that wise and tolerant wasp, my title as the ‘animal protectionist’, and the ethical vegan that I later became, was formed.
Talk to us about your time hitchhiking around the British Isles – what did you discover on your travels?
Before I read my PhD thesis, I decided that I wanted to spend as much time protecting animals as I did studying them, and I knew that my prospects to do both in Catalonia were slim. So, I decided to emigrate somewhere else where I could be a zoologist/animal protectionist. I did not quite know where such place would be, so I gave away most of my possessions, and with one rucksack on my front and another on my back, I walked out from Catalonia looking for such a place.
It took me two years to find it – in Cornwall. After having failed in other countries, I realised that my prospects were better in the UK. I hitchhiked looking for the best place, and I asked every driver the same question: ‘Do you know anywhere where they may needs a zoologist?’
I travelled most of the UK, but found nothing. I eventually reached Cornwall, and someone finally said ‘Yes, perhaps the Monkey Sanctuary in Looe’ (Now called Wild Futures). Since then, I have been lucky enough to be a zoologist and an animal protectionist at the same time, and live exclusively from it.
Back in 1998, why did you attempt your World Record breaking 13-hour lecture?
At the Monkey Sanctuary I worked at, we had a rehabilitation project aimed to return all the Cornish monkeys back into the wild in the Brazilian Amazon, but we did not have enough funds to do so. Instead, we had to find new ways to fundraise for the project. Visitors seemed to enjoy the 40 minute talks I gave when the sanctuary was open during spring and summer, so I thought that perhaps I could use my orations to raise money for the monkeys.
It worked. I gave a 13 hour uninterrupted unaided lecture at Plymouth University titled, From Nothing to Everything; the Natural History of the Universe – I did not eat or drink anything (or even go to the toilet!). We managed to generate a lot of funds for the monkeys, and lots of media interest. And, I personally learnt a lot about this world we all live in.
Tell us about your journey to veganism.
When I left the Monkey Sanctuary and started working for the Born Free Foundation, I had a small accident at work which let me to lose consciousness for a few minutes. This event somehow prompted me to want to write a book.
There was something not quite right with my life and I needed to explore this. There I was, trying to protect animals, doing my best, but something was not right. A dream I had while I was unconscious after the accident, left me somehow ‘pregnant’ with a book. So, I had to find an isolated place to ‘deliver’ it.
I found that place in a remote island in the North Sea. For 23 days non-stop, I battled all my ghosts while writing my novel (titled The Demon’s Trial, later published under the pen name J.C. Costa), and it was through that process I confronted all my rationalisations and found out what was ‘wrong with my life’.
I was trying to protect animals, yet, I was still exploiting them. I was trying to be a saint, and yet I was behaving still like a demon. I entered the island as a meat-eater, leather-wearer, cruelty-consumer man, but I left as an ethical vegan.
Did you find switching to veganism difficult?
As most vegans will tell you, switching from being a carnist to a vegan was much easier than I thought. I am glad I did not go through any vegetarian phase, not only because I don’t think I would have been able to rationalise it anymore, as my experience writing my novel in the island had forced me to be more honest with my choices, but also because I think this made the transition easier.
For me, the full commitment to the change made it more palpable, and as such, it created a strong positive feedback which constantly reinforces my decision. Not once since have I felt the need to consume any animal product. I was finally free.
What recommendations would you give to non-vegans wanting to make the switch?
Personally, I would advise new vegans to make the changes in your diet as radical as you can, straight to full veganism. It seems counter-intuitive, but I think this is what the body needs.
It needs clear information about how the environment has changed, and which sort of food will be available from now on. I also think that it works better psychologically, as you then know that you are not contributing to animal suffering.
Why should we protect animals?
Many animals suffer a great deal because of humans. The scale of their suffering, both in quality and quantity, is so overwhelming that most people chose to ignore it – it is easier to go through life this way.
No painter or writer in history has conjured a description of any ‘hell’ that gets close to the reality of what animals endure because of humans. But, it is precisely such self-imposed amnesia and disinterest which perpetuates the problem. And, the more humans are born, the more animals are abused by them.
Anyone who aspires to become a decent human being needs to break this vicious circle. We need to stop ignoring and forgetting the animal victims of humanity, and once we do that, we need to start acting to protect them. Not hurting animals is not enough. Not exploiting them is not enough. Humans need to do something to help protect animals. They need to act.
What can we learn from animals?
To be honest, the best lessons I ever learnt were taught to me by animals, not humans. We have created such unnatural environments with such unnatural problems, that it is not surprising that we keep turning up with the wrong solutions.
The current climate crisis is a perfect example of this. Most of the other animals, though, if they are still in the wild, manage to go through life giving the right answers, as their ability to cope with their problems has evolved alongside the natural environment, which creates the challenges they have to overcome.
When I look deep into the eyes of many adult animals I often see answers, knowledge and wisdom. On the other hand, when I look into adult humans’ eyes, I mostly just see questions, ignorance and stupidity. Animals work with nature, not against it, and so by observing animals we can learn great deal. They can teach us how to be proper ‘earthlings’. They can teach us how to avoid our own extinction.
What is your favourite meal to cook for yourself?
I try to grow my own veg, and I like to cook them in different ways. I often cook them with couscous, tahini, fresh herbs and nutritional yeast.
Knowing that my veg has been grown in the ‘veganic’ way, makes me feel good about them, and that, somehow, makes me feel that they taste better.
I love when insects and other animals eat my veg – I like to share it with them. If I have two kale plants and I see some caterpillars eating them, I move them all to one plant, so they have one and I have the other. After all, it’s their home too.
What is/has been the most difficult part of your role as an animal cruelty investigator?
Having to witness animal suffering and cruelty, and not be able to intervene, is definitively the most difficult part of being an undercover investigator.
I would not recommend it to anyone, as it is psychologically heavy and most people can either not do the job properly, because they react and expose their cover, or may suffer later on with the memories and the feeling of guilt.
Someone has to do it to show others what is going on, but the fewer people needed to do it, and the shorter the time needed to do so, the better.
What other activism do you take part in out of work?
These days, I participate in lots of vegan outreach activism. It is incredibly satisfying to do in London now, and it is far easier than it used to be. People have already had so much information and they have already thought about it many times, so now they just need a tiny push to become vegan.
I also do my personal style of vegan outreach which I call, ‘T-shirting’. This is always wearing t-shirts, hats or pins with vegan slogans, so I am constantly campaigning, even if I am sleeping in the bus! I think it also helps to normalise veganism.
If people that are erroneously afraid of vegans, simply seeing a vegan doing normal things (queuing in the post office, eating a sandwich, going to the theatre, etc.), they start to lose the feeling that vegans are ‘they’, and they realise they could be also ‘us’.
How do you try to help to protect the environment?
In addition of being an ethical vegan, I also consider myself an environmentalist, so I try to live my life accordingly. I don’t drive and I try to use public transport or walk as much as I can (although I have flown too much in my life to be able to claim good transport green credentials).
I try to recycle as much as I can, to minimise my use of water and other resources, and currently I am trying to cut on my use of plastic and paper.
However, without any doubt, my most important contribution to protect the environment is being an ethical vegan, and try to convince as many people as possible they should become vegans too.
What have you found to be the most successful means of spreading awareness?
I have been impressed with the way vegan activism has been evolving and progressing over the years. I like the current diversity of activism available today. There is something for everyone. There are currently some types of very successful vegan outreach activism, such as the Cube of Truth, and similar events.
In this day and age when most people’s faces are glued to a screen, there is something to be said about using other screens to un-glue people and make them have face-to-face conversations with friendly human beings, who will change their lives for the better.
Why do you think there is still resistance against ethical veganism?
People are afraid to change, and a vegan world will be quite a different world. It may be scary for some. There are also powerful industries who don’t want people to change, so they bombard them with propaganda and incentives.
But, most importantly, people have a tendency to blame someone else for their own problems, rather than facing the truth about their own mistakes. So they expect to be cured by doctors rather than curing themselves by changing their diet, they expect politicians stopping global warming rather than doing it themselves by changing their consumer choices.
They expect law enforcers to tackle animal cruelty, rather than having to buy different products to prevent it in the first place, and they expect other social groups to run their own revolutions rather than joining a social movement to fight with others for a better world.
Intellectually speaking, due to the benefits to all sentient beings, the environment, social justice and human health, it is very difficult to find any solid argument against veganism.
So, the issue is no longer persuading people that we are right, but making people abandon their fears and misconceptions and helping them to free themselves from their generational indoctrination.
What are your goals for the future?
My life goals are simple. Getting better at reducing the amount of suffering my existence creates to others, while at the same time, getting better at helping those who need more help.
How did you feel upon the first discovery that the League’s pension fund was investing in animal-cruelty funding pharma companies?
I was shocked, to be honest. Especially because I did not expect it as I had worked for them many years before, and, at that time, the pension fund was labelled as ‘ethical’.
How can people at home support you?
Everyone who is not an ethical vegan yet can support me, by becoming one. All vegans out there, and anyone who has a vegan friend can support me in my current legal case, which can lead to secure the legal protection of ethical vegans, by donating to my crowdfunding page.
The funds will go directly to my lawyers, not to me, so that I can have the best legal representation. If I win this case, this will secure the first judgment in Europe stating that ethical vegans are legally protected from discrimination because of our beliefs.