Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 137
Law professor Hadar Aviram on animal and human rights, athleticism, & raising a vegan kid
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 137. Law Professor Hadar Aviram is on the show to discuss human and animal rights, being a plant-based athlete, her upcoming book, raising a healthy vegan kid and more.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina your go-to, no BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Recently, I offered 30 free coaching sessions, which meant I got to connect with amazing folks from all around the world and the only place I announced this was my email newsletter. I didn't publicize it anywhere else. So a lot of exclusive things happen through that communication outlet, including an upcoming book giveaway. I'm going to be giving away signed copies of my Resistance Band Workouts book, and the only folks who will get details about how to enter are my email subscribers.
So go to karinainkster.com/contact and sign up for my email newsletter if you're not already subscribed. And within the next few days, I will be sending out all the details about this book giveaway. So that's karinainkster.com/contact and you'll see a heading called, “Get Insider Tips,” where you can sign up. My book, Resistance Band Workouts, shows you how to perform 50 exercises and also teaches you how to create your own workout programs, whether you're working out twice a week or every day.
Resistance bands are my number one equipment recommendation for home or travel workouts, actually just workouts in general. Even though I have a full gym with a squat rack and barbells and plates and dumbbells and kettlebells, the whole deal, I still use resistance bands in almost every workout because they're that useful and effective for strength training. So if you're not already on my email list, head to karinainkster.com/contact to sign up and you will get the details for how you can get your hands on one of the signed copies I'm giving away.
Now I'd like to introduce today's guest, Hadar Aviram. Hadar is a law professor at University of California Hastings in San Francisco. She specializes in criminal justice, civil rights, law and politics, social movements and animal rights. She's the former president of the Western Society of Criminology and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Law and Society Association.
Hadar is the author of three award-winning books, the latest of which, Yesterday's Monsters, is about the parole hearings of the Manson family. Her forthcoming book, under contract with University of California Press, is called Fester and examines the COVID-19 catastrophe in California's prisons and jails.
One of the most prominent voices against mass incarceration, Hadar's work has been extensively featured in the media and she's a frequent analyst and commentator on criminal justice and prison conditions. Hadar doesn't like animals in cages any more than she likes humans in cages and has written about open rescue and direct action for farmed animals. During her research fellowship at Harvard's acclaimed Animal Law and Policy Program, Hadar analyzed the legal and political strategies of activists who enter factory farms and rescue sick and dying animals. Recently, she advised and was a defense witness for the defendants in Utah's Smithfield trial, in which a southern Utah jury found two activists not guilty of rescuing two piglets from a Smithfield facility.
Hadar is a whole food, plant-based, endurance athlete. Her marathon swims include a lengthwise crossing of the Sea of Galilee, 13 miles, the Portland Bridge Swim, 11 miles, Swim the Suck in the Tennessee River, 10 miles, and the Thames Marathon, 14k, alongside many shorter swims. She has successfully escaped from Alcatraz 20 times. Hadar also ran the Oakland Marathon and regularly commutes with her son on a cargo bike. When not working, agitating, or training, she hangs out with her partner, five-year-old son, and two cats. Hadar's favourite vegan meal is glass noodle salad with lots of veg and tofu. Here's our conversation. Hi Hadar, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for speaking with me today.
Hadar Aviram: Hi, thanks for bringing me on the show.
Karina Inkster: Well, I'm very excited to jump right in because we have a lot to cram into a relatively short period of time. I'm very excited about our discussion topics. When I saw your bio, I was like, this person immediately has to be on the podcast because there's a lot of very interesting topics here that we could discuss. I'm sure we'll only get to the surface level of most of them, but we'll do what we can. So can we get a quick backstory? I'm very interested in how you came to veganism. So when my guest is vegan, I like to ask about their vegan backstory or origin story. So maybe you can start off with that and then go into a little bit about what you do.
Hadar Aviram: Sure. I became vegetarian actually when I left home to go to study law in Jerusalem. That was when I was 18 and would've probably become vegan, but I don't think I had any clue about the dairy and egg industry and all that, just was completely and very woefully uninformed. Didn't know much about nutrition either, just felt like the right thing to do. And then when I came to the states and became quite sick from American food, which I wasn't used to, slid away from wheat and dairy and started eating fish again.
And then at that point I started swimming marathons. I started doing these long stretches of open water swims and was eating animals, although that did not sit well with me at all. But I was kind of basically living the dissonance that so many people do. And then in 2014 I went to the theatre and saw Judy Irving's beautiful film, Pelican Dreams, which is a film about a pelican that broke his wing and was found with the broken wing on the Golden Gate Bridge and then taken to this sanctuary for sick pelicans.
And it tells the whole story of their life here in California and in Catalina Island and what happens to them. And one of the things that they said on the show was that many pelicans become sick because they eat the remnants of the fishing industry, like bits of fish that fishermen throw back into the sea and it gets stuck in their throats and they sometimes suffocate from it. And all of a sudden a lot of things clicked and I realized that so much of what is evil in the world is part of this industry. And I came home and I said to my partner, "This is it. I don't want any share in this. I want to divest from this whole evil."
And he said, "That sounds fine." And I felt amazing. I felt like for the first time I was in sync with what I was supposed to eat and I've been tweaking what exactly it is that I eat up and down and things like that.
I'm now transitioning to eating a little bit more because I've started powerlifting, so eating a little bit more than I did in the swimming days. But generally speaking, it's mostly whole foods and all vegan all the time.
Karina Inkster: All vegan all the time. That's the best option. That's amazing. It's funny how there are sometimes these clear events that happen, like a certain movie you see or a conversation you have that's the catalyst and you're like, "Yep, things are changing." And then that's it.
Hadar Aviram: I think when the student is ready, the master arrives and the master can arrive in lots of different forms.
Karina Inkster: Very good point. Good point. So what do you do with your work life? The bio that we have just shared is pretty extensive, but how would you summarize it in a couple sentences?
Hadar Aviram: So for my day job, I'm a law professor. I teach at UC Hastings in San Francisco. And most of my work has to do with law and politics, with criminal justice, with civil rights. And I also write in the area of animal rights. So I don't like people in cages, I don't like animals in cages. I write a lot about prisons. My fourth book, which is going to come out next year, is about COVID and prisons and what that crisis was like. And I also write quite a bit about the intersection of criminal law and animal law, which is the open rescue issue. Folks who go into factory farms to rescue sick and dying animals and then face criminal charges because they broke into these places.
Karina Inkster: Well, let's talk about this because this is a gold mine of difference of opinion even within the vegan world, I think. So let's define the term, what does open rescue mean?
Hadar Aviram: So open rescue is a form of direct action. That means that people are doing what they're doing, which is a defiance of the law and a defiance of the industry in a very open way. They don't try to avoid law enforcement. They don't try to mask themselves or hide their identities. Those of our listeners who might remember these ALF raids on labs in the eighties and nineties with masked people who then become fugitives, that's not what they're doing at all. So these are folks who will come into the factory openly, sometimes film themselves so you can see who they are. They clearly identify who they are for the tape. They film the conditions within the factory farms, sometimes using 3D equipment. So we now have footage of what these farms are trying to keep secret. And if they find animals inside that are sick or dying, they will remove those animals from the facility and bring them to get veterinary care and then to a sanctuary.
And because they're very open about who they are, it's not a huge who done it to figure out who done it because they readily admit that they've done it. So a bunch of these folks, many of whom are good friends of mine, faced pretty serious charges throughout the country for these various actions. I've just come back from having been a witness in a trial in rural Utah against two friends of mine who rescued two dying piglets from a Smithfield facility.
Karina Inkster: Yes, the Smithfield trial. So they were not guilty though, that was the verdict, right?
Hadar Aviram: Yes, they were found not guilty. It's a huge victory for the movement that a rural Utah jury in the middle of Trump country were in these towns. So many people in town work for Smithfield, public officials, many of them are in Smithfield's pockets actually. And nevertheless, we prevailed.
Karina Inkster: Well that kind of goes against to what happened here in BC with the Excelsior trial where four folks...
Hadar Aviram: At the same time...
Karina Inkster: ...did get charged. It's basically two parallel trials. It's kind of odd how the timing happened, but different outcome in this case of course, although we'll see because there are still some things in the works, I think, but I don't know full details about what next steps are. But clearly, the outcome was not the same in this case.
Hadar Aviram: If you win some, you lose some in these cases. And I think that the defendants in these cases are very courageous to be taking on the risks that they're taking because these are really unpleasant outcomes. People are looking at incarceration, even if it's for a short time, it can be very unpleasant. And people risk this because of what they believe in, which I think is really admirable. I think that one of the things that were beautiful about the Smithfield trial is that the entire animal rights community kind of came together in defense of Wayne and Paul rather than the usual splintering that we see in the vegan world. Where people are like, "I'm not on board with factory farming, but we shouldn't be breaking the law." And I think that it's important to remember that for us to really succeed with a huge animal liberation revolution, there have to be lots of different people working on lots of different things at the same time.
So we have to have Beyond and Impossible meats people, we have to have people who make things more accessible in the market. We have to have vegan trainers and we have to have vegan chefs and we have to have vegan advocates, and we have to have these big mainstream facilities and institutions. And yes, we have to have these brave folks that are willing to take the risks and film what's happening inside these torture facilities because otherwise the public just doesn't know.
Karina Inkster: So true.
Hadar Aviram: I think this was one of the things that I think led to our success in the Smithfield trial was that the jury was very curious.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Hadar Aviram: And was asking a lot of questions. And the more the judge tried to hide from them what was going on, because the judge was very adamant that he didn't want this to be this kind of political soapbox and wouldn't let the activists argue anything about really the evil of the industry. And it was like, this is just a simpler burglary trial. But the more he tried to hide it from them, the more they wanted to know and they were asking a lot of questions and the outcome speaks for itself.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Interesting. So you're basically saying a lot of different forms of action are needed because presumably they speak to different folks in different ways and we need to have a message that is received in many different ways. Not saying me personally, but me, as a random person might not respond to information coming out of a slaughterhouse. But I might respond to veganism is excellent for my health, or maybe it increases my athletic performance. While someone else might not respond to that piece, but they'll really respond to torture of animals.
Hadar Aviram: Exactly. Everybody responds to a different part of the information, and moreover, the fact that there are more moderate and more radical parts in this movement mean that everybody benefits from the other person's involvement. So for instance, the benefit for organizations that are maybe more mellow and law-abiding like PETA or Mercy for Animals from having folks like direct action everywhere doing what they're doing, is that they can then by comparison appear to be kind of more reasonable and more mellow and say, "Hey listen, you need to be dealing with us because we're not as crazy as these other guys over there." There's actually a theory about this, it's called the radical flank theory, that in every social movement, the radical flank is serving a really important role at mainstreaming other aspects of the movement and making them more popular or appear more reasonable by comparison.
Karina Inkster: So do you see that happening right now in veganism?
Hadar Aviram: I definitely do, and one of the things that was really heartwarming in the aftermath of the Smithfield trial is I emailed about this to everybody that I knew because I was very invested in the outcome of this trial. Wayne and Paul are friends of mine and I very much believe in what they're doing. Even people who are not animal rights people, not vegan, responded really well to this idea that here are people who are basically good, solid folks who are doing a good thing here. They're rescuing dying animals, let's be honest, whose value to the pork industry is basically zero, which is one of the things that got exposed at the trial. That they dispose of a lot of piglets. So the value is negligible and they're giving us essential information about what we eat. And the real criminals are not on trial, it's the people that are trying to expose the criminals that are on trial.
Karina Inkster: Exactly.
Hadar Aviram: So it was very heartwarming to see that there was this wide response of really embracing these guys and really being happy about the results.
Karina Inkster: So is this the kind of material or the kind of projects that you were working on at the Animal Law and Policy program at Harvard? I know you were doing a research fellowship there, was that kind of different?
Hadar Aviram: That's exactly what I was working on. Basically what I spent my time at Harvard doing was developing what is known in criminal laws as the necessity defence to address these particular cases. So quick explanation about the necessity defence, when somebody's on a criminal trial, one way to address the charges is to present what is known as affirmative defences. So people might be familiar with the concept of self-defence. For example, hitting somebody else because I'm defending myself or somebody else. Or duress, which is if somebody's pointing a gun at my head and saying, "You have to do X or I'm going to shoot," then I'm not going to be liable. So necessity is also a type of defence and the idea behind necessity is basically a balance of evils. So the idea is to take the offence that I supposedly have committed and compare it to the evil that I was trying to prevent.
And if the evil I was trying to prevent is considerably greater than whatever evil I actually did, and I had no way to lawfully prevent that other evil, then I'm not culpable legally. So this is the natural vehicle for raising these kinds of arguments because it also opens the door for all this evidence to show why that evil is so great. So all the videos have to come in and the pictures have to come in and the stories about the animals have to come in and testimony from veterinarians that take care of the animals come in. So the necessity defence is really sort of the ideal vehicle for that. So that's plan A, let's put it this way. And what I worked on at Harvard was plan A, but it turns out that many judges are really worried about allowing the necessity defence in these cases.
And at least in the United States in the last 20 years, the door is really closing on the ability to present necessity arguments in political cases. It used to be the case in the 1960s and seventies that anti-nuclear activists would break into nuclear sites and things like that, and juries throughout the country were acquitting them because they could see these are good principled people trying to end the war and trying to end all kinds of other atrocities. But the Supreme Court then kind of in the early nineties, closed up a lot of these doors. They foreclosed the possibility of bringing up this defence. And as a consequence, a lot of the judges throughout the country are saying, "I'm just not going to allow you to present this." The other aspect of this is that for the necessity defence to be effective, you have to be able to present evidence.
And the evidence of course is very hard to watch, as we all know, this is why we don't eat animals and do what we do, is because these are atrocities. It's very hard to look at atrocities. And the name of the game in evidence is that the evidence has to be more probative. So it has to have more value to actually prove something than prejudicial, kind of swaying the jury or biasing the jury. The problem is that these videos are so evocative that exactly what makes them probative also makes them prejudicial. And that's what the judges are worried about, that the jury are going to be swayed by these horrific images that they're seeing. You tell me this and I'm like, "you say it's a bad thing." It's a good thing to be swayed by this because it is terrible. But judges don't want that.
And what happened in the Utah trial is that the judge was so worried about the trial becoming a political soapbox that he said, "I'm not going to let you present the necessity defence. I'm not going to let you show the video." To the point that they even had to cut out pieces out of the still images that they were going to show to the jury because the judge thought they were too gruesome and they were sort of exceeding the boundaries of this supposedly simple burglary trial. But of course, we got a bunch of very intelligent, smart, curious people on the jury, and if there's a person who is really committed to finding out the truth, the more you try to hide from them, the more they want to know what's up. That's what happened. The jury started asking questions and happily came to the right conclusion.
Karina Inkster: Well, that's good news because following the Excelsior trial, which was basically exactly what you just said, not allowed to present video evidence and the whole reason why those folks were there in the first place. They weren't allowed to present any of that presumably for this exact thing.
Hadar Aviram: Exactly. And this is why I think it's really important for those of us who are doing this kind of legal work and advocacy work to really pay attention to all of these trials. There's a few trials going on right now. There was one in North Carolina, there's one opening up in Sonoma County in just a couple of weeks. And to really figure out what works and what doesn't work, how do we pick the jury? How do we pique the jury's curiosity so that they're open to learning more about this? What do we do when we can't present the necessity defence? So in this case, for example, since that was foreclosed, what we had to do was present an argument that has to do with Utah's theft law.
Karina Inkster: Is this plan B, because you kind of mentioned plan A?
Hadar Aviram: This is plan B. So my next plan is now to write an article about plan B about kind of like what to do when necessity is not an option in these cases. So what the defence here recurred to instead was talk about the value of the piglets. Not to mention that even according to Smithfield, each of these pigs was worth $40 at most. And nevertheless, the FBI sent a six-car armada basically crisscrossing Utah and Colorado looking for these piglets in sanctuaries. It's absurd, but the argument is that in order to be convicted of theft, the thing that you steal has to be of some value.
Karina Inkster: Right, of course.
Hadar Aviram: And by showing the condition that these pigs were in, legally we showed that they actually had no value to Smithfield. So nothing of value was taken, but we also got to give the jury a little window into the immense suffering that's happening in this facility just through the story of these two piglets. And that had, I think, a really important political value as well as legal worth.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That's a good point. I think that's some of the positive side of things that are coming out of trials, like the Excelsior one where it's a public education event at the same time as being a trial. And I think that's definitely worth a lot.
Hadar Aviram: Exactly.
Karina Inkster: That's incredible. So does this relate to work that you're doing currently? You've testified, of course, at the Smithfield trial, and that work seems to be pretty ongoing, but does that involve the books you're writing or work that you're doing at the university?
Hadar Aviram: So I've worked on issues involving open rescue and how to defend open rescuers in court. I'm now going to go on to write this sequel about what to do when the necessity defence is not available. And I see many parallels between this work and my prison rights work. Generally speaking, I think that this idea of normalizing keeping living beings in inhumane conditions is really something that we have to push against as much as we can. So I don't think of my animal rights and my human rights work as separate. I see a lot of parallels between the two, and I see a lot of parallels even outside my work. When you look, for example, at the way in which a town that has a factory farm crafts its full economy around this really horrifying, soul-destroying industry with terrible work conditions, horrible safety, manure lagoons, all the sanitation horrors that come with that.
And then I compare that to a prison town, to a town where a private prison company comes and builds a prison and everybody is employed in this soul-killing industry of basically keeping other people caged. It has the same effect on the town. There are a lot of parallels that I think are really important to consider. That whenever we're designing massive facilities and thinking about what's the minimal condition where we can barely keep people or animals alive, we're doing something that's not just destroying the people that are caged, we're also destroying parts of ourselves, and this is what we really need to be pushing against. So I see a lot of parallels between my work on prisons and my work on animal rescue.
Karina Inkster: That's a fascinating example of parallels right there, how it affects basically society as a whole. That's huge. Well, let's talk about the human rights work a little bit. So I know that you're working in nutrition and some preventative health as well in prisons. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Hadar Aviram: So my most recent book is about the way COVID impacted prisons in California. And one of the things that - the book is going to be called Fester, and we chose this title with a lot of thought behind it because what we want to show is that just the risks that people are exposed to are festering in the system and just create this petri dish so that when something like this happens, when an outbreak happens, it's an absolute catastrophe. People are already in terrible shape, they're already crammed into facilities where they're overcrowded. Food in prison is terrible. There's not a lot of opportunities for exercise, especially not for the folks that are in solitary confinement. Confinement in general is not really great for well-being. There are a lot of things about just the physical plant that are very unhealthy for people. And moreover, we're increasingly incarcerating people that are older and older.
So about a quarter of the prison population in California, for example, is over 50, which doesn't sound very old. I'm 48 myself. But consider the fact that you age much faster behind bars than you do on the outside. These are not people who have access to quinoa and kale and Pilates and all kinds of good stuff. Many of them come in already with a background that involves deprivation, physical abuse and substance abuse, and it just gets worse. People have horrific chronic conditions. The stress of being behind bars affects people in terrible ways. So when something like this comes along, of course, everybody's going to get sick. And then you add to that just the immense ineptitude and indifference of the prison administration, the fact that they don't know what they're doing. That at every junction in this crisis just chose the wrong thing to do, it's not particularly surprising that so many people got sick and died. All we have left is to see what we can do to prevent the next one because there for sure will be a next one.
Karina Inkster: Right. Well, it's inevitable at this point, I think. So what kind of programs or suggestions or systemic changes would you like to see or are you working for?
Hadar Aviram: The most important thing is really to cut the population because you can't really think about preventative medicine and wellness and anything like that when you have so many people locked up and crammed up like sardines. We show in the book that you could tomorrow if you wanted to, cut the California prison population by 50% and public safety would not be harmed. Everything that we know from criminological research shows that people over 50 are really not a criminal risk basically at all. You could release these folks, you wouldn't be liable for their health conditions. They would be in a much more health-giving situation on the outside. So that for starters would help. I think that thinking differently about hiring and training custodial staff and having people that are more health-minded, both mental health and physical health, behind bars would be a wonderful thing.
That's a huge systemic change because it requires a lot of different thinking about what's the role of a prison guard really. So that would make a big difference. I think there are individual kinds of points of light. There's a beautiful documentary that's coming out soon about the San Quentin Marathon. So San Quentin Prison, that's 40 miles from where I live, 40 minutes I should say, from where I live, has a yard. And the folks that are doing time in Quentin figured out how many rounds of the yard is a marathon. And every year they run a marathon and there's a team of runners and coaches that comes into the prison to provide training and coaching. And some of the guys are really amazing runners. Markelle Lewis, who recently got released, just did the Boston Marathon for the second time. So he qualified easily for Boston with the results that he had at Quentin.
So these are really good athletes, they don't have the facilities and they don't have the basic health conditions to really be the best that they can. It's also heartbreaking. This is me, as an open-water swimmer. Often when I talk to the guys inside, I'm heartbroken that they're so close to the ocean. San Quentin is right on the ocean, and so many of them don't know how to swim, have never been inside the ocean. Many folks, the first thing that they want to do when they come out of Quentin is to get into the water. I wish there was some way that we could offer this to people because it also offers so many mental health benefits. Swimming is just such an amazing sport for mental health, and we really should be prioritizing all of this.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I'm with you on swimming. I don't meditate, but I swim. That's what I always say. You're like, "Hey, do you meditate?" Nope, but I swim.
Hadar Aviram: If could have a nickel for every person in my life who said, "I can buy you an MP3." And I'm like, "No, god, why would you want to do that?" An hour of peace and quiet and thinking about nothing. Why would you pollute that with music?
Karina Inkster: You have a point. Well, you've done some pretty incredible feats of swimming. A marathon swim, technically it's 10 kilometers, but we're talking 13 and 14-mile swims, which is pretty intense, to say the least.
Hadar Aviram: Yes. I'm semi-retired from that. I have a five-year-old and I no longer can spend five hours a day in the pool to train for them. I just don't have time to fit that kind of volume of swimming. But those were good times.
Karina Inkster: Good times. Well, so at that point you were vegan,
right? You were mentioning that you were?
Hadar Aviram: So initially I wasn't, for some of the earlier races I wasn't. And then I became vegan in 2014. So the last few long swims that I did, including the Thames marathon, I'd already done as a vegan.
Karina Inkster: Right. So how has that kind of transitioned into now doing more power lifting and sprint-type events? Is that kind of a lifestyle choice because of the time involved and you're like, "Oh, well I kind of need to figure out something that's going to be not five hours a day"?
Hadar Aviram: So part of it is the time choice, is the fact that I really don't have the time and I want to do something that's effective and focused with the little time that I have to myself. But another factor is just the fact that my body's getting older and I don't have replacement parts.
Karina Inkster: Unfortunately not.
Hadar Aviram: With the swimming, the whole shoulder situation is getting it a little thin from the years of doing that. And I ran the Oakland Marathon last year and my knees are not great. And I realized that I get a lot more bang for my buck, even in terms of managing these kinds of long endurance events if I focus on strength in the off-season. That's what I'm trying to do. I also read Stacy Sims book “Next Level,” which is wonderful and very informative. So to all of you perimenopausal gals listening to us, there is hope. And the hope is in eating a lot of protein and jumping a lot and lifting really heavy weights.
Karina Inkster: You nailed it.
Hadar Aviram: That's the plan for the foreseeable future. And even when I'm in the pool, I've cut my time, so I'm not going to swim 3000, 4000 yards a pop. I swim maybe 25 and a lot of it is short sprints.
Karina Inkster: I love swim sprints. It's basically my favourite thing to do in the world. But I've never done a crazy long swim. I do open water swim, but not that long.
Hadar Aviram: It's really fun. I'm liking the new regime and I'm liking doing little tabatas when I have time between classes and things like that. So it's nice to fit these things in and just the rush of lifting the heavy weights is really empowering. I'm digging the feeling of capability that just the fact that you're like, "Oh my god, I can do this." To me, this is an amazing thing about sports. A lot of my work life is so intellectual and it's kind of hard to measure what is good and what isn't, but you either swam from point A to point B or you didn't. You either lifted this weight or you didn't. It's a very simple measure of how capable you are and it's something that gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction.
Karina Inkster: And also it's easy to track progress or easier I should say, especially with weights.
Hadar Aviram: Absolutely.
Karina Inkster: Where you're like, well, you either lifted this weight or this weight and you can see over time that it's increased or your overall volume has increased. It's easily trackable.
Hadar Aviram: Absolutely. What's astonishing to me - and I'm not an experienced strength athlete at all, most of what I've done is just endurance, endurance, endurance. I'm just coming to this kind of strength world - is that I will lift a certain weight and then I'll be like, "There's no way I can lift five pounds more than that." And then the following week I lift five pounds more than that. I'm like, "How did that happen?" It's amazing.
Karina Inkster: It's pretty amazing. In the endurance world, I think strength training is still lacking. It's just normal for endurance folks to just focus on endurance sports, just running, triathlon. They’ll have three things to focus on, which is actually better from an injury prevention perspective, but still, in general, I know I'm stereotyping here, but usually in the endurance world, at least at a high level, it's not a ton of strength training happening. And then when folks do enter that world, they're like, "Oh, it's actually improved. It's affected my main sport. I'm not getting as injured as I was before." So there is a lot of carryovers, but it's also a time thing for a lot of people.
Hadar Aviram: It's a time thing. I think there's something else in that. I think that many of us who are in the really long stretches of endurance things, you kind of learn how to suffer and suffering acquires this kind of quality of its own. You're like, "If I haven't really suffered, then what did I do?" And the suffering itself acquires this kind of, I don't know, mystical or spiritual capabilities or what do you mean I can just do my thing for 30 minutes and then go have lunch? Does it even count if I haven't suffered? So I'm learning to enjoy short bursts of suffering instead of continuous.
Karina Inkster: I think it's a good call. These levels of suffering are all applicable to life in different ways, I'm sure. But I like the direction that this is going.
Hadar Aviram: And the thing is that suffering alone doesn't get you to where you need to go. This is something that I learned in the Oakland Marathon. So I'm finishing the marathon and it was two rounds around the entire city of Oakland and so on round two, I already knew what was coming because I had done the first loop. It's the same course and the last three miles are all in a descent. So you're going downhill. And so as I'm kind of hobbling uphill at the end and I'm thinking, "Oh my god, I'm built for endurance. I'm so good at this, I'm going to come down a roaring lion." And then I make the turn and we're at mile 22 and I am not a roaring lion at all. I'm like in total agony and everything hurts. And I'm now thinking some squats would've probably been a good thing to strengthen all of that gear around the leg. The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak, basically. You got to have the strength because ultimately a lot of this is not just the cardio or your willpower, it's simple leg mechanics.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. And a lot of folks will think that the sport itself will increase strength and sure it will to some extent. Swimmers have the lat strength and runners have the leg and glute strength, but only to a point. There's a point where it gets you and then the rest has to be taken care of with strength training.
Hadar Aviram: Totally. And at least in swimming, I know that I've been cheating my way through a lot of pretty serious and badass swimming just through nerding out on the technique without developing the strength.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Hadar Aviram: With swimming, it gets really technical. You can be a real egghead about how much do you turn and how do you do your catch and when do you turn your thigh and when do you employ your kick and when you don't. And I've been able to get away with a lot. I'm not a fast swimmer. I've been able to get with really long distances just because the technique is refined. But ultimately if the strength is not there, then it's really hard to work with a body that is not strong enough. So I think the off-season is going to be all about strengthening and then when open water comes around next spring, we'll see if it worked.
Karina Inkster: When's your month of going back into the water? I'm not a cold water person at all, even though I love open water. So I don't know.
Hadar Aviram: I used to swim in the San Francisco Bay year-round in a triangle bikini. Again, I just no longer have it in me. I think that a lot of my mental spoons go into my kid. And so I don’t think I have enough to drive me into 50-degree water in the dead of winter. But I like April, May, I can start getting back in the water. I can start racing in June. I can race until October, November and then that's it. And then just use this off season to build some strength. I think that'll be cool. Surprisingly, the weight thing is actually the easy part of this whole little enterprise that I'm doing. The hard part is to eat more.
Karina Inkster: Well, my next question actually was going to be about fuel. So how are you thinking about this? How are you approaching nutrition at this point? Because it must be quite different than when you were just doing endurance.
Hadar Aviram: Totally. I think that in the vegan world, and this is where being on a podcast that shatters myths about veganism, it's important to be truthful. We all like to mock the meat-eaters when they're like, "Where's your protein coming from?" And we're all like plants have protein. It's true, plants do have protein, they don't have as much protein as a steak. Or I should say yes they do, but it doesn't come in convenient packaging the way that animal protein comes.
There's a lot more gamesmanship to making sure that you get enough. And that is really hard because having eaten this kind of whole food plant-based for a while, I do realize that a normal person probably can get away with 50 or 60 grams of protein a day, but not if you are this active, you really do need to get more. It is the building block for your muscle. And so I have to think differently about snacking. I have to think differently about what breakfast is the best protein vehicle that I can imagine and that's been really hard.
It's also psychologically hard to think about eating a lot. I think many women, me included, have a terror of gaining weight. During the pandemic when I was litigating for San Quentin imprisoned people, I gained a lot of weight because of the stress. I was just eating crap and not exercising and not sleeping. And then I did this massive nutrition and exercise enterprise and lost the weight. And I have this terror of regaining it and I have to talk to myself and say, "Look, you are eating a lot and yes, you have put on quite a bit of weight, but your size is the same. It's working. You should just keep doing it. You're satisfied. You're not hungry, just eat, woman." And it's not as easy psychologically as it seems. I think for women, this idea that we have of “smallifying” ourselves kind of to stare down a plate full of food with a mountain of tofu and spinach and whatever, and be like, "Oh god, where am I going to tuck all of this?"
Karina Inkster: You have a point. Even in the pro-athlete world, there's a lot of talk still about body size, ‘smallifying’ - I love that term. It's still a thing even in pro athletes who do this for a living where it's constantly, “I don't want to gain fat." It's basically fatphobia but in pro athletes.
Hadar Aviram: It totally is fatphobia. And there's this dream, I find myself kind of engaging in this sort of poisonous thinking of kind of like, can I game the system and only gain mass muscle and not gain fat? And I'm like every other woman in the universe who is exposed to ads and media and whatever, is secretly thinking the same thing. To the extent that this is hampering our well-being, we really need to find some way to let go of this because it's not good for us.
Karina Inkster: Well, how do you think we all are going to let go of this because we're bombarded with this BS on a daily basis and it's folks like you who are talking openly about how it feels and how challenging it is, that are helping of course. But where's the larger-scale change going to come from?
Hadar Aviram: I think for me personally, if I'm looking at how I'm trying to work through this because just like everybody else, I'm vulnerable to the same type of thinking, the antidote is competence. I remember that after I swam the sea of Galilee and I was pretty heavy at the time, which was a very good thing because the lake was cold and I was insulated, which actually worked out really well. There was this controversy around this trainer who had two little kids who took a photograph in which she seems very tiny and chiseled and says, "I have two kids, what's your excuse?"
Karina Inkster: I remember this.
Hadar Aviram: I took a picture of myself and I wrote, "I don't need an excuse. I just swam 13 miles in 60-degree water." And I think it's this idea of competence. It's like, look at what this body can do. Who cares what it looks like? And I get the same rush from the weights. I'm like, "Oh my goodness, I am getting better literally every week." And so who cares what it looks like? Really, the only thing that nags me at this point is that I don't want to buy new clothes. I'd rather have my existing clothes continue to fit me. But I think that this idea of competence of just focus all the time about what this body is actually doing for you as opposed to what it looks to other people is really crucial.
Karina Inkster: That's such a great point. Plus, the way your body looks, people are always like, "How do I get such and such abs or such and such arms or whatever." My answer is always just, choose the right parents. That's it, to an extent. Sure you can make choices that will have an effect to some degree, but focusing on what your body can do, how you feel, feeling empowered with whatever method of intentional movement you've chosen. I think you just kind of have to do it yourself though in order to really get it. We can't just say to other people, "Hey, this is how it feels, this is what you should do." Because they're not really going to understand it 100%.
Hadar Aviram: It's very somatic. You get it in your own body. And you know what else was an eye opener for me is I think a few years ago coming into a summer Olympics, but I don't remember which one it was. There was a spread in a magazine of pictures of a lot of different Olympians in a lot of different sports. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Karina Inkster: I know exactly what you mean.
Hadar Aviram: It was mind-blowing because all of these bodies are elite athletic bodies and yet they look completely different from each other.
Karina Inkster: Yes. That was pretty powerful. The problem here, of course, is that only 5% of those bodies are ever represented in media or ads or "hey, this is what fitness looks like." And then the other 95% are just not represented.
Hadar Aviram: It's really frustrating. But I think that the answer, I know the usual prescription is yes, the media should change, and of course this is true. Of course, the media should change, but I think you're right on the money that people have to get it themselves. This is not something you can tell somebody. So it's just get your ass in a gym, get your ass in the pool, and just see what it feels like. The satisfaction is like good feeling that your whole body is humming with well-being because you worked out in a way that is functional and productive for you. Just feel yourself swagger after you've done a good workout and just revel in this internal feeling. And that's going to do a great job at countering these destructive myths.
Karina Inkster: 100%. What an excellent way to put it. You're raising a vegan child. So how does that go in our society that isn't vegan? It's moving in that direction, of course. We were all vegan way before it was cool. Now it's basically the trendy thing to do, but how does that work in a world that isn't yet vegan?
Hadar Aviram: So I'm more and more thinking that raising vegan kids is very easy. It's raising non-vegan kids that is hard because people are born with innate compassion. I see this in my kid all the time and I see it in other kids. And then the work that people who feed their children animals have to do is to uproot that compassion and that is creating a lot of dissonances. I remember when my son was a baby, we went to a parents' group and they were teaching the word chicken to the kids and the kids were astonished that the same word was used for their food and for the animal. And all the parents were kind of giggling in an embarrassed way. And I was like, I just don't feel that way. I've given myself the gift of not having the embarrassment of having to explain to my child that we're participating in something cruel because we're not.
I see this all the time. My kid has become a bit of a vegan advocate in his kindergarten. And one of the things that he struggles with is the fact that his friends who are good people eat meat so that's kind of hard to explain. So he will come home and say, "Why does so and so eat meat? And I wish they didn't." And so we read books about veganism. I have many recommendations. So Charlotte's Web is a really good one, that opens up and humanizes and is a classic. But there's a wonderful Buddhist book called Our Animal Friends. There's a book called This is Why We Don't Eat Meat. So there's a lot of literature about this that is really good. And he reads this and I see it makes so much sense. It's so natural not to want to eat your friends and to understand that they are sentient and that they have feelings and they have suffering and they experience things and they love their kids and their friends.
It's not difficult at all to explain. My advice to everybody who's like, "I've hit this conundrum where my kid wants to be vegetarian or vegan, and I'm so kind of discombobulated about explaining that this comes from animals." And I'm like, just don't feed your child animals and you'll feel fine. The fear of moving into something unknown that you might be hurting your child's health or where's the protein going to come from, or something like that, once you break open that fear and you step out, the feeling of internal peace is priceless. I once read a book by Paul Monette, the gay author, and he talks about - “Becoming a Man” - he talks about how he came out of the closet and he says, "There is a pain that stops when you step out of the closet." And I think it's the same thing. It's when you're not participating into something that is tearing your soul into these knots of contradiction and you step out of it and you actually live the way that you believe. There is a pain that stops. And my most fervent wish for everybody is that their pain will stop too, because it feels so great to not have that pain.
Karina Inkster: What a powerful way of putting that. That's amazing. We had King Zoom, the Vegan Kid on the podcast a while back, and he's been a vegan activist since the age of six, I think, or something around there. And a lot of what you're saying about just inherently being compassionate humans rings true there in that discussion as well. So I think there's definitely some parallels.
Hadar Aviram: I just had a really cool conversation with my kid yesterday. We were watching a video about Washoe the chimp who learned to communicate with sign language. And my son Rio said, "What's the chimp's name?" And I said, "Washoe." And he said, "Just Washoe?" And I was like, "Yeah." He said, "What's Washoe's last name?" And I said, "I don't think Washoe has a last name." He's like, "That can't be, everybody has a last name." And I said, "Really? What's our cat's last name?" And he said, "Aviram, because they're from our family." And it was so clear to him that the animals have last names.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Hadar Aviram: Compassion comes naturally and seeing ourselves in other living beings comes naturally. It's all the dissonance that is unnatural. We've just become better at masking it. But you step away from it and the pain stops.
Karina Inkster: That's such a good way of putting it.
Hadar Aviram: Unfortunately the pain doesn't stop for the millions of animals that are still in this matrix, but with every pain of a human being that stops, we have the potential to stop more pain for the animals.
Karina Inkster: 100%. Deb Gleason, who was on the show, called it a cultural coma of food. And I feel like that's kind of what you're describing here is just we are somehow turned off to all of these things happening. And for those of us who aren't, what we're doing is eating and being, existing in a way that's in line with our values and there's nothing that compares to that.
Hadar Aviram: It's true. It's priceless.
Karina Inkster: That's pretty amazing. So you have an upcoming book. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? That's the Fester project that's coming out, yes?
Hadar Aviram: That's Fester. So this is actually a book that I'm co-authoring with my partner who is a data scientist and who got on board because we were both at home together while I litigated this case, taking care of our son because the schools were closed. So he kind of got sucked into the project because he was basically living the litigation with me and he started building a model of how the infections in prison were affecting the infections on the outside.
And so one of the things that we do in Fester is we show the extent to which we can't be thinking about things in this kind of zero-sum way of we better save the treatment for the people that deserve it and not for the people that are inside. And what we're showing is if people in prison get sick, then me and you and everybody that we love also gets sick because it's all part of the same geographic continuum.
And the book looks at what happened during COVID in prisons, all the suffering that happened and the uphill battle that the activists had, to try to bring the vaccines inside. The uphill battle to litigate, to force the guards to get vaccinated and why that was such a partial success. And we look a lot at the many things that the government could have done to save lives in prison and didn't do. And we present this model where we show how many preventable deaths in California happened because of these outbreaks in prison.
One of the most astounding things that we discuss in the book is that our model shows that had they controlled the outbreaks in all the prisons in California, 12,000 people fewer in California would've died. And this again goes to the same idea that I also feel is relevant with animals is that this whole kind of zero-sum thinking, where better me than somebody else, it just does not work that way. Sick, diseased animals, when they're fed to humans, make diseased humans. What can be more clear than that? It's like when we up the quality of life for all living beings, everybody benefits.
Karina Inkster: 100%. So when is that book coming out?
Hadar Aviram: So Fester is coming out in early 2024. And in many ways, it's a sequel to my previous book that came out in 2020, which looks at what it's like on parole for old and sick people in California. And that one is called Yesterday's Monsters.
Karina Inkster: Amazing. Fascinating. I feel like we could do another three-hour conversation, but it was so great to connect with you, Hadar. We are going to have show notes so our listeners can go and connect with you and check out your books and website and such. So great to speak with you. Thanks so much for coming on the show and I learned a lot from you.
Hadar Aviram: Thank you for inviting me. This was fun.
Karina Inkster: Hadar, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me and share with our listeners about your work, veganism, training, wisdom in general. Much appreciated. To access our show notes and connect with Hadar, go to nobullshitvegan.com/137. Thanks so much for tuning in.