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Camper Van Kitchen’s Jackie Scurr on Transforming from Dairy Farmer to Vegan Activist
Jackie Scurr moved to New Zealand when she was 19. Her partner at the time had grown up on a dairy farm, and so, as soon as she arrived in the country, one of the first things she learned was to milk cows. She thought it was wonderful, “such a wholesome and natural thing to be doing in clean green New Zealand!”
As the years passed, she co-managed several farms for the owners along with her then-husband (now her ex). She did everything from milking up to 250 cows by herself to rearing the calves, and even calved some of the cows by herself if they were having difficulties such as a breech birth. She felt being female and a mother herself, that she had more of an affinity with them, and she “felt honoured that it was an incredibly intimate experience to be a part of.”
“I felt I was a good, kind farmer and genuinely loved the animals I cared for. I didn’t see or know then how they were being exploited, but there were a lot of things I didn’t like about dairy farming, such as mentioned in a recent Free From Harm article. I didn’t like how some of the farmers treated the cows, I really didn’t like taking the calves away from their mothers. I cried a lot and often felt sorry for the cows. I felt that NZ dairy cows had a very hard and stressful existence.”
Jackie had been vegetarian on and off since she was 13 years old, and throughout most of her farming years. She couldn’t bring herself to eat any animal she knew or had helped to raise. “I thought by not eating meat I was doing enough. I never once made the connection that the dairy industry was equally as harmful. I did think that farmers were greedy, everything we did and were told to do was all about the mighty dollar. But still, I didn’t see how evil the industry was as a whole.”
For most of her farming years, Jackie had been working for her in-laws, but when they sold the farm her life took a change of direction and she left dairy farming for good. Even so, it wasn’t until several years later that her eyes were finally opened. She went vegan in 2017, at first for health reasons – she was having some problems and was willing to try anything to feel better. The more she learned from documentaries such as What the Health and Forks Over Knives, the more she realised the devastating harm animal agriculture causes to animals, humans and the planet.
Jackie separated from her first husband a couple of years after they left farming and she is now remarried. Her current husband, Gareth, went vegan a few days after she did and now they live in a van travelling all over New Zealand, and run a Facebook page called “Camper Van Kitchen” inspiring others to go vegan and discover that sharing recipes is a perfect and gentle way to introduce people to veganism and its many benefits.
A Transformation from Defensive Aquarium Patron to Vegan Mom, and now Activist
Earlier this week, I posted in some Facebook groups that I was seeking interviews with mothers who were raising vegan kids for our annual Mothers’ Day Show. I got a private message from a man who suggested I contact his friend, Jaime Bystryk. I called her and we discovered that we have a mutual friend in common – one of Vancouver’s most dedicated, hardcore animal rights activists, who also happens to own a local business, PlantBase Food and Natural Products. Two years ago, David Isbister happened to be protesting at the Vancouver Aquarium on the same day that Jaime took her daughter there, but Jaime was in the line-up, not with the protesters. David’s words to her that day planted a seed that has bloomed into something beautiful.
Here’s Jaime’s story on her journey to veganism:
“Just over two years ago, I was carrying my one year-old into the aquarium, as we had a membership and it was one of our favorite go-to activities on gloomy days. There was a line of people standing and protesting the aquarium, but we ignored them and headed straight for the doors. Then, from behind me I hear “Jaime! You can do better!” I turned and looked, and recognized a friend from my past and then I rolled my eyes and walked inside the aquarium. I was livid. I was so mad that he called me out by name! AND in front of my daughter. I didn’t stop talking about it for a week! But what actually made me angry took me a full year to come to terms with. I was angry that he called out my accountability.
Over that next year I met and spoke to a handful of other vegans and slowly felt the push towards giving up practices that didn’t align with my morals. Two encounters in particular stood out to me the most:
First, I met a nine-year-old dog that was vegan since birth. She was the healthiest, softest, happiest dog I think I’ve ever met. Her owner explained that they used the guidance of a vet and would have happily fed her differently if she showed any signs of malnourishment. But she did not, and she was thriving. That moment stuck with me, from then on I kept thinking ‘If a dog can do that then why can’t I!?’
The next was something that made me angry, yet again. A friend was posting stories on Instagram which shared how animals are mistreated in the farming and dairy industries. This particular friend is not only an incredible mother, but she is also always enveloped in this amazing loving energy that you can’t help but admire. I kept feeling angry, but the fact that I looked up to her made that so conflicting for me! That ended up being the final push for me to start seeing things differently.
I was constantly angry at veganism because it represented something I knew was right but refused to completely acknowledge. Ripping off layers of societal conditioning is one thing, but to admit that I was wrong for so many years of my life and that I supported the torture and murder of animals, that was almost impossible to swallow. I still feel an incredible amount of guilt and disgust at myself.
All the while, throughout this year I kept hearing that echo in the back of my mind “You can do better, Jaime!” Eventually, the tone changed in my mind and the echo started to sound more like encouragement than an attack. I started to think, “I CAN do better…”
About a year ago all those influences were enough to push my perspective to where I needed to be. Not only did I realize I had no reasons not to be vegan, but there were a thousand as to why I should be. The perspective I had of ‘who am I to choose a vegan life for my daughter’ quickly became ‘how dare I choose to put the dead bodies or the products of mistreated and enslaved animals inside my daughter?!’
Once I made that decision, I explained to my 2.5 year-old daughter why I was not going to eat animal products and her instant reply was that she did not want to eat animals or their milk, ever! Not even needing to chose for her was a relief but also, I was in awe. This brand new being was able to do something that took me over thirty years to have the strength to get to.
It was a huge challenge to tell my extended family and hear backlash. I remember when my dad gave my daughter a cheese string and told her it was vegan! Today, I still hear sometimes that close family members are discussing whether my daughter is malnourished behind my back (she is absolutely healthy as can be!), or they offer my little girl something they know is not vegan and tell her to ask me if it’s okay…so that I am the one letting her down.
I like to joke now that my 3.5 year-old is a more passionate vegan than I am. I say this because when she is offered candy or treats that any kid would want to eat instantly, she asks first if it’s vegan, and if it’s not she’s happy to hand it back. She doesn’t even mind if she’s missing out at a birthday party and doesn’t get cake because she knows what she’s standing for by opting out of animal products.
I have always been completely translucent with my daughter with everything, but now especially with why we are vegan. She knows what happens with all animals that are farmed and she has seen the footage and images of it. Sometimes she can take it and sometimes she needs to step away and play. The benefit of the imagination and attention span of a three year old is you can just walk back to your toys and immerse yourself back into that magical happy world.
I always ensure that when she’s taking in difficult content that I am at her side and we both share our feelings and we discuss all the things we can do to help without being unkind or breaking the law. The way I see it is: awful things are happening in our world so much – better to be there to show your child how to process it than let them stumble upon it when they’re alone.
Motherhood has definitely helped connect me to want to stand up for all mothers just as the idea of losing me helps connect my daughter to wanting babies to stay with their mammas. Taking milk from a mother that was meant for her baby baffles my little one and the idea of newborns being sent to slaughter breaks both our hearts.
As much as I regret feeding my child animal products at the beginning of her life, and not realizing for myself how unnecessary and cruel the animal industry is sooner, I am beyond grateful for everything that got me to where I am today.” – Jaime Bystryk, Vancouver
Jaime plans to attend the annual Empty The Tanks event in Vancouver this Saturday from 11am-1pm, alongside David Isbister and hundreds of animal rights activists. We hope she will tell her inspirational story into the megaphone for the patrons in the line-up…just in case there’s someone like her former self waiting to be told they can “do better.”