Written by PETA
Long before her hilarious and
candid debut novel
about a Pakistani-American family started
making waves across the country, author Jabeen Akthar made waves
with PETA US. Yep, that's right, we knew her first! A former "Tiger Lady" who bared her stripes in a PETA US circus protest, Jabeen is now a member of PETA US's Regulatory Testing
Division. Recently, we sat down with our old pal to talk shop about her new book, her thoughts
on animal rights and much more.
Tell us about your book.
to Americastan follows a young Pakistani-American
named Samira Tanweer, who, through a series of misadventures, learns her name is on the FBI's terrorist watch list. After losing her
job and losing her boyfriend to her best friend, Samira
returns to her dysfunctional family in North Carolina to make sense of what
happened to her life. The novel is a snapshot of life in the US for typical
Pakistani-Americans. It addresses serious topics such as racism, assimilation,
failure and generational differences, but in the end, I just hope it makes
Do you also write about animal rights?
My involvement in animal rights is the most important
aspect of who I am, so it will always find its way into my writing. There is a
scene in Welcome to Americastan in which Samira goes to a party full of
Muslims and criticizes the practice of slaughtering lambs during the Muslim
festival of Eid. I've been asked repeatedly if Muslims are offended by this scene.
On the contrary, lots of compassionate young Muslims have been thanking me for
putting it out there.
Tell us about how you got involved with animal rights.
I've been around forever. I was a PETA US volunteer
back when the organization had a single office in an old warehouse! It all
started with a PETA US newsletter in the 1980s. There was a black and white
photo of a cow on the ground, her eyes wide and terrified. She was a "downed"
factory farm cow who had been kicked in the face, ribs and back repeatedly by
farm workers. Not only was this story devastating to read, it also shook my
entire worldview and marked the beginning of my journey to change how we view
and treat animals. I shared the newsletter with my family, and we stopped
eating meat overnight and never looked back.
What inspired you to go vegan?
In the 80s and early 90s, being a vegetarian animal
rights activist was considered hardcore. The concept of veganism hadn't reached
the mainstream. For many years, I was under the false impression that I was
doing enough by not eating meat. I soon couldn't deny that I was contributing
to the meat industry as much as any meat-eater by continuing to eat dairy products
and eggs, so I rid my diet of those products altogether. It's awesome – I'm
savings animals by being vegan, and my diet has never been more diverse and
exciting. And going vegan is a downright blast – check out my new favorite vegan chef.
What do you do for PETA US, and what does the department you work for
As a former US government employee, I found the
perfect home in PETA US's Regulatory Testing Division – a team of highly
credentialed and dedicated scientists and researchers who push the US
government as well as international organizations to develop and use incredibly
effective and sophisticated non-animal testing methods in their testing
programs. I manage research projects by helping the team navigate through
complex federal regulations, help publish research articles in scientific
journals, and generally keep the department running as smoothly as possible
given the heavy workloads our scientists have.
What achievement are you most proud of in your work for animals?
So much of what we do for animals is teamwork, so I
can't take credit for any one thing. Over the years, I've participated in
numerous campaigns that closed fur stores, saved animals from painful and
lethal experiments, and banned gestation crates for factory-farmed pigs. On a
regular basis, I look out for injured wildlife on the roads and get them medical
treatment, and I have rescued countless stray cats. Most importantly, by just
showing people the video "Meet Your Meat" and fixing them yummy vegan
meals, I've helped a lot of people go vegetarian and vegan!
What would you say are some of the most pressing issues regarding animal
experimentation in India?
I'm pleased to see Indian educational bodies like the University Grants Commission and
the Pharmacy Council of India finally embracing sophisticated non-animal
teaching methods in the classrooms. No student should ever have to use an
animal for dissection or research when there are so many alternatives available. In the US, some states even have laws protecting the rights of
students who refuse to dissect. It's also time to see cosmetics testing on
animals banned in India – something we've already seen happen in the European
Union. With India's booming economy and growing presence on the world stage,
there's no reason it should fall behind the West in moving away from animal
experimentation and toward cheaper, more efficient and humane methods.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I knew a girl in college who constantly debated my
views on animal rights and said my activism was a waste of time. Fifteen years
later, I see her running toward me at an animal rights conference with a
T-shirt that says, "Vegan," and she tells me I'm the reason she's
there. I'm still not sure what I ever did or said to make her change her mind,
but the bottom line is this: you never know whom you're encouraging to help
animals, so don't give up on anyone!
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