As part of her undergraduate degree in religious studies in the 1980s, Victoria Moran researched vegans’ spiritual and religious lives before becoming a best-selling author of books on spirituality, self-help and veganism. She’s appeared on Oprah twice and her work has been endorsed by Ellen Degeneres, Bill Clinton and other high-profile figures.
Moran is also the producer of a beautiful documentary A Prayer for Compassion. The film – which premiered in March 2019 and is now available to stream online – features director Thomas Wade Jackson as he travels across the globe speaking with spiritual and religious leaders from many different faiths and paths, asking questions such as ‘Can compassion grow to include all beings?’ and ‘How will people of faith respond to the call to include all of the planet’s inhabitants in a circle of respect, caring and love?’
We chat with Moran – a founding member of the Vegan Women’s Leadership Network and a pioneer of the vegan movement – about the film.
How and why did you come to produce this film?
Thomas Jackson, the filmmaker, contacted me through my Main Street Vegan podcast and asked if I would produce his film about veganism and spirituality.
These are my life passions and although I had never produced a film before, I said yes.
It also helped that I knew that Thomas had won a Student Academy Award for a short film that he had made while in college. That let me know that he was capable of making a credible film.
Why is it so important to you?
My spiritual life and my choice to be vegan have always been inextricably aligned.
My undergraduate degree is in religious studies and while earning that degree I received a fellowship for foreign study, which I used to go to the UK to study vegans. That led to my first book, Compassion the Ultimate Ethic, which looks at veganism through a spiritual/religious lens.
And bringing things forward to the here and now, I see a conspicuous absence of any discussion around animal rights or food choices in religious circles. People who are bravely willing to speak truth to power about myriad other issues often recoil from any discussion of changing the way we eat.
Why do you think there is still a blind spot in regards to veganism from many religious and spiritual leaders?
I’ve heard it said that we have our most intimate relationship with food because we actually take it into ourselves and it becomes our physical structure.
I think that people sense this at some visceral level and when anyone suggests a change in food choices, it sets off a series of biological and emotional defenses.
We’re implying that what their mothers fed them was not the best choice. We’re suggesting that long cultural traditions around animal foods need to be changed. This is all very threatening.
And it’s in addition to the simple reality that people enjoy bacon and cheese and other familiar foods.
We can tell them about delicious vegan versions of these foods, but it can be a tough sell for a lot of people.
When it comes to people in positions of power, things get complicated. Among their followers are people whose livelihood currently depends upon animal agriculture. It takes extraordinary courage for these leaders to come forward with a vegan ethic but many are doing just that. Some of them appear in A Prayer for Compassion.
How do you respond to the whole ‘circle of nature’ and ‘we thank the animals for their sacrifice’ arguments used by many in the spiritual movement?
I realize that these beliefs are part of certain Indigenous cultures and I don’t presume to present these people, who are living far more harmoniously with nature than I ever will, with my beliefs.
Where I hear these arguments, however, is from people who are socially and culturally like me, when it seems far more often that the argument comes not from a deep spiritual belief, but as an easy way to salve a guilty conscience.
No one has a physiological need for animal products and prosperous people in modern cultures simply have no excuse for eating our fellow beings.
It can be convenient to whitewash the practice with flowery speech about praying for an animal’s soul, but I think we would all agree that if someone wanted to murder us, we would be far more concerned about what was about to happen to our bodies then what benefit we might garner from a prayer for our souls.
What do you hope the film will achieve?
Two things really: first, that it actually makes vegans. 6.9 billion people on earth are part of some religion. If even a tiny fraction of these believers awakened to the ethical and environmental imperative to stop eating animals, life on this earth would change for the better quickly and dramatically.
Secondly, we want to get the conversation going in religious institutions. It is an insult to every non-human being that God created that their needs are not part of widespread moral and theological discourse.
Anything else you’d like to say?
In addition to the film’s celebrating the dignity of all beings and the earth herself, we are great proponents of ecumenical cooperation.
Experts in the film come from most of the major religious traditions of the world and there is a beautiful sense of agreement among them. There is agreement that this earth was provided as home for all of us, for people of all religions and of no religion, and for mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and other beings.
Caring for our home and respecting other members of the great family of creation is not contrary to any spiritual teaching, and the faithful who speak in our film contend that it is indeed part of these teachings.
It is, in fact, at their core: the Love that in many faiths defines God and in all faiths expresses holiness.
A Prayer for Compassion is available to watch on Amazon Prime and Vimeo. Check out the film’s website for details.
Find out more about Victoria Moran at her Main Street Vegan website.