Katrina Larsen lived in Japan for 17 years, earning her living teaching interpreting skills. Three years ago, she returned to her home in Victoria, Australia.
She gave up meat at 17, but didn’t fully commit to veganism because she felt “it was a way to stay ‘normal’ and not too socially unacceptable.”
However, a trip to Germany in 2014 opened her eyes to all the tasty options available that did not contain animal products. Despite vegan foods not being readily available in Japan, she stepped fully into veganism to align with her true values.
Katrina’s journey with animal activism began at 19 when she started volunteering at Animal Liberation Victoria. She continues to speak up for animals through several organizations today.
What organizations do you volunteer with and what exactly do you do?
Currently, I am involved with the Animal Justice Party (AJP). I work on several local issues and will hopefully be involved with some of their training in the near future. This is especially exciting for me as I have a teaching background.
I work for the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR), namely proofreading and researching organisations and companies that sponsor horse racing so they can be targeted and pressured to stop doing so. I have also recently become their Writing Co-ordinator.
Other current work I’m involved in includes helping Lamb Care Australia (LCA), helping with regular trivia events to help fundraise for different animal charities and being a board member of Humane Research Australia (HRA).
I have had a long association with the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS) rescuing ducks and getting myself arrested twice in the process.
In Japan, I was active in demonstrations, organising fundraising events for shelters and rescue groups and helping with proofreading.
What are some approaches and methods used in the work you do?
I’m a believer that from little things big things grow and that, although at times our endeavours may not seem fruitful and what we want to achieve might seem insurmountable, doing something is better than not doing anything. Doing something is better than just complaining about it. I often keep in mind that saying about seeing an injustice and thinking someone should do something about it and then remembering I AM someone.
We may not see the changes we want in our lifetimes, but at least we can contribute to building the foundations of these changes for the future.
What sort of street-level activism do you take part in?
I started doing street activism in Japan, mostly with a wonderful group called 4AJ (For Animals Japan). Speaking to people isn’t my forté, so instead I stood in the cube we would form holding a device showing the atrocities of animal agriculture.
In your opinion, what role does an activist play in society?
To me, an activist is society’s conscience. I don’t mean that we take on that role, or should take on that role, thinking we have some moral high ground and we’re going to teach people a lesson. However, we are society’s conscience, which may be why people get so exasperated with us. We open their eyes to their complicity in unjust systems and highlight how their habits support that injustice. Those with critical thinking skills, those who want to learn and grow, will endeavour or at the very least reflect on what we are saying and doing and hopefully, ultimately, do more and act on their knowledge.
When we have the knowledge that we do, the compassion that we do, and the sense of justice that we do, I believe many of us feel we have an obligation to act on that, knowing all too well if not us, then who?
What has been your biggest challenge in doing this work?
Reining in my anger and frustration is particularly challenging. The idea that I “get it” but others don’t, or choose not to bother trying to get it, is incomprehensible to me. Biting my tongue around people when they’re eating animal products, wanting to scream at them and make them wake up, wanting to highlight their hypocrisy (for example, claiming they love animals or consider themselves compassionate people) and wanting a vegan world right now all make life challenging.
One way I cope with this frustration is to think that there may be issues outside animal rights I’m not across and that I too, in some capacity, contribute to injustice. I try to understand them through that lens. However, I fully admit I find that very challenging to do.
(On that note, I would want to know about what injustices I might be supporting, and in the same vein I want others to know about the injustices of animal exploitation.)
What has been your biggest reward in doing this work?
That’s a tricky question because there doesn’t seem to be so many rewards. That said, I’ve made some incredible friends and have raised a lot of money for animals through fundraising events. I would also like to think that my fellow activists look upon me as a reliable and hardworking activist. If they do, I’ll take that as a reward.
Is there an event that you’re most proud of?
I’m a bit uncomfortable with the word “proud” but when I lived in Japan, and now to some extent from afar, I supported what I and many others would consider Japan’s best animal shelter, Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK). I lived in Tokyo, in the east, and Kansai is in the west. It always seemed to me that all the fun events for ARK were held in Kansai with Tokyo often missing out despite having a good number of supporters.
So, I formed a group in Tokyo to support ARK. I never intended it to be a fundraising group, but it turned into that and the first fundraising event I did brought in the most money of any event I’ve ever done. This gave me a taste for fundraising, and this was the start of my passion for it. It basically launched me into focusing much of my effort for animals on raising money.
I look back fondly on that event and, yes, have a certain feeling of pride at what I achieved (of course with the help of others) with no previous experience nor qualifications in fundraising.
What inspires you to continue doing this work?
A strong sense of justice and wanting to use my privileged life to help those who need my help. You only get one shot at life and a life of service is far more meaningful to me than a life just focused on oneself.
I’m also inspired by all the new and creative ways of doing activism, and the wonderful people doing it.
In your time as an activist, what changes have you noticed?
In terms of duck shooting here in Victoria, the numbers have gone down substantially. There was a time when duck shooting was just another regular activity, not really frowned upon. Now, people mostly oppose it.
Another shift is the word “vegan” is now far better understood than it was before. I remember as a kid people not even understanding what a vegetarian was. This shift may be partly due to more vegan options being available and more information on veganism and animal rights also being available, for example, through films such as Seaspiracy, Forks Over Knives and Dominion.
Finally, there may be more people involved in activism now, and a wider range of people. However, I have no solid evidence to back that. Maybe it’s just that many of us are now connected on social media and so it feels that way.
What’s one simple thing each of us can do to advocate for animals?
I’m not sure if I’d describe this as simple, although looking at it in the context of event organisation it’s a pretty simple event, but I was involved in an initiative, until COVID put paid to it, called the Kind Food Table.
We would regularly have a table on a shopping strip and give out free samples of plant-based chocolate, cheese and milk.
I found myself chatting with people and before I knew it I was doing outreach, in spite of thinking this isn’t my forté. I felt comfortable doing this because people would get a free sample of something delicious. This was a way to draw them in, to connect over food, and it was easy to talk about the product itself. Then the conversation could be steered to the fact the product was cruelty-free. People were open to the information this way.
Also, this was a good way for people to try the products before buying them.
What advice do you have for someone new to activism?
I would encourage people to consider their skill set, talent and interests and see if there are ways they could employ these to do their activism, or to form part of their activism.
Also, it’s important to detach from activism to have fun. The horrors inflicted by others should not have to be a burden of guilt you carry. Engaging in interests outside the animal rights/vegan movement, and not even talking about the issues at those times, is important to help you avoid burnout and to ensure that you experience joy. Without joy, and with only misery in your heart and soul, it’s very difficult to sustain yourself.
Who inspires you in the animal rights movement?
Laurie Levy, who is the face of the Coalition Against Duck Shooting (CADS), is one. He has consistently, since 1986, been fighting this issue. He is much reviled by the shooting fraternity and is not a young man anymore, but he’s still fighting the good fight.
He once told me that to win an issue you need to focus on that issue and that issue only, and that’s exactly what he’s done.
Sadly, duck shooting is still legal here in Victoria, but we are far closer to banning it now than we were back in 1986. Laurie can proudly and unequivocally take much of the credit for this.
I am also inspired by Dr. Melanie Joy for the way she has been able to eloquently, and convincingly, give a name, carnism, to the practice of eating of animals.
Then there is Elizabeth Oliver, MBE, who founded Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) in Japan. Without a doubt the most well-known animal shelter in Japan, ARK has helped countless numbers of animals. I think it’s amazing that a foreigner could make such strides in a country where the culture around animals is significantly different to theirs. For her amazing efforts, she was awarded an MBE.
Finally, there is Andy Meddick, MP, our state representative for the Animal Justice Party (AJP). He advocates for an array of justice issues, not just for animals, and is always well-spoken, logical, calm and exudes compassion. He is much respected in our community here and having his voice in parliament buoys party members.
What is your experience of the animal rights community in your part of the world?
When I first began, it was all about the animals. We would go out, hold up our banners, and hope that animal liberation would come soon. How naïve we were!
The movement here, probably like in many parts of the world, is really nuanced. We are not a uniform, cookie-cutter movement but are made up of all kinds of people with different views on veganism, each other and on other issues. When I first started out, I was oblivious to all of that. Back then it was simple: we were fighting for animal liberation.
There is plenty of activism here, with something happening weekly. It may be an Animal Save Movement event, a Vegan Rising event, a Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR) event or any event by any of the many organisations or individuals here. I think it’s safe to say that Melbourne has a thriving animal rights community.
In your lifetime, what do you hope the animal rights movement will accomplish?
First, it’s important to distinguish between what I hope for and what I think is achievable.
Of course, I hope for animal liberation, but what I think is achievable looks quite different.
I think duck shooting will be banned here in Victoria in the not-too-distant future. We just need to keep chipping away at it.
Unless serious reform is made, I think the horse and greyhound racing industries will continue to suffer from decreasing public engagement. The appeal, especially for horse racing, has worn off for many.
Plant-based eating will surely continue to grow more popular as more options become available to us and as more people become aware of the detrimental health consequences and environmental degradation of partaking in animal products, not to mention the inherent cruelty in animal agriculture.
I would like to see more politicians advocating for animals and hope that the Animal Justice Party (AJP) here in Australia will go from strength to strength (presently we have two MPs in NSW, one in Victoria and two councillors in Victoria). I have faith, having watched the AJP grow, that this will happen.
Finally, I hope that other social justice movements will deepen their understanding of animal exploitation and that they will see their fight for their issue intersects with our fight, strengthening us collectively.