Awakin Calls » Bruce Friedrich on Jan 25, 2020

The Call to Impact and Compassion for all God's Creatures

Our guest this week was guided by his Catholic faith to embrace compassion for all living beings and to devote his life's work to ending factory farming for animals.  What has been your call to impact and compassion, and how does that manifest in your work? Share Your Reflection »


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Call with Bruce Friedrich

Jan 25, 2020, 9:00AM PST


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Bruce Friedrich is co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), an international nonprofit that is fostering a sustainable, healthy, and just agricultural system through food innovation. With branches in the United States, India, Israel, Brazil, Europe, and the Asia Pacific, GFI is accelerating the production of plant-based and cell-based meat, eggs, and dairy in order to bolster the global protein supply while protecting our environment, promoting global health, and preventing food insecurity and animal cruelty. He leads GFI’s team of scientists, business analysts, and policy experts in accelerating the plant-based and cell-based meat industries.  His April 2019 TED talk, “The Next Global Agricultural Revolution,” has been viewed more See full.

Bruce Friedrich is co-founder and Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), an international nonprofit that is fostering a sustainable, healthy, and just agricultural system through food innovation. With branches in the United States, India, Israel, Brazil, Europe, and the Asia Pacific, GFI is accelerating the production of plant-based and cell-based meat, eggs, and dairy in order to bolster the global protein supply while protecting our environment, promoting global health, and preventing food insecurity and animal cruelty. He leads GFI’s team of scientists, business analysts, and policy experts in accelerating the plant-based and cell-based meat industries.  His April 2019 TED talk, “The Next Global Agricultural Revolution,” has been viewed more than 1.9 million times as of the end of 2019.

In 1987, while in college, Bruce read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. Impressed by the number of calories farm animals must consume in order to produce meat and how a meat-based diet contributes to environmental devastation, global poverty, and animal suffering, Friedrich made the choice to become vegan.

From 1990 to 1996, he worked in a shelter for homeless families and ran a vegetarian soup kitchen in Washington, D.C. as a part of the Catholic Worker Movement. While he working in the homeless shelter, a friend gave him Christianity and the Rights of Animals by Andrew Linzey, an Anglican Priest and professor of theology at Oxford University. "It changed my life," Friedrich later said. “Linzey argues that animals were designed with certain needs, desires and species-specific behaviors and that animals have the same capacity for pain and suffering as human beings. Any introductory physiology course will teach you that birds, mammals and fish have basically the same capacity to suffer as human beings.”

And so Freidrich concluded, like Linzey, that “causing pain to an animal is the moral equivalent of causing pain to a human being.” Therefore, we could not eat them, experiment on them, use their skins or hides, or mistreat them. Friedrich credits Linzey’s work, together with prayer and conversations with his spiritual director at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, for causing him to become an animal rights activist and ultimately to go to work for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). He also joined the governing board of the Catholic Vegetarian Society and the advisory board of the Christian Vegetarian Society, and is a founding member of the Society of Religious and Ethical Vegetarians.

Friedrich was also influenced by Alice Walker’s introduction to the book, The Dreaded Comparison, by Marjorie Spiegel, in which Spiegel compares the treatment of animals today to that of human slaves in the 16th through 19th centuries. Friedrich concluded that “The animal rights movement is a movement for justice, just like abolition, suffrage, civil rights and women’s rights.” Friedrich has also cited the works of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dr. Isaac Bashevis Singer, and thinkers and humanitarians like Pythagoras, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Harriet Beecher Stowe, C.S. Lewis, Susan B. Anthony, Leo Tolstoy, Dick Gregory and Mahatma Gandhi.

Friedrich worked for PETA from May 1996 to August 2009 in the Washington D.C. area. In his time there, Friedrich wrote and made an audio recording of "Veganism in a Nutshell," a popular synopsis of the reasons some choose to go vegan. As Director of Vegan Campaigns, Friedrich was responsible for producing Meet Your Meat, a video about factory farming narrated by Alec Baldwin.  He also spearheaded PETA’s “Jesus was a Vegetarian” campaign. In 2003, Friedrich was in Details magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Influential People Under 38” for his work in animal rights activism.

From May 2011 to September 2015, Friedrich worked for Farm Sanctuary in the Washington, D.C. area. As Senior Policy Director, Friedrich led Farm Sanctuary's policy and litigation efforts and introduced the world to who farm animals are as individuals through the Someone, Not Something project, which he created.  Friedrich says that his “faith is not a function of my mercy and compassion for animals. The reverse is true: My concern for compassion is a product of my faith. That said, I agree with Gandhi -- and the pope -- that what's important is not your professed faith but how you live your life.”

A convert to Catholicism, Mr. Friedrich has served time in prison for antiwar actions -- he took a hammer to a jet fighter in the 1990s. He also previously embraced confrontation in furtherance of animal rights. In 2001, right before President Bush was to arrive for lunch, he streaked Buckingham Palace with the words “go veg.com” on his body.  Having been "the guy who broke into fashion shows to splatter fake blood on the models wearing fur coats," a recent New York Times profile reported, "he realized at a certain point that his activism wasn’t achieving his goal — getting fewer people to kill, eat and wear animals" and so now is "hoping capitalism [via the Good Food Institute] might work where activism and persuasion fell short."

Friedrich is a 2019 TED Fellow, a Y Combinator alum, and a public speaker on food innovation. He is an active contributor to the public discourse around meat production, climate change, and antibiotic resistance. He has penned opinion pieces for USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and New York Daily News, and has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Wired, and many other publications.

Friedrich is the author of two books, including Clean Protein with Kathy Freston, as well as a contributor to seven more books, and has written seven law review articles. He is a frequent lecturer and debater on college campuses, including Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Stanford University, and dozens of others across the country. He has also appeared on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and a variety of programs on MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN.

Friedrich attended high school in Norman Oklahoma, and then graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Grinnell College with a B.A. in English, Economics, and Religion. He received an M.A. in Education from Johns Hopkins University, and his J.D. degree from Georgetown University Law Center, graduating magna cum laude, Order of the Coif.  While attending law school in the evenings, he taught English at one of the lowest performing high schools in Baltimore, where he was voted best teacher.

Friedrich lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Alka Chandna, Ph.D and his three cats, Rena, Tigger, and Angie.

Join us in conversation with this passionate and compassionate leader! 


Five Questions for Bruce
What Makes You Come Alive?

My wife, our three cats (Rena, Tigger, Angie), and my work--focused on making the world more compassionate and more just.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

Reading the book Christianity & the Rights of Animals by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey. It completely changed my life's trajectory.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?

Helping a mother duck and her ducklings get from the National Mall to the Tidal Basin, so many people helped, including a fellow who pulled over and stopped traffic to allow mom and ducklings to cross the road. No one honked. It was a group effort to save animals who are thought of by many as food.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

I'm living my bucket list (see answer 1).

One-line Message for the World?

Let's work together to make the world more compassionate and more just.

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