• Tiffany Miller

“Of Mice and Men and Cobras” - The Cruelty Free Arts Story



“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.”

The quote is from 20th century theologian Albert Schweitzer, and it talks about taking care of all beings on this planet, a truly difficult yet worthy endeavor for all to task themselves with while we walk along this planet we share with insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and people who wear socks with their sandals.

Or as the 20th Century melodic philosopher Elvis Presley would say, “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Several Hip-Hop artists strive to live a life that is “sucker free.”

When you combine these two pop culture commandments, you come up with the phrase “cruelty free.”  Put some artists in there and you have…

“Cruelty Free ARTS” (click on the link to visit the Facebook page for the event)

Cruelty Free ARTS is a public event that will be held by The COBRA, an East Nashville staple where locals flock to for incredible independent bands or a tasty glass of beer.  On Monday, November 19th, several bands, comedians, poets and writers will be showcasing their gifts for a truly worthy cause.

There’s even a super secret surprise act lined up that can only revealed to the ticket holders when the show starts…

The show starts at 8pm, and will reverberate through the atmosphere of Music City until midnight.   

What is the worthy cause?

The show is raising money for Nashville Animal Advocacy, a group of local animal activists “dedicated to promoting animal rights and veganism in Tennessee through education, research, special events, protests and legislation,” as it says on their website.

What was once a group on meetup.com, NAA has since grown from its 2012 origins via Laura Levy to become a 501©(3) non-profit organization via co-organizers Tricia Lebkuecher and Amy Pruett.  Having met at a Ringling Bros. Circus protest, Tricia and Amy believed that the NAA could be so much more than an internet message board.


Since then, the NAA offers a wide variety of services, from volunteering at animal sanctuaries, to being the voice of the animals when they advocate for legislation for humane treatment of animals.  They also travel all around Middle Tennessee, informing people on the many ways that mankind abuses and tortures our furry, scaly, slimy and winged neighbors, a process called “vegan outreach.”

The Nashville Animal Advocacy isn’t your typical group of people who merely protests injustice, though that is also a part of what they do.  While some just rally and leave, the NAA rallies and puts their words into action, looking for ways to shape hearts and minds to make Nashville a better place for all living creatures.

The NAA is a passionate and tightly knit organization, and all of their management team is committed to living the vegan lifestyle.  They want a safe world for every living creature, whether they be human or animal.  You can check out Nashvegans, their social Meetup group, by clicking here.

So how did the idea for Cruelty Free ARTS come about, anyway?

Who was the Bob Geldof behind this vegan version of Live Aid?

“I’m happy to say I was!” Exclaimed Ashley Roth, communications director for the Nashville Animal Advocacy.


“Several months ago we were brainstorming at an NAA meeting trying to come up with events outside of our normal protests,” she continued, “We wanted to spice up our demonstrations and get involved with things outside the normal animal rights box, and the idea for an art collective popped out of my mouth.”  Ashley believed that it would be a unique way to introduce Nashville residents to the ways of veganism outside of the usual protests or vegan outreach events.

The idea definitely has merit, as many outsiders usually paint vegans with a stereotypical brush of the usual protesting caricature hawking about cows on a megaphone, yelling “MEAT IS MURDER!”  Then they end up usually being the butt of a lot of cheesy jokes.

“How do you know someone is vegan?  Don’t worry, they’ll tell you,” is one of the jokes Roth would rather see dead and buried in the past, though “‘If you’re ever sad you don’t have money to travel, go vegan.  You’ll get stranded on 1,038,372,828 different desert islands.’ Is one of my favorites,” deadpans Ashley.

I don’t get it.

(Photo by Ray Clark)

If you don’t either, it’s because you had that ham sandwich for lunch today like me and don’t get harangued with “cheesy” jokes like vegans do.  More so than jokes are the hypotheticals she gets blasted with.  “Usually they’re built on these big hyperbolic what-ifs: WHAT IF you were stranded on a desert island? WHAT IF you had to choose between a cow and your child? WHAT IF the only thing to eat in the entire world was a cheeseburger?”

Whaaat?

“Honestly, none of these are ever going to happen.” You can just hear the exasperated eye roll in her tone as she reflects on over a decade of insensitive queries she’s had to plow through.

Ohhhhh, vegans are stranded on deserted islands on all of these what-if situations, so THAT’S why vegans get stranded on 1,038,372,828 different deserted islands.

That’s funny, in a sad commentary on flesh eaters kinda way.

But why 1,038,372,828?  It seems like such an exaggerated number…

“You too, after I just told you how annoying all these questions are?” Ashley spat out.

(Editor’s Note: Ashley didn’t really fly off the handle in this situation, our writer just imagined what her reaction would’ve been if he had really said that to her.  Ashley is a nice person and wouldn’t jump down one’s throat unnecessarily.  Also, she is not related to David Lee Roth of Van Halen fame.  No autographs at the show, please.)


Anyway, “People are so baffled by veganism, and it’s funny because a lot of people eat vegan things all the time and don’t even think about it.”

Give us some examples, especially for the flesh eaters giggling in the back, please?

“Salad with vinaigrette, beans, tons of Asian and Indian food are vegan in nature, peanut butter and jelly, fruits, vegetables—and so many other things that aren’t stamped with a vegan sticker.”

Before I can even interject -

“And, yeah, everyone thinks I’m deteriorating from protein deficiency.”

Well, she hasn’t really done this for long, surely - 

“My favorite is when I let them know I’ve been doing the vegan thing for almost twenty years and in perfect health. In fact, according to a health screen they do at my job every year, I couldn’t be in any better shape health-wise.”

Well, it’s like my wife said when we were talking about this the other day, “there’s no such thing as a fat vegan, is there?”


Aside from taking care of her personal health, Ashley also has the day to day task of ensuring the health of her daughter Tallulah, who is part of this generation of Americans where some of the kids will be raised not to eat an animal or any of their by-products, as well as avoiding the purchase of products from companies that test on animals and never attending Zoos that lock animals up in a cage.

Ashley said that it was easy to start her out as a vegan, since she’s never had any experience otherwise, adding that “Kids are naturally compassionate.  Their toys and movies and earliest books often portray that compassion. Think about Ferdinand and Charlotte’s Web—those are so vegan in nature. You tell most small children what their food is actually made of and they would be horrified. No kid wants to eat their friends or wear their skin or see them locked in cages.”

Once Tallulah started to leave the nest “it has become a little bit more challenging, as she now realizes some kids don’t live like her,” admits Roth, “And some of the homework that comes home doesn’t support our lifestyle. For example, they had to make a zoo habitat. Well, we made an iceberg for our penguin who didn’t want to live in a zoo. Does the message completely make sense to a four year old? Probably not. But tell her a cookie has a cow’s milk in it and she’ll easily toss it aside—and she LOVES cookies.”

(Photo by Holly Feral)

It’s amazing seeing her talk about her daughter and her sense of self-control at such a young age, really makes a case for building certain habits in your kids early on before they become the adult who’s like “yeah, I wouldn’t mind becoming a vegan but I just like steak wayyyy too much.”

I realize I’m looking in the mirror as I type this as a carnivore, and I own it.  Habits are easy to start and hard to stop, for real.

Ashley’s seed is also down for the cause, having gone to protests since her birth, “She hands out pamphlets and kinda gets what the message is, and tells everyone walking by—and she’s making more of a difference than some of the adult protestors, because most people won’t turn down a gift from a toddler, even if they scoff at the adults’ same efforts.”

Some days I can’t even get my daughter to go to the library to read a book.


“She sees photos of circuses and can say how sad they are without prompting and she has brought up multiple times how she wants to take the zoo animals back to their families.”  When asked if she thinks if Tallulah will rebel, she pauses for a brief few seconds before confidently stating “I truly believe that she’ll return, even if she does stray from veganism, because she loves animals and has seen so many positive examples of vegan living.”

In any facet of life, it is so crucial to be surrounded by people who are positive examples of living, role models to be emulated for a successful and, more importantly, happy life.

When it came to veganism, this was not the case for Ashley Roth.

It was a different time back then, not many people lived that way besides rich rockstars like Paul McCartney and fictitious characters like Lisa Simpson.  Ashley has been an animal lover practically since birth “but, like most of us, I was raised in a desensitized/detached environment where we kissed our cats and dogs, but couldn’t make the connection with packaged/sold animal products.” 

It makes sense that someone who grew up playing with animals, animal related toys and creating “little stapled books of cat-people” would eventually grow out of throwing her passion on the grill for dinner time.  “If anyone had told me when I was very young where meat or dairy came from, I would have started the journey even earlier,” Roth assured me.


“I can’t pinpoint the moment my awareness began to shift, but I do recall being nine or ten and visiting my grandfather’s cows, only to have several pounds of beef later gifted to my dad with Daisy’s (one of his cows) name on the wrapping paper in black sharpie. It horrified me. I had pet this cow, nuzzled her. And now there were chopped up pieces of her in my dad’s freezer.”

She had the desire to live by her convictions, but not the knowledge of how to survive sans the protein from animals or the way to properly supplement her diet.  All of the adults were worried about her starving to death and possibly suffering from malnutrition.  They were too busy worrying to take her passion seriously at the time.

For Ashley, transition from eating meat to going vegan was a slow process, but only on the digestive part of the journey.  Around the same time she was trying to live off of Cap’n Crunch and meatless sandwiches “PETA sent a flyer with an image of a rabbit undergoing gruesome, gory animal testing. I ransacked the cupboards for animal tested products, ceremoniously slamming Gillette shaving gel and Pantene shampoo into the metal trash can.”

It’s one thing to jump on the Tofu Train, it’s another to look even deeper in your culture and see where God’s creation is being harmed on another level, whether it’s being used to test cosmetics or losing their skin to make human beings look fashionable.  And yes, those penguins look cute at the Zoo, we’ve all been there to see the animals, let’s be real with each other.


“Most of my zoo memories involve animals pacing in cages, panting out of fear, or not looking well taken care of,” admits Ashley, going further to mention "I had only been to one animal circus as a child, and the entire tone of the evening was pretty melancholy.  And the day I saw the veiny steak, I knew leather was wrong, too.”

The veiny steak in question recalls an incident that occurred when she was sixteen, her mom “purchased some discounted steaks and when we went to cut into them mine had a huge bloody vein. I couldn’t allow my own disconnect any longer, and haven’t eaten meat since.”  That was her breaking point, the end of her “teetering game” of “Talking about not wanting to eat animals, but also feeling super uncertain about going against my family and not feeling confident to defy social ideas about animal protein, not eating, etc.”

Veganism isn’t just a diet, it’s literally a way of life.  It is going against the grain, fighting peer pressure in one’s social circles.  It’s being painted as the “downer” of the group or the annoying person that doesn’t want to do what everyone else is doing based on their principles.

After the “veiny steak” incident, things started getting a little easier for Roth.  “In my senior year of high school, I met my first vegan friend, Maegen. We bonded over Silverchair, and she told me she was vegan. I asked questions and she loaned me a book called Becoming Vegan. I read the entire book in one night, crying over nearly every page, especially the part that talked about dairy cows crying for their babies who were carted away as a veal.”

I mean, even flesh eaters with a conscience know that veal is just PLAIN WRONG.


While being a vegan is no longer a struggle for her, “I’m still always learning and figuring out life through a vegan lens, even 17 years later. Our world doesn’t always foster immaculate veganism, but you do the best you can to divest your life of animal suffering and exploitation.”

One thing she’ll admit, though, is living the vegan life “was WAY harder in 2001 than it is in 2018.  2001 me is so jealous of the vegans making the leap now. They don’t have to live on baked potatoes with ketchup or be stoked on the one vegan cookie brand.  There are so many yummy substitutes for all those things people think they can’t give up and there is SO much information available literally at our fingertips.”

(Photo by Gina Anderson)

“Back in 2001, vegan cheese tasted like sour cardboard,” she quips.

And when it comes to walking the walk, “the lifestyle aspects aren’t really hard to navigate with all the info out there. Don’t want to go to the zoo, but still want to see animals? Google the best hiking spot or sit on your porch late at night—I see all sorts of wildlife then. Need to know which companies are cruelty-free? There are SO many lists and memes and other easily accessible information to make that super easy.”

In other words, thanks to the Internet you can find that vegan restaurant your co-worker won’t shut up about.


As a passionate defender of animal rights, Ashley Roth will be lending her talents to the stage at Cruelty Free ARTS.  As an accomplished writer, she has seen her works published in a myriad of forms over the years, one particularly in the form of a delightful children’s book titled “Tiny Tallulah and the Trouble With Zoos.”

*pause for a moment to appreciate the alliteration*

Anyway, the book was written “initially as nothing beyond a gift to my own Tallulah. It didn’t happen that way—rather, the book was illustrated by my cousin, Becky Dawson, and put into print and when I was planning a vegan kid’s event for the book’s release, I instantly thought of Nashville Animal Advocacy as a resource to reach more vegan kids and for help with the logistics of getting an event going.”

Written while Ashley was on maternity leave, “Tiny Tallulah and the Trouble With Zoos” is a tale of a young girl who defies her mothers wishes and goes to the Zoo with her pet rat named Charlie.  As she walks around the Zoo, her excitement to see new animals is slowly replaced with a feeling of sorrow for the animals scrunched up in metal cages.

I found myself crying along with poor Mr. Lion, who is only given food when he roars for visitors.  He can’t even express himself how he wants to, he’s just a dancing, well, puppet at the whims of his master.

As a struggling artist myself, I can relate to this routine and Roth thrives on making you and the heroine of the story empathize with the poor imprisoned creatures.  I’m ready to slap those snickering zookeepers in their faces for her by the end of the book, when Tiny Tallulah comes home to almond milk and vegan cookies to confess her crimes to her mother, who simply shrugs it off and says she is glad she learned how bad Zoos are on her own.

*brushes a tear off his cheek*


The book ends with brief yet very informative soundbites on the importance of protesting Zoos and supporting Sanctuaries and serves as a very effective piece of edutainment that parents can enjoy with their kids and even learn a thing or two themselves.

The book is so effective that even Ashley’s cousin Becky Dawson, the book’s illustrator “came away feeling uneasy about Zoos, and I know several meat-eaters who are against them.”  I’ve been on the fence about going to Zoos for years, and this book definitely makes the young and the old think twice about supporting animal cruelty.

“Tiny Tallulah and the Trouble With Zoos”, which you can order on Amazon by clicking here, is one of the times where her artistic side was perfectly married to her activist side.  When asked why she doesn’t write more activist stories like this one, she replied that “It becomes too didactic and forced, the same way anything I write becomes when I shove it into a mold. My stories need to grow without me strangling them.”

She concluded the topic by saying “it just has to happen organically, you know.”

When it comes to a story written by Ashley Roth that is organically laced with a message against cruelty, one needs to look no further than “Mice.”  Before you even finish this article, I have to insist that you click here to read the story or at least bookmark it for later.  


“Mice” is a deceptively simple tale written around the vivid comparison of fall leaves to mice tumbling “down the balding trees, their red and orange bodies twisting as they rolled onto the asphalt. Their brittle fur crumbled under the cars’ tires.”

It is a story of a mother and daughter experiencing holiday traditions together without their significant others, a story of powerful memories clouded in illness and stories untold yet revealed through Roth’s incredible knack for saying so much with so little words.

A trait this author clearly hasn’t ever mastered.

It is a story that “revolves” around a Cinderella record (get it) and the aforementioned memories revealed within the grooves of the vinyl.  It is a juxtaposition between the lives of Disney fairytale princesses and the real world characters in the story Roth weaves with such descriptive precision.

I will not spoil the details for you, as you need to read the story yourself and then hug your loved ones, but when you boil down the essence of “Mice,” it is a story about cruelty, human cruelty, as opposed to the animal cruelty that Ashley and now her daughter Tallulah have dedicated their lives to fighting against.


When I suggested that one of the meanings that could be interpreted from “Mice” is that Cruelty Free should also apply to humans, Ashley was quick to admit that  “we vegans, like many movements, can get locked into the bubble of our cause and forget that all these movements are in discourse with one another. Veganism needs to be intersectional, especially considering the political and social climate we’re all floundering in.”

This is the essence of the world we live in today.  We can all get so caught up in our politics that we forget that we are all fighting for the same thing: kindness and equality, an end to the general cruelty that has plagued man since the first fight, the first argument, or the first stolen girlfriend.  Vegans are fighting for more than a world without steak and Zoos…

…although Nashville Animal Advocacy is fighting for animals, no doubt.  Yet at the end of the day, according to their website, “Our collective hope is that someday the world will be a safe and happy place for everyone, humans and animals alike.”

And through her activism, her artistry, and her daughter, Ashley Roth is working with the NAA to do just that very thing.

*****

There will be many artists performing a unique variety of art forms at this event, and you can click here to check out the list of performers and their pics and bios.

*****


WHEW, that’s a lot of entertainment, isn’t it?

We haven’t even described the super secret surprise event yet, and you’ll have to come out and see the show for yourself to find out what it is.

To reiterate, the show is called “Cruelty Free Arts.”

It is taking place at the legendary East Nashville bar/venue known as The COBRA.

It will be occurring on Monday November 19th, at 8pm and will go on until midnight.

Come enjoy an evening of entertainment and support an excellent cause at the same time.

Click here to go to the event page on Facebook for more information.

*****

I’m going to end this behemoth of an article on a joke Ashley shared with me during the interview:

“Why did the tofu cross the road?”

“To prove he wasn’t chicken.”

See you at the show, everybody!


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