Thursday, September 29, 2011

An inside perspective

I’ve been having trouble writing this, but I think it is important. I am not sure if I can express the frustration I feel about this issue, but I will try my hardest. I don't want people to think I am attacking, but I hope my inside perspective can be helpful. Not everyone will agree with me, but that is ok. I have worked at Bob’s Red Mill for over 8 years and I know Bob personally. I know he has a big heart, is compassionate and truly cares about his employees and people’s health. When it was announced the other week that Bob donated $25 million to form an institute of nutrition and wellness through OHSU, I thought it could be a really good thing. The idea that any money could go to animal research did not occur to me, until The Oregonian quoted OHSU referring to the Primate Research Center. I don’t think Bob himself considered that OHSU would use some of the money to fund animal research.

“The Informed Vegan” blog posted an article titled “Bob’s Red Mill Funds Animal Testing”. Suddenly all over the web, animal rights activists were responding by commenting on Bob’s Red Mill facebook page, sending emails, calling and writing letters. Everyone took the blog post face value, which was filled with misinformation. For one, Bob and Charlee Moore made the donation, not Bob's Red Mill. They may be the founders, but a couple years ago Bob announced he was giving the company to the employees. This transition is still ongoing, but employees due now hold stake in the company.

Knowing Bob, it broke my heart to see all the negative reactions from activists. As an activist, it broke my heart that people did not educate themselves more or try and approach their concerns in a manner that was more productive, rather than just react and vent. Bob isn’t directly involved in facebook, yet a post about a fundraiser dog wash for Dove Lewis Animal Hospital where employees were volunteering that weekend were taken over by comments concerning this issue. When a post suggested people send Bob a letter to be most effective, a response was that Bob’s Red Mill was trying to silence the public. People were assuming the worse, when in fact, writing a letter was the best way to get through to Bob. The company was encouraging feedback so Bob could hear from the public and make a decision about this issue in a responsible way. People were calling for a boycott of Bob’s Red Mill products before Bob could even respond to the question of animal testing.

Bob and Charlee did announce this week that no funds would go towards animal research. The main goal of the institute is outreach and education. I heard many activists vocalizing concern that the donation would free up money so OHSU could spend more on animal research anyway. This was not a blanket donation. The donation will create a new institute and will only fund it specifically. There was also concern OHSU would not honor the Moore's decision, but it is a legally binding. I completely understand how people hate OHSU. It is sad that the top-notch medical schools are so wrapped up in animal testing. These same schools have more access to the public, however, so education programs through them can reach more people and have a larger impact. I’ve personally had both my sisters saved by the medical doctors at OHSU when no other hospital could help them. They were not saved by animal testing, but they were saved by the hospital’s status and ability to hire good doctors.

It is really easy to hate. It is really easy to tell people what they should or shouldn’t have done. But the problem is when a response is so negative, then those targeted for the message may miss what you are saying. Bob may have heard that there are a lot of people against animal research, but he may have also seen animal rights activists as mean and unreasonable. I personally felt I was in the middle of trying to calm down activists to communicate concern effectively, while try trying to calm down coworkers getting frustrated with being attacked.

There are times when anger and yelling your message is needed for a campaign. And then there are times when a more diplomatic approach is needed. The best approach to an issue needs to be considered before action, both on an individual level, as well as an organized effort. Bob has supported the vegan community in the past and donates to a lot of animal sanctuaries and other community organizations. Communicating with respect and giving him a chance to respond would have been more effective for the desired outcome, and represented activists in a positive light. Although there are people who will never be happy about Bob’s donation, he’s giving up his life’s work to invest in the future wellbeing of others. Even if you don’t agree with where the money is going, hopefully you can acknowledge his generosity.