Sara Pascoe: The Importance of Empathy

Comedian, actress and writer Sara Pascoe started stand up back in 2007, in the ten years since she’s become known for her hilarious routines discussing topics including sexism, racism, human rights and animal rights. VC caught up with her to discuss her book, Animal, her transitions into veganism and where she sees it going in the future.

How did you come around to writing your first book, Animal?

“I had been reading into theories of evolution and sexuality for an Edinburgh show. I was boring people when conversations about their life came up and I’d be like, ‘well you know this is linked to that and so on.’ So already it was spilling out of me and I was researching it and reading a lot of non-fiction books and writing all these notes. After Edinburgh I had been contacted about writing a book and then I was suddenly clear on what I wanted to write about. I knew I wanted to write a book that had a lot of science in it but one that was readable, I was really intent on that, if a fifteen year old wanted to read it they could but at the same time if an adult wanted to read it then they would hopefully get something from reading it too.”

What made you decide to go vegan?

“I’ve been vegetarian since I was seven and I think when I was a teenager there was a couple of years where I wasn’t really a strict vegetarian at all, I think I’d lost the reason why I had went vegetarian. Then I had found it all again in my mid-twenties so it must be coming up for nine to ten years ago. I was in a play and the people I was in the play with were Buddhists, which is really interesting because acting is all about ambition, self-desire and ego and Buddhism is the exact opposite but they found a way to balance the two. They were all vegans, they all had incredible skin and seemed really healthy, they were cooking for us at the rehearsals, it was amazing and sometimes it was things that you thought vegan food would be like salads and raw food. They worked in a vegan café and one of them leant me a book which was almost a cartoon veganism for dummies.”

“When I read about dairy farming and egg farming, I realised for a long time I had that really naïve view that the cows were wandering outside and free range meant chickens were running around and someone had to look for their eggs and the minute I knew that wasn’t the case it was kind of an easy decision. In saying that it was an easy decision, I slipped up all the time, being vegan can be very expensive but it did teach me to cook much better and you get really good at checking labels.”

What’s been your experience with the vegan community?

“What I realised with the vegan community is it’s like a political party, there are some very angry people that are just attached, it’s not our fault, they’re everywhere.”

“I was asked to be a patron for the Vegan Society, I had raised some money for them at a gig. A man on Facebook got really angry with something I wrote on my website and he then was trolling me but I hadn’t realised because I don’t check stuff, he then told lots of other people and I got a deluge of death threats to my website and the Vegan Society had to step down because this guy didn’t think I was a proper vegan. It was only time this sort of thing had happened to me, I realised the people that feel that way or that are very excessive, they’re very angry, they think they’re right, they think everyone should listen to them and they don’t realise that being a human other people can think that they’re right and think something completely different from you. Also being kind to each other is
so important, that’s the kindest thing we can show is that we’re vegans, we don’t feel superior to you, we’re not going to ruin your dinner and we’re not going to lecture you. I think for me that’s a really important part of it.”

In your work, you talk about the importance of empathy, would you say being empathetic is an important part of being vegan?

“I think it’s important, fascinating really, especially in terms of veganism, there are people who don’t know things and once they find them out everything seems to makes sense. I would say with myself it was like that, when I was a vegetarian I thought that’s as much as you could do and when I found out through vegans about dairy farming and they were really gentle in the way they talked to me, it wasn’t like, ‘You’re an idiot’, they just explained it to me.”

“I wonder sometimes if there’s a spectrum of empathy, you have people at one end who murder people and think that’s ok and then you have people that think animals feelings don’t matter, they don’t have feelings, it’s all anthropomorphised and they are all just meat machines, then you have people who really empathise and think anything that’s alive who can feel trauma, they should be treated with respect and left alone. There’s also this thing that I think of as hidden apathy, where we all know for example Amazon is a terrible company that pays people terribly but at a push when you need something delivered the next day and it’s the cheapest place to get it you kind of go, ‘hmm, it’s ok.’ It’s the same with sweatshops and the same with farming, quite often people will go, ‘Oh no no, I get free range eggs’ and you have to decide whether to have a conversation on how free range doesn’t have a legal definition.”

How’s the vegan scene in London?

“It’s really great, there’s loads of vegan food markets now, that’s how people promote anyone can come in and try some stuff and talk to people. I think that is the only way forward, we have to keep consistently whilst talking and supporting to each other we should look outward and talk to people and feed them vegan food.”

What’s the plans for the rest of the year?

“I’m on tour and I’m writing a new book and I’m writing a radio series about evolution and trying to make that stuff funny. I’m trying to figure out how to talk properly how we evolved to eat meat, I want to talk about it more in my next book. For three shows I really wanted to talk about how we treat animals but I couldn’t get it flippant enough for it to be funny because it actually makes me want to cry. It would have to be so funny that the audience don’t think
I’m lecturing them.”

You can find out more about Sara’s tour and book at: sarapascoe.com