New Jersey native Pulin Modi is the Action Team manager in PETA’s International Grassroots Campaigns Department. He coordinates PETA’s work with local animal rights activists and groups around the world, teaching them the ins and outs of organizing protests, distributing informational leaflets, and coordinating educational events. His activism dates all the way back to elementary school, when he went vegetarian after sneaking a peak at animal rights materials sent to his older brother. Soon, he was packing vegetarian school lunches and convincing his classmates to get active in behalf of endangered manatees.
Modi honed his skills while working as college campaigns coordinator and senior Street Team coordinator for peta2—PETA’s youth division. While he was in Florida working on an ultimately successful ballot initiative to ban cruel gestation crates used to confine pregnant pigs, he met a peta2 staffer who recruited him to help peta2 table on the Warped Tour. Modi was so inspired by the experience of traveling around the country with many of his favorite bands and interacting with young people that he knew peta2 would be a good fit. He mobilized thousands of students across the country to protest sales of fur-trimmed items by Wet Seal, persuading the trendy retailer to suspend fur sales. He also helped coordinate the campaign against KFC suppliers’ abusive treatment of chickens, which ultimately led to landmark animal welfare improvements by the company that controls the purchasing of chickens for KFCs in Canada. After Hurricane Katrina left thousands of animals stranded in flooded homes, Modi traveled to New Orleans to care for rescued animals who were being held at the makeshift shelter at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
Now, Modi has trained his sights on the Canadian seal slaughter and McDonald’s. PETA’s “seal” has been dogging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and leading protests in cities across Canada to end the country’s Olympic-size shame—the annual massacre of baby seals. He has also organized scores of protests at McDonald’s nationwide in order to pressure the fast-food giant to follow the lead of some its rivals and adopt new animal-welfare guidelines.
Modi—who credits the animal-friendly punk-music scene for inspiring him to go vegan—has spent a lot of his time with PETA traveling to protests and outreach events, including a provocative exhibit about the benefits of vegetarianism in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. He has also been a featured speaker at animal rights and youth conferences in New York, Chicago, Austin, Orlando, Toronto, Chicago, and Portland, Ore. Modi has had dozens of letters to the editor printed in college and local newspapers, and his efforts have garnered him interviews with TV stations, radio stations, and newspapers across the country.
Pulin Modi, 31, lives in Norfolk, Va.
I met Pulin at the First Annual NYC Food Festival in New York City, where he gave me a few Peta t-shirts, vegetarian recipes and Ingrid Newkirk’s book, “Making Kind Choice” Everyday Ways to Enhance Your Life through Earth – And Animal-Friendly Living. Thanks Pulin! He’s also great friends with Michelle Cho, who we featured in April 2009. We love them!
ASIANCE: Tell us about your heritage. Where did you grow up? Where are your parents from?
Pulin: I’ve got family roots in India. I can understand Gujarati and speak it a little, but my knowledge of Hindi is limited to translations of “love,” “life,” and “girl,” because those words are in just about every minute of every Bollywood movie ever made!
Both my parents were born in India, but I was born and raised in New Jersey doing the usual Indian kid stuff like reading, studying, and playing sports—and, of course, I won the school spelling bee twice!
I went to college in New York to get a self-designed major called “Ecology of Social Change” and eventually moved to Virginia to work for PETA after I graduated.
ASIANCE: Did your culture influence you to believe in animal rights?
Pulin: I’m sure my culture affected my beliefs regarding animal rights and social justice overall.
I knew more vegetarians than the average person despite not being one myself for the first several years of my life. Being around vegetarian grandparents—including two practicing Jains—must have influenced me too. It also doesn’t hurt that incredible vegetarian Indian food is easy to find.
ASIANCE: What made you decide to get into an animal rights organization?
Pulin: I’ve always been involved in social issues, including human rights and environmental issues in school. The more that I learned about animal rights, watched videos (http://www.meat.org/), and thought about how I would never be able to take a knife, gun, or needle to another animal, the more I felt it was the issue that I wanted to focus on personally. It’s a very empowering thing to know how easy and effective it is to help animals.
Just as with social issues other than animal rights, there are many great groups doing fantastic work out there, but I chose PETA because it’s the most consistently creative and bold group out there when it comes to public awareness.
ASIANCE: What is the most important animal cause we should focus on right now?
Pulin: The easiest and most important thing anyone can do to help animals is to go vegan (http://features.peta.org/VegetarianStarterKit/index.asp). More animals are slaughtered for food than those killed in all the other animal-using industries (animal testing, fur, etc.) combined! The average person eats about 100 animals a year, so we really have this incredible ability to make a difference if we’re willing to step up and hold ourselves accountable for a more peaceful planet.
Moreover, a major U.N. report concluded that the meat industry should be a main focus in every discussion of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortages, and loss of biodiversity.
ASIANCE: How is America’s interest in animal rights different from other countries, particularly Asian countries?
Pulin: It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, you’ll always have a difficult time finding anyone who can honestly say they don’t care about animals. In the U.S., we tend to be really into dogs and cats, and the animal rights movement can use that to our advantage to get others thinking about how all animals suffering on factory farms and slaughterhouses have the same right to live their lives in peace and happiness as cats and dogs do. If you wouldn’t make nuggets out of cats, why make them out of chickens?
In Asian countries, the relationship with dogs and cats may be different, but people still care about animals. Asia is a huge and diverse continent, so without generalizing too much, there is less focus on rights and more on the general ideas of responsibility and nonviolence, from what I have observed. When the issues are framed along the lines of how caring for animals is consistent with the core values of the culture, I think that’s where the most success will be found. PETA India, PETA Asia-Pacific, and other groups still do investigations, work with celebrities, organize protests, work with companies to make reforms, and set up informational tables just as we do here in the States, though.
What would you like to see changed in terms of the rights of animals in America?
Animals don’t really have any rights in America. There is no law in the U.S. that prohibits any animal experiment, no matter how frivolous or painful. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is very weak and poorly enforced, and it does not protect rats and mice (the most common victims of animal experiments), cold-blooded animals, birds, or animals who are traditionally used for food. Under the AWA, animals can be starved, electrically shocked, driven insane, or burned with a blowtorch—as long as it’s done in a clean laboratory.
They’re essentially treated as property, so I’d like animals to be recognized based on their own interests.
A pig doesn’t need to drive a car or go vote in the 2012 election, but that individual animal does deserve the right to be with his or her family and not to be hung upside down and bled to death simply for a person’s palate preference. There have been strides in the last several years on the state level, but there is still much work to be done on the national scale. Since that will take time, the best thing that average caring consumers can do immediately is to go vegan.
ASIANCE: Which Asian celebs are great for animals that you want to give a shout out to!
Pulin: I like Gulshan Grover (http://www.petaindia.com/features/Gulshan-Grover.aspx), and he was even in Los Angeles at PETA’s 30th Anniversary Gala (http://features.peta.org/peta30/) last year. Other than that, I don’t have any personal favorites, but there are an incredible number of celebs who support PETA India (http://www.petaindia.com/features/default.aspx) and PETA Asia-Pacific (http://www.petaasiapacific.com/features-past.asp?page=1), ranging from actors Trisha Krishnan and Alicia Mayer to athletes like golfer Mahindra Singh. Just as in the U.S., it’s nice to see such a diverse group of people uniting under the banner of animal rights.