Waves Making Waves: Jaya Bhumitra (MA’10) and Compassion Over Killing
What do Comedy Central, MTV, and Animal Planet, and Hulu.com have in common? They are all helping promote the award-winning pro-vegetarian commercial campaign by Compassion Over Killing (COK), a national nonprofit organization that exposes cruelty to animals in agriculture and promotes vegetarian eating as a way to build a kinder world for all. From undercover investigations to public outreach, COK runs a variety of programs to help stop animal cruelty.
Waves of Service recently caught up with the organization’s Campaigns Director, Jaya Bhumitra (MA ‘10), an alumna of the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.
WOS: How did you get involved with Compassion Over Killing (COK)?
Jaya: I became vegetarian at age nine because my family’s two pet chickens, Cluck and Doodle, showed me that birds had personalities and emotions as complex as my dogs, Tootsie and Sandy. They played together, ate together, and just seemed altogether very similar. Once I made that connection, it was easy to see that chickens deserved more than becoming someone’s mere meal. Eighteen years later, a vegan friend informed me about the cruelty issues associated with the production of animal byproducts such as dairy and eggs. I was surprised that this was not widely known and began to do my own research, reading as much as I could about animal agriculture. The more I learned about the routine abuses inflicted on the nine billion birds, pigs, and cows raised and killed for food each year in the U.S.—how pigs can’t even turn around in the gestation crates in which they spend nearly their entire lives, how calves are chained inside tiny crates immobilizing their bodies before they are slaughtered—the more I felt compelled to do something to help.
Eliminating animal products from my diet was the first step. That was a start, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there were others out there like me, people who loved animals but didn’t realize that they were a part of a system that supported animal abuse. After all, the agricultural industry does a very good job of hiding the cruelty behind the closed doors of factory farms, while portraying images of happy animals in green pastures on packaging.
So I started volunteering for COK. I loved the organization’s mission to empower people to choose compassion at every meal, as well as its practical resources—COK’s website TryVeg.com not only explains why vegan eating is better for animals, our health, and the planet, it also shows people how to get started with facts, recipes, grocery lists, descriptions of new-to-you foods, tips for eating on a budget or eating out, and more. COK even publishes a free, pocket-sized Vegetarian Guide to Los Angeles. In addition, COK’s efforts include undercover investigations, legal advocacy, and restaurant outreach and corporate campaigns to ensure that vegetarian options are readily available in the marketplace, making it easier than ever to choose compassionate foods.
I helped establish and lead the organization’s Los Angeles volunteer chapter in 2010, was recruited to become the Los Angeles Outreach Director and open a Los Angeles office in 2011, and was promoted to Campaigns Director in 2012. In this role, I oversee national outreach efforts such as US VegWeek and We Love Subway, while also expanding our reach in other cities around the country.
WOS: What types of things has COK accomplished in the fight against animal cruelty?
Jaya: COK has had many successes over its nearly 20-year history. Most recently, we concluded US VegWeek 2013 on April 28. More than 3,500 people took our 7-Day VegPledge, including nearly 30 federal, state, and local elected officials. Across the country, 150 events were held, 140 restaurants offered vegetarian specials, and the campaign received more media coverage than ever before, further raising awareness of the many benefits and flavors of meat-free foods. In addition, these are just some of the exciting victories we achieved last year alone:
- After COK met with city council members, Los Angeles became the largest US city to adopt a resolution encouraging residents to participate in Meatless Monday.
- Through COK’s website, WeLoveSubway.com, thousands of consumers have been encouraging the world’s largest restaurant chain to offer hearty vegan options. Last summer, eight select locations in the DC-Metro area launched a vegan test menu that was so popular, stores ran out in less than a month.
- After working with COK, Quorn Foods created its first-ever all-vegan product, launched in the U.S. Due to rave reviews and strong sales, Quorn decided to expand its vegan line into the UK market.
- COK and the Animal Legal Defense Fund settled an animal cruelty lawsuit against Cal-Cruz Hatcheries, which agreed to cease all animal operations, putting an end to suffering at this factory farm. The lawsuit, based on COK’s undercover investigation inside this chicken and duck hatchery, was filed after the District Attorney’s office refused to take action to stop the abuse.
- A COK investigator wore a hidden camera while employed at Hawkeye Sow Centers, a pig breeding factory farm in Iowa. The footage reveals the day-to-day miseries forced upon thousands of female pigs nearly immobilized inside tiny crates and their piglets who endure painful mutilations without any relief.
- After COK exposed the dairy industry for killing 500,000 young cows to reduce milk supplies and artificially inflate prices, a $9.5 billion class-action lawsuit was filed late last year against industry giants. In October, the court denied the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, so the case will now move forward.
Above: Jaya with a rescued pig.
WOS: What’s the best part of your job?
Jaya: I love empowering people to make positive choices, choices that help animals, the planet, and themselves. I have already mentioned how choosing vegetarian foods can reduce the number of animals suffering on factory farms. But did you know that choosing vegetarian foods can prevent and even reverse illnesses such as obesity, cancer, type II diabetes, and hypertension, as well as America’s leading killer, heart disease? By teaching people about the nutritional advantages of vegetarian foods, I can help them stave off diseases and enjoy a better quality of life for longer. In addition, countless studies show that animal agriculture is a leading cause of biodiversity loss, resource depletion, pollution, and global warming. But I help people see that they can reduce their environmental impact at every meal, simply by eating plant-based. Vegetarian advocacy is very efficient in that it supports multiple causes—I get to help animals, people, and the planet every day. It’s very rewarding work.
WOS: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Jaya: Watching footage from factory farms taken during undercover investigations is always distressing. But it’s so important not to turn a blind eye. This problem has a solution. We can stand up for animals every time we sit down to eat, simply by choosing vegetarian foods.
WOS: How did your education at Pepperdine shape your career and/or you as a person?
Jaya: My undergraduate academic background is actually in business, and my professional experience is in private sector consulting. But the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, where I obtained my master’s in psychology, is an incredibly service-oriented institution. The faculty and staff are always encouraging the students to look beyond ourselves and to the communities around us to see how we can apply our skills and passions to create a more just world. That emphasis and support gave me the assurance I needed to transition into full-time advocacy. It’s not as lucrative a career as consulting, but I feel fulfilled knowing that each day I’m making a tangible difference in the lives of others.
WOS: What piece of advice would you give to others who would like to work in a service-oriented career like yours?
Jaya: So much can be gained—for you and for the world—by giving your attention to an area of need. Start by volunteering to get to know an organization and its approach. Make sure their mission and projects are a good fit for your interests and work style. At the same time, you’ll be building a name with the organization. Be reliable and consistent, and when job opportunities present themselves, they’ll think of you first.
WOS: How can others get involved with COK?
Jaya: We’re always looking for caring individuals nationwide to help with outreach events as well as campaigns and various projects. If you’re interested, sign up to volunteer! You can also sign up for our eNewsletter, and find us on Facebook and Twitter.