With his photography, Roee Shpernik seeks to raise awareness for those who don't have a voice. Read on to learn about his inspirational journey from being an indifferent carnivore to establishing a revolution called "Total Liberation" and "Glass Walls."
What inspired you to go vegan?
"I grew up in Netanya, where the barbecue is the family thing. I liked eating animals and everything that comes out of them. Only at the age of 22, after the army, as part of my personal development process, I read a book about karma and the animals' experiences in the abattoir. I was captured by a story of a cow who experienced horror in the slaughterhouse, and whoever eats it eats meat with these horrifying energies. Suddenly this huge question hit me. I never asked anything: if it's delicious, I'll eat it. Then the question popped into my mind - would I take a knife and cut a cow's throat and eat it for lunch? I didn't think so, so from that moment I never ate meat again.
I was sure I was the only vegetarian in Netanya.
After a few years, my girlfriend, at the time, read about experiments on monkeys in her clinical psychology textbooks. These are not vegan stories. These are the actual studies of the researchers. They intentionally caused mental disorders to test the monkeys on psychiatric pills, open their skulls, and examine their brains. She switched from carnivorism to veganism because of her exposure to this reality, which led us to watch a documentary film about how the animal industry funds studies to claim animal-products are healthy. All the while, those who oppose this "all you can eat" worldview have no resources. There are no huge corporations that say 'eat healthy'. A lie led us to veganism."
What moved you to begin speaking out for animals?
"9 years ago, if I saw a lame, crying dog, or a friend told me he volunteered at a dog shelter, I couldn't hear it, I would change the subject. It was too hard for me. Fate - I believe in fate, and that reality has led me to the issue of animals. I am a professional photographer, and fate has led me to this point that I used my skills as a photographer to help animals, reveal what they experience and how their reality really is. It's not what you see in the advertisements and marketing campaigns made by corporations whose whole purpose is to engineer human beings' consciousness to consume as much of their products as possible. It's a mass industry. In little Israel alone, a million animals are slaughtered every day, and hundreds of millions are raised at any given moment.
For such a production to be profitable, in order to enslave tons of animals... and we're talking about tiny Israel's data. Think about the global scale of it. How many polluted and crowded cages. They are not supposed to be in this world naturally. It's an artificial creation. These animals were created for human consumption. "
What brought you to found "Glass Walls"?
"My affair with veganism and the animal struggle began when I attended a vegan Lag BaOmer event. After the first event, I attended more events and started going to protests. I am a professional photographer, so I started taking photos and making videos that shatter vegan myths. I began showing things from my perspective, gained supporters, and became connected.
I had one very significant moment - I was sitting on my bed with the laptop, and I went through my Facebook feed. Within a few months, I gained hundreds of new vegan friends. Suddenly I realized that my Facebook feed is full of animal abuse, trampling, electrocution, dead dogs, horrors and horrors. I said to myself: I'm either unfollowing all these pages - after all, I have not eaten animals for years - or I'm doing something that is far beyond what I have done so far. I just grabbed my two cameras with me and got out of the house. I started walking and decided that I would tell the story of the animals.
I got to the city market. I studied documentary photography, and you usually photograph the colors, the people, the smells. You create an atmosphere. That's what I learned in my training. Suddenly I came as an undercover investigator. I walked around the market and got to a fish stall, and the owner asked me if I wanted to buy fish. I got anxious, made two pictures of the eye of the fish, and kept going. I decided it was too big for me and left the market.
All of a sudden, someone yelled for me from a meat shop. I thought I was busted. I got into the shop and didn't need to ask the owner to do anything. He just started modeling everything. He took a tongue from the shop window, wore it as if it were his tongue, and said, "photograph this." He thought I was a reporter from the newspaper and that he is doing an advertisement. I got eight good pictures from that day. I edited them in Photoshop. I uploaded an album to my profile and called it "Glass Walls." I wrote a line: Today, I started telling the story of animals. "
Did it have the impact you wanted?
"Even as I uploaded the album, I still had mixed feelings. I wasn't sure I was going to continue with it. But then it gained quite a lot of likes and comments. Discussions were like "Enough with your nonsense, meat is great," "Well done, what a beautiful picture quality," or "Strong image." I felt like I wasn't done. I wanted to do it professionally.
I consulted with people who understand the field. I consulted with Ronen Bar, who did the Animals' investigation on "Adum Adum" and transformed many people to vegetarianism and veganism at that time. And with Tal Gilboa, my girlfriend for several years. Today, they are shaking from us together, but back then, if we would go to a barn, the farmer would talk to us and explain his methods.
From the moment I met Tal, we clicked. We quickly set up the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a field movement that focuses on direct activities, protests and performances, and I uploaded all the documentation to my Facebook album 'Glass Walls.'"
You see terrible things on a daily basis. How do you cope with the horrors?
"I have developed an elephant skin. I am one of the leading documenters globally, not as a cliché but as a reality. Our documentation project in the dairy and poultry industries is one of the most extensive in the world. I encounter death, and in front of my eyes many times.
It was hard for me to see animals suffer, but today I eat sandwiches while watching slaughters. Not in the sense that I became a zombie, but more like a veterinarian or a surgeon that deals with blood, see surgeries, and is not disgusted... I work. That's my job."
Do you believe that radical activities like yours help address this issue?
"Yes. The main problem is that people are not exposed to reality. They don't want to be exposed to reality. When you watch cooking shows, the flashes you get about something vegan related are super short. If you already manage to infiltrate an investigation into the existing media system, it will usually be censored. In the news, they will prefer to blame the junior employee or correct the deficiencies. In recent years it has improved a bit but also not well enough.
We create insane deterrence in front of the industry. They are afraid of us. They know we see them and can do a covert investigation.
'Glass Walls'" is an ideological approach to reveal reality, create the right publicity about it, and break the lie wrapping the 'product' - The brand. The meadow. The shining sun. The happy chicken. The smiling cow.
People want to eat delicious food. The majority are not interested in being yogis who do Vipassana fasts. They are interested in doing a BBQ with the family.
Today you have solutions. There are achievements and progress. We're reaching a more significant public consciousness. We're succeeding in creating another path, a path that bypasses the animal extermination industry. You see the results - in the increasing number of vegans. This field is very prosperous, and its economic data is wealth and happiness. This is where the world goes - keeping the environmental interest so we can live in a good world and not a world of destruction.
I am happy about this decision I had that day of going and taking pictures. I believe in a higher power, in God, in destiny, and prefer to be on the right side of karma. I am glad that I made a decision that, looking back, was very significant. The quality of the materials, the number of materials, the crazy push we did in the field. We're still pushing, from other angles as well, not what we did in the past. We build a good structure for where we are today. There is no rule book. Not everything that applies in 2017 applies in 2021, and not everything that works in France or Chila or Brazil works in Israel. There are complexities, and Israeli society is also changing."
How has public perception changed regarding animal rights during this time in Israel?
"In Israel today, 95% of the public oppose animal abuse, and there is a massive demand for this process to be improved. Even meat-eaters are willing to spend more money on their meals to soothe their conscience.
One of the main things here is social networks. In many areas, social networks reveal problems that have never been exposed. In the past, you were fed by one channel. Social networks have given us tremendous momentum for messages and help gain exposure.
Eight years ago, only 2.5% of Israel's population was vegan or vegetarian. Today, 5% of the Israel population are vegan, about 7% are vegetarians, and there are many reducers.
There are a million people who do not eat meat in Israel. It's political power, and it's economic power, it's something that counts."
With such successes in public opinion, what are the current challenges for the Israel animal rights movement?
"We were very naive when we started seven years ago, and we lost that innocence. I'm now the association's director, and Tal is no longer part of the association. She's now an adviser to the Prime Minister - that's politics.
We also need to mature, jump into the deep water. We cant raise a "meat is murder" sign for 30 years. I don't underestimate this, but we are no longer there.
The country ultimately has a lot of interest groups: Kibbutzim, Moshavim, coopers, cowherds, butchers, breeders, slaughterhouses, lobby groups of hunters, traditional people in the Muslim and Jewish public. There is a struggle here, but we got to the point where we went through the process of knocking on the door, and Tal is sitting where she should be sitting in the Prime Minister's Office. If I have a particular problem and I used to pick up signs and protest in the past, today it's resolved in a phone call many times.
The situation could be worse. In countries like Georgia or Ukraine, even Australia, where there is a high vegan percentage, 40% of all exports are livestock industry. Rich people have more power than countries. The world is built on this economy. It's useless to come up with empty slogans without a solution. We have to be the solution.
I respect everyone who protests. We want to develop into a vegan empire, be a light to the Gentiles, export to the whole world of cultured meat, to have countless vegan products, weaken the industry, and dilute it. To the point that people switch to veganism because they value it more - it's tastier, healthier, more economical. There are still problems, but twenty years from now, it will be a completely different game."
Can you give any advice or tips for activists wanting to get into this kind of work?
"This style of work is like being in the Mossad or the Shabak. It's not for everyone.
Anyone can take a photo, but you need to do it wisely. It scares people when they see an activist who goes all the way.
My advice is to develop durability because it's not going to end soon, it's going to be a long road, and I say this to any vegan who doesn't want to stay vegan only on his plate.
True, even liking and writing a comment is a kind of activism. Only a few take on the heavy burden of leading it, sometimes with grave personal consequences.
Happily, today we see fruits for our work. But, most of the time, we would come back from very difficult documentation and encounter human alienation, people mocking animals without caring for anything other than eating their meal.
We must be resilient and strong leaders who can utilize our power to help animals. To bring an end to one of the worst crimes this world has experienced and I believe that the end justifies the means here."
Do you need to have any specific skills?
"Leadership is an acquired skill, I was not born a leader. You need certain qualities, but mostly you need a vision. There is an existing reality. In 2012, it was reality X, which was dark. One has to imagine, not 30 years ahead, but try to predict a year, two years, five years on, try to lead a specific line and achieve it.
I want to end the animals' holocaust. Changing the state of animals means several strategic fronts, which we need to reach in a few years, and today my strategy is different."
What is different today?
"We used to think that if a thousand people would climb on an abattoir, we could end it all, now I know this is nonsense. We would have been evacuated. We got arrested in the past. There is no way to reach masses of vast numbers of people paralyzing the industry and not snatching crazy lawsuits. It's a dead-end.
Eventually, From an activist platform, we got to the legislature, and we fight from there. I believe that Tal's connection to Netanyahu has completely changed the game. I see it in front of my eyes. We're progressing fiercely. My girlfriend, the co-founder of "Glass Walls," is now the Animal Rights Prime Minister Advisor."
What did you do before becoming an animal activist?
"Before I was an animal rights activist, I worked at a hostel for people with autism, managed a project for people suffering from mental illness, and worked in a kindergarten for four years, accompanying kids with special needs. I was born into a particular world with a huge urge to do good. In the end, I got to the weakest of all. I volunteered for weakened and poor populations, but the poorest are animals, and most of the world's populations do horrible things to them."
How can people make a difference?
What activism gave to you?
"I am grateful for the opportunity that activism gave me to give and help others. I'm not doing this to make a profit, but I'm gaining a lot of satisfaction from it, that it heals. I believe in God. I have experienced this throughout my life. I look at myself in the big picture and say - overall, this guy is trying to do good."
Learn more about animal rights issues and veganism at the "Glass Walls" website. Want to volunteer with animals? Endless opportunities to volunteer are available for you.