NC STATE UNIVERSITY
MS: "So you got
your degree in Virginia, and went to North Carolina."
TR: "Then I did a couple
of years in a small school, and then I spent the
last 35 years of
my career, my professional life, in North Carolina.
MS: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't North
Carolina a rather conservative area?"
TR: "North Carolina is
a conservative area, and NC State Univ. is an agriculture school,
and a vet school, it's a place where
of faculty doing
major major harmful
research on animals."
MS: "How did the ever deal with you?"
TR: "Well, I think, that
for the most part, these folks from the ad school and the vet school,
and so on, they knew I was here and they knew what I was
saying and what I was doing. But they basically left me alone. They
didn't hassle me, and they didn't try to make my life miserable. They
weren't happy that I
was here. The irony and the paradox, if I can put it like this, is
the University awarded me every
award for which I was eligible for as a faculty member. "Distinguished
Graduate Teaching," "Outstanding Research," and then
it culminated in the highest honor the University can bestow on a faculty
called the "William Quarles Holladay Award."
The University has always been good to me, and the point is, if I
had been an incompetent beady-eyed animal rights professor in philosophy,
have hassled me a lot. I don't want this to sound immodest, the problem
was that I was good at what I did, and therefore they couldn't just
MS: "It's amazing that
you could even walk alone at night on campus..."
THE TOM REGAN AR ARCHIVE
TR: "...and the
final thing is that when I was approaching retirement, representatives
Library come to me, and they say, "we'd like you, if you would,
to donate your papers to the Library and we'll start the Tom
Regan Animal Rights Archive here at North Carolina State University."
TR: "I did do that, I
donated my papers to the University. There was this wonderful ceremony,
lots of boxes
honoring the occasion. And, since then, we have received major additional
donations, so that today, the Tom Regan Animal Rights Archive at
North Carolina State
University, the ag school, the vet school, the place where they do
all this vivisection,
today that Archive is premier collection of animal rights literature
anywhere in the world."
MS: "You haven't been banned,
but have you had difficulties when being invited to speak at different
TR: "...I have... there's one particular episode that I talk about in the
book, where the researchers at this particular university were very unhappy that
I was coming to their university, so they did everything they could to have me
disinvited. This meant letters, and memos, and e-mails, and all this sort of
stuff saying that I "incited
my audiences to riot," that I told them it was alright to violate the rights
of people, and that I was like a "megalomaniac" in person
who thought he was Napoleon or Jesus Christ..."
TR: "...that I was the Jim
Jones of the Animal
Rights movement... those sorts of things. Let's just say they weren't
out the welcome
mat, and it was pretty clear that I wasn't welcome. That happens,
and I live with it."
FAMILY & FRIENDS
friends and family... how do they feel about your work?"
TR: "Well, my parents
now are deceased, but I do know they felt great pride. They were
who had anything
education, neither one
of them went to the ninth grade. They were uneducated people for
the most part, but they came to respect what I was doing, and any
puffed up about it. I was happy, and happy for them."
like unconditional love for you..."
TR: "Yeah, that's right...
I think if I'd ended up in prison they'd love me just as much, in
terms of their love.
were very proud, and
probably surprised. This is something their life didn't prepare them
for, my writing books. I mean, when I was growing up we didn't have
just wasn't part of our life. They were good
MS: "That's really surprising to me. You're
so articulate, and your ability to turn a phrase is delightful."
TR: "I don't know...
must be the Irish in me!"
MS: "Do you have any companion animals?"
TR: "None now, but we
have over the course of our marriage. We had two dogs who died within
than a week of
years ago, and we're still
trying to process
MS: "Do you have any children?"
TR: "We have two children.
Our son Bryan, and our daughter Karen. They're both married. Bryan
is a commercial photographer
in Raleigh, Karen is married
in lawyer in Washington DC. Bryan and his wife have one child, and
another is on the way."
MS: "So you're a grandfather! Have you had
an influence on your children and their diet?"
our children are vegetarian."
MS: "..and your grandchildren?"
being raised vegetarian.
MS: "Speaking of vegetarian,
how long have you been vegetarian to vegan?"
TR: "I been thinking
about this, and it's a little hard to say exactly, but I'm going
to say over
30 years. The
came in, oh... between 15
and 20 years ago."
MS: "You write about your being an anti-Vietnam
activist years ago, and make this great statement that, here
you were worried about
the Vietnam War, and here, opening your refrigerator, were victims
of this other
war. Was this an epiphany of sorts
or a gradual process of understanding?"
TR: "It was a gradual process. There was a final moment that clinched the
realization, as it were. It takes, for muddlers anyhow, it takes time, to open
the freezer, and open the freezer, and open the freezer, and to kind of start
thinking, "we'll maybe that's
not just a piece of meat" and it's a gradual thing... that's
what it was like for me... it was gradual. Eventually what you realize
got there is a dead body."
MS: "Was it a similar process for you
to finally go vegan?"
TR: "No, that was more,
I think, an act of will then an act of awakening."
MS: "Same here..."
is that right?"
MS: "...it was the pus
count in milk. That was the
TR: "For me it wasn't
that I saw animals any differently, it was just that I realized that
I was thinking didn't
make any sense
unless I took this
next step. That was more like the conclusion of a reasoning rather
than an experiential thing."
MS: "Was a matter of being consistent
to your belief structure?"
TR: "Yes, I think that's
was the most difficult thing to give up as a vegan?"
me too. A good glass of red wine and some cheese."
TR: "For me, the best
life for me, was some really good bread, and a really sharp biting
There was nothing
else I liked
as much, and it was the most
important food in
MS: "Typical meals... is there anything
typical that you enjoy for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner?"
TR: "Well, I like
a big breakfast... I don't each lunch normally. For breakfast, potatoes
that are warmed-up
with lots of spices, not necessary hot,
but with olives, tomatoes, mushrooms... a big plate of that and a
good bread, is a good breakfast for me. Or if I had some black beans
almost having lunch for breakfast! But also, I'm a person not opposed
to meat analogs
--- the meat substitutes that are available. It's not for the taste
of flesh that I gave up eating animals,
but for who they were."
MS: "Any favorite meals for dinner?"
TR: "I'm happy to say
that my wife happens to be the best cook, certainly
in North Carolina..."
a lucky man..."
TR: "...I'm more than
a lucky man... and also, one who really enjoys cooking.
We eat the cuisine
of the world."
she were to make something special for dinner, what would it
TR: "There is a dish,
that involves green beans, and potatoes, olives.... that sort of
She makes it like
an extraordinary dish.
We also discovered this dish in Italy, it's cauliflower and pasta...
it doesn't make any sense to Americans, I know, but she makes it
The most important thing I have to say to people when it comes to food,
though, is something that we learned many years ago, and not many people
know. We do a lot of tofu, but we know how to do it. The way you do it
is you have
to freeze the tofu. When you freeze the tofu, it changes the chemical
composition. The point is that instead of that slimey gooey tofu that
happy about, you get this chewy tofu.
We do lots of different things
like that. We
also eat a lot Indian food, and Chinese food, and Thai food... to
me, and I say this in the book, the really important news about vegetarianism,
is not the food you give up but the food you gain. Once you give
all that meat, you've got to learn about the cuisine of the world.
going to find it in "Best Dishes of Southern Cooking," you're
going to have to go and find out how the other nine tenths of the
And what you
find out, is that most of the world eats a vegetarian diet, not necessarily
of choice, often out of necessity. But, that's what they eat, and
they've had a
lot of years of practice at it, and they have a lot of good dishes."
MS: "So, what is your favorite food indulgence?"
TR: "...potato chips!
I don't eat them that often, but when I really want
to indulge, that's
what I eat."
do you handle burnout? Are you one of those people
who works themselves to the ground, or one who knows
how to rest once
TR: "Burnout? It's seems relative to me. I've
had periods of high creativity and activity, and medium periods, and
So it's not like there's been
this straight line in my life, I think it goes up and down. There was
a period in the early 1990s where I think I did less than I had been
then I kind of got myself out of that. So I don't think that ARAs should
they're going to always be firing on all cylinders all of the time in
order to be making a contribution. What we have to do is be realistic
life has rhythms... the main thing is to keep on the path, and keep moving
forward. If sometimes you're moving slower, then you're moving
slower, but you're moving."
MS: "You've taken some big leaps in understanding
and thinking, and certainly put yourself on the line many times concerning
Who are some of the people who've inspired you get to this point
and inspired you
TR: "Obviously the most important inspiration
I had was from somebody I never met, but somebody I read, and that would
Gandhi was the first
person to challenge me to bring coherence to my values. If I was going
to be against unnecessary violence in the war in Vietnam, how could I
violence when it came to how we treated animals? I'm eternally grateful
for thinking the thoughts he thought, and living the life he lived. I'm
never going to be able to live such a life of simplicity, but it seems
was as close to anybody... I've read about some of the historically great
leaders and teachers... and he was as close to the most important truths
in life as anybody I know."
else inspired you?"
TR: "Aside from Gandhi, I think the Berrigan
brothers, who throughout their life have been steadfast in their opposition
that make no sense and policies
that make no sense. People like that. People who have walked the walk,
and not just talked the talk."
MS: "You've written that Gandhi's
Autobiography inspired you
considerably, are there any other books that influenced you a lot
in your thinking,
Buber influenced me, but when
I read him, I think I misunderstood him. Going back I think I understand
that as a philosopher,
Kant on my thinking as a philosopher because of his
opposition to utilitarianism. We can put it this way, it's because of
that, at least in the case of human beings, there are some things we
shouldn't do to each other, regardless of the outcome for others. That
a profound affect on my thinking."
MS: "Suppose you could have some
dinner guest from the past, present, or future: who would
they be? It's clear that Gandhi would get a invite. Who else?"
TR: "Kant, obviously, because of the influence
he had... I'd want Socrates there..."
wow, that's shaping up to some great conversation..."
TR: "...and I would enjoy having St.
Thomas Aquinas as well... we'd
certainly have to have
Leonardo there... and Nancy, my wife."
MS: "Did your wife go vegetarian
when you did?"
TR: "We walked down the same path, and she
was beside me or a step ahead
of me all the way. We both evolved the same way, the same
A MILLION DOLLARS
MS: "Here's a million dollars (tax-free)...
what would you do with it?"
TR: "Actually, we live a pretty simple life. I don't think the acquisition
of wealth like that would change it in any significant way. What we would probably
do is to help our children, and their security, and our grandchildren... that
would be the honest thing to do. But also, we'd renew our commitment to the vision
we have with the "Culture
and Animal Foundation," because we
continue to believe, that there are important things to be done for the
stand outside programs of the major national organizations.
Everyone has their
kind of vivisection campaign, their factory farming campaign, and their
horse racing and rodeo campaign... the important is to also grow and
understand the cultural resources we have, who in history said what,
what plays, what music,
what poetry, what drama... within our own movement we don't know that,
let alone the general public, so you have to kind of work at getting
know what great resources that are on the side of the animals throughout
MS: "I think I remember seeing that on your foundation's website:
TR: "Yes, and so that's one thing, but the other thing of course,
is that you need to add to it. You need to support people doing creative
work in the
arts & letters, and you have to see it gets performed, whether it
was written by Shaw a hundred years ago, or by somebody in Schenectady
year. The way
I put it is that animal rights advocates need to be inside the theater
performing, not only outside the theater protesting. The protest mode
is one mode, and
I'm not against it, I'm against a steady diet of it. What you need to
do is look
for positive alternatives to that, and there's no reason we can't be
inside the theater performing rather than outside."
MS: "Those are great ideas... it's the first time I've heard
of anyone suggesting them. Of course, you have a wonderful artist
the cover of
your book, so I
where you're coming from..."
TR: "Oh yes, Sue
Coe would be invited
to that dinner, too."
do you think are your biggest surprise and biggest
failure over the past three decades?"
think it was 1985, this is when.... there comes a time
when you have
to put up or shut
up. In 1985, I decided it was time for me to get arrested."
MS: (laughs): "..today
I'm going to get arrested..."
TR: "...that's right...
So what happened was, there was a head injury laboratory at the
University of Pennsylvania, and the Animal Liberation Front liberated
76 hours of video tape that the vivisector's had taken of their
own work. And
what those tape showed, was not only bad science, people smoking,
using tools that fell on the floor, all kinds of violations of
ordinary Federal Law, but
also a callousness, a cruelty even, when it came to how the researchers
treated the chimpanzees they were using for head injury impact
research, and so the tapes
got to Ingrid Newkirk [PETA],
Alex Pachenco [co-founder PETA], and they produced a half hour
video called "Unnecessary Fuss." It was like a
synopsis, it showed summaries of the worst stuff... it was so damning,
it made you sick.
The research was funded by the N.I.H. [National
Institute of Health],
and the N.I.H. gets the tape, renews the grant and increases the
out from Alex and Ingrid, and 101 of us gather at a hotel near
the N.I.H., and the next morning, we all go to the N.I.H, and we
all had buddies,
things to do,
and places to be. The long and short of it is, all 101 of us show
up at a particular office at a particular time --- which was the
It was like a
hurricane making landfall. We got into that office,
we sat down, and we started chanting: "We want animal rights. When do we
want them? We want them now." I've always said, that if a
boulder had fallen through the roof, the people in that office
could have made
MS: (considerable laughing)
TR: "...they didn't
know what to do, who we were, they didn't know anything. We all
figured, we were chanting away,
police were going to show up,
and we were going to be arrested any minute now. So what happened
was peculiar... because what happened with first one person, then
on the staff
in this office left, and then everybody on this whole
floor of this building left."
MS: (still laughing)
TR: "We had
tens of thousands of feet of government space we were occupying..."
was in Bethesda, Maryland, right?"
took over the whole floor?"
TR: "Yes... so negotiations
went on for four days, and it's just an incredible story. But
when we had finally walked out of
there, the funding had been cut
off and the lab had been closed. Gandhi
would have been absolutely proud."
there a biggest failure?'
biggest failure was the 1996 "March for the Animals." The 1990 "March
for the Animals," I was invited to co-chair, and I was really
intimately involved in that march, and it was a tremendously exciting
day, and we
had, some estimates said, a 100,000 people in Washington DC, marching
parade was so large, that when people were sitting down on the
grass before the Nation's Capitol, at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue,
people around the corner of the White House. We just went on forever
But in 1996, when they had a March, that I was involved in organizing,
there was less than 5,000 people. That was the biggest disappointment."
MS: "When thinking about the past 30 years of
your efforts, you've been out there stirring things up, raising
you would have done differently,
hindsight being 20/20?"
TR: "I think.... sometimes, I could have shown a bit more
tolerance of other advocates, who were doing important work, who
to be on
page as was at the same time I was. I think I could have done something
different and better."
MS: "Is that because
of youth and maturity?
MS: "...I feel the same way. There are things I've wrote
and said back when I was in my 30s online that I wish I'd never
lot of anger,
that I now regret."
TR: "...and it may be, that nothing that anybody might have said, would
have prevented me from doing it. But at the same time, there is this obligation
which comes with being older, when speaking to younger activists, saying... cool
MS: "You know, I find myself doing the same thing online,
what others had said to me, and it's embarrassing. Mellow out,
the same weight
or importance... pick and choose your fights."
TR: "... the thing
is to, have a thick skin... have a thick skin..."
MS: "That's tough
TR: "yeah...but it's essential."
FAVORITE BOOK YOU'VE WRITTEN
written over 20 books, and been incredibly prolific. Do you
have a favorite
your babies, your books?"
TR: "Well, I have two favorites... one
Case for Animal Rights."
MS: "..that's cited a lot on the web,
I noticed when I was doing research for this interview."
TR: "It's certainly been referred to favorably, and I like it a lot. It
was a book that wrote itself, a very very tough read, it's very analytical and
theoretical, and at the same time I sat down and just wrote that book as if I
was channeling some higher power. It was just an amazing experience. When I tell
people that this is what it was like writing it, they just can't believe it because
it's so rigorous and technical. It's hardcore philosophy. And the other book
I like is "Empty
Cages," and it's a very conversational easy to read book,
MS: "I found it extremely accessible
and easy to read. I'm not saying these are easy topics, but
simplicity doesn't necessarily
mean not dealing
TR: "Sure... but at the same time, what's peculiar, is that it's the hardest
book I ever wrote. In order for me to write that book, I had to get me out of
the way. I had to take the voice I felt most comfortable with, which is the voice
of the analytic, technical philosopher, which dominates when I'm doing something
serious, and every day I would go into my office, and I'd sit down, and there
was this exhausting struggle going on.... where this "Empty
Cages" was trying to get out of me and onto a page, and the
dominant Tom Regan voice kept trying to take control. So, it was
just an absolutely
book to write."
MS: "I was concerned when I started reading your
book that it would be tough, mainly because I'd looked at some
background, but the fact that you put
the footnotes at the end, and not in the body of the work made
it very readable. More importantly, you did something that I
thought was unusual, that, in retrospect,
works: you mention up front that there are,
and I'll use the phrase "tons of documents and facts and
figure and things" that
substantiate what you're talking about, but rather than put
them all in the book, you put them on your website [2014 Postscript: the website doesn't appear to exist anymore]. The Fact
sections are just
TR: "It's one of these things where
less is more. If you're going to try to write a recruiting manual
for the Animal
movement, then you can't try
and tell the reader everything. You have to tell the main story
with a kind of eloquence and simplicity... but, you owe it to the
with information if they want more. If they want the more, rather
than the less, there it is."
like ammunition... that's what the website provides."
TR: "The website, which was prepared
by Laura Moretti, is an astonishing
addition to the project
and something I couldn't possibly do myself."
MS: "Your book has an academic rigor in terms of its structure
that I just love, that's the first thing I'll say. The second
is you do what so many people
who write forget to:
you lay out clearly, in classic style, "what am I going
to tell you," "I'm
going to cover this later or next," "you make your
have I told you," and "what does this mean?" It's
really great that you are consciously helping guide the reader
issues and information."
TR: (laughs): "I think I must owe that to the old
Tom Regan's voice."
MS: "...it works, though..."
TR: "Because that's part of the discipline of philosophy: to be highly organized
to say "in Part 1 I'll do this, and in Part 2 I'll do this." That's
the way I was trained, and so I think there is something of that
in the book. It must be the compromise I reached with my old voice."
logical framework is solid."
TR: "That's it... when you get to tell
the story, shut up!"
MS: "I've had the chance to read or skim
several books related to Animal Rights, and all too often many
of them seem, by not
having a solid
to get very emotional and run off on rants or tangents, well-meaning,
but not really
helping to distill the argument in a way that someone could
then take that and use it internally or externally."
TR: "When I wrote "The
Case for Animal Rights," I felt like it was a gift... I was
just... along for the ride. I was the vehicle and there was something
world that I
was putting on the page. That is how I felt, that this book is
meant not only to
make the case for animal rights, but also to present the challenge
to those who want to support the industries that abuse animals.
it. I felt the book was making an accusation even as it was making
Cages," although I've said I didn't feel like I was along for the ride (in
fact, I had to drive the whole way, and it was a long trip). But the product
that came out of this I feel a somewhat similar feeling. There's not only an
argument in the book, but the book takes the form of an accusation again, where
the accusation in this case is "Industries: tell the
truth. Tell the truth." So
even though the composition of the books felt different and were
different, there's something similar... not just an argument, but
also an accusation.