We just love the amazing Jonathan Balcombe, former Essex resident turned Floridian, here at VV TV and we were delighted to chat with him recently about his work, his typical day and of course what he likes to eat…! Jonathan is a passionate vegan, a scientist, ethologist author and speaker.
So have you always been fascinated by fish? How did you get into this kind of research and career?
I’ve always been fascinated by fishes, but that’s nothing special. I’ve always been enthralled by all animal life, from birds to bats to flies to ants. If there is a condition called “smitten with animals,” I’ve been afflicted since I could walk, and probably before that.
I was fortunate to have parents who a) were also smitten with animals, and b) encouraged me to pursue my passions. In my case it was only a matter of time before I gravitated to a particular branch of biology called ethology: the study of animal behavior.
That’s amazing! So what have you found the most surprising during your studies?
I could rattle off any number of studies illustrating the remarkable animal capacities that the great mass of humanity in our headlong, human-centered state, are oblivious to. But I am most surprised by the widespread indifference humankind shows towards our animal brethren.
I’m not talking so much about lemurs and dolphins as the “anonymous trillions” to whom I dedicate “What a Fish Knows”, and their terrestrial counterparts, the cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, etc., who fall victim to the human appetite for meat.
It stuns me to live among decent, kind-hearted folks who adore their dogs yet still fund meat and dairy industries with their daily food choices. The bigger the ship, the harder it is to change its course, but there are many signs of accelerating change in human food choices. Just look at Germany and Israel.
That’s so true…. There is no difference… an animal is an animal…Do you have any surprise supporters of your work?
I was very pleased to get an endorsement from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
That’s wonderful!! What would you like for people to gain from reading your books and hearing you speak?
Most of all I hope they come away feeling less chosen, less privileged. If I can rattle that persistent meme that we humans are special, the chosen ones, then I have done something worthwhile.
It’s not that humans aren’t fabulous, of course we are. It’s that every single other species is fabulous, too. So many of the world’s ills both past and present—racism, terrorism, war, sexism, speciesism, climate change—have roots in the arcane mindset that one group (mine, of course) is better than another.
Nowhere is our superiority complex more apparent than in our attitude to other animals. We would do well to consider that no being has any saying whether they are born a manatee, a disc-winged bat, a ground hornbill, or a sarcastic fringehead (a deep-sea fish), and that every one has an equal interest in living their life.
What’s next for you?
I’m very busy promoting the fish book (including a UK edition released in December), and especially putting together speaking tours on fishes. I have 28 public lectures scheduled in eight countries and seven American states over the next six months.I have also begun work on a book that explores the lives of one of the most successful group of animals the Earth has ever known. That’s all I’m saying about that at this point!
That is incredible …. So many seeds being planted…. We want to know more about the new book too Jonathan – that’s not fair to keep us in suspense!!
Tell me, when and why vegan? 1989… I had been vegetarian for five years and I realized that all the reasons I had made that decision (foremost, an ethical one for me) applied no less to the (ab)use of animals for dairy and eggs.
What’s a typical day like for you – work wise?
Depending on the day, it could be promoting our online and open-access journal Animal Sentience in my role as director of animal sentience with the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, planning speaking engagements, researching my next book, or attending to correspondence.
A day is not complete without at least 30 mins of rigorous exercise—biking, swimming in my apartment outdoor pool or snorkeling in the nearby ocean (year-round luxuries in southern Florida).
I consider that an indispensable component of my “workday,” because it stokes my mental energy and concentration.
Sounds amazing, especially swimming in the ocean… not quite the same swimming in Southend…. Well what’s a typical day like for you – food wise?
I could no sooner skip breakfast than SKIP sleep.
My go-to favorites are a bowl of cereal with fruit, a smoothie and toast, or oatmeal with nuts and raisins and banana or berries.
I drink lots of water, mostly in the form of herbal tea. (Black! Despite being British born, I never took to the British custom of putting bovine breast secretions—excuse me, cow’s milk—in their tea.) (YUK! VV TV!)
Lunch almost always includes a large salad, accompanied by a burrito, chips and salsa, a sandwich, soup, or veggie-dogs (among innumerable other possibilities).
Dinner: jacket potatoes, pasta with sauce, steamed edamame, rice pilaf, stir-fry, veggie burger. I have a good quality blender (Vitamix) and juicer (Champion), both of which are regularly pressed into service.
Seriously Jonathan when can we come round for dinner?
Who inspires you?
My fellow vegans in the trenches, making a daily (and growing) difference for the appalling animal headcount, and raising awareness and visibility to a lifestyle choice that the United Nations has proclaimed “vital” to a sustainable future.
Love that!! How do you relax?
Reading, piano, nature-watching, online Scrabble, and never declining a nap when my body decides it needs one.
Hahaha well I bet all that swimming and cooking takes it out of you!! Well finally Jonathan, and OMG it’s such an honour to be chatting….What would you like to say to the VeggieVision TV viewer?
If you’re tuning in to Karin’s message, congratulations and thank you for being part of a critical movement for positive change. I’m glad we are on the same team.
Awwwww that’s super and look forward to sharing your wonderful work to the super VV TV viewers again.
With many thanks Jonathan.
Read more about Jonathan Balcombe on VV TV here!
“What A Fish Knows,” from Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. June 2016.
NY Times best-seller. Longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.
UK/Australia edition released Dec 1, 2016.
Forthcoming in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German, Arabic, and Estonian translations.
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