Though some might mistake James Aspey for a typical gym-junkie guy with muscles and tattoos to match, there is a lot more than meets the eye.
James has now neared the end of his 365-day Voiceless365 campaign – a vow of silence in the name of animal liberation. The awareness campaign grew out of his passion for animal rights, and has proven to be no small feat.
Starting in Sydney, James travelled in a camper-van whilst making pit stops along the way to talk about his cause and educating townsfolk on animal welfare. With his van breaking down in the middle of outback Western Australia, James resorted to hitch hiking to Darwin, and cycled the remaining distance from Darwin to Sydney.
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to get into contact with James via email to ask him a few questions about his journey and what got him started in the first place!
Thara: From what I’ve read it seems you’re like any other 20-something guy who enjoys life and likes to have a good time. You’re definitely not the stereotypical ‘tree-hugging hippie’ people think of when they find out someone is vegan, even more so when they are a trainer. How do you usually deal with people that think like this, and how do you explain the vegan lifestyle and what your values are whilst maintaining that you are a ‘fit’ and ‘normal’ person?
James: I find it hilarious that some people see veganism as something reserved for hippies, animal lovers and extremists. I used to think that as well, but now it’s so funny to me because the main reason I’m vegan is something that 99% of people already agree with, which is that it’s wrong to inflict unnecessary pain and death on an animal.
It’s obvious we don’t need to buy leather or support the circus, but once you realise that you don’t need to include any animal products in your diet to thrive and be optimally healthy, the only reasons we have left for using animals are habit, convenience and taste. None of those reasons constitute as a necessity so the only way to be consistent with your beliefs and actions in regards to avoiding unnecessary pain and death on an animal, is to go vegan.
So I think the best way to explain it is to make others realise it is completely normal to agree with the main principle of veganism. In this day, when it is so incredibly easy to be vegan, the internet is full of information and advice, more and more research is coming out on the many health benefits of a vegan diet, the countless delicious vegan meals, restaurants have vegan options, grocery stores are full of vegan items, there is growing awareness about the cruel way in which animals are treated… The question then isn’t why am I vegan, but rather, why are they not?
Thara: So you started this 365-day challenge in January, and now you’re nine months (at the time of the interview) into it. How do you feel? What have you gained from the experience so far? What have you achieved? What were your challenges? What do you do to cope with the stresses that may come your way?
James: Depends what day you ask me. Today I’m feeling positive, optimistic, and like I’m making a difference. Yesterday I felt frustrated, overwhelmed and like I wanted to go into hibernation. It’s been an intense year. I only started taking veganism seriously as a moral obligation when I began my vow of silence. Before that I would still allow myself a bit of dairy or cheese here and there. Now I understand that every single one of those purchases caused harm to an animal. The person buying the products are equally responsible as the people working in the slaughterhouse.
So basically I threw myself in the deep end this year which forced me to learn and I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge from the people I’ve met, places I’ve visited and the countless hours I’ve spent listening to lectures, debates, interviews, reading books and articles, then I share everything I’ve learned and the experiences I’m having with the followers the Voiceless365 blog. The writings on the blog have been my most useful way of advocating on behalf of animals and it’s success, which I’ve judged by the amount of new vegans and awareness it has raised, has been better than I ever imagined.
The year has been full of ups and downs. Forcing myself to remain silent in heated discussions and settling for a pen and paper to jot down my raging thoughts. My van broke down in the middle of outback Western Australia so i had to abandon it, hitch hike to Darwin, and now I’m cycling the remaining distance from Darwin to Sydney which is another example of a challenge I jumped straight in the deep end. It’s going good though, only stacked it once so far, and that was in the first 10km’s!
Most of all, my challenge is to keep my cool in a world where buying products obtained from torturing and slaughtering sentient beings is normal. Everywhere I look, someone’s purchases are paying for extreme animal cruelty. The very same people love and cherish their dog and cat and apparently are strongly opposed to animal cruelty, yet they say this while eating a piece of steak or drinking a glass of milk! The hypocrisy is real, it is common, and for anyone who has woken up to the reality of what billions of animals go through every year because most people want to eat them as a snack, there’s bound to be moments where you feel sad and exhausted.
Thara: Originally you were using the campaign as a way to not only educate people on your cause, but to also raise money for Animals Australia. The fundraising aspect was stopped though – can you tell us why?
James: A few months into the journey I learned there was a debate in the animal movement regarding abolition versus welfare. I didn’t understand it all but it was enough to make me wary about actively asking for donations until I knew more, though I wasn’t yet convinced enough to cut fundraising altogether.
Recently I’ve gone deeper into this topic and came to the conclusion it was best to stop raising funds for the welfare organisation I’d chosen, as we had some conflicting, core beliefs in that I believe the best way to achieve an end to animal exploitation is to advocate for it, rather than advocate for incremental improvements in animal welfare.
Thara: You mention that when you were 17 years old you were diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. Do you think being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease at such a young age gave you the thirst for life that you have today?
James: Having cancer didn’t change my life, but it did make me want to. I felt like I missed out on a lot of living while I was sick so once I got better I started investing time into learning how to live a more positive, purpose-filled life. I read books, started meditating, and began incorporating the new things I was learning one piece at a time. Anyone can take steps towards improving their life, you don’t need to have cancer, you just need to start walking the path.
Thara: Meditation and the act of mindfulness seemed to be a big factor in changing who you are today. Do you think practicing meditation is a beneficial thing for anyone to incorporate into their lives? If so, why? How would you recommend a novice should start?
James: Meditation is one of the best ways I ever invested my time to create a better future for myself. In my experience, it’s helped me shine a light on some of the darker aspects of my personality such as self-consciousness, anger and self-sabotage. Meditation has helped me embrace the confidence and joy that is already inside each one of us, waiting to shine through. It’s excellent medication for your body and mind and you can start by doing something as simple as shifting your attention from the constant chatter in your mind, to the sensation of the inhalation and exhalation of your breathing. The more you take the attention from your mind, the less power those thoughts have over your life and you can start gaining more control of your actions as opposed to simply reacting all the time.
If you really want to learn meditation, I’d recommend going to a Vipassana course which is a 10 day retreat and all you do is eat, sleep and meditate. They teach you the technique. Also, you have to take a vow of silence for the entire 10 days, so you’ll get some insight into what this year has been all about for me!