Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fausto Brizzi's "Forever Young" thrusts Compassion into the Spotlight

Italian Cinema's Vegan Power Couple (Vanity Fair)
With a new book and new film, there has been a lot of talk lately about one of Italy’s power couples in cinema, director Fausto Brizzi and his wife, actress Claudia Zanella. Today, their new film is in theaters across Italy. To mark the event, we are shedding light on their passion and one of the biggest global movements, veganism.

When we think of Italy, we think of the traditional food- the regional cheeses, the Sicilian ricotta deserts, Italian sausage. But the new generation of Italians is breaking ground and speaking up against the environmental damage and the exploitation and suffering of animals caused by meat consumption. Claudia Zanella is outspoken in her vegan beliefs and her husband has followed in her footsteps. Brizzi was not vegan when the couple met. However, he adapted to Zanella’s compassionate lifestyle and recently documented his journey in the new book, “Ho sposato una vegana” (I married a vegan). The couple has done a lot of press for the book, unfortunately with Zanella enduring her share of ridicule from the critics and general public. Although there is a huge population of vegetarians in Italy, the vegan movement is fairly new and tough for most to embrace. She is taking it all in stride while standing strong in her beliefs. On one talk show, she joked that she’d rather her husband confess to an affair than eating mozzarella.

Sabrina Ferilli in a scene from "Forever Young"
“There are no grandparents, aunts and uncles or mums and dads anymore; everyone’s doing pilates”.. Brizzi’s words in describing his new film. “Forever Young”, which costars Zanella, takes on society’s thirst for the Fountain of Youth. With a whole host of characters ranging from 30-somethings to 60-somethings, each character faces his or her own struggle with the aging process, whether it be physical, psychological or a combination of both. Given Zanella’s passion for health and wellness, it’s no surprise the couple has collaborated on the subject of eternal beauty. 
Thanks in part to social media and outspoken celebrity supporters like Brizzi and Zanella, the vegan movement is gaining ground. Through brave undercover investigations, groups like Mercy for Animals and PETA are catching animal abusers in the act and exposing the unimaginable horrors that go on behind the closed doors of slaughterhouses and factory farms. Animal sanctuaries worldwide are rasing money on Facebook to fund their efforts to provide safe havens for abused and rescued animals. There are documentary films like “Forks Over Knives”, “Speciesism” and “Earthlings” that are literally turning people vegan within hours. I believe the majority of people in the world are good but the majority of people have no idea how that piece of meat gets to their plate- the physical torture, the mental torture, the hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into it. Education is power and slowly but surely, people are becoming aware of what they are actually putting into their bodies and the effect it's all having on the environment.

1. having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.
2. characterized by sensation and consciousness.
3. a person or thing that is sentient.
4. Archaic. the conscious mind.
1. discrimination in favor of one species, usually the human species, over another, especially in the exploitation or mistreatment of animals by humans.

These are words often used in the defense of voiceless animals when certain questions are raised. Do we as humans have the right to take what is theirs? How does one become vegan or even vegetarian? What’s the final tipping point? What do they eat? Where do they get their protein? For the answers to these questions and for the perspective of an abolitionist vegan- someone who feels we have no right taking anything from another species, I went to someone I consider a Calabrese-American Vegan Goddess aka Lucia Grillo. I met Grillo through social media last year and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person for a vegan meal in New York City at the end of the month. She is tireless in her efforts to spread the word about animal rights and human rights for that matter. She is prolific in her work as a filmmaker and journalist. She is a producer and correspondent for the popular CUNY talk show, "Italics" and has profiled vegan restaurants and chefs in the New York metropolitan area.  She also runs her own production company, Calabrisella Films.

Lucia Grillo in NYC (Photo by Alexo Wandael)
Why did you become vegan and when?
I became fully vegan in 1996, but I became vegetarian in 1983, when I was still very young. I would have done it so much earlier, as I was conscious of the absurdity and insensitivity of slaughtering and consuming other (non-human) sentient beings around the age of five. As I became more conscious of the horrors of the dairy industry, it became clear that it was necessary to fully refute this inhumane treatment of our fellow sentients. 

What is the reaction when you tell people that you are vegan?
It used to be more alarmist, as veganism was not as diffuse, so people would panic and ask the age-old question: "Where do you get your protein?" We vegans laugh at this now, because one: most humans do not need so much protein, especially those with mostly sedentary lifestyles; and two: there are many more sources and varieties of lean, vegetable, legume and plant proteins than there are meat sources! In the past five years or so, however, with the rapid increase in veganism and environmental concerns, awareness of consumerism, capitalism and health, and most of all, the lives of animals, there is a very positive attitude. Some people have violent reactions, but usually it's because they're ill-informed. Mostly, people are curious. 

What are the global dangers of consuming meat?
Speciesism is a dangerous perspective to have - the idea that the Universe and all that is within it is centered around human animals. It's perilous - to the non-human animals who are, in their commodification, enslaved, tortured, and slaughtered, their lives reduced to ones of misery; to the Earth, with all the razing of rain forests to "produce" beef - which is not "produced" at all but living animals turned into something for human consumption and is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. So even if human beings are concerned with themselves and their own survival, it behooves them - as the presumably most progressed of the animals, to be fit caretakers of the Earth rather than its destroyers. Some people consider veganism to be a bourgeois tenet, but if you think of the reality - that grains grown in poor countries are sent to feed cattle in wealthy countries, where there is overproduction and animals are destroyed - crushed to death or left to die when they are not needed - and the grains could be used to feed the people of the very countries from which they're exported.

(See below in the video why the egg industry grinds and crushes live baby male chicks)

So to not be vegan is not only bourgeois but worse – capitalist, racist, imperialist, classist, and patriarchal - because essentially this is saying that only the lives of richer people in richer countries have any worth. That's my short answer! 

How pigs in American factory farms spend their lives
How does your veganism fit into your Italian heritage? Is it challenging at family dinners?
Very well! Could not fit better. Actually, that is one of the questions I used to get a lot: "How can you be Italian and be vegan?" Well, most pasta - that staple of Italian pride - is vegan. My mother used to half-joke that she was vegan per forza growing up nearly poor in Calabria. In fact, some of my favorite recipes are the ones my Nonna used to make when I visited her in Calabria, some of which she even veganized for me. Come on, insalata di zucchine with cipolle di Tropea and mint? How could you go wrong? And the dish I always get excited about is a piatto povero: dark leafy greens sautéed in olive oil with beans and stale bread. Buono! Olive schiacciate! Besides, as we know, the family meal is at the center of Italian life, and feeding people is how we show our love, so when it comes down to it, the family is going to adapt their recipes (which are invented by mere humans in the first place); and in that, I've been very lucky not only to have a family who not only loves me that much and respects my love for the animals and for our own species, but also to have grown up in a family of chefs (my father is an autodidact and older sister is a Blue Ribbon chef, plus my mother is a tremendous, inventive cook) and even the extended family have been veganizing for health: my 80-year-old Zio drinks soy milk! My dad particularly has a healthy diet: he'll grab a handful of nuts or some fruit as a snack, which surely I learned from him, and he always emphasized "real" food for his children – he and my mom making us their version of American foods instead of buying them processed and in preservatives, my dad even growing vegetables in his own garden, to this day. Italians know the value of food: even a simple tomato with some salt is exquisite. And being non-traditional as a human being, I mostly gravitate towards the cuisine of other cultures, which I've been exposed to since childhood, growing up with other children of immigrants. I'm a New Yorker! 
(Vincent Grillo, Lucia's father, is one of the subjects of her documentary “Earth Dream Earth” about Italian immigrants’ connection to the Earth via their backyard vegetable gardens)

Lucia Grillo at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
What is your advice to people who consider themselves animal lovers but continue to eat meat and wear products made from the skin, feathers and fur of animals?
You cannot say you love animals and continue to contribute to their suffering. You simply cannot. Just as you can't say you "love" women, for example, and not stand up to end rape and porn and attacks on reproductive rights or other aspects of our patriarchal society that contribute to their being considered less - less than men, less than human. It’s the same. What's the difference between loving a dog - which are thought of as food in some cultures and whose coats are even used as fur trim on clothing worn by those same "animal lovers" - and a cow, which is sacred in some cultures? Cows come when you call their names. Pigs are the fourth-smartest mammals. Mother pigs sing to their piglets while nursing. Really think about it. Think about the kind of world you want to live in, the kind of world you want to create. It is no longer "necessary" to utilize the flesh of dead animals. With human progress, so many beautiful materials have been created to keep us warm, make us look good, and they are becoming more sustainable. Why would you want to wear death? Why would you want to destroy rather than uplift? Why would you want to contribute to and leave behind a dead Earth? As the famous quote goes: "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." What kind of legacy do you want to leave - one of cruelty or one of compassion? 

To learn more about Lucia Grillo, visit her website. For more information on factory farming, plant-based eating and veganism.. here is a list of great online resources, plus a few informative documentaries..

My Top Facebook Pages


My Top Documentaries

Stream Earthlings for rent or purchase
Watch the trailer:


"Farm to Fridge" - 12 Minutes - Watch right here on YouTube




"Meet Your Meat" narrated by Alec Baldwin - 11 minutes - Watch right here on YouTube



My Top Reads

Helpful Websites

How to go Vegan

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Filmmaker Gio Crisafulli to Present New Film at the Harlem International Film Festival

New York-based Filmmaker Gio Crisafulli of Zio Ciccio Cinema will present his short film Chevere con Salsa at the Harlem International Fi...