Introducing Leila Sleiman-Head. Friend, client, Vegan and Activist. Leila and I met through my participation in her event VegFest here in Pittsburgh. I signed up to be a presenter at the event and we hit it off. Leila, along with Natalie Fristick, put on VegFest annually in Pittsburgh as well as the fall fave VegFeast. These two also run Justice for Animals, a not for profit here in PGH. To add, Leila has been part of Scrap The Trap and helped to get the first ever Vegan night at PNC Park off the ground! Veganism and the MLB at Pirates stadium??? Yes, yes she did. Pfew – I’m probably missing a TONNE.
She’s a devoted dog mom to Cash, and hamster mom to Little Tom Cruise and is married to the talented musician Chris Head, guitarist for Anti-Flag a local Pittsburgh Punk act that is adored globally. Chris is a maker of some VERY cool hand crafted planters via their collaborative effort as Rustbelt Workshop. I don’t know where she finds the time, but she does and the world is a better place for it.
Thanks Leila for this candid interview and for all you do for the animals.
When did you first participate in a demonstration or activism and why?
I interned for Peta in 2005 as a way to “get out of the classroom” in college when I was attending ASU- I was MORE than happy to GTFO of college, fly to Norfolk VA, live in “the intern house” and ready for an adventure. I went into it not knowing what to expect, not knowing I would need to be vegan in the house (I was already vegetarian so figured it shouldn’t be too hard, plus I had other interns show me the way….). I was immersed in this HUGE organization, with hundreds to people dedicated to helping animals, delivering straw and houses for dogs in the winter, under covering horrible abuse situations, sending packets to companies who test on animals to suggest kinder and more modern ways to research…. it was all so foreign to me. I was asked to go on a tour 2 weeks, 25 cities- we started in Miami and looped back up and around to Norfolk. It changed my life.
How did you choose animal rights as your passion as opposed to other arenas like women’s rights, environmentalism etc…?
I started with human rights activism- I would protest the Israeli occupation in Palestine and any other worthy cause, women’s rights supporting planned parenthood etc. When I spent my internship at Peta I was horrified to find out the grand scale of oppression and suffering we are causing on animals- and it was SO easy to change that behavior, support other companies, etc. It just naturally became another worthy cause…and now I have gotten to travel all over the country with it. I’m a very lucky person to be able to live my passions and ideals.
What is the most challenging thing you have experienced as an activist?
You really put yourself out there as an activist- and it isn’t for everyone. I have had people try and prove you wrong at every turn- justification of the bible or another imaginary justification, etc. I welcome a good discussion. I’ve also had chicken nuggets, eggs, soda, etc thrown in my direction and been threatened with violence. It is very impactful when you think about how much you must threaten peoples “way of life” (consuming and causing suffering) some people just cant take it.
How do carry yourself during a demonstration? Have you ever been arrested or come up against physical violence?
Yes! In North Dakota at a circus protest a middle aged man raised his hand at me- I thought he was going to hit me, I quickly said “IF YOU TOUCH ME ITS ASSAULT!” Lol. I’ve had everything under the sun thrown at my group, things yelled out, etc. But you also have people giving you the thumbs up- honking, supporting you. And those who will stop and chat or take information that REALLY ARE OPEN and effected.
What are your personal reasons for transitioning from Vegetarian to Vegan?
My time at Peta opened my eyes- to the GRAND SCALE OF OPPRESSION AND SUFFERING. I thought I would go back to vegetarian after I left the intern house in 2005- I never did. Once you see the animals suffering, open your heart to empathy and compassion and see how easy a few changes in your lifestyle really are- there is no way I am supporting that. We can vote with our dollars- we can choose to support cruelty- or not. We can choose to be kind. I just absolutely under no circumstances wanted to support the industries that harm animals. Giving up dairy was a small price to pay. So what? Watch the footage of veal calves getting ripped from their mothers, from pokey things put through their noses so when they try to nurse it hurts and pokes the mother causing them to run away…. watch the screams of the babies getting torn away to suffer the mothers fate if a female or a cramped cage for veal if a boy. No thank you.
Can you tell us a bit about your time with PETA?
See above lol
How can the average human get involved and become an activist? How do you think they should choose which organization or cause to support?
There are so many great organizations doing great things, some right in your city, I urge everyone to do some research and volunteer their time- donate- collect items for animals in need, etc. Spend the day at a VegFest, commit to going vegan for 30 days, do not buy products or cosmetics tested on animals, to stop buying leather, etc.
If you had advice for any new Vegans, what would it be?
Don’t be overwhelmed. Do your research, ask for help from others who are already vegan (stay off FB lol), and PREP. When I was vegan we had cereal with soy milk and PB&J, and until I found other things to eat that is all I ate. Now with the internet and online recipes its easier than EVER to eat healthier and find good vegan food for your family, purchase cruelty free products, etc.
What are your top 3, all time favourite Vegan spots to eat?
Hard one! I am lucky enough to have eaten great vegan food all around the world.
Any pet peeves you’d like to share with us about Veganism or Activism?
I don’t want to criticize so I will start by saying we need ALL forms of activism and all kinds of personalities in this fight. I do find that newer vegans are a little angry (as they should be), I don’t necessary feel that walking into a whole foods just to get kicked out is beneficial for the animals, I don’t like buying into the stereotypes that non vegans put on us. I prefer to surprise people with education and discussion. Some acts people do are more self masturbatory than helping in my opinion.
If you could solve ONE issue on the planet today, what would it be?
Factory farming. Its destroying the planet, its causing needless suffering and animal products are making Americans some of the most unhealthy in the world. If I could close my eyes and undo factory farming, I wouldn’t need 2 other wishes…