The Animals' Voice Magazine - Vol. 2, No. 1 - February 1989


by Cole McFarland

" I will never forget our vision that evening," recalls movie star and teen idol River Phoenix about a Venezuelan evening in 1977 when he caught a glimpse of his mission in life: the preservation of Earth.

" Our family had gathered outside our hut in Venezuela, singing beneath the stars and dreaming about our future. Many of our dreams have already come true... and many others..." His voice fades off into a whisper of an evening long ago.

From that evening onward, blessings and bounties of every sort have been bestowed upon the once-impoverished Phoenix family, and in 11 short years, River has become the most sought after young male film star in the nation. His impressive list of film credits includes Stand by Me, The Mosquito Coast, A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, Little Nikita, and the recently released, highly-acclaimed Running on Empty.

In a world in which movie stars are all too quickly seduced by their own fame, and fall victim to their own success, River remains the embodiment of innocence, true to the values which run deep within him. At age 17, he is already passionately committed to a number of life-affirming movements, including the efforts to alleviate world hunger, end apartheid, protect migrant workers, save the dolphins (whom he calls " the gods of the oceans" ), liberate laboratory animals, preserve tropical rainforests, and promote vegan living. As a vegan, he eats and uses no animal products.

Although compassion for animals was River's initial and enduring motivation for veganism, he has a solid intellectual understanding of the interconnections between America's meat-based diet and Third World hunger, environmental devastation, and the high mortality rate of cancer and heart disease in America. He sees veganism as the one thing that every American can do to help create a better world-for humans, animals and the environment in which we live.

Loving life and living naturally, close to the earth, River sees no reason to lament the healthy ebb and flow of life in the wild. When he speaks about cheetahs preying upon antelopes, he speaks in terms of the " cycles of nature."

But when he speaks about factory farming, his moral outrage is compelling. " We take these animals and completely violate who they are," he explains. " We use them, abuse them, and deprive them all their lives...Then we cut their throats, shred them and eat them! Morally, I'm against it, ethically, I can't justify it, and ecologically, it's just insane. The thought of meat-eating makes me shudder."

River, a tolerant soul who tries to live and let live, also believes enough is enough. " As far as wearing fur is concerned," he declares with a passion that casts all diplomacy aside, " it is the rudest, most inconsiderate, selfish and sick façade I can imagine. I'd never go out with a woman who wore a fur coat. I'd tell her to give her coat a funeral."

As a celebrity who is loved and admired the world over, River promotes his life-affirming ethic through his musical and cinematic artistry. He confides, however, his passion for daring, direct intervention. " We need an extreme movement because what is happening to animals is so extreme," he says with resolute conviction. " Some misinformed people claim that animal rights activists are terrorists, but these people are simply ignorant of who the real terrorists are - the companies and industries that torture literally billions of animals each year."

Against this backdrop of global suffering, our earth beholds Phoenix rising, a morning star in a midnight world, the dawning of conscience in the coming generation.

And so, it is said that when people choose names for their companion animals, they bare their souls, for the names they choose reveal the innermost values they hold. As far as River is concerned, nothing could be more true. At the sound of his call, the family dog turns in mid-stride and joyfully bounds to his friend's side. While the call heralds a playful tumble to the beloved canine, it heralds River's vision for animals everywhere. " Justice, come!" And the interview ends.

The time for Justice has arrived.

The text on this page © The Animals' Voice Magazine, February 1989

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