“When you see what is happening to these animals, you feel kind of powerless sometimes, like no one really cares, so it’s really exciting that we are going to bring a lot of awareness and make the world a healthier, happier place,” Kat Graham told Variety at the Mercy for Animals 20th Anniversary Gala on Saturday at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
Mercy for Animals is an international non-profit animal advocacy organization that promotes veganism and conducts undercover investigations to expose animal cruelty at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Founder Milo Runkle said he was grateful for the amount of support the organization had received from celebrities including Joaquin Phoenix, who quietly slipped into the gala during the reception.
Kat Von D, who received the Hope Award at the gala, told Variety that she felt recent animal protection laws didn’t go far enough. “I think hiding behind the idea of things being cage-free is a joke,” Von D said. “There’s no humane way of exploiting an animal. It’s like he had an awesome life up until when we slit his throat. To me, it doesn’t make sense. I think the whole purpose of being an environmentalist in general is that you can’t do that unless you really contemplate what you are putting on your plate.”
Kevin Smith presented animals rights activist Lindsay Oliver with the Hidden Heroes Award alongside his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, who he credited with inspiring him to adopt a vegan lifestyle following his near-fatal heart attack last year. Despite losing 70 pounds on his new diet, Smith said he receives a lot of criticism on social media when he posts about veganism.
“It’s to the point where I include a trigger warning,” Smith told Variety. “Whenever I post something about being vegan, they get pretty upset and say ‘I’m going to eat four times as much meat’ and I’m like, ‘See you in hell.’ I’m not saying you need to do this. I’m just responding to questions about why I look the way I look suddenly, so you have to be very careful about how you couch it because some people feel like I’ve had so much taken away, now you are going to take away my meat. Do what you want. I took away my meat to save my life.”
Graham hosted the gala and was joined by some of her “The Vampire Diaries” co-stars including Persia White, who played her on-screen mother and who Graham said motivated her to give up meat, and fellow vegan Paul Wesley. Wesley told Variety that he was frustrated by the slow acceptance of climate change and the impact of farming, particularly in the Amazon. “Now that the Amazon is burning, now people are finally waking up and saying oh, maybe we should do something,” Wesley said. “It’s like, oh really? It took the Amazon burning down for you to pay attention.”
Wesley said he was encouraged by the attention given to climate change by some of the Democratic presidential nominees, but he wasn’t ready to endorse a candidate. “At the end of the day, I would really ultimately be happy with anyone but Trump. With that said, I’m encouraged with certain things that candidates say and discouraged with things that other candidates say. I haven’t quite figured out who it is that I’m 100% rooting for, but I love a lot of what Cory Booker has to say, I love Bernie. Any of these people would be incredibly competent.”
Graham also weighed on the Democratic primaries. “As an immigrant living in America, I want to make sure that we continue to uphold what makes America so great which is the melting pot and everyone from all over the world coming together to build a better future and that is what I think America is, so I’m happy to keep living here as long as we keep that going,” Graham said. “Diversity and acceptance. Those are issues that are really important to me. I’m a black Jew. Who do you think I’m going to vote for?”
Despite the recent spate of reboots and spinoffs, Graham told Variety that she wouldn’t necessarily be on board with a “Vampire Diaries” reunion. “Eight years is a long time. I don’t know. I’m always onto the next chapter,” Graham said. “Even when I was on the show, it was like what am I doing next?”
However, Graham immediately nixed the idea of a reboot with a new cast. “No motherf—– can play Bonnie Bennett like me, so that’s number one. Period!” she said. “It’s me or no one.”