Growing up in the racially charged South Africa of the 1960s and 1970s, Wally Fry always understood the importance of equality and compassion. As a youth he played music in a band that included both white and black musicians. The band had to practice in secret, because at the time it was illegal under apartheid for people of different races to mix, which was something that never seemed right to Wally.
Fast forward to adulthood and Wally began his career as, of all things, a goat farmer. His wife Debbie was a vegetarian, but Wally had always been a meat eater and never really considered the suffering inflicted upon farm animals. Debbie grew attached to the farm’s animals and kept some as pets. She hated that the rest were sent to market. “I was simply trying to make ends meet for my family,” Wally admits.
Sometimes life changing experiences come from the most unlikely places. For Wally, change came when he left goat farming in the late 1980s and started a small construction business. One of the projects that he worked on was a pig farm. Wally didn’t think much about what would ultimately be happening in the farm while working on its construction, but when he went back to visit months later he was horrified at what he saw.
“The piggery was steeped in an aura of death and darkness even though there was plenty of sunlight,” Wally recalls. “Upon walking into the main holding area of the piggery, I felt heavy as I witnessed the hundreds of pigs in small gestation cages. It’s easy to lose perspective and think of these animals as objects, until you look into their eyes.” As Wally did so, he unsurprisingly saw fear and sadness, but also saw the depth those eyes held, saw familiar emotions and desires expressed through their gaze.
“Mother pigs calling out for their piglets, apart from being terribly cruel and sad, also felt unnatural. I was now a father with a very young family and denying any being the basic right to feel a mother’s love and to feel safe rocked me to my core.” The parallels between Wally’s family and the pigs’ families were undeniable.
Wally then decided a life change was in order. He immediately joined Debbie and their daughter Tammy in giving up meat, but in South Africa in the early 1990s there were very few vegetarian options, and even fewer that tasted good and were nutritious. Necessity became the mother of invention, and Wally and Debbie decided to start making plant-based food on their own in their small kitchen. Their food became well known in the local area, and soon they were making it for friends and family. What was started in Wally and Debbie’s kitchen grew exponentially, and their company’s frozen food is now sold in 30 countries around the world. The company has now become a second generation business, with the couple’s children taking active roles in its management.
In addition to his interest in stopping the animal cruelty that occurs in the meat industry, Wally is also committed to highlighting the detrimental impact that the meat, fish, poultry and dairy industries currently have on the planet. Because of its high degree of inefficiency compared to plant protein production, animal agriculture is disproportionately depleting the planet’s dwindling reserves of fresh water, land, fuel, and other resources. “The more that this is highlighted, the more people will understand the need to minimize the impact we humans are inflicting on the environment,” Wally says.
As part of his work to raise awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture, Wally was invited to address delegates at the World Preservation Foundation Conference in London. This conference, entitled “Leaders Preserving our Future: Pace and Priorities on Climate Change,” brought together world leading scientists, campaigners, politicians and celebrities to debate and discuss solutions to climate change. A main focus of the conference was the environmental impact of food production and farming in relation to global food and water security. Wally formed part of a high profile panel discussion that explored food production, farming and the environment.
As Fry’s prepares to debut its food products in the United States, Wally’s company remains committed to its motto of “Principles Before Profits.” He is especially proud of the fact that his children are carrying on the Fry’s name and expanding the company globally.
Wally is fond of saying, “Through my personal choices and actions I can change the world.” It’s a view often shared by vegans, vegetarians, and lovers of animals and the environment.
Featured image: pigs on a farm look into the camera. Image credit tpp1001, CC BY-SA 3.0.