Actress Evanna Lynch Discusses Her Memoir, Animal Activism, and More
Actress, author, and passionate animal activist Evanna Lynch recently released a memoir, The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting: The Tragedy and the Glory of Growing Up. The memoir touches on Evanna’s dramatic casting in Harry Potter, her journey toward optimal physical and mental health, and more.
Evanna has long been an ardent advocate of animal rights and a true Mercy For Animals supporter and friend. She was kind enough to answer our questions about her compelling new memoir, her activism, and more.
Congratulations on your new memoir! Can you tell us what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! I would say I felt a compulsion to write this book, rather than being inspired to write it. I felt the universe has been prodding me to write this book for years. The book revisits a lot of dark moments in my life, so the initial feeling when I sat down to write was “right, let’s get this over with.” I really, really did not want to do it. It was only a few chapters into the process that I realized I actually still had a lot of anger over the way my eating disorder was handled by the medical system. So then the book became about speaking up for the vulnerable 11-year-old I was back then who didn’t know how to say what she needed, what she felt. And then writing from that place, I discovered I had a determination to speak up for other young people grappling with mental-health issues who get lost in the system and whose problems are dismissed or aggressively medicated because they’re children, and people often mistakenly assume children only have trivial, silly problems. But I believe a mental-health crisis is an entirely rational response to the state of the world. There’s pain everywhere you look, so what sane person wouldn’t be tempted to numb themselves with addiction or an eating disorder or whatever it is that affords you a reprieve from your own sensitivity?
I realized I strongly disagree with the allopathic model of treating mental illness—aka treat the symptoms to eradicate the problem. And I wanted to write about the deeper, root issues of eating disorders, not the superficial symptoms that everyone gets distracted by. I wanted to write a visceral account of grappling with an eating disorder and experiencing the hospital system from the perspective of a sick child because I felt, during the time that I was going through treatment for anorexia, that people forgot I was a person, that they often just saw a sickness, and that ironically made it easier to sink deeper into the illness. Many days it would have been so much more helpful if people had truly asked, “How are you doing?” instead of “What do you weigh now?” or “What are you eating?” I just think mental health and eating disorders in particular are gravely misunderstood and sensationalized, and I wanted to do my bit to elucidate and humanize this issue.
Is your passion for animals, activism, and plant-based living part of your story?
Yes and no. Most of the book takes place in my childhood and adolescence, and back then I hadn’t woken up to what was happening to animals. At the time, my food choices were 100 percent based on controlling my body, and I actually went vegetarian at the height of my eating disorder, partly because I started reading about how meat was “made” and partly because the simple concept of ingesting someone else’s flesh repelled me. Of course, it is embarrassing to admit that I wasn’t initially motivated by compassion for animals and that it was my ego that first led me to learn about animal rights. But the more I read about food production, the more my rejection of animal products evolved to be motivated by my ethics.
After recovery I continued with vegetarianism, and then years later I got more deeply invested in animal rights. And that’s when I learned that if I really wanted to avoid supporting animal abuse, I needed to transition to veganism. However, my difficult relationship with food was one of my blocks to going vegan, as I harbored the belief that veganism involved a lot of personal sacrifice and deprivation when it came to food, and that felt too reminiscent of my past. It was only when I lived in LA and was introduced to all the delicious vegan food available that I realized how abundant and nourishing a vegan diet could be. I think veganism was the last piece in healing my problematic relationship with food because, again, my food choices became an expression of my soul, of the values I stood for, rather than a means of punishing or rewarding my body. But in the book, I was careful not to imply that veganism is the answer to recovering from an eating disorder because it isn’t. I think there’s a lot to be said about the connection between eating-disorder recovery and veganism because veganism is all about treating all beings—ourselves included—with respect and mindfulness, but I think that’s for a different book.
You’ve been a longtime supporter of Mercy For Animals, narrating a PSA, participating in our annual galas, and more. Can you tell us why you care so deeply about our shared mission?
Well, first of all, it’s an honor to support your work in any way. Mercy For Animals has some of the bravest, most devoted activists I’ve ever encountered, people who put themselves through hellish experiences and compromise their own mental health in order to tell the stories of what happens in the darkest corners of the ugliest places on earth. I am so sorry that so many activists have to put themselves in those situations, but their courage and commitment gives me hope and energy to keep speaking about these issues. And I suppose I care so deeply because it’s just so hideous and unbearable what we do to animals for food and clothing and entertainment, and if I sit and read the accounts of how animals are slaughtered, I just can’t stand it.
It makes me hate the world, and I don’t want to hate the world because there is also so much beauty and magic to discover, but I feel guilty about indulging that desire for beauty and magic when factory farms and slaughterhouses and zoos exist. The thing is I actually don’t want to be an activist at all; I only do it because animal abuse is the antithesis of everything I love. At heart, I am a bonne vivante; I seek pleasure and adventure and joy, but I can’t fully enjoy life while animals are suffering such brutality at the hands of humanity. The world is so beautiful, and I want it to be beautiful for animals too.
What is your vision for farmed animals?
What every vegan wants, I imagine—for farmed animals to be respected as sentient creatures, not commodities, to have a right to their own skin, their own lives, their freedom. I wish humans would leave animals alone and relinquish this twisted and disfiguring urge to oppress and exploit anything more vulnerable and innocent than us. I really, really wish humans would look inwards and address this sense of supremacy and entitlement over weaker beings—to ask: What do we gain by behaving this way? What might we gain instead by becoming mindful custodians of animals and nature?
Ask, Do we want to use our power and privilege to protect the most vulnerable citizens on earth or to keep taking from them and reinforcing the inequalities that exist in this broken system? And I wish that more people would consciously connect to how their patronage of animal products condemns these beings to lives of pure misery and suffering. We each have a role to play. And I think if everyone put themselves into the place of one dairy cow—just one cow—and connected to her, they’d instantly know that the momentary pleasure and convenience of continuing to eat animal products is indefensible. So my vision for farmed animals is really that people wake up, become conscious, connected human beings who are not afraid to look directly at the mess we’ve created and to work together to undo it.
What are you looking forward to in 2022?
What a nice question! I’m feeling very open-minded and optimistic about 2022. I feel relieved that I’ve gotten my book out there, and I’m excited to do more writing and try my hand at fiction next.
As far as animal rights activism goes, I’m in a bit of a liminal space at the moment, trying to figure out where my voice and talents can best amplify the cause. For the past few years, my activism has mostly comprised making podcasts and sharing campaigns that have been very educational, but lately I keep remembering that my eyes were initially opened to animal rights by fictional stories about their plight, films and books like Babe and Charlotte’s Web. Those stories made a profound impression on me as a child. So I think I need to make an effort to bring a stronger storytelling element into my activism. I don’t currently know what that will look like, but I’m eager to explore better ways to communicate the plight of animals to people.
And I’m excited for theater and film to rise and thrive again after the beating the arts sector took during the pandemic. We need the arts to stay deeply connected to one another. I really believe that.