veganism Archive

Activism, Nature Stories, VB40

‘Don’t tell me that, I’ll never go to Nando’s again’

Or why did the chicken cross the road…

As said by Nicky Campbell, Radio 5 Live DJ and “animal lover” this morning at around 7.56am. It was in response to an item on the Radio 5 breakfast show when the director of Omlet, the company behind the eglu and now a hi-vis jacket for chickens crossing the road, was asked what type of companionship chickens provide as pets.

‘You’re doing the chicken a disservice,’ said Johannes Paul, the director of Omlet, who make the jackets. ‘Chickens are great companions, they’re sociable, they come to the sound of your voice, they…’

Not hearing the voices

‘Don’t say that!’ shouted Nicky. ‘I’ll never go to Nando’s again.’ He then actually went ‘La La La La La…’ so as not to hear anything else the Omlet director said about the intelligence, sociability and sentient behaviour of the chicken.

And there it was. The meat eater’s response to the knowledge of cruelty and injustice: I don’t want to know. La la la la la. Rather than listen, and face the terrible knowledge of who, not what, these nonhuman animals are, it’s so much easier to maintain the dissociation.

It’s a strange one for Nicky Campbell. On his Twitter account, he calls himself an “animal lover” and retweets the stories of animal abuse from other Twitter followers.

If you are an animal lover, Nicky, I’d like to challenge you to think about the chicken in the way you think about your dog or cat. Just for five minutes. Think about the reasons not to eat chickens. Can you do it?

For many it can take strength of will to overcome all those obstacles to knowing–and feeling–what happens to the animals that are consumed for food and products. It is difficult, for so many reasons. To begin to face the truth about nonhuman animals, particularly those used for food, is to acknowledge your role in their ill treatment and abuse, before turning to a plant-based diet. That can be an emotionally traumatic process.

But small steps. As Johannes Paul pointed out, chickens are now in the top 10 pets kept in the UK. They are kept for companionship as well as by those people who want to harvest their eggs, often as a way to bypass the cruelty or antibiotics that are inherent in the egg industry. That means more people are living with chickens and seeing their personalities and having to face, perhaps, the choices of eating chicken, perhaps the most hard-done by of all the farmed animals we as a human species consume.

(By the way, the hi-vis chicken vest is not a new story – most other media outlets ran this story back in October 2013.)

Finding voice

After hearing Nicky Campbell do the ‘la la la’ to maintain his cognitive dissonance, I picked up my phone and wrote out a text to Radio 5 to comment on what had happened. And then I deleted the text, and carried on with my morning.

It was the same yesterday, when I posted on Facebook challenging people to ‘carry on, you have your bacon sandwich’ after reading about the tragedy of the pigs who are being live transported to the slaughterhouse in Toronto in the polar vortex that’s hitting North America, of temperatures as low as -23C.

There was the witness account of one pig having to be scraped off the side of the metal truck to which it had frozen with a big wooden panel. This pig was still alive. Most of the pigs had chilblains and purple frostbitten ears. The witnesses of Toronto Pig Save ran to the slaughterhouse to hear the worst screams from the pigs they had ever heard. Pigs who are as social and as intelligent as a three year old child.

And I wrote all this in my post on Facebook to share the story. And then I deleted it. La La La. Let people carry on with their bacon sandwiches.

Why did I delete both? Because I’m wary of being the vegan killjoy. I’m tired of living in a world of meat eaters who will not show compassion towards these nonhuman animals with needs, desires and a will to live, and who clearly suffer a great deal of pain at our hands.

Or rather, I was tired yesterday. Just very tired, due to work, starting running again, getting into a routine. And I do care what people think of me, and don’t want to alienate people. I want to ‘save face’. And am also, I suppose, coming to the knowledge that such anger is not productive in changing people’s attitudes. But it’s something I feel rise up now and then.

It all goes into the pot to think about, and help me answer the important questions. What can I do to stop this? What is the maximum impact I can have?

I thought that I was being less courageous. But silence isn’t always about losing your voice. It can be about having patience, and finding the right voice, much like a writer needs to sometimes not share what she is saying, to speak only to herself, hear the voice in her own head first, and then speak.

(A shorter version was published on the Animal Welfare Party’s website this morning)


Vegan Before 40 – the beginning

In my magazine journalism class the other day I was discussing with two students their future plans, and the possible need to have an online presence for themselves if they want to go into any communications, journalism, PR role.

We were discussing what types of blog they read and write. One of the fears of blogging is to do with how hard it can be to maintain the motivation and momentum: blogging every week or every day, keeping an audience. It can seem like a real burden. So the idea of time- or post-limited projects has become quite interesting, e.g. 40 Days of Dating, or closer to home, 144 Acts of Writing. Discussing this, one of my students mentioned he used to read a blog called 400 Before 40 – that is, a blog counting down 400 days until the blogger became 40. I sort of laughed, but something fizzed inside me. Why?

Because when I got back to my office — I thought so — the student has mentioned it to me on the very day when I had 400 DAYS UNTIL I WAS 40. Freaky? You bet. I was a little freaked out for a few days there. Until, strangely, or not so much, a 40th birthday dinner with a friend, when we discussed its arbitrary nature. Of course, Irvin Yalom and the existential psychotherapists don’t think so — every anniversary or ending such as this reminds one, or rather resonates, with the fears of growing older and of death. I’ll admit, it got me thinking, and not in a positive way.

But then I was also thinking, all along… and what could I blog about until I was 40?

It wasn’t until I attended the excellent Animal Machines symposium at Sheffield University that it all sort of clicked. That is, I want to enter into the field of Vegan Indie Media (as the people at Our Hen House call it) as a writer; I also want to write about veganism in some sort of academic frame. Meeting people such as Matthew Cook and Richard Twine, who are doing just that, helped me begin to shape together some ideas.

Richard Twine is working on vegan transitions, interviewing people about their shifts towards vegan living, and, using Practice Theory, interrogating the meanings, materialities, and competencies that one requires to become adept at anything, include ‘being’ vegan. Discussing our own vegan transitions later with a colleague at Sunderland, the idea was then almost on the tip of my tongue. And then, later that evening, looking at the Vegan Before 6 (VB6) book on my shelf, given to me by a friend, it came together.

Vegan Before 40.

So here it is. The beginning. A tracking, an archive, an exploration, an intervention into a new vegan world. And blogging about it as a means of thinking it, as Lauren Berlant puts it in a recent interview with Jennifer Cooke about the uses of her own blog, Supervalent Thought, to develop her theories, they “are thought by way of writing, and not just thought in writing” (Berlant and Cooke 2013: 969). Or in Twine’s terms, of developing new skills (the articulation of a personal vegan ethos) as well as understanding the meanings of veganism, and perhaps, developing new materialities as well (networks of other vegan writers/readers?).

Berlant and Cooke (2013) ‘Transformations and challenges in politics, teaching, art and writing: An interview with Lauren Berlant’, Textual Practice 27:6, 961-970.