Jude Unobscured: An Interview With Robin Lamont

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Robin Lamont has had a remarkably varied career. She was a Broadway actress best known for her lovely, thoroughly ingenuous performance in Godspell in which she sang “Day by Day.” She went on to become an undercover investigator for a PI firm, investigating manufacturers of counterfeit goods, and then assistant DA for Westchester County, NY before becoming an author of suspense novels.  Her most recent novel, The Chain, is the first book in The Kinship Series. It’s central character is animal rights investigator Jude Brannock who arrives at a small North Carolina town to retrieve video documentation of the abuse of pigs at a meat processing plant and rapidly finds, as they say, more than she bargained for.

You and your husband are both vegans.  You have stated elsewhere that after reading Gail Eisnitz’s book, Slaughterhouse, you were stunned and compelled to educate yourself about the cruel treatment of animals.  It seems that seeing inside a slaughterhouse through the lens of this book made you question your own complicity, or at least your own ignorance regarding animal suffering.  Is that what caused you to go vegan and if so, how soon after reading the book did this happen?

My husband Ken has been a vegetarian for forty years and about three years ago went completely vegan. He introduced me to the realities of animal suffering, but I was initially resistant to learning about it, although I began to make some changes in my diet and in the food I cooked for the whole family. Like many, I suppose, I started with humane this and that; cooking more vegetarian, etc. It was around that time that I decided to write a single suspense novel that centered around an animal rights investigator. In preparation I read Gail’s book Slaughterhouse.

The book had an enormous impact on me. Before I was finished I decided that I was going vegan. Like so many, I had no idea what went on in factory farms and slaughterhouses everywhere. And once I gave up animal products, there was no need to keep my eyes closed anymore. I began to do more research, look at undercover videos, attend conferences … and the more I looked, the deeper my commitment to becoming an animal advocate became. And I knew that I wanted to create not just a single book, but a series that could expose mainstream readers to the world of animal abuse and exploitation.

So you went vegan fairly recently? When was this?  I’m also wondering about your statement that you “had no idea what went on in factory farms and slaughterhouses.” Was this before reading Slaughterhouse or before Ken introduced you to the realities of animal suffering? Or did your initial resistance to learning about it keep it from fully sinking in?

All of the above. Ken did introduce me to the realities of animal suffering on factory farms. He kept a copy of CAFO on the living room table and he’d talk about factory farming now and then. But he never tried to hammer anything into me, which I appreciate. I think everyone has to come to their own realizations by themselves. When I read Slaughterhouse, I realized that the animal suffering went even deeper than I had imagined. It wasn’t bad enough that animals were raised in horrible conditions, their final hours were also brutal. It brought the entire animal agriculture nightmare to a complete circle.

I know many vegans who “get it” in a single experience or realization. For me, it happened a little at a time. Indeed, I’m still learning about the places and ways that animals are hounded and abused, and this knowledge, I think, affects changes in my outlook on the world every day.

You’ve said that at the age of 11 you decided to become a writer and that throughout your different careers you never stopped believing in “the power of good stories.”  Could you elaborate on this and on how you are using the power of fiction to educate people about animal protection and animal rights?

I’m a story junkie. As a kid I read voraciously, adored movies and plays, particularly those that told complex and emotional stories (still do). I can’t imagine anything better than getting caught up in a tale in which you absolutely HAVE to know what happens next, particularly when the tale draws you into a world you have never known before. When I was studying to be an actress, we were trained to create internal “stories” for the characters we played .. details that might never be spoken aloud, but would give the character depth and interest. This carried over when I worked at a private investigations firm and did undercover work. There it was crucial to create a “cover story” that was not only believable, but would be intriguing to the people from whom we were trying to get information.

Later, after I went to law school and became a prosecutor, the idea of “stories” still applied. After all, trials themselves are missions to get to the bottom of competing versions of events. And the way an attorney presents facts in an argument or legal brief can make or break a case – in and of itself requiring a kind of creativity.

I didn’t actually try my hand at writing books until I left the DA’s office. But I knew that I wanted to write suspense novels. We came up with the idea for The Kinship Series as the most natural way to both do what I loved (creating stories) and get the word out about how animals are treated.

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I have to tell you that after reading The Chain, I have fallen in love with Jude Brannock, though, unfortunately, I’m probably outside her age range.  She is, of course, a fictional creation of yours, though inspired by real animal rights investigators.  What was the process for you in creating Jude and investing her with her own personality while at the same time using her as a vehicle for expressing your own feelings about the treatment of animals? And did she ever start taking the story in directions you had not planned?

I love that you’ve fallen in love with Jude. That’s what every novelist hopes for, that the reader is captivated by their main character. Before I even started the book, I had a sense of who Jude is. Many animal advocates that I’ve met have been through some kind of difficult life experience. Perhaps that is where empathy comes from – being able to relate to the helplessness and powerlessness of animals. Certainly that is true for Jude, although sometimes she is not aware of it – her focus is the animals. Her passion drives her, and in some ways it serves her well, in some ways it can trip her up. But that’s what makes her human.

Jude

The Chain introduces Jude. And in the second book which I’m working on, I’m diving deeper into who she is and what makes her tick. I imagine she will evolve in future books. Indeed, she must. One of the elements, to me, of a good story is that the protagonist be put into situations that so test her, that in order to prevail some personal realization is necessary. A character that doesn’t learn anything, for my money, isn’t all that interesting. The trick in a series is to keep the main characters fluid and growing, but still keep them familiar to the reader.

Tell us more about The Kinship. Will we get to know more about the inner workings of this organization in future books?

Absolutely, more of the inner workings of The Kinship will be revealed. There are other investigators, other players in the animal rights community. The good news about a fictional animal rights investigator is that there is no end to the worlds where she can expose how animals are treated. The bad news is: there is no end to the worlds where animals are abused. Factory farms, fisheries, laboratories, rodeos, circuses, the fur industry, pigeon shoots, it goes on and on.

You must know that there are many readers like myself who are very anxiously awaiting the next book in The Kinship series, about wildlife hunters and a corrupt government program. Anything else you care to reveal about it, especially what Jude will be up against? And please, please, when will it arrive?

Many activists may be aware that the re-introduction of the wolf to Yellowstone Park was met with incredible animosity from ranchers and hunters. There are still many groups out west who would like nothing better than to see all wolves eradicated again (they were just about extinct until placed on the endangered species list). In this next book Jude is going undercover in an Idaho town where enraged wolf opponents are in a battle with conservationists trying to maintain the wolf population. She will learn about the corruption that is rife in Wildlife Services – a federal branch of the USDA, which is killing thousands of predators (like the wolf) with horrific trapping and hunting methods at the behest of the ranching and hunting lobbies.

And without giving too much away, Jude will reunite with an old love. They both want to save animals but don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to a how to go about doing it. She’ll be struggling with her own feelings as much as the volatile situation in Idaho.

As for when it comes out … hoping for release by the Animal Rights Conference in LA this summer.

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A TIME FOR ACTION

Earthlings group shot

The following is the text of the speech I delivered at Grand Park in downtown Los Angles to a group of animal activists who had just marched in the Los Angeles Earthlings march which I helped organize:

I want to thank you all for coming out here to take part in this event, the idea for which originated in Tel Aviv, Israel and has captured the imagination and fired up the spirits of thousands of activists around the world.  I want to thank you for caring enough about our fellow Earthlings, the animals, to march in unity, to raise your voices in solidarity, to come together as part of a worldwide movement to open eyes and open hearts to the injustice done every day to the powerless and exploited.  I want to thank you for taking action – on this the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington to demand justice for all human beings and the famous speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who was not content in merely dreaming but believed in taking action, non-violent, direct action, to realize that dream.

Another man who believes strongly in taking action –non-violent, direct action –is Wayne Hsiung. Wayne is a young technology lawyer up in the San Francisco Bay area and a powerhouse organizer who has been instrumental in organizing  Earthlings marches in many cities throughout the U.S. In a post on the Direct Action Everywhere “Liberationist” blog, Wayne has this to say about activists in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements:

Every act of resistance inspired others to do the same. Every word of dissent made it easier for subsequent dissenters to raise their own voices.

  He goes on to write:

We cannot end the murder of our fellow Earthlings, if we do not speak out forcefully against those whose hands and teeth are stained with their blood. And we cannot create a world for animal liberation, if we do not live out a vision of animal liberation (with all the tension and confrontation that entails) in our own lives. If we are not willing — indeed, inspired — to protest.

When Wayne wants your help on some project he doesn’t cajole, he doesn’t coerce, he simply states how your help could be beneficial in a way that just assumes that you, of course, are going to help. He pulls you in. So when Wayne wrote to me last month, asking if I was aware of the Earthlings march and that it would be great to have a march in L.A. and how this would fit right in with my Vegan Street Theater project – I felt the pull. I agreed to help out as long as I had plenty of support with the organizational heavy lifting.

Though animal activism is a huge part of my life and I love doing vegan outreach, I am often more comfortable working in solitude on writing projects such as The Veg Monologues and Vegan the Musical. Except when my writing muscles are paralyzed by a bad case of writer’s block!  At the end of July, I had a three week vacation from my teaching job which promised, I thought, plenty of time to make significant headway on those projects. At the end of the second week, with the days a blur and almost nothing written, I found it impossible to take action.

On August 10th, in a state of inertia, I managed to rouse myself to journey by metro rail out to the Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena for a presentation by Lauren Gazzola, a lead organizer in the Stop Huntingdon Cruelty Campaign here in the U.S. and a SHAC7 co-defendant. A little background may be needed for those of you who may be unaware. Huntingdon Life Sciences, founded in 1951 in Cambridgeshire, England and with labs in the U.K. and the U.S., is a huge Contract Research organization – which means they will test for anyone willing to pay, any product, any  noxious or toxic substance often in lethal doses, on innocent, captive animals. As independent journalist Will Potter points out in his excellent book, Green is the New RedAn Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, SHAC pressured corporations to sever ties with the lab after multiple investigations exposed horrible animal welfare violations. Lauren and her co-defendants worked tirelessly and successfully on the campaign but were eventually convicted of animal enterprise terrorism charges – even though they never committed a violent or even criminal act.

Lauren’s talk was entitled “The Animal Rights Movement Today” but she admitted to her audience that she had more questions than answers. She did say that rather than spending our energy trying to find the best ways to create more vegans, we should concentrate on the best ways to create more animal rights activists.  As someone whose primary form of activism has been vegan outreach leafleting this really shook me out of my torpor. I balked at first at her comment but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Getting people to go Vegan is a given. How though do we take those vegans to the next step? How do we frame the issue in such a way  that they are hungry not only for vegan food but for  animal liberation as well?  How do we get them to see that animal rights is the biggest social justice issue of our time?

I think the answer is a revolutionary shift in how we conceive of ourselves in relationship to non-human animals. It is essential, I believe, that we open our eyes to the fact that all sentient beings on this planet are, indeed, Earthlings. Earthlings are not commodities, they are not things, they should not be slaves.  Earthlings are living beings, subjects-of-a life, each one of us with an interest in staying alive, in avoiding pain, in experiencing pleasure, joy, companionship, comfort.  We must all coexist on this planet. Just as it is imperative that human beings must stop battling and killing each other, we humans must stop waging war on our fellow Earthlings, the animals. We must stop causing them needless pain. We must stop seeing them as means to our own ends. We must stop  global warming, environmental destruction, poisoning the water, polluting the air, raping the land, not just because of the negative consequences for humans but because we are defiling the home of our fellow Earthlings.

Make no mistake: this is, indeed revolutionary stuff, especially in these days when taking action to save the earth, to liberate the animals is viewed by those in power as terrorism.  But it is absolutely necessary, now more than ever,  to open our eyes to what is happening and to take action. As Will Potter writes at the end of Green Is The New Red:

In history books, injustice is always so easily recognizable, social struggles are buffed to a Hollywood sheen so that the characters are either pure good or pure evil and the necessary response is equally straightforward.  But at the time? At the time it’s not always so easy to see.

Do we take off the blindfolds and see the injustice that is done to our fellow Earthlings or do we remain blind to their suffering? Do we take action, do we protest, do we cause a disturbance, do we openly resist so that others will be inspired to do the same?  Do we truly live out our vision of animal and human liberation? Or do we just hope for the best as we go to the next vegan potluck?  Now’s the time. The time for action. Non-violent, direct action. Action designed to open eyes. Action designed to draw others to the cause, not push them away. Action designed to open cages. Now is the time to act – for the sake of all the Earthlings. Thank you all, once again, for taking action!

Will You Speak Out For Us?

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Who will speak out for us?
The animals you call food.
Who will give voice to our suffering?
Who will tell of the torture?
Who will cry out against the cruelty?
Our misery speaks volumes.
Who will listen to our story?
Who will care?

Artwork by Sue Coe

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LAYING HEN. Listen to me. I lived a short brutal life! If you can call it that. Every nightmare second spent on a factory farm. Billions of us every year. Over a million every hour. Slaughtered! I was a laying hen. Male chicks are useless to the egg industry. They are gassed. Crushed. Suffocated in trash bags. Piled on top of one another and left to die. They have it easy! Soon after I hatched, part of my beak was seared off with a hot blade. It’s done to all factory farmed chickens, turkeys and ducks. Without painkillers. It hurts. How it hurts! For weeks afterwards.

HeartBrand Cow

BEEF COW. You want to talk about mutilation? They castrated me. They cut off my horns. They burned me with a branding iron. You think I was given any painkillers?

LAYING HEN. I was packed into a small cage with a half-dozen other hens. We had no room to move.It was horrible. My natural instincts told me to perch, nest, dust-bathe, forage and roam. But I couldn’t even move my wings. It was so crowded there. I was desperate. Frustrated. I wanted out. That’s why they cut off our beaks, so we wouldn’t peck each other in our misery!

I was kept laying . . . eggs, eggs and more eggs. I gave so much that my bones became fragile from the loss of calcium. When my production declined, a worker pulled me from the wire battery cage, but my wing got caught and was ripped off. I screamed in pain, but only briefly. I was killed and my battered flesh was sent to the rendering plant.

I never knew a moment of freedom. I never knew a moment of comfort. I knew only misery and pain.

Emery-Before-RescueBROILER. I wasn’t put in a cage but in a large shed, like a warehouse, with tens of thousands of other birds. The stench, the dust and the ammonia fumes – they were awful, we had no relief. And our bodies! They were made to grow so fast and so big. My legs couldn’t even support my weight.

My life was sheer hell. I wish I could tell you that my death was quick and painless. When it came time for slaughter, I was snatched up with other birds and crammed into a crate which was stacked on top of other crates in a truck. No food or water during the trip. I was hungry and thirsty and terrified.

Where were we going? What was going to happen? When we finally got to the slaughter house, I was torn from the crate and shackled upside down onto a metal rack. I was conscious when they slit my throat and still alive when they immersed me into a tank of scalding water.dead-chickens
LAYING HEN. So that people can eat eggs.
BROILER. So that people can eat  chicken.
ALL. Yum! Yum! Yum!

Who will speak out for us?
Who will speak of the nightmare world?
Who will tell of the mutilations?
Who will scream our pain?
Who will cry out for us, whose cries were never heard?
Who will give voice to our suffering?
Who will listen? Who will care?

pig

PIG. Listen to me. If I had been a pig in the wild I would have liked nothing better than to stick my snout in the dirt and root. I would have taken mud baths to cool myself. And oh, how I would have roamed, for miles. Sniffing, sniffing and sniffing for food. Exploring everywhere.

But I spent my life confined on a factory farm. I wasn’t even viewed as an animal by the people there. No, I was a meat- producing, piglet-making machine without any feelings.

I was weaned from my mother at two weeks old and became a breeder like her. This meant that I was put in a gestation cage, a metal stall so small that it was impossible for me to move around. I just wanted out. I wanted to be free. The boredom was terrible. I’d bang my head on the cage door, but that did no good. I’d finally just give up.

After giving birth, it was even worse. I was placed in an even smaller farrowing crate while my piglets nursed. Over and over again, either pregnant or nursing, I was always caged.

Other pigs are put into concrete cells called fattening pens, each holding about a dozen pigs. Of course, the pigs act out in their boredom and frustration and try to bite one another. The factory farmers answer to this is to cut off their tales, cut off the ends of some of their teeth and punch bits out of their ears.

pigs in truck

Of course, we all had to die at some point. When I had stopped giving them enough piglets, my time had come for slaughter. A quick and painless death would have been a blessing to me. But that was not to be. I was packed into a hot truck with so many other pigs, crammed together, shocked with an electric prod. We were frightened, angry, biting at each other, trying to get out, looking for escape where there was none. And then the long ride, the heat unbearable, standing in our own shit. Many of us died, right there in the truck. What a hellish ride!

farmer john

How can I explain to you what I saw and heard and smelled at the slaughter house? Do you have any idea of the horrors there? I watched my brothers and sisters and my children being killed. I saw them struggle and heard their cries for help and I saw the workers brutalize them in their impatience. I saw their blood splashed all over the place!

When it was my turn, a worker put a captive bolt pistol to my head to stun me. But I struggled and the bolt missed its mark. I was still conscious when my throat was slit. My last sensations were feeling the blade of that knife and hearing the coarse laugh of the man who used it on me.

LAYING HEN. Listen to us! We speak the language of pain, the language of fear, the language of suffering. They have kept you from hearing us, kept you deaf to our cries. We cry out for open spaces, fresh air and a chance to follow our instincts. We cry out for comfort. We cry out for compassion. We scream our pain and moan our grief and shriek our terror. And you do not hear us. Who among you will take the time to listen?

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DAIRY COW. Listen to me and I will tell you how the life of a dairy cow is anything but happy. I will tell you of my suffering and I will tell you of my grief – a mother’s grief.

Over and over again I was kept pregnant, artificially inseminated, to produce milk. Like all mammals, I produced milk for my babies. Or didn’t you know this? I was pumped full of drugs to make me give more and more milk. I was hooked up to a machine which chafed and hurt and greedily took milk from my body.

Milk meant for my baby! My babies! I never got to nurse them. I never got to nuzzle them, to care for them, to give them a mother’s love. They were taken from me shortly after their birth so that I could keep producing milk for you to drink. And so it went, over and over again. Impregnation. Birthing. Milking. Until I was spent, my milk all used up, my body depleted. They had taken all that I could give and they had taken my babies. They killed me and ground up my body for hamburger. I was only five years old. I never knew what happened to my babies.

CratedCalfInExcrement-lgVEAL CALF. I was one of her babies. A few days after I was born, I was sold to a veal farmer.
Mother, they took me from you and chained me by the neck, alone, inside a wooden stall! It was so small I couldn’t even move around. And that’s where I spent the rest of my brief life. Day after lonely day. My muscles wasted away. I needed your milk, mother, but they fed me something else that made me so weak.

PIG. Veal calves are fed an iron-deficient milk substitute that makes their flesh desirably pale and also makes them anemic.

VEAL CALF. I was scared, Mother. Scared and lonely and sick. The stall was damp, the wooden slat flooring soaked with my urine. I had trouble breathing.

BEEF COW. So they pumped him full of antibiotics.

VEAL CALF. I wanted to be with you, Mother. Where were you when I needed you? I was all alone in that stall.

ALL. Sixteen weeks! Sixteen lonely, weary weeks!

VEAL CALF. And finally, they killed me. I never felt grass beneath my feet.
And I never saw you again, Mother.

PIG. Oh, but wasn’t his flesh so tender, so succulent, so beautifully pale?
Wasn’t that veal a gourmet’s delight? Well worth all the suffering, wouldn’t you say?

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If animals on factory farms could tell
In tongues made knowable to human ears,
Tales that could touch both heart and mind,
What sort of stories would you wish to hear?
Those terrors that were voiced are all too real
But must this be the way?
There’s hope for some – the rescued few:
A sanctuary brings them brighter days.
But most still languish in a living hell,
No moment of surcease, no touch of grace,
But we can make a difference in their lives.
We can give them love’s transformative embrace.

It’s in our hands.

They are in your hands,
These animals, these fellow beings,
In your human hands,
Hands that can describe
An arc of Freedom
Or delineate
A circle of Despair.
Hands with thumbs that make
It possible to grasp
A single thread,
Heft a club,
Or hold a fork and knife.
Hands that can bring forth
Or take a life.
These animals
Are in your hands.
Hands which may not hold
The blade that kills but
Pay the ones who spill
The blood that’s on your hands.
Hands that cover eyes.
You say you sympathize
But hope that blindness
Can comprise a world
Where the flesh that you
Consume is somehow
Joyfully given,
Rather than so cruelly riven.
These animals, their fate is in your hands.
And when you bring
That Leg,
That wing,
That thigh,
That chopped up muscle mass,
That piece of what
Was once a living
Being
That lived a short and
Oh so brutal life,
Up to your mouth
Remember this:
Those animals, they’re in your hands.

A CIRCLE of COMPASSION

Here’s a short, short story I wrote a couple of years ago (you’ll notice outdated topical references), not without its flaws but worth a read!

broken circle

A CIRCLE of COMPASSION

by

R.C. Curtis

After pilates, the four of them went out for lunch, Elizabeth, Marcy, Kim and Joanne, the four happy gals as Joanne had once dubbed themselves, though none of them could remember exactly why. They went to the El Cholo there in Santa Monica because it was close by and because Marcy was craving a margarita. Elizabeth worried about Marcy, noticing how much she drank each and every time they went out. She knew, of course, that it was none of her damn business, but still – you should show concern for friends, you should care.

But a margarita did sound good to Elizabeth – that and a nice chicken enchilada.

The place was nearly empty, yet they had to wait about ten minutes before being seated. Of course Joanne started in on the poor hostess, a wisp of a thing with big brown cow eyes who looked all of seventeen and ready to cry at any minute. “Listen, sweetie, you’ve got four hungry, thirsty broads here who would prefer a nice comfy booth but will take any one of the empty tables here. What’s the hold up?” The hostess patiently explained that they were expecting a large group any minute and suggested that Joanne and her “party” could wait at the bar.

Joanne was just starting to go off on this not being much of a party when, thank God, a table opened up. Then the four of them were ensconced – it was a booth!— the margaritas arrived and the chips and salsa, and then they were all yakking away, four very happy gals indeed.

“I swear, if you bring up Tiger Woods one more time . . .” Marcy, on her second margarita, was hollering so that everyone around them turned to stare.

“Shhh!” said Elizabeth, stifling an embarrassed giggle.

The waitress came, for the second time, to take their order and now they were finally ready. Marcy ordered the combination number one — a cheese enchilada and a beef taco – and another margarita, por favor. Elizabeth asked for the Enchilada Suiza. Joanne ordered the Carne Asada (“with mucho carne, sweetie!”)

“I’ll have the vegetable fajitas, please,” said Kim, at twenty-six the youngest in the group, younger even than Elizabeth by a good seven years, with a shyness to her that, along with her small, soft voice, made her seem all the more like a little girl in the company of jaded older women.

After the waitress left, Joanne leaned her ample bosom over the table and said in a loud stage whisper, “Oh shit, Kim – – – are you going vay-gun on us??”

Kim looked like she wanted to slip under the table but took a breath and answered, ” I don’t know, Joanne. I mean I’m just thinking of making some changes. I’ve just been reading this book by Jonathan Safran Foer . . .”

“Wait, ” blurted Marcy, “I know, didn’t he write that novel that got made into a movie a while back. Something about light . . . The Unbearable Lightness of Being?”

“No, you ninny,” shot back Joanne, “that was, what’s his name – Milos Forman.”

“Kundera,” replied Elizabeth.

“Who you callin’ a kundera!” chortled Joanne.

“Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” said Elizabeth. “Milos Forman is the director.”

“He directed Unbearable Lightness of Being?” This from Marcy.

“No, that was Philip Kaufman.”

“Oh, I didn’t know he was also a director. He’s a good actor!”

“I think you’re thinking of Philip Seymour Hoffman.”

Everything’s Illuminated,” said Kim.

Joanne leaned back and belched. “Not quite,” she said, ” I think some of us are still in the dark!”

“That’s the name of his first book” said Kim. “The book I read is called Eating Animals.”

“Here, here,” declared Joanne, raising her empty margarita glass, “I’m all for that!”

“Anyway, in it he talks about extending our circle of compassion to include all animals, even the ones we think of as food . . .”

Just then the waitress arrived with their orders.

Joanne rubbed her big hands together. “Speaking of which, let’s eat, ladies!”

“How about that poor Brittany Murphy, huh? ” said Marcy, “Jeez just, what, thirty-two. What a shame!”

“But I wasn’t finished,” sputtered Kim.

“Kim, sweetie, girlfriend – let it go. APB, darling: no one’s interested.”

“Joanne!” said Elizabeth. “Joanne, that’s terrible.”

Preparing lamb cutlets that night, in the kitchen they had recently remodeled –she loved the new granite counters! –Elizabeth thought about poor Kim. She was so idealistic, so sweet and yet such prey to the caustic sarcasm of the Joannes of the world. It was like Kim was an innocent little lamb and Joanne was the wolf. Elizabeth immediately saw the irony of what she was doing and what she was thinking but didn’t allow herself to dwell on it. Didn’t even dwell upon the memory of her horror when she was a little girl of five, about the age of her son Bobby, and her mother told her that the delicious meat she was eating was lamb. How she had run crying from the table. How it took her a long time to accept the fact that we actually eat animals, that sudden realization. But isn’t acceptance of such things part of growing up? I mean, come on, animals eat animals, we can’t fly off the handle about such natural things. Like those horrid people on the Promenade showing those graphic videos of animals being slaughtered. And with little kids being exposed to such stuff. But these nuts didn’t care what harm they did to such innocent, impressionistic kids. Such awful images! Talk about lack of compassion. The poor little things. The poor little things.

Bill called from the other room when he heard the sobs coming from the kitchen. “Honey, are you okay?” No reply. “Honey?” Then, finally Elizabeth answered.

“Dinner’s ready,” she said.

END

Fellow Humans

A couple of days ago I was jarred by a remark made by an acquaintance — let’s call her Mary –a woman  whose work for the animals and for the planet I respect deeply. It was at the end of the annual Fur Free Friday protest in Beverly Hills.  A group of us had planned on getting lunch at Veggie Grill in West Hollywood and I, sans car, begged a ride from her. I looked forward to continuing a conversation begun the day before, at the Vegan Thanksgiving  potluck in Rancho Park, regarding effective activism and the need to get the larger, “Mom and Pop” public involved in animal rights causes.

As we walked to her car I mentioned how I have been forced, much of the time, to take public transportation and I mentioned how I loved taking the train, the Metro Expo La Brea station just a ten minute walk from where I live. Mary responded that she loathed taking the train or any form of public transport. And why is that? I asked. “Because of all those gross people.” she replied.

I wasn’t quite sure which people she was talking about. To be sure, I have encountered some less than appealing humanoids in all my years riding buses and taking trains. Was she talking about someone like the homeless guy I encountered once on a subway train in New York whose rotten cabbage/cat piss reek practically cleared a whole car? Or the woman chugging malt liquor from the can at 7:45 in the morning on the 212 bus headed into Hollywood?

No. Mary was not talking about certain people.  She was talking about all people — or at least the majority of people who still “stuff themselves with the bodies of dead animals” (or words to that effect.) In fact, she went on, she hated the human race. If a virus were to wipe out the entire human population, she averred, she would be fine with that. Now, I have heard this sentiment expressed before and have found it not only disturbing but asinine, as I shall explain below. But I did not, perhaps naively, expect to hear it from this woman.

“Name one good thing that human beings have done on this earth!”  she demanded.

“What about all of us?” I asked, “What about all of the people who care deeply about animals and the Earth and are working to bring about change?” She replied that we were but a minority and besides, it was already too late.  We’d already reached the tipping point.  Humans had fucked things up forever.  Another person who was walking  with us to the car, an older woman I didn’t know,  readily agreed that all people were detestable and she hated them, too.

“Do you hate yourself, then?” I asked  Mary. She replied that she had no problem with dying –and that she would be perfectly fine with having her whole family perish as well –but whilst she was alive she planned to keep fighting for the animals. I turned to–or perhaps on  (my ire was up)– the other woman and posed the same question: “Since you are a human, do you hate yourself?”

“Oh, I, too, do not care if I die,” she replied  in a European accent I was unable to identify.

“That’s not the question that I asked,” I told her, trying hard to keep a prosecutorial zeal from gaining control. “Do you hate yourself??”

She conceded that, well, no, she did not hate herself.

“So you just hate everyone else, then.  Is that it?”  We had reached  the car by this point and I got in and shut up. On the drive to Veggie Grill I remained silent until  Mary wanted to continue our conversation from Thanksgiving. I took this opportunity to confront her with her anti-human stance but she merely reiterated her desire to see a virus wipe out the entire human race.  There was no human being, “not even the Dalai Lama”  whose life was worth a damn compared to the life of an animal.

“And what about all the children?” I asked, barely able to contain my repugnance for what this woman professed to believe. “All the young children I teach.  Do you want to see them perish as well?”

To which she replied, “Yes, them too. Children grow up to become vivisectors.”

Once we reached Veggie Grill, I had lost my appetite. As the two human haters waited for another human  to find parking, I took the elevator up to the ground level and then walked out to to Crescent  Heights and continued walking, down towards Santa Monica Boulevard. Away from human haters. Away from the activist crowd gathered at Veggie Grill, a crowd comprised of who knows how many others who fervently wished for a final viral solution to the human problem.

Of course, I do realize that there are many– perhaps most– in my Vegan/Animal Rights community and in the worldwide circle of advocates,who eschew such  misanthropy. Here’s what Animal Rights philosopher Tom Regan has to say in his book, Empty Cages:

With rare exceptions, ARAs [animal rights advocates] stand for love of family and country, for human rights and justice, for human freedom and equality, for compassion and mercy, for peace and tolerance, for special concern for those with special needs, for a clean, sustainable environment, for the rights of our children’s children’s children — our future generations.

I question whether most ARAs “stand for love of family and country” and it’s Hallmark- patriotic sheen but I would like to believe the rest is quite true.

Yes, human beings are capable of great cruelty, staggering mindlessness, monumental stupidity, selfishness, greed and folly.  Many people  have annoyed me, repulsed me, horrified and deeply saddened me. But there have also been people who have greatly inspired me, who have bolstered my faith in humanity, whose self-sacrifice and dedication are a wonder to behold, whose kindness and compassion have at times brought me to tears.  And I have known humans who, though not (yet) vegan, not animal rights advocates, have touched me deeply with their warmth, humor and sensitivity.

I understand the anger, the sickness-at-heart; I understand the rage. There is much that humans have done to animals and to Nature (and, I might add, to other humans) that is unconscionable and deserving of unequivocal rebuke.

But it makes me sick at heart to hear people like Mary declare such hatred for a species to which I, my family, friends and loved ones — and yes, even she–happen to belong.  And all this talk about looking forward to a virus wiping out the human race is such asinine rubbish.  Of course those like Mary are not prepared to start things off with themselves and not wait for the virus (thank goodness!) because of the important work they have left to do.  But it is fine to consign everyone else to death. Even little children who will, undoubtedly, grow up to become vivisectors.  And what of the suffering involved?  The anguish of   those who, before their own demise, have to witness their loved ones sicken and waste away. What of the pain, the terror, the horror of such a scenario? Would this, in Mary’s mind, be justice served?  Or is she planning on a quick and painless plague?

I am a human being, a deeply flawed human being.  We are all flawed to some extent.  Yes, even the beloved leaders of our Vegan/Animal Rights community (I have been privy to some stories which paint a less than glowing portrait of  the human interactions of some highly respected people ) But this does not mean they have not made positive contributions to  saving the lives of animals and to changing the hearts and minds of other human beings.  And this does not mean that there are so many others out there who are open to our message of compassion for all earthlings, who are ready to change, to become Vegan, to put their ideals into profound practice.

We cannot, we must not, conform to the false stereotype of the “people hating” animal rights extremist.  This does not mean that we must not confront the public with the truth — the horrors of factory farming, the insanity and barbarity of animal research, the depravity of the fur trade, etc. It means that we must be guided by hope, we must be always ready to take the long view, to see an arc of history that truly does bend toward justice.

And we must be open to the small epiphanies, the serendipitous discoveries that are awaiting us as long as we leave ourselves open to them. Last night, after taking part in a rousing street theater stunt against UCLA vivisection  organized by Progress For Science at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, I had time to kill before my bus arrived and so I stopped in at the bar at Buddha’s Belly on Broadway and Second for an  après (street) theater drink.

I had much to think about, much to contemplate regarding the events of the past few days.  I had been a part of a peaceful and lovely gathering of like minded folk in Rancho Park for the Vegan Thanksgiving potluck; I had been in the midst of some righteous anger directed at the purveyors of  fur in Beverly Hills; I was happy that the stunt on the promenade had gone well and that nearly thirty people had shown up.  I had felt a comradeship with these people, these dedicated activists,many of whom were young enough to be my children.

And I also was mulling over Mary’s comments.  As I sipped my Tsing Tao beer, to be followed by a sake, I scanned the others at the bar and in the dining area.  Would Mary find everyone of them gross and consignable to death?  And would I feel a true sense of kinship with any of them?  Did any of them really care about earthlings other than themselves?

We cannot, we must not, conform to the false stereotype of the “people hating” animal rights extremist.

And there I was, dressed up in my grown-up clothes, my non-wool dress jacket, dress shirt, slacks, non-leather shoes (I had been to the real theater earlier in the day). How did the others see me?  Would they see a much different person were I wearing the “Animal Liberation” tee shirt I wore to the fur protest? Most likely, yes. Dressed as I was, they had no way of knowing I was a Vegan, an Animal Rights Advocate, the creator of The Veg Monologues, fer cryin’ out loud.

And then the bartender, a  friendly young woman named Jamie, spoke to me. “Did you just come from a movie or show?” she asked.  And I told her that, no, actually, I had just come from a street theater stunt against vivisection at UCLA.  And that’s how I found out that she and her mother were both Vegan and supporters of animal rights.  As she went about her bar tending duties we talked about veganism, tofurkey, Native Foods, and how difficult it is sometimes being around people who just don’t get it. Before I left, I urged her to check out this blog.

So, Jamie, if you are reading this, it was great meeting you, fellow Vegan.  Fellow Human.