Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Philadelphia Foray

12 December 2009, Washington, DC • Philadelphia

I arrived early this morning at Union Station for an overnight visit to Philadelphia, where I will speak tonight at a Holiday Party organized by The Humane League of Philadelphia. I took a walk over to the Capitol building a half mile away. There are many lawns with stately trees there and this crisp (0°C) sunny morning was great for walking. I paused to watch a squirrel perched on a low bough, soaking in some morning sunlight. A few minutes on, as I walked a stone path abutting the Capitol, I came upon another squirrel. This one was dead. He lay flat on the path edge near some shrubs. There was no sign of trauma. He looked as if he had bounded to a stop, spread his legs out, and just gone to sleep.

As I stooped to investigate, three young women walked up from the other direction. They gasped and made sad expressions at the sight of the squirrel, whose glazed eyes were half open. One of them suggested I not touch him, but I said it was okay, adding the irrelevant but effective excuse that I am a biologist and handle animals quite often. His body was stiff as I picked him up and placed him beneath a shrub. “Is it that way because of the cold?” one of the women asked. I replied that the squirrel had probably been dead an hour or two and that the stiffness was due to rigor mortis.

Two of the women had “fur” collars. I politely asked them if they were made of real fur. Neither was sure. They let me inspect the collars; one appeared fake and the other real, probably coyote or raccoon dog. I urged them to check the labels on their coats before buying them, adding that some companies had deliberately mislabeled fur trimming to dupe consumers, but that U.S. law has recently been passed to require proper labeling. One of the women, an Australian from Melbourne, asked if they kill animals for their fur or if they get them from secondary sources. I explained what I had learned of the appalling cruelties of the fur industry from having worked in animal protection for 20 years. She said she’s a vegetarian, apart from eating chicken, which she insists be free-range. I commended her, but I also asked that she not call herself a vegetarian when she still eats meat.

I feel like this encounter represents the current state of the public’s relationship to animals: native empathy, nascent awareness, but still plenty of ignorance. Someone, who recently heard a talk by Jonathan Safran Foer for his new book Eating Animals, said that Foer is saying that we don’t need new values — that our values already include compassion for others — and that what we need is a new story, one that includes the animals. I think he’s right, which is why public enlightenment is so vital to bringing about animal liberation.

13 December 2009, Philadelphia • Washington, DC

The weather has turned dull and gray, but my spirit is sunny, thanks to the Humane League of Philadelphia’s Holiday Party last night. Two hundred guests filled the room at The Ethical Society’s venerable headquarters on Rittenhouse Square in downtown Philadelphia. Lots of scrumptious vegan food and drink to please every palate. But the greatest joy was mingling with the humans who had come to share the occasion, each with their own talents and energy being put to the shared cause we call the animal rights movement. There is no denying the enormity of the challenges animals face on an increasingly crowded planet. However, it is also impossible to ignore the gathering signs of change, from caged activists in China protesting chicken factories, to news reports linking climate change to animal agriculture, to the vegan gardenburgers now available on the Amtrak train I’m riding back to Washington. The question is no longer whether humans will end our short-sighted, grasping, ultimately self-destructive dominion over the other animals; the question is when, and how soon.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home