Monday, September 8, 2008

London Vegan Day, or: HappySad

When I was a child I had a little rag doll I called HappySad. On one side her face was smiling and rosy-cheeked, but flip her over and she wept little blue paint tears from her Janus head. I feel a little like HappySad today after the London Vegan Festival.

I visited with fellow PPK-ers Pete F, lemon_spot and zuzucooks, representing Walthamstowe and Cheltenham, UK, and Chicago, USA, respectively. We made quite the intercontinetnal cyberspace foursome as we met at Kensington High Street Tube.

The London Vegan Festival is in its tenth year and it was absolutely jam packed with stalls, exhibitors, and, most importantly, visitors.

What made Miss T happy? It was so exciting to see people from all walks of life, ranging from cyberpunks to goths to feral earthmothers to Christians to Vegan Runners to Vegan Weightlifters (bless!) to normal everyday Mr and Mrs Averages. Children ran around, parents sampled food, teenagers bought badges, and everyone shuffled along in the massive crowds from one stall to another. The range of food included produce such as Sheese, Cheezly and other established companies, to freshly prepared Caribbean and raw food, to home made sweets. Although we chose not to attend any of the presentations, there seemed to be a good balance between kids' activities, stimulating discussion, and musical and comedy performances (and to be honest, quite a lot of New Age wankery and other rubbish. I will never accept that the animal rights agenda is inconsistent with companion animals. Piss off).

What made Miss T sad? It's easy in the midst of all this happy, warm-fuzzy, food-oriented togetherness to forget exactly what atrocities continue to be committed. The stalls from various animal rights, welfare, liberation and action groups presented graphic reminders of just what the ugly reasons I went vegan are: the fur trade; animal testing and experimentation; greyhound cruelty; fishing practices; the incredible penal sentences handed out to animal rights activists (and I know many of them did appalling, un-condonable things, but many did not and received what are by any measure excessive and purely punitive sentences); the condition of dairy cows and egg-producing chickens; and the everyday cruelty of some people to their animals - all shocked me and made me unspeakably sad.

I know that when I was vegetarian I consistently and deliberately drew an impenetrable veil across what I knew occurred to give me my milk in my coffee, my eggs on my plate, and my leather on my shoes and slung across my shoulders. I know how easy and effective it is to slam that door of denial shut, and I had thought that when that horror fully dawned on me that my eyes had opened and that I could, would, and did face it with clarity and honesty. But when I saw those pictures - of tiny monkeys clinging to their rescuers and sucking their thumbs, of greyhounds with their ears hacked off to prevent identification, of foxes with their legs stripped down to the bone - I knew I hadn't the courage. I haven't watched any of the DVDs filmed inside animal experimentation laboratories or chicken farms; I haven't pursued any activities beyond my own veganism; and I have let that veil come down again, just further away from my eyes. I am sad.

I don't intend to start breaking into battery farms or laboratories. I don't intend to commit criminal damage. I maintain that although there is a place for direct action, it is easy to be counter-productive within that sphere and it is simply not how I think I can best help. But I think I should do something. I must.

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