Monday, November 24, 2008

Vegan Values Explored

Overall, I think vegans have the right idea. That should be understood up front. It just seems wrong that we should consider ourselves an advanced society and still be killing animals for our food. Worse, killing them under appallingly cruel factory conditions.

But I've got my gripes with vegans, too. And I just spent a lot of time with a lot of them. So I'm venting.

It was a holiday event that will raise funds for a sanctuary for farm animals. It's an ambitious facility, with clearly well cared for animals and devoted caregivers. The event was upscale, designed to satisfy the urban need for style, as many of the sanctuary's supporters only live in the country part time.

There was an enormous tent, dozens of round tables with white linens and pedestal heaters to take the chill off a very cold November day. There were heaping plates of delicious vegan food that could satisfy any gourmet. And there were speakers. There's my first beef, if you'll pardon the expression.

I know these speakers - they're the vanguard of the new veganism. Picture vegan valley girls. Beautiful, bouncy, sassy and hip, they stood at the microphone and extolled the healthy virtues of veganism. I found myself missing the earnest, intellectual appeals from scientists, the emotional rawness of the devoted vegan hippies. Veganism is cool now. I guess it's a good thing for the animals and for the planet, all of which will benefit if more people jump on the vegan bus...but now that the bus is a hybrid, I find myself missing the old VW microbus.

Then there was music. HSO was playing bass and guitar, and he rarely gigs so I was really looking forward to it. Joy Askew was the performer. She's a talented songwriter who really should be far more famous than she is. HSO spent three weeks preparing - learning the songs, fine tuning the sounds, making sure he had it down by heart. I have no doubt the other performers put in similar time, and some of them had to travel quite a way to get there.

They rehearsed at 9 AM that morning, then drove to the tent, where the heat was just being set up. They waited to go on at 2...and waited almost two extra hours because raffles and speakers took far longer than expected. The diners finished their meals. They ate their dessert. And then the band was announced.

As they began to play, everyone headed for the exit.

No, they weren't awful. In fact, they were terrific. But these people had been outside all afternoon, had eaten, had won whatever prizes they were going to win, had listened to too many speeches and they'd had enough. They were leaving. So a few of us stood and gaped as the tent nearly cleared out while musicians who had donated their time and talents played to peoples' backs.

The event's organizer belatedly realized what she'd done and ran to the microphone twice to encourage people to stay, sit down and enjoy the music. But it was too late. So the band played, a bunch of pros who are used to people treating musicians like wallpaper. And a handful of people enjoyed a terrific show despite the band's frozen fingers and steamy breath. Another musician who wasn't playing that day was appalled....he watched the entire scene in disbelief as people who stayed displayed manners that would have gotten them thrown out of a corner bar.

I was angry. Joy Askew is a headliner. She's played with Laurie Anderson and Peter Gabriel. Any event that gets her is lucky. The musicians were treated like an afterthought.

And therein lies my complaint with many vegans. They have boundless compassion for the animals. But far too often, their compassion stops there.
They can be strident, they can be rude, they can be thoughtless - but if they're helping the animals, they are confident of their virtue.

Compassion doesn't stop with four legged creatures. Or it shouldn't. And good manners may be old fashioned, but I think they're what makes living in society possible.

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