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Coming of Age in a Concert Hall By Lee Hall
Twenty-four years ago, I became an ethical vegetarian—which is to
say, I decided to become a conscientious objector to industries that make
commodities out of animals. It started when I picked up a leaflet that
someone had placed on my seat in a rock concert hall.
I was in South London, at the Ace of Brixton. Seeing the band was really a big
deal for me. I was a songwriter in a band, immersed in the new wave music scene—we
would never have had the audacity in the early 80s to call ourselves “punks,” as
doing so was considered the height of pretension—and the Poison Girls were
playing. They were one of the best bands around, and I couldn’t afford
to go until a friend surprised me with a ticket. Dear George, if you’re
somewhere reading this, thanks.
But this leaflet distracted me. The holidays were approaching, and it explained
how turkeys and geese were about to lose their lives for the festive tradition,
how puppies would appear under trees like toys and often be discarded in the
months to follow, how the fur industry profited from the occasion, and many other
things I must have always known but never noticed. This was the true meaning
of the holidays, if you happened to be any domesticated animal except a human
Who would come to a concert and put these leaflets on every seat? Who would be
so dedicated to an idea, and so confident that someone would be there, ready
to receive it?
I spotted this exact person walking up an aisle, carrying a shoulder bag. And
so it was that I met Robin, who gently but persuasively explained the position
of vegans. As the door leading to the auditorium opened and shut, and waves of
music ebbed and flowed in and out of the hallway where we talked, it became clear
to me that all my desires to see good done in the world by those in a position
to do it—that even my serious social and environmental activism—would
be undermined as long as my money went to the breeding and trading and killing
of other conscious animals.
Through Robin, I became aware of the profound commitment that motivated this
idea called animal rights, and understood that I could be part of the problem,
or I could be part of the solution. And I understood that my response mattered
I stopped smoking as well. Robin explained that caring about one’s own
health is a key component of veganism. First, it’s impossible to extend
profound respect to others in the world without self-respect. Second, looking
after one’s health is central to becoming an advertisement for the vegan
way of living.
The Golden Grill is still open at Camberwell Green in South London. It’s
the last place I can recall ordering meat. The window displays a faded menu of
eggs and bacon, sausages, fish and chips, kebabs and cheeseburgers. “But
for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh,” wrote Plutarch, “we
deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time
it had been born into the world to enjoy.”
When I’ve attended the London Vegan Festival (Robin’s been the co-facilitator
since the event was founded ten years ago), I’ve felt the urge to visit
this old diner as though it were a churchyard. A basket of flowers hangs near
the doorway. It’s occurred to me that someone from the city must arrive
to water the flowers in the hanging basket every day.
Sometimes I look back and wish I’d had the a-ha! moment earlier. But I’m
glad it wasn’t any later. When I had no other available means of activism,
I could still bring a vegan meal to my co-workers, and be an activist in that
way. For a time, I worked loading freight, and none of my co-workers turned up
their noses at freshly cooked samosas with mint-coriander chutney, or tea and
vegan scones. In fact, our work area became known as a desirable place, where
harassment was absent and people treated each other with kindness and respect.
I’m not sure if that was due to the idea that we were sharing food, or
that the food was vegan. In any case, little by little, others started to read
recipes, such as vegetarian chili and rice, and bring in dishes to share. Last
year, two of my friends from the days I loaded freight ordered copies of our
vegan cookbook, Dining With Friends!
It’s a small world, the saying goes. And each person who stops relying
on animal products makes a real difference. Each of us spares many animals’ lives— more
lives, indeed, than are salvaged by most any of the world’s sanctuaries.
By going to a concert hall to distribute leaflets, does an activist have an idea
that even one person will read the information and be changed by it and that
hundreds of animals will be spared? I do. And now I see veganism coming of age— in
time, one might hope, to save our planet; certainly in time to spare some souls “that
proportion of life and time they have been born into the world to enjoy.”
Lee Hall is the legal director for Friends of Animals (www.friendsofanimals.org)
and a contributing writer for Satya. Lee is co-author (with Priscilla
of the cookbook Dining With Friends: The Art of North American Vegan Cuisine (2005)
and author of Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age