Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why does my heart feel so bad?

Following some discussion of Peaceable Kingdom, I'm posting a column I wrote a couple years ago with some [new material] mixed in.


In October, my search for a new home took me to the Boston Vegetarian Society’s 10th annual Food Festival. Surprised by the size of the crowd, I spoke to a member who told me that in the past five years attendance at events has increased to the point that they have trouble finding large enough places to meet.

Browsing the displays with thousands of other people, I sampled everything from soups to desserts and picked up free issues of a half dozen magazines. My favorite is Satya (truth in Sanskrit) which is described as a journal of vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice. You can read their back issues at their website. [Satya is no longer being published, but 13 years of great articles can still be read there.] On a more casual level, I also enjoy VegNews which I subscribed to at their festival booth.

There were also many speakers during the day. The Vegan Freaks, of the like-named book, were there. I didn’t find them freaky enough for my taste as they spoke of the ABCs of being vegan in this society. Fortunately, they get a lot more radical on their website.

A standing-room-only crowd listened to Dr. Michael Greger speak about foods which prevent cancer. He’s a very humorous speaker with great presentation skills and one of the funniest moments came when he listed many medical groups which promote the benefits of a plant based diet, then pointed out that the Cattlemen’s Association disagrees. This and other of his speeches are available at his website with proceeds going to charity. The self-interested approach to vegetarianism isn’t very inspiring, but it still means fewer abused and slaughtered animals.

One of the strongest motivators to a vegetarian diet is the movie Peaceable Kingdom from a non-profit named Tribe of Heart. The movie tells the story of Gene and Lorri Bauston [Gene Bauston has changed his name to Gene Baur and has a book titled Farm Sanctuary coming out in March.] who went from selling tofu hot dogs at Grateful Dead concerts to opening Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York, the most well known sanctuary in the country. Jim Mason, author of Factory Animals, and An Unnatural Order about how humans have removed themselves from nature speaks on those subjects. You see the raw emotion of Harold Brown describing his childhood on a farm and how a cow healed him as an adult. Former cattle rancher Howard Lyman describes how beating one in a million odds and walking away from surgery for a tumor he believes was caused by all the chemicals used on his ranch led him to become a vegan.

If you have a shred of compassion left in your soul, this film will bring tears to your eyes. Show it to a roomful of people, and vegetarians, vegans, and anti-factory farming activists are created on the spot. Watching it will also answer the question asked by Moby in the brilliantly featured song which gave this column its headline.

[For those not familiar with the song, it consists of three lines:

Why does my heart feel so bad?

Why does my soul feel so bad?

These open doors.

Performed by a group of gospel singers, the first two lines are repeatedly sung in a slow deep voice as the film shows animals being abused and scenes from slaughterhouses, livestock auctions, etc. The final line, more upbeat in both voice and music, plays against scenes of animals being rescued and treated with kindness. For me, this four minute segment is one of the most powerful in the film.]

Unfortunately, things are rarely peaceable in the human kingdom, and Lorri Bauston left Farm Sanctuary last year and started a sanctuary in California which she called Peaceable Kingdom. A lawsuit and name change later, it’s now Animal Acres and the filmmakers are reshooting the movie with added footage from smaller sanctuaries in the northeast. I imagine Lorri won’t be in the new version which is a shame because she’s one of the more appealing people in the movie, but I have confidence in these folks to create a powerful new version. This DVD is therefore not easily available for purchase but the Duluth library has a copy, and the new edition is due out this summer.

[Two years later, the new version of the movie is still being worked on. I'm happy that Maple Farm Sanctuary which I visited in October will be one of the sanctuaries featured in the new version. However, I'm very disappointed that the filmmakers didn't just make a new movie and keep Peaceable Kingdom available as it was, a much loved and highly effective film. I imagine legal and personal human issues are the reasons behind that unavailability, not what's best for the animals.

This will actually be the third version of the movie. I first saw a copy of the original 77 minute version from the library and later bought a used tape of what turned out to be the second 70 minute version from an animal rights group at Living Green Expo. After a stop at the library, I compared both versions earlier today to confirm my impression that I preferred the original and came to the same conclusion though it was difficult to make the comparison with one tv and some scenes kept but moved. The second version cut many scenes of Farm Sanctuary events and history including the old VW van and the Grateful Dead tofu pups, eliminated Lorri's comments about it being a violent scary mean world for little creatures, little beings, less powerful beings. Also missing was her comment about sanctuaries being havens for people too, an emotion I felt very strongly myself. Wayne Pacelle was eliminated from the movie and Howard Lymon's section was changed substantially.

Despite having the second version, I would still buy a copy of the original version if I found one. Having seen the movie many times, I learned today that I still can't watch it without crying, both for the sake of the animals and for the reminder that there are still good people in the world, something I find it easy to forget.]

The library also used to have a copy of the same filmmakers’ Witness, the story of how a man who had a violent youth in Brooklyn and no interest in animals became an anti-fur activist. Unfortunately the DVD was first listed as “lost” (possibly by a furrier or trapper, though I can’t say for sure) and is now no longer included in the library’s catalog, but you can still buy this one if interested.

Unfortunately for my home search, I can’t afford to live in Boulder to patronize its vegetarian coop, so I’m still doing business at Duluth’s though their increased fascination with dead animals in recent years cost them first my membership and then my deli business. Just as well since the deli is across from the carcass department in the new store and now I never have to visit that corner. Despite the euphemisms I’ve seen on their bulletin board and in their newsletter recently, the animals didn’t make any sacrifice for you. You murdered them, and there was nothing humane about it.


Terry said...

Nice post. There's a sanctuary in NW WI, might be this one:

but I'm not sure. We stopped there once, if it's the same place. The had a lot of emus and pigs, i.e. pets people shouldn't get, and a giant pit bull, leading to a standing request for useless furniture for her to dismantle. That was several years ago though. Worth a visit if the opportunity arises.

Don't know if you caught the King Korn movie at Marshall yesterday, it was inspired by Pollan's book, I know what you think of him, but anyway although it made no explicit judgements it was a strong argument, if not for vegetarianism, then at least for not eating corn fed beef.

greentangle said...

Thanks for the info. The giant pit bull looking for furniture to destroy is funny. I was looking at lots of sanctuary sites today and started linking them all before it got too long and I just decided to go with a few sites with lists. I also started a project of finding the largest wildlife rehab centers in each state since that info doesn't seem easily available.

I'm increasingly wanting to chuck my present life and find a sanctuary which will trade me a bed and food for my labor. Though time's running out, I have other things that have to be dealt with first so I have an interview this week which could result in us commuting together if you're still riding the new bus. It will take a damn long time for me to get 4 miles.

Apparently Pollan's new book at least says that people should eat mostly plants. Here's a good commentary on the eco/veggie issues complete with my comment:

Lisa J. said...

I haven't seen PK... sometimes that stuff is too intense for me to deal with. I only watched about 5 minutes of Earthlings before becoming almost hysterical and having to turn it off...

And I'm smiling, though, at your reference to the "Carcass Department" Truly, that's what it is, and now I'll never be able to think of it as anything else.

My son has started commenting on it, too. While we were grocery shopping (at Wild Oats) he caught a glimpse of the carcass dept (I give it a wide berth - usually 20 feet) and said "Are those all dead animals?"

"Yes," I said.

"That's really gross," he said. "I'm not eating dead animals."
Of course I was bursting with pride!! i hope at least one person in the store heard this conversation...

greentangle said...

I don't watch any of the gruesome videos, and though there's some of that in PK, it's not the main focus at all. If you can get it through a library, you should watch it. You might like the new version more when it comes out, because if I understand correctly it's going to be more about seeing farm animals as individuals regardless of how they're raised and less about factory farming. Sort of an answer to the whole happy meat idea.

I'm usually not a big fan of children, but I'm going to make an exception for your son. Good job!

Lisa J. said...

I'm usually not a big fan of children, but I'm going to make an exception for your son. Good job!

He's a good boy...

Lately he's been asking about "healthy" food. Is "this" healthy or is "that" healthy. My mom chimed in, though, and said, "Meat is VERY healthy for you, you need to eat it." I was so pissed! Here I thought there'd be a confrontation of sorts, but my son said, "no it isn't grandma. If mommy doesn't eat it, then it's not healthy."

ha ha.

Kids: 1
Grandmas: Zip