There was a time when my diet could’ve been classed as traditionally British. Main meals were built around the meat ‘n’ two veg approach, except for Fridays and holidays when we would have fish ‘n’ chips. Milk was drunk by the pint (and from proper glass bottles too!) and eggs found their way onto nearly every plate of food in some guise or another. I was even a fan of the more ‘exotic’ bits of dead animals – I used to watch my Uncle George make brawn from fresh pig’s brain removed from the head by his own fair hands (for those that don’t know, brawn is made from cooking and chopping the brain, then setting it in gelatine ready for slicing and eating, which I readily did), and baked ox tongue was a fave sandwich filler. Although I never got on with liver or kidney as I always found them too strong, almost bitter, in flavour.
I’m telling you all this just to let you know that I never had any squeamishness as such when it came to consuming bits of or things from animals.
Then I heard this band called Crass. They had some friends who were also in bands. And some of the time these bands made the point that the killing of animals for food wasn’t a particularly nice thing. So I did some listening and read the pamphlets that I got at gigs, and decided to do some practical research. This mainly involved sneaking into an abattoir, then sneaking out again a fuck of a lot faster.
Although what I’d read and seen on film had begun to raise serious questions about the whole flesh thing, nothing had prepared me for the complete sensual overload that I experienced when I saw what they actually did to animals. The dead pig’s head and scooped-out brain could not convey the Bosch-like nightmare that marked these animals’ final moments of life. I defy anyone who claims that the process is humane to visit one of these places. Unless your definition of humane includes terror, fear, suffering, pain and death, I think you’d find your arguments would crumble pretty quickly.
I was mixing with punks who were exploring the same ideas and turning words into action, and it was enough to convince me that vegetarianism was a necessary part of my simple desire for a nicer world. And it wasn’t long before I took the logical step to veganism. Reading and learning about the way the world functioned, and the possibilities of change, encouraged me to sharpen up my logical arguments too, to make the connections at an ‘intellectual’ as well as an emotional level. The likes of Tom Regan and Richard Ryder played a major role in that, and they’re still making their points today.
And although what I’d seen in that slaughterhouse had appalled me to my very core, I didn’t let that stop me from doing the right thing, even if it involved facing the stark reality of animal suffering head on. And face it I did. Suffice to say that the things I’ve seen and done have removed the blinkers and I couldn’t imagine making myself blind again.
And I’m still a vegan more than 20 years later.
Why am I saying this? I guess it was triggered by recently reading that Pete Boyce, one of the founding members of Antisect, a band that championed animal liberation, was now a bonecruncher again. This was the guy who had written ‘Tortured And Abused’, a devastating attack on animal murder wrapped around the simple refrain ‘Why? Why must I die?’. A song that, according to his own website was ‘from the heart’.
From the heart.
Yeah, right. I have to seriously question that statement. If he’s now crunching bones again, how could it have ever been from the heart? To me, that expression implies something that is an intrinsic part of who you are. Something that, although it may have a degree of elasticity, will be with you for life. Clearly, whatever he was saying back then wasn’t ‘from the heart’.
Amongst the folk I know, the ones who slipped back easily from veganism to flesh eating were those whose beliefs hadn’t been informed by experience. They’d read the leaflets and learnt the words and that was it. No action (apart from a change in diet) followed. They didn’t bother finding out for themselves, didn’t immerse themselves in the reality of what they claimed to believe in, didn’t think but merely followed the herd. Simply playing in a band singing songs doesn’t count. Those of us who were (and continue to be) active, who took the songs as a starting point rather than a conclusion, have maintained our ideals because they really are heartfelt.
Compare what Boyce has done with the attitude of Colin Jerwood from Conflict. Here’s a man who walks the walk he’s talked over the years. A man who’s got stuck in and got his hands dirty because he knows the words don’t mean shit on their own. A man who knows what ‘from the heart’ really means, who’s maintained consistency and integrity in his outlook even as that outlook has changed and evolved over the years. In this short video, Colin talks about why he believes what he does.
I’m not saying that everyone who becomes a veggie or whatever just because of a song or leaflet won’t become committed to that cause and take it to heart for life. But I do think it’s much easier for people to slip back into unthinking, uncritical and passive ways of living when what they claim to believe is only based on words and pictures. It’s much harder to do it if you’ve been in the thick of it.
People change, I can accept that. But if you do change, at least have the bollocks to admit that what you once ‘believed’ was really nothing more than a herd mentality mindset and not ‘from the heart’.