I attended a Vegan Ireland film show last night. About 25 people watched The Emotional Life of Farm Animals
and there was a lively discussion afterwards about the meaning of "free range," vegetarianism and veganism, and whether it would be ethical to eat eggs laid by rescued hens living at an animal sanctuary.
One scene in the film brought back strong memories of my time in Liverpool in the 1980s. This was a time when my kids were young, when I was involved in all sorts of activism, and in "this and that." The film
showed a cow who had escaped from a slaughterhouse and who ended up at an animal sanctuary. What was remarkable about the animals in the film was the difference in the individual's demeanors as they were filmed
arriving after being saved from some dreadful ordeal or other, all deflated, defeated, and down, and then when we see them six months later having slowly come to understand that not every human in the world is going to try to exploit and abuse them.
Cows, for example, on feedlots and other places of exploitation, are in the main huddled, jumpy, and obviously scared. Once at a sanctuary, after extended periods of loving care and attention, they seem calm,
peaceful, and serene, and for the first time in their lives they seem confident in themselves. It is quite a transformation and a wonder to see.
has spoken at times about the impact that John Bryant's 1982 book, Fettered Kingdoms,
had on him. This book also made an impression on me, and I remember being particularly struck by Bryant's vision of nonhuman animals, such as foxes, joining humans for a few steps on a pleasant walk in the
countryside because they had lost their fear of these previously aggressive apes and now saw them as posing no threat.
How wonderful would that be?
The film threw me back in two senses. First, I had witnessed first hand the sight of nonhuman animals experiencing their first hours of liberation. During the time when I was the Northern spokesperson for the
Animal Liberation Front Supporters Groups, I met with activists who took me to one of their "safe houses" somewhere in Merseyside, and in a manner in which I did not know where I was.
I was led into a basement which itself led out into a walled garden. I was present when newly rescued rabbits arrived after being "stolen" (after all, they are property) from a farm that supplied the fur and
vivisection businesses. They were removed from the boxes in which they were liberated and placed on the grass in the garden. This was the first time in their lives that they had contact with the earth - until then, they had "lived" in wire cages suspended in the air.
When they were placed on the ground, these small animals pressed their bellies down and reached out with their arms, their paws expanding and contracting as they felt the earth beneath them. It is no exaggeration
to say that this was a magical moment. In their eyes was a look that can only can be described as pure joy.
Returning to the scene in the film of the cow escaping from the abattoir, this reminded me of when a pregnant cow broke free from a slaughterhouse in Berkenhead, Merseyside, England, and became something
of a celebrity in the weird way that speciesists seem to revel in stories of animals who escape slaughter. A tacky tabloid newspaper made much of the story over a few days and them proposed to sell the cow back
to the very farmer who had initially taken her to be killed.
At this point Freshfield Animal Rescue Centre contacted the paper and demanded to be given custody of the cow, and this arrangement was agreed to.
I was living in Dungeon Lane, Speke, Liverpool, at the time and we were renting three connected cottages for next to nothing near what is now John Lennon International Airport. We made one of the cottages into
stables for the cow and she and her child lived there after the newspaper gave her up. What reminded me of the Liverpool experience in the film was, once again, the transformation in an animal who knows
nothing but being bullied and exploited to one who comes to realise that some human mean her no harm.
The film is a bit twee in places but worthy of a viewing for sure.