The Missing Peace: The Hidden Power of Our Kinship with Animals|
By Tina Volpe & Judy Carman
Dreamriver Press, 2009
Review by Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
The Missing Peace offers a collection of stories by people struggling with their inner demons of awareness of the bottomless misery of animals at the hands of human beings. Like most of us, these writers - including coauthor-editors Tina Volpe, a health researcher who grew up on a farm and remembers coming home from school one day "and seeing my little piglet friend hanging from the tree in our backyard," and Judy Carman, an animal rights peace activist whose father was a big game hunter whose "numerous animals' heads looked down at me from the walls" - have themselves been complicit in some of the terrible things that now weigh upon them. Each person tells the story of how he or she became conscious and set about changing their life as a result.
In "Finding My Good Heart," Beth Lily Redwood describes her and her husband Daniel's awakening to the "unbearably sad and tortured lives of farmed animals." The documentary film Peaceable Kingdom was what finally "removed the blinders from our eyes," and she goes on to say: "When we left the screening, we went home and threw out everything in our kitchen that wasn't vegan. We thought we'd take thirty days to change a habit, but we both found that with what we now knew to be true, we could never go back to knowingly participating in any behavior that caused pain to an animal."
Several of the stories in this book are told by men who from childhood on, hunted and butchered animals on land and in the water as the "multi-generational" rites and "rights" of men. These men didn't just passively consume animals obliterated into food in restaurants and supermarkets; they purposely took great trouble to make animals suffer and die at their hands, with little or no compunction, rather with satisfaction at controlling an animal's fate through their will and skill and "a certain sadistic pleasure derived from killing another creature."
Yet certain experiences pierce their complacence, as when Ken Damro describes "gut shooting" a doe and coming upon the spot the next morning where she lay in intense pain through the night with her wounds. What bolts him over the edge is his discovery of small, accompanying hoof prints, showing that "this doe had a companion" a friend or a sister who had "stopped and waited for this wounded deer" whom he finally finds "lying dead on the banks of a small river."
In "Why I Quit Hunting," Roy Dallas Gragg describes growing up in North Carolina, where hunting, killing and butchering animals "was a way of life for the mountain people. I killed my first hog at age eight," and "the adults laughed the next day when I told them it just didn't seem right to shoot an animal when he was locked helplessly in a pen." Wringing the necks of chickens and watching them "jumping high in the air with a broken neck" haunts him to this day, and many of the animals butchered at home were his pets, like Red, a hen he had taught "to sit patiently on a fence post for hours until I set her down," and his turkey Fred, whom his cousins taunted him to eat until he finally gave in, feeling like a "cannibal." Yet none of these traumas stopped him even from using red squirrels as target practice, a pastime for the mountain people. What led Roy to start studying hunting from "the other side of the fence"? He explains.
If you ever thought fishing was a less brutal occupation than hunting and butchering animals on land, a mere peaceful assault on unfeeling water creatures, Steve Hindi's story "I Was a Killer" fractures your fantasy. He shows what he and his buddies did to every type of fish they chose to torment in the slow killings they deliberately devised.
Even the marina manager says, when Steve bellyaches about losing a female trophy fish he tortured with a hook until the hook pulled out of her body, "I'll tell you the truth, I just don't know how much more of this killing I can take." With that, Steve says, "that nagging voice I was hearing for years wasn't just in the back of my mind any more. It was being voiced right in front of me, by a friend. I didn't know what to say, except to murmur that I respected his right to his opinion."
Steve Hindi, this formerly avid killer, became the founder of SHARK, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (www.sharkonline.org). He explains in his story how witnessing the annual Labor Day pigeon shoot in Hegins, Pennsylvania changed his perception of his "animal trophies." Yet even then, he says, "My intention was to stop these vile pigeon shoots, and then go on with the vile things I was doing. I approached many of my hunting and fishing friends for help in fighting pigeon shoots, which as I explained, were not only unethical, but cast all of us ‘legitimate sportsmen' in a bad light."
Steve's story leads into Virgil Butler's account of slaughtering chickens and quitting the business in "From Slaughter to Salvation." Virgil worked for years at the Tyson chicken slaughter plant in Grannis, Arkansas. In his 2003 affidavit reprinted in this book, Virgil vividly recounts the work he did - "In the hanging cage, I stood on a line with six other guys where we took live chickens off the [conveyer] belt and hung them by their legs upside down in the metal shackles." Every nightshift, "We filled up a diesel tanker truck with blood." If anyone wonders whether chickens are fully conscious, sentient individuals, Virgil's sad evocation of the desolation of their death sets the record straight. He describes "the way the chickens hang there and look at you while they are bleeding trying to hide their head from you by sticking it under the wing of the chicken next to them" (www.upc-online.org/merchandise/video.html).
The Missing Peace includes stories by young people who on learning "who was in the meal they were being fed, rebelled, and would not eat it." Encounters with cows and chickens in childhood survive as a "feeling of guilty sadness." Carol Meyer, a former nun with an M.A. in Theology who is now a vegan, describes how she came to realize that "our bodies are not designed to eat meat and that doing so weakens and harms them." She now believes that "all the suffering, fear and violence inflicted on factory-farmed animals come to rest in the tissues of the people who eat these animals, and their milk, eggs, and cheese," and explains why she now feels "lighter, clearer and more harmonious than I did when I ate meat years ago."
Traditionally, the term vegetarian has referred to people who do not eat meat, but may or may not consume dairy and eggs. This is unfortunate and misleading, because eggs and mammary milk are every bit as much a part of an animal's body and energy as meat is, and the myth that meat alone involves cruelty and bloodshed has caused many compassionate people to continue buying eggs and dairy products unwittingly. The term veganism - created in 1944 by Donald Watson - denotes a broader ethic of compassionate living. In "Vegan for Life," Sarina Farb puts the concept within the context of her own life:
I am fourteen years old and now spend lots of time around friends and other people who are not vegan, and I still have no intentions of eating meat or anything that in any way harmed animals, ever. Being vegan means more than just a diet to me. It is a way of living compassionately and not harming animals or the planet. . . . For example at an outdoor camp last summer there was a big emphasis on kindness to nature and not messing with animals or disturbing their natural habitat. I thought this was wonderful. There was one thing that bothered me though. They also had catch-and-release fishing there. This disturbed me greatly because I could not see how it was okay to hook fish in the mouth, pull them out of their habitat and then throw them back in and yet it was NOT okay to touch or pick up the snakes and turtles and other creatures. I talked to several of the other kids and some of them chose to abstain from fishing with me. I feel very blessed in many ways and very thankful to have been raised this way and taught to think for myself. It has never felt like I am being deprived or missing out. I feel that others are missing out on the chance to know that they are not contributing to animal suffering.
Throughout history, there've been people who outgrew the violence they grew up with. Often they were called cranks and traitors when they would not or no longer hunt or fish or keep slaves or vivisect or eat animals or go to war or whatever else the majority ruled. The Missing Peace advances the Peace Movement in one of the most compelling ways, by personal storytelling. For example, when a person asks you, "What's wrong with eating meat," you might begin by saying, "Well, let me tell you why I stopped eating meat" or "May I tell you why I stopped eating meat?" A personal story allows you to fit the information into a framework that people spontaneously respond to. Each story in The Missing Peace brings out elements in the collective human endeavor to become not "superior," but better, kinder, happier and more just individuals. To order this important book, go to www.dreamriverpress.com.
- Karen Davis
Karen Davis, PhD is the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns. Her latest book is Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry (2009). You can buy this book by going to www.upc-online.org.