Here, Adam Russell (Story of the Year bassist) and John
Feldmann (lead singer of Goldfinger) at AFA’s table, signing Why
Vegan? booklets and Meet Your Meat CDs for their fans.
Compassion Over Killing Wants Facts, not Fanatics, To Turn People
Thursday and Friday evenings outside the Metro station in Foggy Bottom or Dupont
Circle, it's time for FaunaVision.
The side door of a white van is open to display a television screen. Hearing
the elegiac piano soundtrack, curious about the flickering images, people on
their way to dinner pause and watch.
They see sows living in crates so narrow they can't turn around.
Chickens caged for life so tightly they can't flap their wings.
Baby chicks getting part of their beaks burned off.
Pigs and cows dangling from chains on the slaughterhouse line, twitching.
But this greatest-horrors collection of undercover video, shot by animal rights
activists, contrasts with the sunny style of the group working the crowd, Compassion
Over Killing. Clean-cut in khakis and golf shirts, they've decided that the
animal rights message – so often associated with shrill moralizing and PETA-style
fake-blood-spattering guerrilla theater – might go down better with a spoonful
"We need to stop looking at this as all or nothing, black or white,"
says Paul Shapiro.
It's not a message of compromise. It's something perhaps more shrewd: a message
of welcome to flesh-eaters, on the theory that this will more effectively bring
about the meat-free millennium. They're like missionaries for a vegan God who
is not angry. Hell exists – it's there on the FaunaVision video – but salvation
is as close as the vegetarian starter kits, recipe books and restaurant guides
that the group hands out while FaunaVision rolls.
They're that particularly Washington breed of true believer: more pragmatic
than absolutist. They gave up carrying coffins to McDonald's and chaining themselves
to circus doors. Now they hand out free vegetarian food.
Americans eat more than 9 billion land-dwelling animals a year. This is what
led members of Compassion Over Killing to an epiphany after dabbling for a while
in anti-fur and anti-circus campaigns: Something like 99 percent of animals
killed by humans become meals. COK decided the most efficient way to reduce
animal suffering is to get more people to stop eating them, and advocate better
treatment of creatures raised for slaughter. The tiniest bit of progress there
would do the most good for the most animals.
It was a practical calculation: "We wanted the biggest bang for the buck,"
It's hard to gauge how much of a difference Compassion Over Killing is making.
Americans ate on average 312 eggs apiece in 1971, according to the USDA. Fear
of cholesterol helped drive per capita consumption down to 234 eggs in 1995.
Then the cholesterol picture got more complicated, and by last year Americans
were eating 255 eggs.
"I don't think it's reasonable to expect an organization as small as COK
is to impact national egg consumption trends," Shapiro says. "But
I do think it's sad that all the efforts of the animal rights movement
haven't changed those trends dramatically."
You can also sift for COK's impact in its daily encounters with people, the
evangelizing for the not-so-wrathful vegan God.
On a summer Saturday, members are handing out soy "chicken" tenders
near 14th and U streets NW. "When people say 'vegetarian,' you squint your
face up and say, 'Oh, no,' " says Denise Pullen, also of the District.
"But after tasting this, it changes your whole philosophy on vegetarian
food. You can eat it."