An Animal Rights Article from


Bee Friedlander, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
August 2009

One of my favorite web pages is Accidentally Vegan. The premise of the site is to invite the compassionate eater to "take a stroll through your local grocery store... [y]ou may even be surprised to find that a few of your favorite indulgences happen to be vegan!"

The popularity of this site has to do with the fact it allows people who don't consume animals to enjoy the likes of Crackerjacks, Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter cereal, Betty Crocker hash browns and Krispy Kreme apple, cherry and peach pies, all the while harboring the (perhaps unfounded) belief that their dietary values are infiltrating into the general population.

You've probably had the experience of coming across a scene in a movie or play, a theme (or even a short excerpt) in a book, or an article in a newspaper which ostensibly has nothing to do with animals, but which conveys an unexpected animal rights message. If you're like me, you get a big kick out of it. Why? Perhaps it's a combination of feeling superior for understanding the deeper meaning of the piece, coupled with an undying hope that those who aren't attuned to animals will be converted via the subtle messages being conveyed.

So, I propose creating a new site: w I'll provide a few examples I've come across and invite you to add your own at the ASI's Facebook page.

Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, has a final scene in which the Red Queen introduces Alice to her food: "'You look a little shy: let me introduce you to that leg of mutton. Alice - Mutton: Mutton - Alice.'" After Alice and the mutton exchange bows, Alice politely asks the Queen whether she might give her a slice. "'Certainly not, it isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to.'" The Queen then directs the waiters to remove the joint, and they return with a plum pudding. "'I won't be introduced to the pudding please,'" says Alice, "‘or we shall get no dinner at all.'" (Thanks to Van Lehmkuhl whose article "Once upon a Crime: Animal Characters and Meat-Eating in Kids' Books" in the spring 2009 [Vol. 31, No. l] Vegetarian Voice, includes this scene).

Movies are a goldmine of source material for the web site. Thanks to the ASI's Administrative Assistant Alex Feldt for bringing these to my attention:

  • The current release, "Transformers 2" begins with a voice-over explaining humans' great capacity for violence, with the visual being a "historical" scene of group of men hunting. Later, there is a scene in a butcher shop, in which the main characters pass several animal bodies. One character makes a remark something to the effect that "next time you eat a goat or pig, realize there is a story behind him."
  • Peter Jackson's 2005 "King Kong" presents a negative portrayal of people who exploit King Kong, but a positive image of the female lead who relates to him as more of an equal.
  • "28 Days Later" chronicles a mysterious virus sweeping the UK. The film opens with animal rights activists breaking into an animal testing lab where they release the tortured animals, thereby causing the outbreak of disease akin to zombie-ism. This film is a bit more problematic in its portrayal of animal rights issues: on the one hand, the actions of the activists result in the outbreak, but on the other hand, the film's message is that animal testing caused the terrible disease with its apocalyptic results. Further emphasizing the dichotomy between human ("bad") and animal ("good") is a scene later in the film, in which the main characters see a family of horses running wild; the horses are shown as beautiful, something akin to miraculous and beyond terrible human evils.

Turning to non-fiction, Tom Chaffin's Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah is set during the American Civil War. Patrolling the waters off Siberia in 1865, the Shenandoah comes upon the Abigail, a Yankee whaling ship. Upon boarding the whaler to take ship and crew prisoner, a Confederate officer says to the surprised skipper who thought he'd been out of reach of the raider: "Why the fact of the business is, Captain, we have entered into a treaty offensive and defensive with the whales, and are up here by special agreement to disperse their mortal enemies."

Finally, a newspaper article recounting the event shows surprising compassion to the elephant Topsy, who had been electrocuted by Thomas Edison at Coney Island in 1903. My ASI colleague Kim W. Stallwood has chronicled the sad story of Tospy. Essentially, the elephant was put to death for killing several humans, and was used by Edison as a way of promoting his alternating current electricity. The Brooklyn Eagle of September 18, 1903, commenting on reports of Topsy's ghost some six months after her electrocution, tells the story from Topsy's point of view. Describing the final incident, the reporter says she crushed the man when he "stupidly fed her a lit cigarette." Topsy is returning as a ghost, the reporter says, to "warn other elephants they should leave Coney Island before they suffer the same fate."

One final note: although I'm calling the web site accidentally compassionate, some of the authors no doubt very decidedly meant to convey an underlying message that our culture should be imbued with compassion for animals. I look forward to reading your contributions to this make-believe web site. 

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