Bless The Beasts

Animal-Rights Activist Kim Stallwood Visits Tucson This Week.

MY GIRLFRIEND HAS this notion, to which she clings like Buddhists to a clap, that somehow, someday, animals will be running the show on our big blue marble. And it ain't gonna be pretty.

Under her disquieting construct, these newly empowered critters will be none-too-pleased at how we've stuffed them into hoagies, stitched them into car seats, nailed their heads up on walls and boiled their bellies in menudo. Not to mention the way we've hounded them from the land, then raised hell when they lumber like punch-drunk ghosts across our tidy cul-de-sacs.

When and if atonement arrives, we can only hope guys like Kim Stallwood might plead mercy for our naked, greedy species. He's among the few who've earned the right.

A leading international animal-rights activist, and currently editor of The Animals' Agenda, Stallwood will appear in Tucson on Thursday, February 17.

Stallwood's first clue that our relationship with other animals was askew came in 1974, after a grisly summer in an English chicken-packing plant. When a college pal later berated him about the job, a light snapped on. Soon he became vegetarian.

Within two years he was a vegan -- which meant avoiding all animal products, from milk and eggs to leather. "I realized they all required the exploitation and killing of animals," he says.

Ensuing stints in hotels and restaurants, and finally in the food department of Britain's national health service, only toughened his stance. "I finally just abandoned that job," he says, "because I no longer believed in the food that was being served to people who were ill."

By 1976 he'd joined forces with Compassion in World Farming, an English anti-factory-farming front, and from 1987 to 1992 served as executive director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. In 1993, he assumed his current post with The Animals' Agenda. He describes the magazine and the group behind it as a "think-tank, a resource organization and a publishing organization."

"Our purpose is providing readers with information, and directing them towards practical steps people can take to help animals," Stallwood says, "things like writing letters of protest to companies, letters of support to legislators who have introduced pro-animal bills, or simply choosing cruelty-free products."

Nearly 30 years after joining the good fight, he glimpses signs for hope. "I think the animal-rights movement is increasing in size and influence," he says. "Going back over the years that I've been involved, I've never seen it as influential as it is now. There's never been as much interest, or as many vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free products available.

"There is more written about the status of animals in society, and increases in animal law. I'd say there is a measurable shift in public opinion towards animals, and affording them greater protection."

But plenty of work remains. "With the presidential campaigns going on, there's a lot of talk about pro-choice and pro-life, the environment, lesbian and gay rights," Stallwood says. "But animal rights still haven't entered into the mainstream political arena."

He also fears more abuse sparked by genetic engineering. Some suggest using cloned animals as a viable alternative to "live animal" research, he says, "that a cloned animal is not even an animal. That's absurd, a very worrisome example of science proceeding without a legal and moral framework."

Rethinking our frenzied march -- reaching back to biblical dictums about man's dominion over nature -- is critical in this technological age, he says, both for ourselves, and for our fellow creatures. "We've created a society where we're really quite divorced from the natural world. But when you look at how people cherish their companion animals, you know that's really addressing a very great need of wanting to maintain that link.

"As people make more and more connections between the cruelties of using animals to produce food, serious harm towards the environment, and the serious health risks we take when we consume animals -- when all these connections are being made, I feel very encouraged and optimistic.

"I'm also confident that there's a strong, rational case behind our movement, both on ethical and moral levels, and on the practical level," he says. "For example, I think animals will ultimately be free from research, and from using them for food, because it's becoming increasingly apparent that they don't simply produce food. They actually consume more than what their bodies provide in the form of food.

"And animal research is not good scientific practice. It supplies flawed information because animals react differently. We're not like other animals in many ways."

When all these factors are lumped together, "It seems to me that there's an inevitably in what will happen," he says. "I think the status of animals will improve significantly with time."

Kim Stallwood delivers a presentation titled Human Potential and Animal Rights: Exploring the Connections at 7 p.m. Thursday, February 17, in the Plaza Hotel, 1900 E. Speedway. Admission is free. For more information, call 320-3992.