Book review by Rachel Curit, 2014 Spring Intern
Kim Stallwood, a long-time animal rights activist, recently published his first book entitled Growl: Life Lessons, Hard Truths, and Bold Strategies from an Animal Advocate. Stallwood went vegetarian back in 1974 and then vegan two years later. He began his animal rights career at Compassion in World Farming and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, and he then moved on to be PETA’s Executive Director and the Editor-in-Chief of Animals Agenda. Drawing on lessons learned during his nearly 40 year career in animal advocacy, Growl is a must-read for those who are looking to up their advocacy game in an effective way.
Born in England in 1955, Stallwood began his life like most of us do, eating a variety of animal-based foods. The first seed of compassion for animals was planted as a child when he saw a well-known woman known as Camberley Kate walking her many rescued dogs around town. She’d take them in and find suitable homes for them. Though her presence ignited his compassion for animals, it wasn’t until he worked in a chicken slaughterhouse and processing plant that he awakened to the truth of what happens to animals who are used for food. Not long after that, he found himself going vegetarian and then vegan, and it was then that his career in animal rights took off.
In the book, Stallwood reflects on his own journey of animal activism. In many ways, his experience is like all of ours, with twists and regrets, and in others, it’s entirely unique. How many people are awakened to animal exploitation by working in a slaughterhouse? How many of us have the opportunity to work for several well-known animal rights organizations? He notes where he made mistakes, and he explores what he could’ve done differently to be more effective. He does so by sharing the four key values he believes must make up our animal activism: truth, compassion, nonviolence, and justice.
For example, Stallwood outlines compassion as a value that “encourages selflessness, dissolves prejudice, prevents violence, and promotes peace, through an altruistic love that opens our eyes, hearts, and minds to the suffering of others and forces us to make positive differences in their lives. Compassion is justice in action,” (Stallwood, p. 58).
He makes his point about compassion being a necessity to the animal advocacy movement by painting a picture of what an interaction between Kim the Chef (the man who worked in the slaughterhouse) and Kim the Vegelical (the man in his early days of activism) might look like. Kim the Vegelical has staged a protest with fellow activists outside the slaughterhouse in which Kim the Chef works. His intent is to make Kim the Chef feel guilty for working in the slaughterhouse. Kim the Chef walks by the protest quickly, making an effort not to make contact. Inside, he might feel guilt, because indeed working there has already brought up some of those feelings, but he brushes off the feeling and laughs about the protesters with his coworkers, avoiding expressing his feelings with them.
Personally, I can relate to Kim the Vegelical. While I’ve never protested or yelled at anyone, looking back on conversations I’ve had, I have to question what my motives were. Unfortunately, compassion and understanding for all beings, including humans, were not at the forefront of my mind, despite the fact that I was trying to do right by the animals.
Both Kims would eventually change their attitudes, but “a connection had to be made in which opinions were respected and a genuine reciprocity was experienced before something could shift and progress be made,” (Stallwood, p. 68). Again, I’ve noticed in my own conversations that when both sides act and speak respectfully, much more progress is made for the animals.
Through this scenario, Stallwood shows not only how compassion makes for effective advocacy, but also how ineffective a lack of compassion is.
Throughout Growl, Stallwood highlights his experiences and the lessons he’s learned, and how they relate to the four principles. Any activist, new or seasoned, can learn from Stallwood’s experiences and apply them to his or her own advocacy.
Have you read Growl yet? We’d love to hear what you got out of the book. Post your comments below!