If the news of Al Gore publicly embracing vegan eating, or the uproar over captive orcas at Seaworld, or - what the hell - the vegan cheesesteak contest has got you thinking about animals and our evolving relationship with them, tonight is an opportunity to follow up.
It's not every day, after all, that one of the key thinkers in veganism, who happens to live in the Delaware Valley, is speaking live in Center City on his new book. What's even rarer is when the book represents a quantum leap in communicating vegan ideas.
Tonight at 6:15 p.m. is such an occasion, as Gary L. Francione, Board of Governors Professor of Law at Rutgers University, makes his first in-town appearance in years to speak at Temple University's Tuttleman Learning Center on "Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals" written with his partner Anna Charlton, who is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Rutgers.
Francione is almost as famous for his hihg-profile arguments with other vegans as for his considerable writings on 'The Abolitionist Approach' - the proposition that the problem is not how we use animals, but that we use them at all - and as a former trial lawyer, he clearly relishes logical debate. Yet despite his severe reputation, Francione in person is witty and engaging, even while delivering a message that slams many of the favorite topics of "animal lovers."
He contends, for instance, that the vilifying of Michael Vick for his shocking treatment of dogs is misplaced, even ridiculous, given that Vick was using, and killing, the animals for his own entertainment - just as are those of us who chose to eat animals for frivolous "reasons" like taste or texture when there's no need to eat them at all.
He noted by phone that the idea of not harming animals unnecessarily is "something we all already accept. If we took our own beliefs seriously, we would end up following" an abolitionist lifestyle. He believes people just need help thinking clearly and logically about the issue - especially now, as certain grocers use the "animal compassion" brand to hike prices on certain meat products.
The new book is indeed a clarifying aid, as it contains Francione's most direct and lucid published prose yet (his first three books, published by Temple University Press, tended toward a more academic approach). Charlton, who said one of her contributions was to convince Francione to do without footnotes this time, said there was a conscious effort "to try to make the book more like Gary's in-person presentation," more approachable and comprehensible by everyone.
"It's intended," he explained, "for anyone who cares about the animal issue and wants to learn more about it, to think through it, including new vegetarians, but also including people who are not vegetarians at all but are concerned about the animal issue." He added that "the other audience is people who are already vegans but they don't know how to educate others," and want tips on one-to-one communication.
So wherever you're at with the animal issue, or if you're just veg-curious, this may be a good place to start - as long as you're ready to have some assumptions challenged. For instance, Francione shrugs off the Gore news as largely irrelevant: "If Al Gore and Bill Clinton were becoming 'dietary vegans' for moral reasons, then it would just be a matter of time before they would automatically stop buying wool and leather and they wouldn't go to [animal] circuses and stuff like that. But as long as theyre 'dietary vegans' they're not going to change anything, including their diet, because they're gonna cheat."
Similarly, contrarian Francione even refuses to endorse the V for Veg vegan cheesesteak contest, noting that "a diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and nuts has been available forever and it's cheaper than a diet that includes animal foods. People should move away from the idea that meat is the normal, the default position, that we need a substitute for meat."
Having said that, he does admit that "there are plenty of substitutes out there if that's what you want" and that they've vastly improved in recent years: "We became vegan 32 years ago, and none of this stuff existed. The first vegan ice cream was so horrible I can still remember it, and remember being nauseated when I ate it."
"Now," Charlton chuckles, "you need self-control again," what with the delicious variety of coconut-, almond-, soy- and rice-based frozen desserts readily available.
Will there be talk of ice cream, orcas and Al Gore tonight? That's partially up to you, says Francione, who plans "to disabuse people of the idea that veganism is extreme, and convince them that what's extreme is that they're not vegan." So if you can stand a little disabuse, "come out, listen, if you disagree challenge us, and let's have a great discussion."