“It’s not easy to be humane.”
By the time Bella signed up for The Conference on Animal Rights, her eyes were wide open to the abuse humans inflict on animals eaten, worn, used for experiments and entertainment.
She had forced herself to watch videos of animals suffering so that not eating meat, not drinking milk and not wearing leather would be easier.
“You are a better person that I am,” Shelly declared, as she ordered chicken at Il Figo, a neighborhood restaurant.
“No, I am not.” Bella was firm. “It’s just that my conscience was awakened.”
Bella always felt she should do more, like those commendable humans lauded in the section titled Making a Difference at the back of The Christian Science Monitor. However, Bella was aware she didn’t have it in her to clean sewage from the filthy Ganges in India, nurse Ebola patients in Sierra or do most of the remarkable things for which people were paid tribute.
It was ironic that, after the conference, Bella was invited to a barbeque to watch the finals of a football match at Farrel Bootch’s home. The house was spectacular and, naturally, in the best part of Beverly Hills, that is ‘above Sunset.’ Houses below Sunset are priced according to their proximity to the famous boulevard. A house in the eight-hundred block—closer to Sunset—is more expensive than one a little further down on the seven-hundred block and so on until the houses adjacent the stores on Rodeo Drive are regular bargains, if you think homes in the millions are bargains. Fanny Moskowitz, a fellow resident at The Portland, who constantly complained how difficult it was to adjust to life in a condo after living in a big house, alerted Bella to this subtlety. “We lived on the eight-hundred block of Palm.”
Though Bella was unable, unwilling and uninterested in team sports, she accepted the invitation. She’d never been invited to Digby’s house, and was interested to see how he lived when he was in town, which wasn’t that often as Digby spent most of his time in either New York or London.
Ivan told Bella, “It’s not a huge house, but it’s perfect. You know, Digby is not showy.”
This was true, Bella agreed, as she parked outside and ventured up to the front door, which was opened by a manservant before she could ring the bell.
Bella was partly correct in her expectations of beige and off-white furnishings, down-filled sofa pillows, large bowls of white orchids which Greta never stopped telling her should be called by their correct name, phaleaonopsis. She didn’t expect Digby would have such contemporary art...pieces almost shocking, like a life-sized sculpture of a woman with holes where her heart and womb should be, or an enormous sculpture of a tennis ball with embedded eyes, plus startling paintings demonstrating that whilst Digby was old school in the way he’d made his money (in finance) he was nothing of the sort in his taste in art.
As a hostess gift, Bella bought a t-shirt from the Animal Rights conference—a black t-shirt proclaiming against the crime of elephant poaching. She also bought a t-shirt for Farrel and Ivan, and one for Chloe. She chose carefully, not wanting to shame Digby for his carnism. The message on the front of Digby’s t-shirt said Save the Elephants. Just about everyone, other than the subsistence farmers whose crops were being flattened and eaten by elephants, could agree upon that. But that was another issue.
Carnism. That was the new word that Bella learned at the conference. Carnism was the ideology or belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals. They don’t see it as a choice and don’t wonder why they eat cows, pigs and chickens and yet cherish dogs and cats.
The workshop on carnism was presented by Melanie Joy—a most attractive dark-haired youngish woman—who found her life's calling travelling around the world giving her talk. She had written a book about the subject: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.
Bella had a bag of literature from the conference. She brought the blue bag with a drawing of a cartoon pig with a speech bubble saying, “Don’t eat me!” into Digby’s house, thinking she may have an opportunity to awaken someone to the horrors of carnism, but only if the perfect moment presented itself. She learned – at the conference – that shaming people who ate meat was counterproductive. As one workshop leader pointed out, “When you ask people if they love animals, 98% say they do. That’s the love that needs to be brought out.”
Farrel adored his t-shirt and began to unbutton his plaid shirt. “I’m going to put it on right now.” Ivan didn’t follow suit and Bella didn’t expect him to change his soft lime green linen shirt. Ivan would no more wear the t-shirt than wear anything not exquisitely designed. His wardrobe, Bella knew, cost more than hers and Jessica’s put together. Digby was still in his study apparently on an important call.
“You’re in great shape.” Bella observed as Farrel took off his well-worn grey t-shirt.
“Thanks to your boy,” Digby appeared – out of nowhere it seemed – and Bella barely recognized him. He’d shaved his balding head, grown a short beard and looked rather like a chubby Mahatma Ghandi.
“And what can I get for you, Madam Bella?” Digby asked, snapping his fingers to summon the waiter. Before Bella made her choice, Digby added, “I’ve got vegetarian dishes for you, don’t panic.”
SHIRLEY SACKS is a long-time member of the Wimpole Street Writers. www.shirleysacks.com