Book Review Wilma Davidson, Canberra Regional Meeting


This collection took a long time to mature. The seed was the idea of South African Friend and member of Cape Eastern RM, Les Mitchell. He sent requests/invitations through Friends newsletters and journals worldwide, and with his partner Pauline edited and produced this first collection (that I am aware of) of writing from Friends who believe, as part of their following of the Peace testimony, we must as Quakers advocate for the rights of other than human animals. The writers come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, US, and Zimbabwe.

The book has three sections. The first is a collection of stories about the writers’ relationship with particular animals, the second is a collection of poetry, and the third and largest section is a series of essays outlining Friends’ views on, and commitment to, the rights of animals from a Quaker perspective. In this section, although most of the writers advocate vegetarianism/veganism, the broader view is also taken that factory farming and the exploitation of non-human animals/animal rights needs to be addressed if we are to save the planet from destruction.

I found the first section funny and touching and sensual. I can see the rooster envelop the chickens under his wing, I can feel the strength behind the relationship between the narrator and cows. I challenge you to read The Gypsy Dog without dropping a tear.

The poetry provides a bridge between stories and essays, and is a thoughtful and powerful selection I find important to return to from time to time.

The third section offers challenges of personal decision making – often based on Quaker history and the dilemmas and directions of our fore-fathers and mothers. I came away with many of my comfortable decisions shaken somewhat. There is a general theme that travels through many of the essays that equates the treatment of other-than-human animals with the abolition of slavery, the treatment of Indigenous people and gender inequality. I found Les Mitchell’s references to language and power and Benjamin Smeiser’s comparison between Buddhist precepts and Quaker testimonies in relation to nonhuman animals particularly forthright and certainly food for thought.

I feel privileged to be part of a group of Quakers who share similar views and who have travelled a similar ethical path. Although I am by no means the only vegetarian in our Regional Meeting, and our catering committee often provide wonderful vegetarian/vegan fare, like some of the other writers I often feel isolated within my community regarding issues such the live meat trade, animal testing, and kangaroo culling. It is also not unusual for me to attend a share meal and find there is little more than my contribution that doesn’t contain meat or fish. I admire the WARM stance to provide a predominantly vegetarian menu for 2012 Yearly Meeting and will be advocating a similar stance in Canberra in 2013, and at Yearly Meetings to come. What I have to say is in this collection is about my own dilemma and need to accept that others interpret the testimonies differently.

I think this is an important collection that deals with a most controversial issue, one where there are very strong opposing views. If it encourages debate in meetings from Brisbane to Bulawayo, it will have done its job well.

Click here for your electronic copy of Living By Voices We Shall Never Hear free to online readers of The Australian Friend


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