I glanced down the food table; there's the vegetarian; vegan; vegan-gluten-free; vegan, gluten-free, GM-free, Rainforest Alliance certified. No ham that I can see. Hmmm, should I ask? Up at the bar is an area for "special meals", but if vegan gluten-GM-rainforest-free isn't special, what is? Oh, that's nut-free-gluten-free-rainforest-vegan-free. Damn those nuts. This conference might be about animals and society, but it doesn't run to supplying bits of animal between slices of bread.
Ah well, I can live ham-free for a day.
I'm not so sure about five days though. Mind you, some people attended for seven days at the 2009 Academic and Community Conference on Animals and Society - Minding Animals, delighting in the quadruple-certified foods, and very seriously contemplating the role of animals and society. Serious was certainly a description I'd use. I've never been to a philosopher dominated conference before, and wonder if they always take themselves so seriously. Did Plato worry this much?
I know it's important to hear lots of points of view and to talk to people from the whole spectrum of society. But when I got there I lined up for my first talk wondering if anyone would turn up, or if they did would they be carrying cans of red paint to throw? Speaking on feral animals (oops, displaced non-human animals) I was competing with five rooms of much more interesting stuff. I wanted to go to the animals and religion talks in the next room: Animals and Islam; the Role of Chaplaincy in Animal Hospitals and the Implications of Genesis 1 to Genesis 9:17. A few did show up and politely listen, so I couldn't sneak away and hear those implications from Genesis.
Besides being from a different Universe from many of the attendees, I noticed another huge difference between speakers at this conference and my usual meetings: they read their talks. Without exception, they read their talks slower than when they practiced them at home. A lot of them read their talks slower than they practiced them at home and completely out of sync with the few slides they had. Thank god for the modern smart phone. It looked like many of the audience were bowing their heads in contemplation of the wisdom meted out from the front, but actually they were checking emails or playing sudoko. Five or ten minutes is my limit on the depiction of animal death in children's picture books - an hour is stretching the relationship. I found myself actually praying for a new email to come in; I might have even given my bank account numbers to one of those Nigerian oil officials trying to escape persecution.
The language of describing animals was much talked about. Apparently "feral" is demonizing the animal and placing a biased view on its role. So the feral pig is an "unhomed non-human". Actually my problem with the pig (sounds pejorative that term) is that it isn't actually "unhomed"; it's nicely at home and doing damage in the Australian bush, where it doesn't belong. "Invasive" was just as bad. "Pest animal" is right out. Goodness knows what we'll have to call our next research centre. The extremely-cooperative joint investigation grouping for unhomed and free-living non-humans?
At least I've gone and listened to the different points of view with an open mind.
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'