I immediately defended the book and extolled the upbeat manner in which it delivered pertinent information along with constructive avenues for action. After reflection, though, I didn't ask the important question. I should have answered, "Why don't you read those kinds of books?"
In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan disclosed the inhumane horror in which we produce meat and posited that either "you look away - or you stop eating animals." A reader recently commented on The Church of Climate Change post about the moment when she decided to "go green". Theresa wrote that everything "clicked" as she stood next to a transport truck while waiting for a ferry to dock. She turned and made eye contact with "a chicken, stuffed into a tiny crate with 4-5 other chickens. The truck was full of hundreds of these crates. At that moment [she] felt more shame than [she] had ever felt before. [She] was ashamed to be part of the reason for the suffering of that chicken who was looking [her] right in the eye. [She] looked away first" and is now a vegetarian on the way to veganism.
What is it about Theresa, though, that caused her to not avert her eyes? Why did she look in the first place? And, once having looked, why did she confront the truth instead of turn away from it? Why did I read that book, and many others, absorbing the grim facts about the state of our planet, our food system, our marketing system? Why, dear reader, do you read this blog and millions of others like it? What are we all seeking?
We are truth seekers, scouring the Internet, the library, the newspaper, the transport truck next to us for truth. What separates us from those who would look away? Those who cling to the walls society has constructed to shield us from the abomination of the factory feedlot, the heartbreak of drowning polar bears, the despair of clear cut forests, the emptiness of our oceans? Those who think "ignorance is bliss"? Why are we different?
Perhaps we were born with an activist gene - one that forces us to not only seek the truth, but to grasp it. To not only face facts but to fight them. To pick up a sign and march. To pick up a phone and call. To peck out letters on a keyboard and publish. To find our voice and speak up. To line dry our laundry, bring our own bags, plant victory gardens, sit in our dark unheated homes reading "those kinds of books." To believe the adage that knowledge really is power.
Or maybe we too experienced a bracing moment when truth slapped us in the face like a chicken's gaze in the truck next to us. Maybe that sting never left us but instead urged us onward.
Again though, I'm not asking the important question. I should ask, not whether we have the activist gene, but how can we pass it on to others?