Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Help the Animals. Please?

“Info to help the animals?” the girl in the green dress nudges passersby.

“Info to help the animals?”

Her voice is light and high-pitched, a gentle supplication among a cacophony of noise— el trains rumbling above, bus air brakes wheezing behind, cell phone conversations coming into and out of earshot.

“Info to help the animals?”

In a Runyonland-esque scene, they pass her left and right, go into the el station and out, get onto buses and off. Perhaps one out of every four takes one of her pamphlets, which outline cruel practices used in slaughterhouses. Of those that don’t, maybe only half acknowledge her.

The woman walking a little dog with poofy, white fur— she takes one. The man in the white, button-down shirt and black pants takes one, too, his lips turned into a tight smile. The man in the cowboy hat and the guy in a Pace suburban bus shirt do, as well.

The evening sky is slightly overcast, here in the thick of rush hour, as Jenny Lawson and three others ply the sea of passing commuters on Fullerton Ave. for receptive hands. A native of South Bend, Ind., Jenny has come to Chicago for the summer before her senior year of college at Earlham College. She’s taken on a three-month internship at Mercy for Animals, a vegan advocacy organization, where she works on a campaign to get Dunkin’ Donuts to offer soy milk.

“The most hundred-percent foolproof way of preventing suffering is by eliminating animal products from your diet,” she insists. “That’s basically what we really advocate.” Indeed, Jenny is herself vegan, though it's surprising to learn that while she grew up among cats and dogs, she didn’t live on a farm.

“Info to help the animals?”

Dong-dong. “Doors closing.”

A woman smiles slightly as she refuses a pamphlet. Another declines with barely a nod. A guy with a big, brown dog approaches with his hand up. “No solicitations, please,” he cuts in to her spiel (short spiel).

How does she deal with being ignored outright by some people? “Just suck it up,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not fun. I mean of course it doesn’t feel good, but it happens a lot, and I expect it.”

A man with a colorful T-shirt walks into the el station. “Oh, God,” Jenny remarks. “‘Too much pork for just one fork,’” she reads from his T-shirt.

“I’m not even gonna’ ask,” she giggles.

Jenny and Leslie, the other girl manning the sidewalk in front of the el station, occasionally walk over to a suitcase laid on the ground against a wall. There, they replenish their stock of pamphlets. The leafleting, as Leslie has called it on her Vegan Chicago Web page, was called for 5:30 p.m.; it will end when all 200 pamphlets are gone.

“Chickens are kept in small cages about, maybe, like, six to seven birds on a size of a six-by-eleven piece of paper,” Jenny explains about some egg farms. “So, they’re all in there, and they debeak them— like, they cut off the tip of their beak— because chickens have, like, the pecking order to create a hierarchy, you know— like in the group of chickens. And so if they didn’t debeak them, they would kill each other.”

What about organic farms?

“I don’t think the words ‘humane’ and ‘slaughter’ go together. I think they’re kind of contradicting.”

They come and they go, here and there, heading up to Kimball or Linden Ave., over to Sheffield or Lincoln Ave., or perhaps down the street to Chicago’s Dog House, which sells 22 varieties of hot dogs, including smoked alligator.

How does Jenny keep her stamina up?

“I don’t know,” she laughs. Actually, she’s really tired.

“It just has to get done, so you just keep goin’.”

Another polite smile and wave in rejecting a pamphlet. Another squeal of bus brakes. And another plea— and yet another— to help the animals.

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