»Not a sacrifice, a commitment«
In their behavior toward creatures, all men are Nazis. Human beings see oppression vividly when they're the victims. Otherwise, they victimize blindly and without a thought.
Isaac Bashevis Singer
“In my past, I was a hunter. A year ago, I wasn't even into tattoos.” Those were the words of Alfredo Meschi at the International Animal Rights Conference in Luxembourg. He wears a big yellow tag in his ear. Marked just like the cows are. As property - with a number. Living beings with no right to be with their children, move freely and experience life, or even to walk on the grass and see the sun. There are billions of such beings that we torture and kill every day. That's why the Italian animal activist has 40,000 tattoos - this is the number of animals humans kill every second. Yes, it is happening to them right now, just because they are animals. Meschi is a dedicated vegan and anarchist. Meeting him can change your life. Without many words or inspiring lectures, just because the way he is. Meschi walks before he talks. His entire life is dedicated to those who suffer the most. Human and non-human animals are dying because of our gluttony and greed. Nothing else.
I read you just performed in Rome?
Yes. It was a great experience. But the museum MAAM, where the exhibition was, is a sad place because it used to be a pig slaughterhouse. You can still see all the machines and can easily imagine what they were doing to the animals. It was a guided visit to the museum, with many people attending. The museum is dedicated to modern and street art.
I was recently asked, if the world without slaughterhouses is possible? All I could say was, that I have a dream. What would be your answer to that question?
There are some signs worldwide, that the political agenda could go in this direction. Not because of ethical reasons, but because of economic and environmental causes. The human diet simply cannot be based on meat, fish, and dairy anymore. There is literally no more space left. Rich and poor people share the same planet. That might be a reason for the vegan political orientation. I would not consider that a real victory. In our anti-speciesist movement, we strive for a world with no oppression, violence, and poverty. This does not only include non-human but also human animals. I also have a dream. And it's taking us far too long.
Poverty is structural violence affecting animals and humans alike, and we both share a similar destiny of oppression and exploitation. There always seems to be enough political will for war and never for the well-being of humans and animals. And veganism helps both. Does any political party in Italy support the vegan cause?
Unfortunately yes. The thing is, that the political party supporting veganism is connected to Berlusconi. It is now transpiring all over the EU, that right-wing parties are starting to support animal rights. The problem is, that on the other hand, they also consider black people, gays, and immigrants like “animals”. While they are claiming that they want to protect animal rights, they don't even respect human rights. That repulses me of course. But I would not consider political involvement as the most important component anyway; the people have to raise their consciousness.
Vegans tend to be accused of being “pushy” with the message about animal cruelty, which is a paradox. You described your artivism, Project X, not only as a statement about the terrible situation of non-human animals, but also as an opportunity for dialog.
Every day, wherever I go, people ask me about the meaning and reason for my tattoos. When I was travelling on the train from Rome, I was approached by strangers all the time. Nine out of ten people I meet expresses a genuine and sincere interest. Some are very moved and some disagree, but are also open to dialog and the interactions are positive. Online the situation is different; people hide behind their anonymity and write insulting comments. But I don't care. And of course, I do not respond to them. I receive a lot of support on the Internet from all over the World; many people are joining Project X by getting a tattoo of one or more X-es (with vegan ink). Some people even became vegan because of the project. This is my aim. And my hope.
Do you think people are moved by your sacrifice in the project?
Maybe it is a sacrifice. But I think that the people recognize the commitment in my work more. I am committed to this cause 24 hours a day, 7 days of the Week. We should all be like partisans. They were not fighting Nazis and Fascist just on afternoons. Or at the weekends, when there was nice weather. No. You have to fight all the time. What is happening to animals is like war. And we are joining to fight. It is actually a much bigger war than the war against Nazism. In Luxemburg, a girl from the U.K. was so inspired by Project X, that she has committed herself to doing something good for animals each day for the next year. This is a very nice response and shows how the message of commitment is spreading. She is writing a blog about it and is now inspiring others. That is precious to me.
When did Project X start?
In July 2016.
In a very short period of time you had an immense impact. I have read many interviews about you.
There are already more than 100 people with X tattoos. Soon I am leaving for an event in Milano, where many people will get tattooed. I am really looking forward to this. The whole process will be documented. If you get an X tattooed in a hidden place on your body, it symbolises a personal meaning of commitment. It's not artivism. If you get one on your face, that is different. One beautiful vegan woman chose to have seven X-es tattooed on her forehead. I met a vegan chef from Argentina working in Italy; he owns a restaurant that is the 6th best in the World. He already has one upper arm covered with X tattoos. But it isn't just about the tattoos. It's about spreading the message. For example, I was talking to a girl about my artivism, and she told me how she decided to get a big tattoo on the subject of animal liberation. Everyone finds their own way of expressing themselves.
Is it possible to participate in the project with henna “tattoos”? Some people don't want or can’t have a tattoo, but might like to raise awareness about animal oppression anyway.
Yes, it's possible. My wife Ilaria has a performance with henna on the subject. Henna is also suitable for parts of the body, on which tattooing would be too difficult or too painful. The expression of the X is up to the individual.
It is one thing to talk about what we eat, but the main problem is that we are caught in perpetual consumerism.
That is true. Being vegan is important. But also how we live our lives every day. Everything that we buy has an impact on the planet and its animals. Even if we lived on a completely vegan world, with this level of consumerism, we would still destroy the environment. That is why all my possessions fit in my backpack. I do not miss anything. I feel rich and privileged that I was born in the West. I have shoes and trousers; I do not need much more to go on forward with my commitment. It's called minimalism. Or sobriety. It has many names. Until we don't live in a just society, we have to try and make an impact. And act coherently: to walk our talk. But it's also important to realise, that it's not about being pure or about perfection. We live in an imperfect world. The aim is for people to have respect for animals and each other. My fifth book will be published soon and I would invite you to read it. Online it will be available for free. The publisher, Terra Nuova, agreed to that. If you buy the printed version, you can support our commitment. The book is called Vegan Revolution, and it is also a reply to the film Food Revolution. It is about vegan food, but with marketing intentions. That has nothing to do with saving animals.
Apart from being a vegan writer and artivist, I read that you are also involved with theatre education?
Yes. I lead workshops in the theatre. It is a very powerful form of social theatre called the Theatre of the Oppressed. It started in South America, because of the extreme military and governmental violence against the people. It is not a classical form of theatre; it empowers people to be active and teaches them how to react in everyday life, when they face violent circumstances. They learn how to speak and move in difficult situations. We have many such situations these days. I also teach theatre to animal activists. The Theatre of the Oppressed is a real-life rehearsal for the revolution. The creator of the theatre is Augusto Boal, a veteran activist from Brazil. There are many people who teach this type of theatre. Some even charge 1500 Euros for a workshop. I don’t think that was the original aim of the method. One has to live of course, but the oppressed communities and people can never pay such amounts. I offer workshops for a voluntary contribution; people give whatever they can spare, or nothing at all.
I hope you will come to Slovenia with your workshop and perform for us.
It would be nice to organize something; you also have a well known tattoo convention in your country. A very interesting artistic and social movement.
Cover photo: Sara Morena Zanella
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