Imagine you live in a world where more than 90 per cent of the population are cannibals. When not roasting and eating fellow people, your neighbours (adorned with flaps of carefully carved human skin around their wrists, waists and feet) are choosing some to be enslaved and force-fed, and others to be milked incessantly before an early death.
This might begin to give you an idea of what it must be like for Vanessa Hudson, the leader of Britain's Animal Welfare Party (AWP). Hudson, 41, campaigns against what she feels is the unspoken "ism" of our age, speciesism. "The assignment of different values, rights or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership," she explains.
At the moment, she pushes this message unpaid, from a small office behind a vegan cafe in Bethnal Green, east London. But Hudson, who became vegetarian at seven and vegan by 15, is vying for a bigger platform – as an MEP.
This month, the AWP will make history as part of the first pan-European movement featuring the animal parties of seven EU countries. They will be contesting the elections with a shared goal – getting the first dedicated representative for animals elected to the EU Parliament.
Anyone who speaks of animal cruelty in such terms – insisting that the moment is "as significant as any in the history of human rights or women's rights" – must surely be incandescent with rage about abuse and exploitation that is endemic. But Hudson, the daughter of a milkman and a founding member of Vegan Runners UK, appears to be calm and non-judgmental (even meat-eaters can join her party).
"I feel a duty to counter some of the stereotypes – that we're scruffy or angry or militant," she says. "I feel I have a duty to actually show that we can be really logical and rational."
Does she not think that comparing the campaign to the fight against slavery is a little strong, perhaps even offensive? "I don't doubt that some people might say it's offensive," she says. "But I also don't doubt that every movement in history has had that accusation levelled at it. And I do believe that it's a social justice campaign as important as any other. I would never suggest, for example, that an animal has the right to vote or to drive a car because that would be nuts – but do they have a right to live, and live without undue suffering? Yes."
Hudson, a freelance media producer/ director, first encountered the party when she decided to make a documentary about it. She only managed to attend two meetings before binning the idea when she "fell in love" with her subject. She joined the party and, within the year, took over the leadership.
She is standing in the London constituency, and finds that most voters are shocked to discover some of the realities of modern food production. "The fact that dairy cows have to be pregnant to produce milk – lots of people still don't know that. The fact that the boys who are born are expendable, they're just by-products of that industry. And most people don't realise that male chicks in the egg industry are killed at one or two days old – gassed or ground up."
Hudson points out that there are more vegetarians and vegans in London (an estimated 530,000) than Londoners who voted Conservative at the last EU election (479,000). If elected herself, she would seek to redirect EU subsidies away from livestock and fisheries farming into plant-based agriculture, launch Europe-wide campaigns about healthy plant-based eating, and cut public money being spent on animal products, trans fats, palm oil and refined sugar.
The party leader is devoting three-quarters of her time, unpaid, to the cause, while turning down paid work and racking up debts. "It's immensely stressful and I'm worrying about money and how to pay the bills. But I have to shove those thoughts aside and get on with this task, which is huge but probably the most important thing I'll ever do."
A conviction campaigner with a vision for the long term, a touch of glamour – and no aspirations to have her snout anywhere near the trough. When it comes to modern politicians, at least, Vanessa Hudson really is a different species.Reuse content