Reading a Philly Inquirer article about Temple Grandin this morning reminded me of my own favorite Temple Grandin story.
Grandin, who is autistic, is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and noted livestock industry consultant. She is also the author of several books on livestock handling, animal welfare and autism, and an autism advocate. I first met Grandin in the mid-'80s, when she was beginning to become known in the livestock industry.
It was the summer of 1987, as I recall, and I working at the Livestock Industry Congress, an annual conference put on by my employer, Livestock Marketing Association. I'd helped develop the conference program and recruited most of the speakers, including Temple Grandin, who was scheduled to speak on livestock handling, and Ellen Haas, then executive director of Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, representing consumer concerns.
It was an ambitious program for its target audience of leaders in the livestock and meat industry, most of whom had little awareness of (or interest in) the budding animal welfare and consumer movements.
The late Orville Sweet, then president of the National Pork Producers Association, opened the program by bringing out two big cartons full of postcards proclaiming bacon and eggs as the "breakfast of cruelty." The postcards, all sent to the NPPA, were part of a campaign against factory farming organized by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). PETA had also helped organize the animal rights protest that was going on outside the conference hall that morning.
Haas and Grandin were up next, with Haas speaking first. She was interrupted almost immediately by an animal rights protester who marched up to the stage, shouting, and took over the microphone. After a couple minutes, someone thought to turn off the microphone, and an security guard asked the protester to leave. She did, and Haas resumed her talk.
Then it was Grandin's turn to speak. Instead of stepping up to the microphone, she strode over to the cartons of postcards, still sitting at the side of the stage, grabbed one and upended it while turning toward the audience. Postcards spewed in an arc across the stage, some showering over the edge to land at the feet of the people in the front row. No one moved. All eyes were on Grandin, astonished, wondering what she'd do next.
What she did was proceed to tell the group, in no uncertain terms, that they needed to clean up their act when it came to livestock handling and production -- or they could expect to see a lot more animal rights protests. I like to think that speech helped launch her career.
Afterewards, some conference attendees told me they thought we'd choreographed the whole thing just to get their attention. I didn't need to choreograph it ... not with Grandin as a speaker.
Now, Grandin's story is headed for a larger stage. HBO is making a movie about her, starring one of my favorite actresses, Claire Danes. I can't wait.
Tags: Temple Grandin, animal welfare, livestock industry, HBO, LMA