Neil’s work with an online database Is it Vegan? and Vegan Buddies is central in terms of promoting veganism as the baseline position of animal rights advocates.
I first knew Neil as he latched on to the fact that he found in me someone who would agree to read and review the books regularly sent into Arcnews magazine which he edited. In all his dealings, he was a straight-down-the-line sort of guy. As someone said at Neil’s funeral on the 28th of July 2007 there were few pleasantries (apart from some talk of Manchester City and the philosophy of Star Trek as I recall). When Neil Lea wanted assistance, he’d ring me and say "have you received the book I sent? I need a review asap." Two days later he’d want to know if it was finished and ready to be sent as an attachment.
It was mentioned at the funeral that Neil was a great motivator. I agree – "constructively pushy" might be the best term. I think he was a born editor too – he knew how to get people to drop everything and work on what he wanted them to be working on. Of course, it was always obvious that Neil wasn’t asking for any of these things for himself – we all knew he was endangering his health by the sheer amount of work he was doing.
Neil was keen on education – vegan education obviously but education in general too. He would phone me to tell me about the latest academic essay he’d written for a course I was never sure he was ever doing, was about to do, or was about to finish. I think he concluded just about every text with a statement that the solution to the world’s problems was global veganism, human co-operation, and peaceful living. I would say I thought his conclusion was fine but perhaps (turning on as much diplomacy as I could muster) he ought to make at least some reference to the fact that the essay might be on Marxist views on poverty and class struggle. I’d have liked to be a fly on the wall during any time some middle class academic told Neil he hadn’t adequately addressed the question!
One thing I’ll always be grateful to Neil Lea for is his reminders to me that I should keep my feet firmly on the ground and not lose all contact with the grassroots vegan activists who make up the heart of the animal movement.
Whether I succeeded to his satisfaction is debatable but I hope I have. In fact, when I wrote my Ph.D I took the potentially risky decision to state openly in the text that some parts of it were deliberately written for such activists, and I referenced several non-academic sources such as Arcnews magazine. Animal activists do not tend to read sociology - and why should they – and yet there is a great deal they can learn from a sociological understanding of human relations woth other animals, even if it is only in the negative sense of "know thy enemy." On the more positive side, however, sociology can show vegan advocates the depth of the cultural norms and values they must challenge and transcend if any real progress for other animals and for vegan philosophy more generally is to become a reality.
Thanks for the guidance, Neil, R.I.P. and, yes, I know, I will try harder.