In the hills south of Rome, another kind of "liberation community" is preparing for a very different future.
ROCCO SANTO STEFANO — The little slice of countryside utopia southeast of Rome isn't easy to find. You must first look for the smorzo — which, to anyone outside Italy's central Lazio region, is the shop that sells building materials. From there, you take a dirt road halfway between the towns of Rocca Santo Stefano and Bellegra where you find ValleVegan, tucked in an expanse of fields and rolling hills.
"Between the humans and non-humans, there are around 200 of us," says Piero Liberati, who has been involved with this "liberation" community since its founding eight years ago.
To be specific, the humans include him, Antonella Inicorbaf and another two or three people who aren't here all the time, preferring instead to travel around Europe on bikes or act in Rome theater shows. They are all involved in activism too, such as anti-poaching and anti-slaughter campaigns.
The "non-humans" here are dogs, cats, sheep, goats, pigs, geese, turtles, rabbits — about 14 of each species, who have been rescued from farms, pet shops or laboratories and now live free in the countryside.
For those who don't know, vegans are people who practice radical vegetarianism. They swear off not only meat and fish, but also derivative animal products such as cheese, dairy, honey or eggs.
"Not only are they saving living things from being exploited, but also making a lifestyle choice that doesn't include them in feeding or other purposes," Liberati says.
They're also anti-speciesist here, convinced that no species is superior to another, which means they're very careful not to objectify animals. "We try not to treat them as objects, which is what some animal rights activists do — conveying too much love, and often frustration on them too," he adds.
When vegans build a home
In the middle of meadows is a small colored house. It could have been just a trailer or prefab, but "after much discussion and some luck" — and thanks to the use of recovered materials — Liberati and the others renovated an entire house surrounded by six acres of land. It's a Spartan place with no TV or heating because "you can do without the superfluous." There's no owner either. "On paper, ValleVegan is a foundation, so we decided it shouldn't belong to anyone in particular," Liberati says.
They already have several projects in the pipeline. "We would like to create a beautiful orchard, a vegetable garden and perhaps some kennels for the dogs to be kept free, make us more independent," he says. Also, because the costs are so high, food and medicine are always welcome, as are volunteers willing to help out.
"We would like anyone who wants to join us to fully embrace the project," Liberati says. "We're not in a position to help someone in just one way. We want to grow together and build this place together. The hope is that there will be more projects like ours in Italy and the rest of Europe."
Locals were initially hesitant about the project, but ValleVegan residents have come to establish good relationships with their neighbors. Some locals have even changed their eating habits, becoming vegetarians or vegans. Liberati and Inicorbaf even help three elderly ladies who live in the next valley with their daily chores. "They made a lifestyle choice similar to ours, returning to the countryside," says Inicorbaf, who also teaches dance.
"Freedom is living according to consistent principles, respect and knowledge, understanding what your goals are and getting up in the morning with a smile," Liberati says, explaining that his main concern is being able to keep the rescued animals free.
Every day they are more convinced and aware of the choices they have made, but they don't fear the uncertainties of the future. "I'd be much more afraid of a normal life," Inicorbaf says. "In these difficult times, our choice could also be, who knows, revolution."