Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Does Anyone Go Vegan After Being Yelled At?

Does Anyone Go Vegan After Being Yelled At?
Considering Why We Need To Be More Mindful With How We Protest

Last weekend, Vancouver-based activists from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) and new Victoria group The Critical Cat (formerly The Raging Kucing) allied for a number of actions, including a protest of the downtown restaurant 'pig'.

You can view the 'viral video' from the perspective of a 'pig' patron:


CTV's report:


Jordan from The Critical Cat also produced a video from his perspective:


For some, this might be an upsetting or frustrating article. For others (likely more introverted), this could be a more refreshing perspective.

Image Source
Let's begin with the title: does anyone go vegan after being yelled at?

Has anyone gone vegan after finding themselves in a situation like this? Anyone at all? Alternatively, has anyone gone vegan after seeing footage like this? (Part of the goal of the action is to have it 'go viral' on social media, which is unreliable, but in this instance succeeded locally.)

I've been an activist for a fairly long time - since 1996. In that time, I've coordinated and seen numerous people in Victoria participate in demonstrations similar to this, and after a few events end their public activism, or switch to different methods of activism. Very few people spend more than a few months or sometimes years participating in activities like this. Fewer still continue on this path for an extended period, and perhaps there's something we can learn from this.

Carol Adams addresses this form of activism in her book 'Living Among Meat Eaters'. Carol describes how a meal or restaurant setting is just about the worst time to address the issue. When someone is sitting with animal flesh in their hands and mouths, they aren't really in a position where they can be open to this topic. Take a moment to think about it - if you were eating a vegan chocolate treat, and someone told you that this particular chocolate is made with human slavery, are you really going to be in a mindset to be receptive to that message? Or if you're snacking on some So Delicious ice cream, would you want - at that moment - to learn the company was bought in September by WhiteWave, who owns a massive organic dairy company? It's probably not the time you're going to want to hear about this, and it's no different when someone is consuming animal products.

This approach, while proper in fact, is poor in timing. It creates an environment of polarization and judgement. From the perspective of the patron, it's awkward and leaves them defensive. This situation is not conducive to compassion and education, which is what is needed to be effective in outreach.

The media fall-out from these PETA-esque actions are also often unhelpful to our goals, here's a Facebook posting from Victoria Buzz Media:


It's overwhelmingly negative. To vegan readers, the comments are abhorrent. They're grating, ignorant, hurtful and insulting. The commenters are empathizing with the restaurant patrons, not enslaved livestock. There is a young girl in the first video who appears traumatized by the event. I don't believe any of this is helpful in getting people to reconsider what they're eating.

Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals
I would implore groups to reconsider these actions. There are times and places vocal protest is appropriate and necessary, but it is a tool that should be used with consideration. Outside the Vancouver Aquarium or across from the downtown horse-drawn carriages would be better received and considered by passers-by. They are not yet committed to the concerned practice, have a choice to opt out, and can reasonably approach the activists for more information. A peaceful, non-aggressive demonstration outside the restaurant would be an improvement. Activists could present thoughtful messages on signs that people can consider in that moment. Gently offer literature. Become a kind representative of other species that restaurant patrons will want to approach.

Also worth considering: signs like "It's Not Food, It's Violence" might be too abstract. Many vegans understand what it means, but most will be unsure what it is referring to. Patrons will be asking themselves: what is 'pig' doing that's violent, did they have some kind of animal abuse event here? Is there a patron in the restaurant who has done something? Is it violence to vegetables too? Is a lion violent, and do they need to be stopped too?

We need to consider that to the uninitiated, 'violence' is obviously not an association with 'hamburger'. Yelling it doesn't help with this comprehension either. And perhaps even further out of the realm of their understanding is a sanctuary rescue. It is unlikely any patrons will be familiar with what an animal sanctuary is, or the life of a sanctuary pig. Further, they won't even know what a non-sanctuary pig has gone through. There is no point of reference for most, short of fantasies like 'Old MacDonald's Farm'.

This begs the question: is the demonstration an effort to educate, or vent? What draws people to these actions? Activists are upset that this injustice is occurring in several buildings (restaurants) on nearly every block downtown. And that is a justified feeling! But is the action for the activists to blow off steam and satisfy their catharsis, or to try and create dialogue and understanding? Is activism an outlet for our frustrations, or a means to effectively inform the ignorant of a hugely important issue?

Please know: I am not trying to paralyze, stifle or stagnate activism. In my experience it's relatively easy to embolden a group and participate in something like this. Yelling is easy and lazy - at least, it was for me and many I know. What's not easy is devising effective ways to garner attention that is actually well-received. It is not so easy to offer a digestible message that is contrary to the upbringing of most people in a way they can consider. It is hard work, but our movement deserves it.

'pig' is a horrible restaurant. Not only do they celebrate and glorify the murder and consumption of animals, they do so unashamedly, and smash you in the face with it. It reduces a smart, sensitive being into a fleeting fancy (unnecessary food). It's easy enough for a vegan to walk by McDonald's and not blink, but 'pig' is obtrusive and combative. I would ride my bike up Johnson several times a week, and even after a year I couldn't help but feel ill seeing their sign on the corner. It's a despicable sight.

I want to see it go away as much as the next vegan. But if we're going to target it or their cohorts, please, let's do it in a way that will actually result in patrons changing their minds, not provide them with fuel to denigrate veganism.


I want to give credit to Almira Tanner of DxE for her participation on CFAX Radio this morning (podcast link.) She was very well spoken, and had the savvy to return the conversation to the topic of animal rights and veganism when it was derailed by aggressive callers. She did a great job of representing vegan and animal rights values, and I hope we get to hear more from her in less hostile settings, where she can converse rather than defend.

UPDATE #1 (11/27) - Here's the November 25th CFAX Terry Moore radio show featuring Almira from DxE, Corie from The Critical Cat, and myself to hear different angles on the issue: https://soundcloud.com/terry-moore-cfax/november-26th-4pm#t=7:05

UPDATE #2 (11/30) - Almira from DxE has kindly responded, please scroll down to the Comment section. Thank you, Almira, for continuing this discussion, I will respond shortly as well.

Dave Shishkoff, Editor
Twitter: @Victoria_Vegan & @VeganCyclist (personal)
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