I really didn’t know what to make of the DxE video I was watching: Animal rights activists marching into restaurants and yelling about animals who wanted to live and how “meat” isn’t food, it’s violence. The activist/troublemakers usually held AR signs and stony expressions. The restaurant customers looked amused, embarrassed or annoyed. The staff? Angry, then frazzled.
As an animal rights activist myself, generally of the polite variety, I was intrigued, but also intimidated— especially when I’d see a DxE video of someone going into a restaurant alone and starting to shout. I said to myself, I COULD NEVER DO THAT. My husband said, “YOU’D BETTER NOT DO THAT.”
I live close to a Nations Giant Hamburgers, a KFC, a Jack ’n’ the Box and a Burger King – so many opportunities, I thought. But no, I can’t. I just can’t.
Weeks passed and still I kept wondering about DxE. I’d check out the notices on Facebook for Direction Action Everywhere Meetups, held on Saturday mornings at the DxE House in Oakland.
The DxE House. I had a picture in my mind – White frame house, falling apart, in a rough part of Oakland. My imaginary house was…
Elbow to elbow, animal rights protesters lined up in front of a Berkeley Trader Joe’s meat counter last Thursday.
Despite a security guard’s plea: “Hey, you guys can’t do this here, I’m sorry,” members of the nonviolent activist group, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), shouted out for animal liberation one by one, in languages as diverse as Spanish, Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, Hindi, Danish, Persian and Ukrainian.
DxE members from all over the world gathered in the Bay Area for a conference last week which included lectures, protests and social gatherings.
The group, which started only two years ago with five people tossing around ideas in somebody’s living room, has now spread to 110 cities in 25 countries. Why the groundswell? I asked one of the key organizers Chris van Breen.
“I think people have been waiting for this for a long time,” he said.
Yelling out loud is a kind of joy, albeit somber, when one has been screaming inside for years. Yelling feels like an authentic human response after one has had to see the dead body parts laying in grocery store “meat” departments every single week. Yelling is a demand for freedom inside these serene even cheerful places of business that calmly traffic in unspeakable cruelty to animals, including some which add insult to injury by claiming you can be humane to animals and kill them at the same time for trivial reasons such as the oft-repeated “It tastes good.”
But why would activists trying to win people over to veganism do such an “extreme” thing?
Compared to stealing someone’s baby or skinning her alive or cutting his throat, practices common in the animal foods industry, yelling, carrying signs or even blocking traffic is not extreme.
For five minutes, maybe three minutes, I’m not sure exactly, — animal rights activists stopped the world.
Today as cars backed up on Geary Street in San Francisco and as other cars were blocked from leaving a big downtown underground parking lot, over 100 protesters from the animal rights organization DxE formed a large circle in the street. Wearing blue T-shirts and white bloody masks, we held signs with pictures of animals and signs reading, “WHO WILL THEY KILL TODAY?”
For those few moments people stopped, looked and heard a magnificent choir of full-throated voices rising to the heavens chanting:
“ONE STRUGGLE ONE FIGHT”
“HUMAN FREEDOM ANIMAL RIGHTS”
I felt my voice strong and my feet solid on the ground. Finally I was up off my knees. You see, for six years I’ve been either silent or begging, pleading, cajoling, even joking in an effort to persuade people to give up the murderous habit of using animals for food, entertainment, shoes, clothing and research. It hasn’t worked.
There is a smaller percentage of vegans today than in 1999. Part of the reason our numbers have decreased instead of grown is a wildly successful advertising ploy/scam by the animal foods industry called “Humanely-Raised,” “Cage-Free,” “Organically Grown” and “Free-Range.”
Out on Geary, the drivers were getting angrier and angrier, laying on their horns.
Eventually the protest in the street stopped and we moved to continue our Direct Action on the sidewalk. I never knew that the front of Macy’s could be a sacred space, but today it was. With the masks now off we stood silently outside the automatic doors of the store: witnesses to the unimaginable suffering that is going on every minute of every day in research laboratories, on fur farms, in slaughterhouses and on farms which raise animals for food.
Nine billion land animals are killed every year in the United States for food.
Clutching shopping bags, a lot of people scurried past us. Others just stood and stared as we resumed chanting. Others snickered, but even a street musician’s upbeat (and loud) electric guitar playing right next to us couldn’t dent the solemnity or the gravity of our witnessing or obscure the magnitude of the worldwide “Eternal Treblinka” endured by animals on this earth.
We’re not going away until every animal is free from suffering.
My impulse was to run when the security guard started grabbing our signs and knocked to the floor my husband’s iPhone he’d been using take pictures of our animal rights protest at a Berkeley Safeway.
She hit my hand in an attempt to rip my sign which read, “THE DAIRY INDUSTRY EXPLOITS COWS FOR THEIR BREAST MILK” and tried to push one of the demonstrators standing next to me.
“Don’t touch me,” the protestor said.
All I could think of was, “I’m going to hang on to my goddamn sign, no matter what this security guard tries to do.”
It was Mother’s Day, a day when the animal rights groups Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy (BOAA) and Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) try to remind the public of the millions and millions of forgotten mothers – the dairy cows who are forced to stand in one spot indoors and be milked and milked and milked for fucking months on end until their udders are bleeding, swollen to the point of dragging on the floor and infected with mastitis. Mothers who frantically search in vain for their newborns who are stolen by humans shortly after birth. Mothers who cry and moan for days and days for their lost babies.
You see, all that violence is so we can have our milk, our yoghurt, our ice cream, our milk shakes and our butter.
But the violence doesn’t stop with the mother. The calf, if he is male, is whisked away to either a veal farm or a veal auction, sometimes still covered in afterbirth and blinking in confusion under the harsh lights. Then the baby is either killed immediately or is ushered into a darkened stall and tied at the neck so he can’t move, until he too, is killed at 18 weeks for his flesh, or, if you will, “veal.”
The female is usually forced into a small plastic crate which is not unlike a dog crate where in her bewilderment she’ll be left alone without her mother, without anyone. Eventually she’ll be given a mixture of whey (a byproduct of the cheese-making process), high fructose corn syrup and even sometimes cow’s blood.
These babies don’t experience the comforting nuzzle of their mother or the warmth of her milk, milk that was intended by God for them, not us.
At Safeway I managed to hang on to my sign and hear the brave BOAA and DXE members explain to the grocery shoppers and employees the heinous crime against nature and animals which is the dairy industry. We screamed and yelled:
It was quite a Mother’s Day for me.
The first part of the day was spent in the loving embrace of my family – my husband, our son, our daughter-in-law and our little grandkids, Norah and Sam.
I thought about the hours after our son was born. It was shortly after midnight. Because he’d been born with a mole on the side of his head, he’d been taken to the hospital nursery and I was rolled into my room. Unlike dairy cattle, I knew my baby was safe. Still, despite the fact I’d been in labor since early that morning and was completely exhausted I couldn’t sleep.
I don’t know how many times I buzzed the nurses asking to see my baby but they wouldn’t let me. I had to wait until the day shift nursing staff came on. I was so frustrated and upset, my body was shaking uncontrollably. When I was finally able to hold him in my arms I wept with joy. I was completely overwhelmed by the love I felt. I had the knowledge that I’d give up my life for this child.
Maybe dairy cow mothers don’t feel the earth-shaking passion that human mothers feel for their young, but I’ve read that the wail of a mother cow who has lost her baby is one of the saddest sounds in the world.
When I heard “You’re all under arrest,” my heart jumped in my throat. I flashed on who-will-take-care-of-the-dog-what-about-babysitting-I’d-promised-I’d-do-tomorrow- and what-about-the-cat-and-what-about-all-the-work-due-for-my-class-this-week- what-if-I-can’t-get-to-my-class.
I’ve never really been in jail before.
It was an “International Respect for Chickens Day” protest. We were in the San Francisco Ferry Building which is a sort of foodie plaza where you can spend all sorts of money on “artisan” cheese, olive oil, nuts, fruit, pricey bread and “humanely-raised” meat.
In fact, it was in front of one of these “humanely raised and cruelly-killed” meat places where two animal rights groups, United Poultry Concerns (UPC) and Direct Action Everywhere (DXE), had joined to cause a disruption.
“HUMANELY RAISED,” shouted long-time activist Hope Bohanec of UPC.
Back to the protest: So we were lined up in front of the meat counter and here was this guy dressed in a uniform saying we were all under arrest.
But I looked around and saw nobody really budging and realized that the guy talking about arresting everyone was actually a security guard – not a police officer. And even if he had been a police officer we would have to be given a reasonable amount of time to leave.
The guard sort of laughed and shook his head when he heard we were protesting the cruel treatment of chickens. Conventional belief is that chickens are stupid, if not ridiculous.
Scientists have discovered that chickens recognize and remember human faces, they communicate with other chickens, they learn from each other and they teach their young, new behaviors. And when they’re happy and safe, chickens purr.
Yet chickens are, according to Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the most abused of all farm animals. Of the 9.1 billion land animals killed for food in the U.S. during 2013, over 8.5 billion were chickens, according to the USDA.
And being raised “free range” and/or “humanely’’ means little or nothing for most. “Humane,” “Sustainable,” “Cage Free” are basically advertising slogans designed to increase sales and prices while reassuring troubled consciences.
Cage free means, in most cases, thousands of birds stuffed into a darkened filthy shed. Cage free also means that male layer chicks which are of little use to industry are ground up alive or suffocated in garbage bags shortly after they’re born. Backyard chicken farmers please know, this is what happens to the male chicks you don’t buy.
“Free range” broiler chickens are also stuffed by the thousands into these same types of sheds. Those chickens are so deformed and maimed by selective breeding to have huge breasts or “drumsticks,” they can barely move. Experiments have shown that broiler chickens are in nearly constant pain.
It’s a horrible, horrible scene, which is why I just kept standing there with everybody else holding my sign in front of this meat counter listening to the DXE speakers.
One of the butchers wearing a bloody apron came out from behind the counter and got in front of me and said, “Don’t you have something better to do?” which I thought was a very interesting question given the circumstances.
I just stared into the distance and he went off to ask other people in our group, “Why don’t you go get a hobby?”
As the DXE speakers continued (LOUDLY,) another butcher came out of the back with a spoon and a big pan which he started to beat ferociously to drown out the speaker. It was loud enough to hurt my ears and sounded like one of those “Come ’n’ get it” triangles from cowboy movies.
Foodies from all over the Ferry Building arrived to see what was going on or maybe to check out what there was to eat. (You know, maybe some free samples…)
What they saw was us with our signs and our huge banner decrying chicken slaughter, an upset dude in an apron banging on a pot and security guards fluttering around trying to stop the photography. Eventually though they had to give up on trying to stop the photos, because even the foodie/tourists were filming.
Once the short speeches and the chanting were over, we left. The whole thing must have been 10 minutes, max.
Next location: A “humanely-raised” restaurant with tables on the sidewalk in front of the Ferry Building.
The people sitting at the tables just stared as DXE members spoke to the crowd about the horrors of the so-called humane meat industry. I saw one man eating a hamburger trying to sort of duck down when he took a bite. His companion looked miserable.
I kind of felt sorry for them. I’m sure lunch hadn’t been cheap and after all, these were folks who cared enough about farm animals to try and do the right thing – buy “humanely raised.” Maybe some lights were going off inside their brains. That’s what I hoped.
Security came back, this time with a bright blue plastic tarp which they held up as barricade between us and about four tables in the restaurant. The “barricade,” of course, did nothing to stop the sound and it was too small to block the views of most of the people in the restaurant.
It was silly but I thought there is a serious side to animal rights protesting. I’d read Will Potter’s book, “Green is the New Red,” about animal rights activists who had done nothing more than operate a website and had been sentenced to federal prison for lengthy terms.
DXE founder and attorney Wayne Hsiung explained after the protest ended that out of the many, many animal rights activists only 10 have ended up in prison under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and that animal rights and environmental activists no longer get top priority from the FBI.
Hsiung said, compare what’s happened to animal rights activists to the tens of thousands of innocent Muslims who have been imprisoned in the U.S. under the Homeland Security Act or the millions of innocent African-Americans who have also been imprisoned in the United States or have been brutally killed by police simply because of the color of their skin.
I’ve never yelled inside a Whole Foods Market or in a Safeway or in any grocery store. I’ve never even wanted to. When I’ve walked past (quickly) the neon-lit graveyards they have in the back of these stores, which showcase the dead animals or their chopped-up flesh, I’ve felt a grief and revulsion that makes me quiet.
Yet despite my despair at the obvious animal cruelty that’s taken place, I have to admit I’ve always kind of liked Whole Foods. I like that they have a gazillion different plant-based milks (that taste good); that they have a pretty good bulk section; that the employees are nice; that one of the store’s founders, John Mackey, was persuaded to become a vegan; and I always liked that the checkers would ask me, “Credit or donation?” when I brought in my own bag. I’d get a little warm feeling when I’d say, “donation.”
Yet there I was – pissed and yelling my head off with the other protestors in the meat department of Whole Foods on Sunday: “It’s Not Food, It’s Violence.”
I joined a group of Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) members to protest Whole Food’s truly bizarre, if not Orwellian, $20 million ad campaign: “Values Matter.” The ads feature such slogans as “Know What Kind of Life Your Dinner Lived” or “Choose a Fish, Cook a Fish, Save a Fish.”
Welcome to the house of mirrors world of “humane meat.” Or “sustainable agriculture.” Or “cage free.” Or “cruelty-free food.” Or “grass-fed.” It’s a wonderful dreamy world where the environment is pristine: no water pollution, no climate change, no destruction of wildlife. You can still kill and eat animals and/or consume their secretions and feel good about it. Hell, you can eat animals and save animals at the same time!
Ask most people to envision a “cage free” egg farm and they will tell you about open green pastures with chickens playing and frolicking in the warm sunlight. I once heard a natural foods co-op customer describe it as “like summer camp.” And if you can’t imagine a summer camp for so-called food animals, Whole Foods has a picture of one of these places on their website.
It just ain’t so, folks.
Cage free is just that: cage free. OK, farmers aren’t cutting off a chunk of chickens’ beaks and stuffing the birds into cages so small they can’t move. Instead they’re cutting off a chunk of their beaks and stuffing them into darkened sheds encrusted with feces, filth and dead body parts. These places are so crowded the chickens can barely move. Yet on the Whole Foods website, the store insists their chickens aren’t mutilated and that each and every one of them has access to the outdoors. Also Santa Claus lives at the North Pole in a house decorated with candy canes where he makes beautiful toys for all the children in the world.
Here’s an undercover video taken by DXE at one of Whole Foods’ cage free egg suppliers.
I watched it. It won’t kill you. You’ll see chickens in crowded sheds with missing feathers and with bruised, distorted bodies — chickens seeming so sick and weak they can’t even get up or open their eyes.
Ok, photos and videos can lie. Maybe you say, well, if Whole Foods can create a fantasy world with pictures, why can’t animal rights activists create another fantasy world with pictures?
You might say, what if Whole Foods is actually a non-profit organization devoted to bringing healthful foods to The People and really makes sure its farmed animals are loved and cared for? And what if the grocery chain hires multitudes of employees, gives them a living wage and health insurance and asks them to gently put these cared-for animals to sleep after they’ve lived long and happy lives?
Truth alert: Whole Foods is a for-profit company that answers to its shareholders. If they can make money selling junk food, they do it. If they can make money selling animal body parts and animal secretions they do that too.
Nobody puts these so-called food animals “to sleep,” otherwise the eaters of such animals would also get “put to sleep.” They don’t live long and happily – that costs too much. No, as soon as these “humanely-raised” animals reach “market weight,” they’re killed in slaughterhouses, same as any other “food animal.” It’s terrifying and excruciating for all. “Grass-fed” beef cows are killed. “Free-range” turkeys are killed. “Humanely raised” ducks are killed. “Sustainable” goats are killed. “Organic” rabbits are killed. Monterey Bay Aquarium-approved fish are killed. “Cage free” laying hens are killed. “Happy” dairy cows are killed. There’s no retirement farm for dairy cows or laying hens. Dairy cows become hamburger and the chickens often become fertilizer or even animal feed as soon as they stop producing.
It’s an outrage that Whole Foods would rip off the Black Lives Matter slogan and use it to sell animal suffering to people who are concerned about farm animals. I truly believe those customers do care about animals. Plus, why would anyone give all that extra money to the shareholders of Whole Foods if they didn’t care?
About 30 or 40 of us walked into a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco from a nearby park where we’d all met up. Trying (probably unsuccessfully) to look like customers we entered the store with our “It’s Not Food, It’s Violence” signs kind of hidden under our shirts or rolled up in our hands.
For a few minutes we kept sort of trying to look like normal customers despite the fact that none of us bothered to get a cart or a basket and we were all hanging around near the meat department when we heard the voice of one of the DXE’ers, shouting “Excuse me, could I get your attention?’
That was our cue to assemble in front of the meat counter and hold high our signs while other protesters gave short speeches about the suffering of animals whose bodies were now lying dead in the glass case. One of the speakers held a carton of milk and talked of dairy calves and baby goats torn from their mothers shortly after birth so that humans could steal their milk. Another speaker spoke of a lucky goat, Domino, who had been rescued and was now able to live in safety and to love and be loved by others. She talked about how Domino was an individual, no different from anybody’s dog or cat.
Despite the stories, a woman with a shopping cart seemed irritated as she made her way to the meat counter through our crowd.
Standing there with my sign I looked down to see a galvanized steel tub filled with shaved ice and fish bodies. The fishes’ eyes stared at me. The fish were packed in the ice as if the tub was a little pond and the fish were looking up out of the water. They seemed alive, friendly and playful, decorative, even. As the protest continued, I wondered if customers just picked up the fish themselves or if they got someone from the meat counter to come around and do it for them.
I thought it might be easy for someone to forget that these fish actually suffered cruel and unnecessary deaths. These silent sentient beings who remember and have companions painfully strain to breathe for as long as a half hour after they’ve been caught in nets; or they writhe in agony as the most sensitive part of their body which is their mouth is pierced with a senseless merciless metal hook and they’re dragged out into the air to their deaths.
As our loud animal rights speeches continued and the Whole Foods employees looked either passive, bemused or annoyed. A lot of the customers looked the same way, but somebody in our group said she heard some customers chanting right along with us. “ANIMALS SUFFER – JUST LIKE US.” “ANIMALS FEEL PAIN – JUST LIKE US.” “ANIMALS WANT TO LIVE – JUST LIKE US.” “WHAT DO WE WANT? – ANIMAL LIBERATION.” “WHEN DO WE WANT IT? – NOW!” “WHAT DO WE WANT? – ANIMAL LIBERATION.”
We must have chanted loudly for nearly 10 minutes while the security and police officers just watched us and then, still chanting, we walked out.
Crossing San Francisco’s Market Street, we went into a Safeway store: “ANIMALS’ LIVES ARE THEIR RIGHT – WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT.”