OPINIONS

Op-Ed: “American Meat” Protest a Missed Opportunity for Dialogue

On Thursday, a group of animal rights advocates protested at a film screening of “American Meat,” a documentary about the future of meat production from the U.S. farmer’s perspective. Seven protesters took the stage during the panel discussion following the screening. They stood directly between the audience and row of panelists for more than twenty minutes, speaking over the moderator and aggressively confronting the film director. They expressed their viewpoint by holding up photographs of animals and repeating the phrase, “They didn’t deserve to die.”

Had the protesters’ tactics been less disruptive, perhaps the event would not have been so explosive. But by refusing to let the panel discussion continue, they quickly dissolved any possibility for support. Some audience members stood up and left. Those who remained grew increasingly frustrated. Fifteen minutes in, the audience literally tried to boo the demonstrators off the stage. When they finally left, the crowd cheered.

As the organizers of this event and leaders of food activist organizations on campus, we were surprised that these individuals chose to protest at an event aimed at facilitating dialogue about our food choices. The documentary raised a number of important issues: Where does our meat come from? How much meat should Americans be eating, and how much are we actually consuming?

The film encouraged viewers to stop to question their own dietary beliefs and behaviors. We are pleased by the feedback we’ve received so far, which indicates that many of the more than 200 audience members found the evening thought provoking and informative.

Offering such educational opportunities is an essential part of our work as students and activists to create a more sustainable and humane food system – one which treats animals, our planet and ourselves better.

That is why we screened the film and organized a diverse panel of experts to discuss the problems and potential solutions associated with our country’s meat production system. We know that reforming our food system requires forging alliances across groups.

Thursday’s protesters used precisely the opposite tactic. The screening drew attendees interested in learning more about our opaque food system. Over 200 potential (and current) food activists sat in the audience. Yet, these demonstrators missed an incredible chance to open eyes to an alternative way of thinking about our relationship with animals. Instead, the protesters infuriated and alienated meat- and plant-eaters alike.

They reified the monolithic stereotype of vegetarians and vegans as militant and irrational. They compromised the voice of the panelist we had invited to provide us with a more animal-centric viewpoint. They undermined their own cause.

To reform our food system, we cannot afford to make enemies out of allies. While pushing people to think outside of their comfort zones is an important part of growing a movement, inducing widespread anger, fear and disgust is not. We hope that the protesters take the advice of many audience members and organize their own event and panel discussion. They too have a message worth hearing, but there are more effective ways to facilitate audience understanding than the strategies they used Thursday night.

Priya Fielding-Singh, Rohisha Adke, Maria Deloso, Caroline Hodge

  • nb

    This screening was a very reasonable attempt to confront the problems surrounding the meat industry in the US. Granted, it did not call for the abolition of meat practices, but rather focuses on how to grow and consume meat more sustainably and with greater regard to the environment.

    Now, certainly, there is a place for disruptive activism. If a group truly feels that its voice is being left out of a conversation, disruption may be the best (and only) option left to them. However, this was an event curated by incredibly food-conscious individuals who all worked hard to promote the conversation that the protesters ostensibly were being excluded from. Besides including a panelist that represented the protesters’ point of view, the moderators even invited the protesters to join the conversation on stage and make a true contribution to the event, which they refused.

    Protests are a good thing. But not when you undermine your own cause, and alienate like-minded thinkers.

  • Anna

    What if the event was set 150 years ago and focused on the importance of treating slaves more humanely, would you expect abolitionists to remain quiet? I agree the protest could have been better executed, but I’m glad they defended those who cannot speak for themselves, especially at an event encouraging consumers to feel guilt-free about supporting the unnecessary killing of fellow animals.

  • Brian

    As one who was present at this protest, this article is wholly misrepresentative. While the demonstration was certainly disruptive, it was not as bad as the author makes it seem; if one actually looks at the footage taken from the event (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myODs9VicPs), the protest lasted 6 minutes, rather than the alleged “more than twenty”. Surely those who hosted an event that “aimed at facilitating dialogue about our food choices” would welcome 6 minutes of dialogue from the other side.

    Far from the open-minded discussion that this article describes, the film and panel discussion was an event meant to propagandize and ethically justify one side of the argument, that of the oppressor. One can easily see from the website of the film (http://www.americanmeatfilm.com/) that the message was very biased. In fact, one can see the moderator of the panel explicitly throw out and mock the argument presented by the animal-rights friendly panelist at 1:00 in the first link cited.

    I completely agree with Anna. This is an institution that will appall our ancestors and bring shame upon our generation. It is a crime when those in power misrepresent and lie boldly in order to crush the minority opinion, as this article as attempted.

  • Dom

    It’s not a very “reasonable attempt” as far as the animals who continue to be killed unnecessarily are concerned. And that’s the voice that was being left out, that the activists needed to represent. As Anna mentioned, simply talking about how to treat slaves more humanely is absurd when the real problem is that you HAVE SLAVES. Similarly, talking about how to kill and exploit animals more nicely is absurd when the problem is that you are KILLING AND EXPLOITING ANIMALS.

  • Katie

    I think it is very unfortunate that an event meant to promote the emergence of small-scale, local, and sustainable farming of animals was targeted for this type of a protest.

    I am very concerned with the treatment of animals, and I am unable to feel comfortable with eating any of the animals that this documentary focuses on raising for meat. I think that killing animals is horrible. I feel empathy for them–I cannot accept the idea of killing a cow. I absolutely cannot.

    But I know something that I believe the protestors have completely overlooked: the fact that people who do not eat meat are few and far between, and the fact that it is going to take decades before that ever changes (and it will never be total).

    In the meantime, what can we do to improve the lives of animals while they ARE being farmed for meat? For those in factories? For those on feedlots? As the activists, and many of the rest of us know, these places are living hells for the animals that are forced to live in them. On top of that, they result in the destruction and poisoning of native ecosystems (from waste runoff, conversion of wild lands to vegetationless wastelands, water pollution, etc.)–thereby causing suffering and extinctions of animals that we would think were “free” from human control. If we confront large meat corporations, we are working towards an end to this. But if we confront people working towards small, sustainable meat operations, we are only exacerbating the problem.

    Small-meat farmers have smaller impacts on local and exotic ecosystems–they are more aware of their impact, because if they harm the land they are on, they compromise their own business as they are dependent on it. Farmers who work directly with the animals they are raising are much more likely to treat them humanely while they are still alive than desperate workers paid less than minimum wage to do the dirty work in a factory. In order to work towards a world with no animal cruelty, we must work towards a world where at the very least, the people who profit off of their deaths know and yes, care about the animals.

    If animal-activists like the ones at this documentary are successful in shutting down small-scale meat farmers, the large meat-farming corporations will have NO competition. The factory farms will have no one with enough public support to fight and abolish them (because alienating meat-eaters will not gain you support amongst meat-eaters) .

    As vegans and vegetarians, the animal-activists that spoke may not be dependent on small-scale meat farmers. But vegans and vegetarians are also part of a growing movement within this society that wants to see animal, socioeconomic, and environmental justice, and as such, we absolutely need small-scale meat farmers.

    The minority does not rule, and raised angry voices are not easy to listen to. No one wants to hear about the horror of a slaughter house. But many, many people want to hear how we can change the current system peacefully. That is why people attended this documentary–it presents a positive solution. On top of that, just like the animals being killed, people need to be listened to. Telling someone that you believe their actions are wrong is justified–but only if you are willing to hear their experience, and their reasons for their actions. Otherwise, neither party will learn anything other than shame, fear, and ultimately hatred. And those three things? They will only cause more pain and suffering.

    If you cannot listen, you cannot understand. If you cannot understand, you cannot empathize. If you cannot empathize, you cannot heal–anyone or anything, and certainly not the world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cherries1 Christopher Herries

    Making the comparison between cows and black people probably deserves criticism.

  • http://twitter.com/PeterMGunn Commando Cool

    Isn’t owning a dog a kind of slavery? Animal rights advocate often have pets. Seems like a little bit of hypocrisy if the whole point is animal freedom. Also, it’s often overlooked that the only reason those animals are alive in the first place is to be eaten.

  • Jeremy Beckham

    From the Op-Ed:

    “The documentary raised a number of important issues: Where does our meat
    come from? How much meat should Americans be eating, and how much are
    we actually consuming?”

    But the documentary did not raise the question: ‘Is it moral and just to deprive other animals of their lives and freedom because we like the taste of their flesh?’ It did, however, answered this question in the affirmative by then asking how, when, and where should we be exploiting and harming other animals.

    Imagine if this Op-Ed stated that the documentary posed such questions as, “How many children should society be using as sex slaves? Where should we be sourcing these children? Day cares? Orphanages?” I think people would be rightly disgusted. And this Op-Ed perpetuates empathy avoidance by using euphemisms and stating that animals are part of a “food system.” As though these sentient beings nothing more than cogs in a machine.

    When issues of serious moral implication are forced out of the conversation, people who care about justice will find a way to force them back in. That’s what happened here.

  • Dom

    You could use the internet to research what “companion animal” and “animal liberation” mean and answer those questions you have.