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