Bars and Bricks
By Assaf Pashut
As I stood holding a sign in front of Whole Foods Blossom Hill last Sunday, I couldn't help but recall my initial resistance to this campaign when it was pitched almost two years ago. “The target is Whole Foods?” I questioned emphatically. “Not a good idea! I can see the headlines now: 'Vegans protest most vegan-friendly food chain on the planet.'”
Like Assaf-version-2013, many vegans criticize DxE's focus on seemingly progressive corporations like Whole Foods and Chipotle. It feels counterintuitive to confront the same entities that bring us tofu burritos and vegan cookies. This concern is so pervasive that it warrants addressing thoroughly.
DxE's latest exposé exemplifies that “humane” labels—and corporations proudly sponsoring them— speak empty words; however, let's assume that Chipotle and Whole Foods actually source their animal products from saint-like farms where animals live on green pastures prior to being killed and eaten. Would this justify the violence? As animal activists, we strive not to replace factory farms with greener pastures, but to liberate animals from exploitation altogether.
So how do we change an industry that is innately enmeshed in violence against nonhuman animals? If DxE tries to tackle every single mom-and-pop shop selling animal products, we'll burn out before lunch. If we protest fast food chains, it'd be like trying to convince a boxer to use pillows instead of fists – their audience isn't there for gentle kindness, and neither are they. To manifest visible change, we must target the bar-setters: the leaders of the industry who capitalize most from a false image of nonviolence, a.k.a. “humane meat.” They are the ones in the ring using pillows, but covertly packing them with nails.
But, DxE, why are you punishing vegan-friendly Whole Foods?
'Vegan-friendly' and 'vegan' are not the same. Falafel is vegan. A place that includes falafel on its menu is vegan-friendly. Companies are vegan-friendly because it's profitable long-term (a good sign for our movement), not because it's ethically sound. In fact, publicly traded corporations are bound by law to make choices that are most profitable for their stock-owning constituents.
More importantly, this campaign is not meant to punish anyone, but rather to effectively bring the animal rights debate to every home in the world. When DxE rallies hundreds or thousands of activists around the country to voice their opposition to the humane hoax, we are putting pressure on companies to raise the bar. This pressure is good pressure, and encourages decisions like this. If we targeted places like McDonald's, this would maybe mean slightly wider cages. For establishments like Whole Foods, in contrast, this means eliminating the pretense that killing is kindness.
Wait, DxE, what if they punish vegans and remove vegan items from their stores? Where will I get my Newman-O's?
Don't worry; your vegan treats are safe and sound. If they're not, then our model corporations aren't so progressive after all and more activists will realize this. Society has raised the bar, and Whole Foods and Chipotle rode the wave and capitalized on it. Now it's time to remove the bars completely and set free the animals we so love.