Unexpected Connections: UCSF Patient Blasts Chipotle's Humane Washing
by Wayne Hsiung
Wherever the animal rights movement has had success, industry's response has been to say that they care about animals. This is a common theme across campaigns and even nations. And we saw it recently in our Not Ours to Use campaign against the University of California, when UCSF -- in response to public criticism and protest -- announced that it had received gold standard accreditation for its "commitment to the highest ethical standards in animal care." (Just a few weeks before, a press representative came out to our protest with similar points to make. She was befuddled when we responded that animal testing was intrinsically unethical.) If you went by UCSF's rhetoric alone, you'd think that their animal research facilities were a luxurious hotel and spa!
This is why we at DxE focus so much on maintaining the integrity of our message. Powerful institutions and norms will constantly attempt to co-opt our message and lead to backsliding of even significant reforms. Targeting the abusers that most ostentatiously display their moral credentials is a crucial part of this strategy. If even the so-called "humane" animal exploiters are engaged in fundamentally wrongful acts, then we can make a case for truly systemic shifts, shifts that are real and robust. So, while it may be true that UCSF is better than some of its peers, as its "gold standard" suggests, that should not confuse the public from the nonetheless brutal reality of what happens in UCSF's labs: mutilation, poisoning, enslavement, and, ultimately, killing.
The strands between our campaigns should be obvious to anyone who follows DxE. UCSF and Chipotle are engaged in exactly the same practice: whitewashing violence as "humane." And in doing so, they are representative of the dominant (and until now, successful) response by animal-abusing industries. But it is even more gratifying when a random member of the public sees the same connections. I was surprised to hear the reaction, therefore, when I asked a UCSF patient (to protect his anonymity, we'll call him "Bob") what he thought of the contradictions between the university's statements about caring for animals, on the one hand, and the "gruesome" and "chilling" conditions that the animals are actually forced to endure, on the other.
Bob has a serious respiratory issue and has to come to the hospital on a regular basis. I am always hesitant to push people in such interactions, as they have understandable loyalty to the institution that is saving their life. However, upon hearing the story of Petra, a poor rhesus monkey who was left to languish for two years with a bloody hole in her head, Bob quickly joined us in criticizing the university.
Even more astonishing, however, was what came next. When asked about whether he had heard about UCSF's shameful whitewashing, Bob responded. "Not about UCSF. But we heard about Chipotle."
At first, I assumed that he had heard about Chipotle through one of our protesters. But that was not the case. Apparently, Bob (who is naturally an affable person who strikes up conversations with people on the street) had just heard about Chipotle across the street at the UCSF cafe. A woman who was an organic (vegetable) farmer, and a former Chipotle employee, had just educated him about Chipotle's horrible humane washing. And he was as scandalized by what he had heard as we are.
Two lessons to draw from this:
1. Our campaign is starting to have an impact. When random passersby on the street can identify the problem with a corporation, it shows that your message is cutting through the haze.
2. Even ordinary people -- especially ordinary people, in fact -- can see the problems with Chipotle's bloody lies.
Our movement has been so acclimated to the self-serving, consumerist model of activism that we don't always see the pernicious influence of corporate marketing. When a brand has given you something, when you love their products, it's hard even for activists to hear someone say something bad about the company. But we can't allow ourselves to be deceived by corporate marketing tricks. Chipotle has no real interest in helping animals, or even serving vegan food. They have one and only one interest: making profit. And we have to be as astute and skeptical as Bob if we want to effect real and permanent change, not just on Chipotle, but on their ilk (whether in the food industry or otherwise) all over the world.