Dan Murphy: Butchers Give Protestors the Upper Hand

Canadian pork shoulders are being prepped on a butcher's counter at North Hill Meats in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 10, 2017. Picture taken on May 10, 2017.

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “throwing red meat to your base,” as it applies to politics.

This story, which recently took place in Merry Olde England, is an example of the exact opposite: throwing red meat (literally) at your opponents.

In either case, the tactic typically doesn’t change any hearts or minds, except maybe for the worse.

Here’s the story, according to a report on MetroUK.co.uk, an online service of the British-based Associated Newspapers Limited.

The Kirkgate Market, site of this incident, is in Leeds, a city of 750,000 that is one of northern England’s most important financial and legal centers. On a busy Saturday at the market, where several butchers operate retail stalls, vegan protesters showed up, carrying signs and demonstrating against the very notion of “eating animals.”

According to the article, “The activists targeted the butchers during busy trading, [and] traders and security escorted them out of the market after one of the butchers used a lump of meat against the vegans.”

Awkward phrasing aside (does anyone tell a butcher, “I’d like a lump of that beef there, please”?), the clash between butchers and vegans apparently turned ugly in a hurry.

As video captured at the scene showed (watch it here), one of the butchers quickly came out from behind his stall carrying what appeared to be a shank of lamb or pork in each hand. As the protestors were being herded out of the market, the butcher was swinging the meat at the protestors, while shouts of “Smell that lamb,” “Get out!” and “Go get a job” can be heard in the background.

As Ginette Lindstrom, one of the vegan protestors, told the MetroUK reporter, “The abuse started immediately as we turned the corner and become visible to the butchers. Instantly, we were shouted at to ‘get out’… along with other slurs as we remained silently walking down the shop.”

The clash then continued outside the market, where it appeared that one of the stall operators tried to grab the camera from Ms. Lindstrom.

Not the finest hour for any of the participants in what by all accounts was a most unpleasant scenario.

Analyzing the Underlying Motivation
On one hand, when a group of vegan protestors, no matter how (allegedly) nonviolent they pretend to be, go marching into the midst of a public market where vendors pay good money to operate stalls selling meat products, the question must be asked: What did they expect to happen?

Did the protestors hope the butchers would experience a sudden epiphany, pull off their aprons and announce from that moment on they would only sell vegetables and fruits? Did they believe the butchers would go home that evening, and in a crisis of conscience, decide that their life’s work has been an abomination and, a la PETA, renounce all engagement with animal agriculture?

Even the most charitable analysis would concede that — at best — the protestors might have hoped to trigger a twinge of guilt among other shoppers, a development that would likely have been far more effective had they conducted their “silent protest” outside the market.

The more cynical view, however, is that such protests are deliberately designed to provoke angry reactions that can be recorded on someone’s cellphone, then posted on social media to demonize the people involved with raising livestock or marketing meat products.

That’s my opinion, by the way, and it’s supported by the on-the-scene reporting.

As Ms. Ginette told MetroUK, “I felt it was important to start recording live to capture the moment so that people could see that we remained peaceful at all times and in case of physical assault or further verbal abuse.”

After her video was posted, Ginette was quoted as saying, “This post has really highlighted some extremely twisted and disturbed individuals and promoters for the agricultural industry.”

There’s more than a little sense of “mission accomplished” in that statement.

On the other hand, the behavior of the butchers was as boorish as it gets. Had they simply stayed in their stalls and not bothered the protestors, the video footage would have been worthless in terms of highlighting any “twisted and disturbed individuals” in the meat business.

Way to hand a victory to a bunch of provocateurs, all you angry butchers. You made people whose core beliefs are on the fringe the recipients of widespread empathy.

When will industry participants learn that so-called “silent protests” are best met by silently ignoring the protestors?

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.