It was a Saturday evening, cold with rain. A group of activists were inside, but not in the cosy warmth of their home sipping on hot cocoa or tea. They were inside a steakhouse in Brighton, representing Brighton’s chapter of Direct Action Everywhere [DxE], an open grassroots animal rights network. A member of DxE spoke out, addressing all those in the room. She implored the customers and wait-staff of the steakhouse to empathise with the horrors of animal agriculture. An animal that lived, loved and felt pain just as humans do. An animal that, for some reason, is forced to endure degradation and treatment as a commodity instead of a life.
Often, I reflect on whether what I am standing up for is right. So many people see it as so normal to harm and prematurely kill animals. No matter what, I am unable to find a flaw in what I am fighting for now.
Most of the activists in the room that night had, like myself, eaten animals in the past. Perhaps some of them even went to these steakhouses too. Now, we are part of a movement which refuses to be silent about the truth of farmed animals.
The steakhouse had a particularly pervasive odour from the animal flesh it served. In hindsight, I try to empathise with how I may have once associated “good taste” with that smell, but find it somewhat impossible. I don’t have to miss it: there are many meat substitutes or vegetables which can provide meat-like textures.
When the customers of the steakhouse began their own shouting, we began reciting animal rights chants. Some of the customers joined in momentarily, as if to mock us. I personally welcomed them chanting with us. They would remember the chant even better now. Perhaps it would resurface in their heads days later and they would mull over the meaning of the statement: ‘It’s not food, it’s violence.”
Once the fellow member of DxE Brighton had finished her speech, the cue was given for certain members of the group to turn on their speakers. The sound of a cow screaming out in fear and pain played on multiple handheld speakers across the room. We felt the audio would be an effective way of forcing the connection.
It is not as simple as marching into a steakhouse, playing audio and leaving. When we walked in, some of us were highly anxious. Most of us had heard the screams of cows before. Some had even seen them being killed. As for me, I had been completely unable to listen to the audio before entering the steakhouse. Being part of the group helped me feel stronger. I listened to their repeating cries and remembered them. I looked over to the waiter who was carrying a piece of a cow over to a table. I heard the screams of the individual who had become a product that people often ate without questioning its history.
We look to the Suffragettes, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, to the nonviolent protest movements over the years which have created change in society. They faced judgement, harassment and even murder for their views, which were seen as “extreme” in their time. Now, with the benefit of historical hindsight, they are praised, admired and remembered fondly for dramatically shifting society for the better.
We all love animals at some point in our life, whether it be human animals or the ever-extensive nonhuman animals. We know that, slowly, conditions are improving, the movement for animal rights is becoming more mainstream. Nevertheless, when it depends on life or death, there is a sense of urgency. This is why I stood for the universal value of compassion for animals, reminding people of the violence toward animals hidden in plain sight.