I recently received the email below from a customer, her response to our monthly newsletter reminding customers to order their Thanksgiving turkeys:
“I’m really surprised that your advertising says “Giving Thanks” when you talk about reserving your murdered turkey. It doesn’t seem in character with what you try to portray. “Free range” or not, the birds are all murdered the same way – whether they get to breathe some fresh air or not. They end up on the same assembly line. Why doesn’t your company try to stand up on Thanksgiving and market whole, live foods instead? That would distinguish you from all the other markets. Otherwise, you’re the same as Whole Foods, Safeway, Giant, Trader Joe’s, etc, no different at all.”
Now, this is an extreme case of a zealot- and I don’t even think most animal rights zealots (let alone activists) would agree that we are “no different at all from Safeway and Giant.” I appreciate passionate people, but when they cross the line into this perceived black and white world, they hurt the very causes for which they fight.
Every movement has zealots. I can empathize with the Republican Party these days. The Tea Party zealots are tying the hands of the entire conservative movement. Zealots had the same impact on the 2000 election when the Green Party and those who supported Ralph Nader claimed that Al Gore and George Bush were the same- “part of the same corrupt 2-party system.” Well, I’m pretty confident that Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, resulting in the deaths of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians (not to mention a huge financial price tag). And I’m sure Gore would have supported clean energy and we’d be much further along in the battle against climate change (will those 8 years of lost time take us beyond the tipping point?).
Back in the late 1990’s I had one store- the one on Parklawn Dr. in Rockville. One beautiful Saturday afternoon customers started complaining about a horrible smell in the store. It was overwhelming. We opened the doors to get some ventilation, but the stench was unrelenting and flies started coming in. We thought we had a sewage back up. When we closed for the day, the smell was so strong that we were actually able to track its source to the cereal section. We took boxes off the shelves and peeked behind to find some organic, locally raised chicken cutlets bubbling up out of an exploded plastic package. I had no idea why anyone would put them there. Did I have an enemy? Maybe a disgruntled employee?
The following weekend, a cashier told me she recognized an animal rights activist group in the store and that she saw them take fish sticks out of the freezer, but that they didn’t have the product at checkout. So we traced their steps and sure enough found the fish sticks behind some other shelving. The cashier knew one of the activists and where he lived, so I called the police. The police went to his house and we never saw them again.
Less than 1% of our total sales at the time were from meats. Everything we sold was free range and free of antibiotics and hormones. Yet, this is the black and white world in which a zealot lives: either you perfectly align with their agenda or you are The Enemy. There is no grey area and no consideration for effective progress. I used to have a soft spot for the animal rights movement, but this incident and repeated emails like the one above have pretty much taken the issue off my radar in terms of support.
A zealot doesn’t realize that making the world a better place is a process, not an event. The organic farming movement illustrates this. People gradually educate themselves on the merits of organics and begin to explore organic products, often times purchasing basics such as milk, baby food, eggs, etc. while getting mostly conventional products at Safeway or Giant. Then, the consumer might decide to frequent the local farmers market and start regularly going to Whole Foods for some favorite items. And then when they really want to make organics a lifestyle, they end up walking through our doors- filling their carts with amaranth and quinoa, raw almond butter, dandelion greens, medicinal teas, sprouted whole grain flours, etc.
It pains me to see zealots on issues that I generally support, because they are just as effective at setting back the movement as the opposition is- often more so. In their demand for perfection, they stand in the way of progress. Enlightenment is a journey, not an event. Zealots not only need to stop trying to whip people into submission, but to clear the way, offer guidance, and walk arm in arm down the path of progress.