Just days after World Milk Day was trending on Twitter (largely due to vegans sharing the truth about dairy), a group of activists met in London to show the public what funding the dairy industry really means. Organised by Surge Activism, the Down with Dairy demonstration in Leicester Square adopted a method known as the “cube of truth”. This form of activism involves a group of individuals standing side by side, in an outwards facing square, holding laptops showing undercover footage from dairy farms. Holding either a laptop or a placard each member of the group is dressed in black and wearing a mask, so as not to distract from what they are there to show people. Outside of the cube, individual activists are on hand to talk to people about how they feel having seen the footage, and to explain how they can make decisions in the future to help end the suffering they witnessed on the screens.
As the area became busier over the course of the day, more and more people stopped to watch the footage; the likes of which many of them would never have seen before. Nearby, a table was set up to give out free samples of vegan milks and cheeses, as well as leaflets.
The response to the footage was unanimous. Everyone that stopped to watch seemed truly horrified by what they saw. Many people were visibly shocked; having most likely never seen such footage, or having never considered what goes on behind closed doors on dairy farms.
We spoke to a number of people about what they thought of the footage. Every one that we spoke to agreed on one of, if not all of the following points: that the industry is cruel; that it’s unnecessary and unethical to practice the methods shown in the videos; that humans do not need to consume dairy products; that humans do not need to eat meat.
When you’re speaking to somebody who agrees with the above statements, it’s incredibly refreshing and inspiring as the next step upon realising these truths is surely veganism. Yet, in many cases when you ask a person whether they would go vegan, it feels like there is still something holding them back. This is when you see social conditioning kick in. Sometimes providing all the information still isn’t enough when you’re asking somebody to swim against the current and stop doing something they’ve been doing their entire lives. You’re asking them to disregard the information their parents gave them, to ignore decades of meat and dairy advertising, to throw out anything they thought they knew about what the body needs, and what we as a species do to the animals we rear for food.
The impression I came away with after the demonstration was that most people are within touching distance of veganism. Some may need just the tiniest push, whilst others may cling for years on to one last excuse, one doubt that has been so deeply sown it can’t be dug out with ease. The deluded idea that humans are apex predators, the so often repeated concern that vegans don’t get any protein; these excuses can be debunked with one quick google search, yet people continue through life believing these excuses to be facts. The reality is, people don’t want to search out the truth; as the saying goes, “ignorance is bliss”.
Events such as Down with Dairy bring the truth to the streets, bypassing peoples unwillingness to seek the truth out for themselves. Occasionally a passerby might see whats being presented and make the switch to veganism there and then. Some might agree to go away and think about things, watch a video or try the 22 day challenge. Many, however, will go away thinking that despite what they saw, they’re able to carry on justifying their way of life. But the seed of doubt will have been sown. They may stop buying dairy milk without really thinking about it, perhaps they’ll decide to research which cheese producer is most humane, and find themselves uncovering even more information than they’d intended to. They might stop eating so much meat, become a “flexitarian”, and just maybe find their own way to veganism, all because of a demonstration they saw in Leicester Square a few months previously.
The world is never going to turn vegan overnight, but outreach events such as these are critical. Most of us grew up in a time when events like these were so rare you may never see one at all; I never did in 30 years of being a non-vegan. If I had, I’ve no doubt I would have stopped consuming animal products earlier in life.
With the rise of veganism within our society comes the increasing frequency of vegan outreach events. This movement is snowballing unlike anything that ever came before it. Some minds were changed in Leicester Square on Saturday, some weren’t. But I’ve got no doubt that at least one of the people that stopped on Saturday will one day be standing on a busy street, telling passersby how veganism changed his or her life.