DIARY: VivaVegie plays off floating pigs and McHype
By Pamela Rice
The two-issue sabbatical from VivaVine production allowed VivaVegie to produce the new 1996 edition of "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian". Every VivaVegie member should have received a sample copy in the mail by now; if not, please let us know.
The break has also given us more time for the veg-evangelism for which VivaVegie is best known.
Erin Go Meatout
Like seeing your first robin of spring, you know that street activism weather is here when you start preparing for the March 20 annual Great American Meatout. This year, Rochelle Goldman, Alix Fano and I had a tough crowd at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Manhattan. Very few parade-goers took our literature. But hey... it's never inconsequential when you go out with the "101 Reasons.
Steppin' Out on Earth Day
"Energy" was our Earth Day message this year. At our booth at Earth Day festivities in Manhattan's Union Square Park, Dean Milan, Rochelle and I had a stair-climber--yes, the exercise equipment.
Each of us took turns working out on it to make our point. A sign in front of the stair-climber read, "This workout will conserve fossil fuels ... if it is done by a vegetarian." (Refer to p. 375 of John Robbins' book, Diet for a New America for an explanation.) Other signs we displayed read: "If you care about the environment, put your veggies where your mouth is" and "Vegetarianism is an environmental issue. Nearly a quarter of the reasons in "101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian" concern the environment (ask me which ones)." One man actually had me mark his copy of "101 Reasons!"
Veal Ban Day
Mother's Day is Veal Ban Day. As in years past, we brought out our veal crate, made to spec, for maximum impact. Satya magazine editor Martin Rowe and I set up a table in SoHo. Lots of folks picked up literature.
On meat street
Street fairs, though they lack any particular VivaVegie theme, are perhaps one of the most effective mediums for VivaVegie advocacy. We didn't do enough of them this year. The scale of a Manhattan street fair in particular, in terms of hugeness, is simply off the map. They just don't grow street fairs this big anywhere else. Rivers, and rivers, of people is what you'll find. And when you have numbers like these, you can distribute a lot of information, fast. We (including Dean Milan and myself) had an especially good response at the 9th Avenue street fair, despite the fact that it tends to be heavy with meat vendors--being that it runs right through Manhattan's meat district. A more than usual number of people, it seems, were stepping up to "ask me why I'm a Vegetarian"." For all the dearth of discussion in the mainstream about vegetarianism, the hoi polloi really seems to want to know this stuff. (Getting so many people informed on this, my favorite subject, indeed gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure...)
Farm animals floating
You've heard of shock jocks on radio. Up-and-coming British artist Damian Hirst could be called a shock artist. His exhibit at Gagosian Gallery in SoHo included carcasses of farm animals floating in formaldehyde--including a pig severed in half head to tail and a number of cows in cross-sectional slices.
Oooow! So gross. At least, that was the reaction of many mainstream-media articles heralding the show. Enter VivaVegie, seeing major irony here. We set up a table at the Opening, displaying signs that questioned the contradiction: Why are we grossed out by this art exhibit, but are not equally panged when walking past the meat counter at the supermarket? Though the New York Daily News dubbed The VivaVegie Society a "meat is murder group" (we had mixed feelings there), it printed our point of view and quoted VivaVegie member Joan Zacharias twice. Success!
For the launch of its so-called grown-up burger Arch Deluxe, fast food meister McDonald's planned a mother of all media events. But it wasn't a bad media day for VivaVegie, either. Here in the media capital of the world, you can invite the media to your event and nobody may show. Or, you can go where the media people already are, and play off the event at hand--that works a lot better! We played off McDonald's hoopla this day for our own selfish glory; and hey, it worked!
A little stealth and a little inside information worked to our advantage. First, Joan learned from Ad Age about the burger launch and that McDonald's planned to spend a whopping $75 million on its one-day media blitz May 9, including booking Radio City Music Hall -- Rockettes and all. Other extravagant events were planned all over the United States and Canada, including a satellite hookup between New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Next, VivaVegie learned from a business wire story the exact start-time and physical coordinates of the launch--information McDonald's did not reveal to the general public.
Joan, Jon Cronnin (who heard about our demo on the Internet), Jon's friend Quinn, Jean Thaler of Big Apple Vegetarians and I came equipped with McLibel literature, Beyond Beef literature, and the "101 Reasons. Our signs read: "Arch Deluxe. Arch Stupidity. ARtery Clogging Hamburger"--with A-R-C-H in a bolder font. A Reuters photographer took a picture of Jon in the foreground with the signboard on, me in the middle with my veggie costume, and Radio City displaying the marquee advertising the McDonald's event framed perfectly in the background. The photo ran in the Toronto Star--Toronto, again, being one of the satellite hook-up cities. What a coup!
Jon in the "ARtery Clogging Hamburger" signboard was also aired on the NBC national evening news for about 2 seconds. Coup No. 2.
Hot dog day afternoon
Every 4th of July, Nathan's, the Coney Island hot dog vendor, has a hot dog eating contest at the famous Brooklyn amusement park. Every year, about 20 foolhardy contestants gorge themselves with hot dogs over for 12 minutes. This 81st year of the event, the winner bolted down a record 23 hot dogs. Yuk.
Now, if that was all there was to it, VivaVegie would hardly care, but this event is a darling of the media. Last year, VivaVegie was broadcast worldwide over CNN and Headline News; we were also mentioned in the Village Voice. This year, our own media coverage was just about nil, but a lot of people took pictures of our fabulous signs, which read: "Real men (& women) don't eat weenies," "Eyeballs and Anuses: it's what's for dinner," and "What is a hot dog?"
The now-famous "What is a hot dog?" flyer, which lists the ingredients in a hot dog--carcasses from old and/or thin, tortured cattle or swine, cheeks, jowls, hearts, tongues, lips, eyelids, gums, intestines, ears, nostrils, tails, snouts, eyeballs, windpipes, anuses, livers, salt, fat, bones, drug and pesticide residues, growth hormones, preservatives, dyes, blood--was distributed to passers-by at the event. Activists at the event included Joan Zacharias, Charles Patterson, Rochelle Goldman, Marion Zinowski, Scott Lustig, David Fishman and myself. David Horn helped with the signs.