“Attention: Animals’ lives are their right. Killing them is violent and unjust, no matter how it’s done,” reads the notice greeting patrons of The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley.
The business stuck the sign in its window as part of a “peace treaty” with animal rights activists in the left-leaning university town who have been picketing the store for the last four months.
Every Sunday as it opened for butchery lessons, it was besieged by demonstrators from rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) — sometimes naked, dripping with fake blood and wrapped in cellophane.
Monica Rocchino, co-owner of The Local Butcher Shop with her husband Aaron, was at her wits’ end and decided to meet with the activists.
“They said they wanted Berkeley to become a meat-free city and they were ready to shut down our business,” said Monica.
“We asked for actions we could do. And they said they’d think about it, but they kept protesting for 10 weeks. They made our neighbors mad, our neighborhood businesses were losing customers.”
Finally, DXE laid down its conditions for burying the hatchet.
– Ideal meat –
“Either we had to become a vegan butchery or we had to stop giving these classes, or put up a sign saying that animals have rights,” Monica told AFP.
She says the sign hasn’t impacted custom.
“We go to great lengths to make sure our meat is from local ranches, is raised as humanely as possible, free of antibiotics. We want… this to be the ideal meat. Our customers know this and support us.”
She acknowledges, however that the sign will not placate DXE, for whom the issue is black-and-white.
“For them, you kill animals or you don’t. I understand that belief but it’s another thing to force your ideas on other people,” says Monica.
Berkeley, the cradle of the US universities’ free speech movement, has been the scene of regular demonstrations from the days of the anti-Vietnam War campaign to recent protests against visiting right-wing speakers.
Recently it has been criticized for chilling free speech after canceling an appearances by firebrand pundit Ann Coulter and right-wing provocateur and former Brietbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
Berkeley also happens to be the epicenter of America’s organic food industry, its reputation for being green sent up in the TV series “Portlandia,” in which restaurateurs provide photographic evidence that their meat is from ethically-raised animals.
DXE organizer Matt Johnson says one of the group’s activists felt his blood chill as he saw “an advertisement for these courses where people are taught how to properly dismember the body of an animal.”
In line with the better-known Peta animal welfare association, DXE directs its protests “everywhere where violence against animals is normalized — rodeo, circuses, restaurants, the butchers.”
“We dont have any ill will against any individual, no hate for butchers — only love for animals,” says Johnson.
“But we cannot accept small businesses misleading people, saying this is just fine, to be promoting a better brand of violence.”