NEW HANOVER — The vegan community will be at work again in Bladen County, though the next event promises to be a smaller and tamer version of the recent outcry. Billed by organizers as “the largest protest ever” at Smithfield, the Feb. 1 gathering resulted in the arrest of 12 activists.
Ranging from Vegan Outreach members to Save Movement participants, the group was comprised of roughly 150 people whose main message seemed to be what they consider to be the unethical or inhumane utilization of animals for human purposes.
Another event is being planned for March.
Formed two years ago, North Carolina Farmed Animal Save is a charitable organization devoted to vegan education and animal rights. The group meets monthly in Tar Heel for vigils.
“What we do is bear witness to animals going to slaughter,” said Roxanne Kirtright, director of North Carolina Farmed Animal Save. “We stand on the corner and if trucks stop, we are able to see the animals and wish them well, speak softly to them, or offer them drinks of water, particularly in the summer.”
Participants meet at the Subway in Tar Heel, parking in the grassy area nearby, and walk to the intersection of N.C. 87 and Tar Heel ferry Road, where they proclaim their message.
“We’ve been doing these vigils monthly for over two years, and we’ve never had any kind of problems,” she said.
“We’ll monitor the situation, and if needed, we will have a presence,” said Maj. Larry Guyton, with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. “If we’re not needed, we’ll stand down.”
The March 2 vigil will end with a vegan potluck meal in the grassy area. Samples of vegan food, as well as information on the vegan lifestyle, will be available throughout the day.
“See if you like it,” Kirtright challenged. “Come talk to us and see why we’re here. We’d be glad to answer any questions about what we’re doing.”
Kirtright encouraged vegans and non-vegans like to attend the vigil, which will be held from 1 to 6 p.m.
To begin with, though the 150 protesters were clearly brought there by some type of leadership, they represented multiple groups or movements, some local and others national.
“Everyone here is here of their own accord,” protest spokesperson Dacia Thorston told Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVicker during the protest. “It’s not an organized group like that.”
“That’s a shame,” responded McVicker.
As a group under different umbrellas, their messages were diverse. Some argued the issue of health, saying a plant-based diet is better than consuming meat. Others, like Thorston, claimed large pork-producing plants or factories damage the health of the residents who live around them.
Still others decried cover-up, saying the wool is pulled over consumers’ eyes by wealthy industries.
“People are kept in the dark by huge industries …” said activist Reba Kelly. “They hide behind words like ‘bacon’ instead of calling it what it really is — rotting flesh, and they package food so you don’t see what’s really in it — body parts. It’s all about the money — there’s so much money here.”
At the heart of most of the speakers, however, was a common thread, one not so much about Smithfield or the way it or places like it operate as about the fact that it operates.
“We believe animals are not here to be our food, clothes, or entertainment,” Kirtright explained. “They deserve to live free and happy lives with their families.”
For Kirtright and others like her, not only are meats off the table, but all animal products, including eggs, milk, and cheese, as well as any lotions or creams tested on animals and clothing or household items made from the skins of animals, like leather purses, coats, or sofas. Additionally, they object to recreation involving animals, such as rodeos, horsebacking riding, or zoos.
The message definitely got out, but many Bladen County residents were not happy to hear it.
“So you are telling me what to eat? Fine,” Bill Rockow commented on Bladen Journal’s website. “My protest will be to eat prime rib filet mignon pork chops topped with bacon on top of a mound of pulled pork while dribbling juice onto one of your vegan shirts. I was laughing at you when I drove by. I shook my celery stick at you in violent protest …”
“Animals’ lives are the property of their owners,” said G.C. Bryan. “The animal owns nothing, not even the dirt or concrete it stands on.”
Al Smith looked at the protest and vigils from a practical standpoint.
“… (anyone) who sprays water on a truck driver should be charged with assault,” he commented, of the allegations that one of the protesters sprayed water onto a truck driver delivering pigs to Smithfield last week. “These protesters have no right to feed or water anyones (sic) property … who knows what is in that ‘water’.”
Protesters claimed they were watering thirsty animals on the truck.
For Kirtright and her ilk, however, the events serve their purpose: getting the message out. She, for one, was ready with an alternative to animal consumption.
“I don’t have all the answers now, but I am looking for alternatives to animal agriculture as an important piece of dealing with this subject,” she remarked. “It would be amazing to see some tech and manufacturing companies come to Bladen and Duplin and Sampson Counties. If the state of N.C. wants to pivot away from animal agriculture some, they could help in getting some of these other businesses into these counties. They could also help make it feasible for CAFO operators to move into the production of crops, including the new industrial hemp crops.“
North Carolina Farmed Animal Save is part of the global Save Movement, and as such, is dedicated to “shining a light on the dark and hidden things that farmed animals endure in CAFOs, transport, and slaughterhouses.” It “bear(s) witness, conduct(s) vegan outreach and education, assist(s) farmed animals in need, and advocate(s) for rights and protections for farmed animals in our state.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.