Climate activists make a meal of emissions protests

by | Oct 27, 2022 | Opinion

It’s been a bad couple of weeks if you’re the sort of person who recoils in horror at the thought of food being used for any purpose other than the one for which god intended it. In three separate but related incidents, tins of tomato soup were poured over Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ at the National Gallery in London; some particularly lurid mash potatoes were thrown at Monet’s ‘Les Meules’ at Potsdam’s Barberini Museum in Germany; and a custard pie was smeared in the face of King Charles’ waxwork likeness at Madame Tussaud’s, again in London.

All three protest were carried out by climate protesters attempting to draw attention to the plight of the planet and the fact that we are still releasing greenhouse gases at an alarming rate which shows no sign of slowing down. It is no surprise that all the protesters were young people. They are, after all, the ones who are going to have to live with this mess we are creating.

Food chucking as a mark of displeasure has a long and glorious history. Vespasian, the then governor of Africa, and later emperor, was pelted with turnips by the people of Hadrumetum, who may have been angry about food shortages, although, with hindsight, this seems counterproductive.

Eggs have long been a popular choice. Folklore has it that rotten eggs were thrown at criminals in the stocks although there is little actual evidence of this occurring. Eggs were thrown at Methodists on the Isle of Man in the 18th century, and the abolitionist George Whittier was pelted with eggs after an anti-slavery lecture in Conchord, New Hampshire.

Here in New Zealand we have our own proud tradition of egg biffing. The Queen took an egg to the head in 1986 in protest against the Crown’s failure to abide by te tiriti o waitangi. More recently, Brian Tamaki (an egg in his own right) was egged from above as he led his anti-government protest down Lambton Quay.

Why is food so often used as a protest? Most likely because it’s relatively cheap, readily available, and messy enough to make a point  without injuring or permanently staining the intended victim.

In the cases of the young protesters using food to highlight the plight of the planet, it shows how restrained these activists still are. They were well aware that the Monet and the Van Gogh were behind glass and were in no danger of being permanently damaged. As one activist pointed out, the Van Gogh was cleaned up using nothing more heavy duty than some paper towels. Considering the enormity of the issues, how long will activists confine themselves to these relatively polite, non-violent protests? As Andeas Malm asks in his book How To Blow Up A Pipeline, “When do we start attacking the things that consume our planet and destroy them with our own hands?”

Soup and mash potatoes might just be for starters.



About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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