As the post mortem of last summer's social protests continues, new reasons for its emergence continue to be revealed. Last week, the state comptroller's report stated that the agriculture and finance ministries "failed by not examining in real time the effect of halting supervision of the prices of dairy products," and that this failure "damaged all segments of society, especially the poorer families, who consume more dairy products." Therefore, it turns out that the cottage cheese protest wasn't based only on paranoia. The large dairies and food chains simply increased their profits, and the public gained absolutely nothing from the move.
But even if the rage that sent thousands of protesters to the streets was justified, many factors converged to prevent that rage from producing change. Some of those who mourn the protest movement seek to comfort themselves by pointing out cultural phenomena that might serve as the movement's symbolic legacies, such as the increased popularity of veganism.
Political veganism, as opposed to ecological or health-oriented veganism, is based on the assumption that there is no justification for the exploitation of animals by the meat industry. While vegetarians do not eat meat (or, often, fish ), vegans avoid eggs and dairy products as well. In a recent article dealing with the relations between veganism and the social protest, Or Azrati writes: "For activists the answer to the question 'why now?' is obvious. The sensitivity to animal rights is the next logical step in the evolution of human morals, they say, after the struggle for the rights of workers, women, blacks, Jews and the gay community."
One cannot deny that the awareness of animal suffering is an expansion of social awareness, which adds oppressed groups to those worthy of protection under the "umbrella of rights." Still, the effort to connect veganism and the social protest ignores the "cottage cheese protest" as a fact and allegory that can assist in finding some of the reasons that led to the failure of the protests.
The "cottage cheese protest" reflected, apart from despair, the belief that we have a right to pay a low price for our cottage cheese, or, in other words, it reflected man's mastery over the animals that enable the dairy products industry to exist. The lowering of prices naturally involves the maximization of milk produced by cows, and the decrease in expenses for caring for these very same cows. Stated simply, low-price cottage cheese and animal welfare are contradictory goals.
In that sense, the cottage cheese protest is an example of one of the weaknesses of the social protest: the fact that it wasn't clear what the protesters were ready to give in return for the fulfillment of their demands. Improvement of the conditions of animals in the food industry demands long-range planning, and the understanding that in the short run, some products and services will actually become more expensive. Those who truly hope to see animals treated better should be willing to pay more for their cottage cheese.
This ability to postpone satisfaction is also needed in the campaigns to halt some of the damage being done to the planet, and to improve public healthcare - two associated goals of activists committed to social change.
The protest indeed had many enemies, and its collapse wasn't due only to internal failures, but its spoiled, self-indulgent quality must be replaced by a mature, long-term outlook so that political veganism can be seen as the continuation of the protest by other means. Without such an outlook, the veganism of winter 2012 will join the protest of summer 2011 as no more than a passing trend.
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