On September 28, 2014, I personally participated in a Direct Action Everywhere event as part of a World Farmed Animals Day protest organized by young activist Alex Corrigan. I have changed my mind about DXE and I no longer think they are obsessed with Chipotle, having actually been in a non-Chipotle protest yesterday. So I will be appending my DXE essay of a few months ago and writing a new essay to follow up. Please watch for it.
The Year 2020:
"Did you hear the news? Chipotle closed."
"That place finally went out of business?"
"Yeah. It's too bad, I liked their food. I used to get Sofritas there."
"What the hell is a Sofrita?"
"It was Chipotle's vegan meat."
"Oh. I wouldn't know, because I never tried it. Sounds disgusting. I always stick to real meat: chicken or beef. Sofritas must have sucked if even vegans hated 'em."
"What? They didn't suck. I'm not even vegan, and I loved Sofritas. Every vegan I ever met liked Sofritas."
"That can't be true. Vegans were always protesting Chipotle with that group called Direct Action Everywhere."
"They were protesting 'humane' meat, not that Chipotle had vegan meat."
"Who cares? I heard they also closed down Whole Foods for the same reason. Not that I give a shit. There was a salad bar there that had vegan food getting in the way of all my meat. I'm glad Whole Foods is gone. We wouldn't want vegans to get the idea they should eat in public."
"Yeah, vegans are annoying. I'm glad they shot themselves in the foot. It just proves us right; they don't know their asses from a whole in the ground. Let's go to McDonalds, I think the naked chicks from PETA are there today. Free show."
"Naw, I'd rather go to KFC today."
I would die for the vegan cause without question. If it was between me and a pig on a desert island, I would happily die. I hope the pig would eat my body and eventually be rescued by another kindly vegan. I'm serious. I never want an animal to suffer or die for me even if I have to forfeit my own life to prevent it. I am not the only die-hard vegan. I believe the co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere, a.k.a. DXE, Wayne Hsiung, would also die for the vegan cause. In this way, Hsiung and I have similar ethics. We put animals before ourselves. Activism for animals is our number one priority. The problem I have with Hsiung and his group, DXE, is I think they're doing it wrong.
DXE first came to my attention via two dear vegan friends. They wanted me to accompany them to a local protest of Chipotle restaurant. This protest, which involved walking about with signs outside Chipotles around the world, was meant to shame Chipotle for perpetrating the myth of humane meat. If you don't know this already, Chipotle has systematically greenwashed its own image, taking pride in the false idea the chickens, cows, and pigs that suffer and die to provide "product" for the stores suffer less than their counterparts at McDonalds, Panera, Noodles and Company, and KFC. Any grown up with half a brain realizes the term "humane slaughter" is the epitome of Orwellian doublespeak, but Chipotle hurls this insult upon our collective intelligence with great aplomb, employing emotional trickery, animation, and pop musicians in order to better brainwash a willingly-duped public.
So in that sense, DXE is right. Chipotle is a force of evil that destroys millions if not billions of animal's lives to profit off of its executive-on-30-minute-break, middle-of-the-road Tex-Mex food. And they have the gall to call it humane.
Protesting Chipotle restaurants is the lion's share of what DXE does despite claims to the contrary. It is the jewel in their crown. Approximately eighty percent of their website and their Facebook page has some mention of trying to take down Chipotle. Thrice I have been approached by DXE, and thrice it was requested of me to join or organize a campaign against Chipotle.
I have declined every time. Why? Because for all its faults, Chipotle offers the only organic, vegan meat in any restaurant within fifty miles of where I live. For that reason alone, I would like Chipotle to succeed. I would be joyous if there was a Chipotle restaurant in every US backwater, just as evenly represented as KFC or Taco Bell. Despite their happy meat bullshit, I would be thrilled if Chipotle became bigger than Subway and got a foothold in every podunk, redneck town and every drive-by shooting mecca because that would mean every single one of those hellholes would have something it never had before: an organic, vegan option.
DXE originates in the relative vegan's paradise of the San Francisco Bay Area, a place where there is a vegan restaurant every block and a half and yuppies rich enough to keep them in thriving business. In San Francisco, the average price for a starter home is a cool million. If you are living in the City by the Bay, you'll need more than your heart. You'll need a boatload of cash. Compared to most places in the US outside Portland and New York City, the Bay Area is the Land of Perfect. DXE's fixation on Chipotle is born out of a desire that the world can and should be a perfect place where animals never suffer and nobody ever lies when they do. The Land of Perfect mentality is inherently elitist: everything's rosy from the Petit Trianon and any place can be the Bay Area if we only try! Let them eat cake!
Once, a DXE-devoted friend said to me, "It's just a burrito! Make your own at home." Well, ninety percent of the time, I do make my own food at home from scratch, which is no small endeavor when you work full time. I also run my own business and have a busy writing career, so that means I get in a bind every now and then and I leave it to a restaurant to prepare my meal for me. Unless I want to spend $15 dollars at the minimum on take out, my choices are Chipotle and a local Israeli chain that also serves (you guessed it) meat. I am demi-poor, which means I cannot afford to spend $15 - $25 on a quick meal, so I gratefully go to Chipotle when my own organization skills fail me. What my friend and DXE would like to do is to shut down one of two affordable restaurants with a vegan option I frequent and force me to either spend more money or go without. If they manage to shut down Chipotle, I will survive; I can cook a mean burrito. My life will just get less convenient, with just another vegan choice being erased from my small spectrum of vegan choices. Never mind most people, even most vegans, are not as resourceful as I am in the kitchen, and taking away a vegan option means they'll be far more likely to eat meat, dairy, or eggs out of convenience alone.
More problems lie within the lessons the closure of Chipotle conveys upon the impressionable masses:
Lesson 1: Just for the Republicans and other nostalgists who pine for system-wide oppression and ignorance: You can go back in time! We can go back to the 1980s, when there were zero vegan choices in restaurants anywhere and the word wasn't known outside certain pockets of California! Better that than to suffer a restaurant that serves vegan food alongside supposedly humane meat!
Lesson 2: To any corporation making a profit from vegan food: If you can't be a perfect vegan restaurant in a perfect vegan world, don't even bother trying.
The Land of Perfect approach reminds me of a fable about a baby and the disposal of bathwater.
In the year 2013, all meat consumption in the US fell by a staggering ten percent. This means over a billion animals were saved in the US. Meat consumption was not down ten percent because ten percent of the population went vegan. Vegans remain at three percent of the US population. What does this mean? Even a math flunkee like myself can understand people are still eating animals, they're just eating far less of them. There is no advancing army of vegans on Slaughter Hill, about to achieve a Vegan Solidarity where all animal slaves will be freed. Nevertheless, the meat industry is in a panic. They are scared shitless this will keep going on, and the more demand for plant-based foods there is for whatever reason: health, the animals, fun, etc., the less meat will be eaten. Chipotle and Whole Foods, with all their ridiculous happy meat propaganda, is where people who are trying to eat less meat go.
Shutting down an option for the veg-curious even for one day does nothing to help the vegan cause. By taking away vegan options in places they would not otherwise exist, you only help to serve the enemy and ensure more animals lose their lives.
A friend speculated that DXE may be the vehicle of the CIA, purposefully working to pit vegans against one another and making efforts to eradicate vegan options wherever they pop up. Having read Wayne Hsiung's blog, I do not believe this is the case with him personally, however, Wayne Hsiung is no more DXE than Ingrid Newkirk is PETA. So though I don't think DXE is the invention of USDA interests trying to sabotage the vegan movement, stranger things have been known to happen.
DXE claims to have agendas outside shutting down Chipotle, yet I don't see any evidence of them marching into food deserts and demanding fruits and vegetables where they are badly needed, like Chicago Public School lunch programs or Detroit nursing homes. Instead, DXE is by yuppies, for yuppies, headquartered in the yuppie capital of the universe. The day DXE asks me to help them get vegan options onto the tables of the people who need it the most is the day I join up, until then, I say let them eat Sofritas.