This week, a German woman is on trial for slipping needles into supermarket meat in an attempt to show consumers how dangerous the industrial food system is. One struggles to find the right word to describe her actions. Strident? Misguided? Guerilla? Batshit?
Oh yes, that last one's feeling pretty right.
French farmers may lead the world in protest theatrics (see this, or this, or this), but Germany's food justice warriors run a pretty good street game. Activists have trucked an enormous blow-up chicken down the streets of Munich, washed rubber chickens in faux bleach outside a KFC, and dressed up as farm animals in cages.
But these recent actions by an unnamed 60-year-old woman—German privacy laws shield her identity—move from activist theater into something more unhinged. While her intent may have been to "raise awareness that this industrial meat is full of medicines and produced under unspeakable conditions," according to The Local, the methods kind of muddied up the message.
It all started on a trip to the grocery store, where she'd been mulling over weighty issues of food and the environment. And whoops, her next move was to pluck a sewing needle from a pincushion and stick it in a package of frozen meat. Surprise!
After this, her protest art grew more expansive. The woman started putting all kinds of needles in all kinds of meat. Knitting needles and (more alarmingly) medical needles started turning up in mincemeat and sausage and pork chops.
All told, police found 20 hidden meat needles over the course of a year, all in Lidl-brand supermarkets near Lübeck. After they honed in on the CCTV footage of her crimes, the woman turned herself in last October.
Nobody was hurt, but there were close scrapes. One needle broke a woman's skin while she was "preparing mince" and a teen girl was chowing on a burger when she noticed something was a touch off.
And in one of the most endearingly German moments in court history, one witness set the scene for her harrowing ordeal: "I had bought little bratwursts for my two-year-old niece because she loves them so much." When Auntie went to put the brats on skewers, she found a darning needle tucked inside.
This is clearly an outlier's approach to highlighting our broken food systems. It's like the activist who took a dip in Brooklyn's fetid Gowanus canal to show that, er, pollution is gross? Or the animal rights activists who torched 14 trucks on a California cattle ranch in 2012. If anything, the actions may run contrary to the intended goals.
To be fair, one could argue that her behavior does highlight a certain disconnect between consumers and food producers. If you buy meat straight from the farm, there are a lot fewer opportunities for some loon to jam up your chops with a syringe. There are many points of vulnerability from farm to factory to market to fork; this woman's actions make that quite clear.
But that probably wasn't her goal. If anything, her actions give the distinct whiff of an uncentered mind. The woman was temporarily committed to a psychiatric clinic after her arrest last October; it appears she has struggled with psychosis and depression.
Her actions will surely lead to consumer unease and calls for better policing. One tainted product can cause an awful lot of damage to your peace of mind. Think of razor blades in Halloween candy—the vast majority of these incidents have been proven false, yet fear created a (trick-or-)taint that the holiday never quite recovered from.
It is worth noting that the US had its own supermarket meat-tampering case in the headlines not long ago. In Florida last year, a family ended up at the ER. The culprit? High levels of LSD, squirreled away in their Walmart steaks.
The suspect in that case is still at large.
(Side note: I once bought a jar of Nutella that someone had opened, taken a spoonful of, resealed, and replaced on the shelf. Was this also a bit of outsider activism?)