The above video shows some vegan activists in Israel branding themselves with the number 269 to draw attention to the plight of all the animals that get brutally chopped up in abattoires so that you can enjoy gorging on their flesh, you heartless bastard. I guess it's pretty alienating – making vegans seem about as chilled out as an al-Qaeda militant at a gay wedding – but it's certainly got enough shock factor to grab attention and make a point about the way we treat our stupider, tastier counterparts.
269 refers to the branding number of a calf from an Israeli dairy farm – a calf which has become a sort of Rosa Parks figure for vegans. Since the protest in Israel happened in October 2012, many vegans have had the number tattooed on themselves but this week, in cities across the world, a bunch of people decided they should up the ante and get it branded on themselves. As in, actually branded, with a hot bit of metal – it ends up looking like a really shitty infected version of the tattoo, but obviously shows a a hell of a lot of commitment to the cause.
And that's how I ended up stood in Leeds city centre, awaiting the arrival of the aforementioned activists, wondering what the smell of burning human flesh would be like. I don't know if you can tell from the above photo, but when they turned up it was a little less dramatic than what I had hoped for. Not a cage, or blowtorch for that matter, in sight. Maybe I'd got this wrong, misread the event even?
Turns out that due to multiple arrest threats, and a series of sternly worded letters sent out to the ring-leaders homes, no actual branding would occur. To say I was disappointed would be a bit of an understatement. My afternoon of sadistic joy spent watching humans scream in agony as they were branded like small, hairless cows was completely ruined. I had to be satisfied with listening to this guy shout "Meat is murder, fuck the slaughter!" and variations on that theme instead. It was pretty shit.
You can't really tell from the photo, but that guy's T-shirt says "BE KIND TO ANIMALS OR I'LL F*CKING KILL YOU". It's nice that they spared us the profanity, a little politeness goes a long way when you're threatening to murder people.
On closer inspection, a number of protesters were indeed sporting "269" marks, freshly branded upon their limbs. It turned out that after the police announced they'd instantly arrest anyone carrying a blowtorch the vegans had organised a secret "flash event" outside a KFC the day before. Even with the element of surprise on their side, one of their number was still thrown in a cell. Cameras were confiscated and SD cards were erased. According to the cops, branding yourself still counts as GBH if you ask your mate to do it to you.
When I was completely certain I wasn't going to see the horror show I had hoped for, I decided to talk to this guy, who seemed to be the group's most articulate spokesman, even though he wanted to remain nameless.
VICE: Why does the 269 movement as a whole feel the need to be so extreme in its actions?
Nameless vegan activist: I think the fact it's extreme is a reaction to the fact that what goes on is so extreme, whether it be 100,000 dairy calves that are shot at birth because they're male, or the same number being sent on long journeys abroad for use in the veal industry. What goes on for animals IS extreme and the reaction has to be similarly extreme in order to get our point across.
How does the branding get your message across?
The branding is designed more to just grab attention. The media are seeing it as quite an extreme act, where it doesn't compare in any way to the cruelty that goes on in these places to animals every day. The fact that we're willing to permanently mark our arms has got a lot of media attention for our cause.
Well, I guess it's working. You mentioned earlier that one of your group was arrested?
Earlier someone had possession of the brand, allegedly. Apparently, that is classed as an offensive weapon. Because footage of the branding was put on the internet, the police have obviously gone looking for it and found it. Thus, they were arrested for possession of an offensive weapon. Prior to that, we've had police going round many activists' houses; I've had two visits myself. They delivered a letter saying that what we were doing was illegal and should not be allowed to go ahead. On the second occasion, they suggested that if someone died because of the branding it would be considered manslaughter, which I thought was hilarious! No one's going to die! They really didn't want this to go ahead.
Don't get me wrong, I'm totally down with animal rights, not to mention the right to free speech and protest, but unfortunately, this was something of a police-spoiled anti-climax. I guess I'll have to find out what burning humans smell like some other time.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JagwanIK
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