The sound of animal screams filled the Whole Foods Market in West Hartford on Saturday afternoon. Protesting violence against animals, 15 people stood in the aisles, the noises blaring from their cellphone speakers.
Direct Action Everywhere, an international animal rights organization, staged the protest and several others after video footage surfaced earlier this month showing the poor living conditions of hens at a farm in Northern California. The farm, which supplies eggs to Whole Foods, has brought the nation’s largest natural and organic food supplier under the scrutiny of many animal rights groups including DAE and Collectively Free. However, Whole Foods representatives, as well as a recent New York Times article, have questioned the video’s accuracy.
“The goal is not to boycott Whole Foods; the ultimate goal is to have Whole Foods take the animals off their shelves,” said Rafaella Ciavatta, co-founder and organizer of Collectively Free. “Some people say it sounds naïve, some people says it sounds impossible, but that’s what we’re working for.”
The West Hartford protest is the fifth such protest in central Connecticut organized by Zachary Groff ’13. After five minutes of demonstration, the management of Whole Foods asked that the protesters leave the store, which they did. Groff said he did not see the need to object to the management’s demands.
DAE, founded in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a grassroots organization which allows local charters to be established in cities across the world. Charter applicants must follow five organizing principles, including the support of total animal liberation and the use of non-violent protest.
“We’re not as much an organization as we are a model,” said DAE organizer Brian Burns.
Whole Foods has grown in popularity in part because of the message they send to their customers that they are humanely killing animals, Burns said. In the past five years the value of a Whole Foods share has grown over 250 percent. Despite their growing popularity, Burns sees DAE’s mission as concrete and attainable.
Customers shop at Whole Foods not for the material goods, but because they think it is morally good to do so, Burns added. This belief is incorrect, said Burns, pointing out that 99 percent of all animal products in the U.S. are made on factory farms.
Before she became involved with DAE, Minh Nguyen ’15 said she thought animal rights protesters were “a bunch of crazy vegans.” Now, after two protests with Groff, she said she now believes this perception was incorrect, and that she cares about animal rights deeply.
“I have yet to hear a good, thoughtful response from people who eat meat in response to their choices,” said Nguyen.
The response from Whole Foods has pointed to the deceptive nature of the footage, citing the New York Times article, which suggested that the video of the hens was inconclusive.
John Hartman, who is visiting the United States and has participated in several DAE protests, called the article’s coverage of the protests “awful.”
“Ultimately they went to the farms; that is what they saw, and Whole Foods has to account for that,” said Hartman, who plans to open his own DAE charter in his hometown in Australia.
In a statement, Whole Foods’ Northeast Region Public Relations Manager Michael Sinatra claimed that “the video paints a distorted picture of our animal welfare standards by deliberately combining information about different species of animals, certification groups and factory farms not even associated with our company or products.” Sinatra added that Whole Foods recognizes that there are still additional opportunities for improvements in the way they farm eggs.
When asked for comment on the protests, managers at both the West Hartford and Milford Whole Foods branches declined to comment.
Groff is staging one protest each week this month. The Whole Foods in Milford is his next location.