I am writing this post in response to all the media attention and misinformation relating to a petition I made in October 2018.
You can read and sign the petition via the petition page, or through clicking this link.
Articles have been written about the petition in the Yorkshire Evening Post, the (shitty) Daily Mail, The Metro and in international papers. I was recently approached by a journalist who wanted to write an article for the times. In their email they wrote: “The headteacher has been called a ‘murderer’ in international newspapers from the UK to Russia to Belgium, there have been fake news stories about ‘outraged parents’ and ‘school trips to the abattoir’ that have no basis in fact,”
When I read the story this morning it got me thinking about “fake news” and media bias. I was happy to talk to the press hoping my side of the story would be heard but I was disappointed. So I want to set things straight, I’m going to publish here the questions I was asked and copy and paste my full answers.
- Why did you set up the petition?
I set up the petition because I saw an opportunity to save the lives of these pigs. As I went to this school myself eleven years ago, I already knew the headteacher was a vegetarian. I couldn’t understand why this would be happening at a school that has vegetarian teachers, students and people of various faiths who are against this kind of thing. I don’t see why the pigs need to die in order to teach the children a lesson, anyone can look at a photo of a pig online and go “yep that’s where bacon comes from.”
2. Did you contact the school directly before setting it up to express your concerns?
Before setting up the online petition on change.org I actually made and printed out a simpler petition which I brought to the school gates at home time one afternoon in either September or October last year (which was before the pigs were even at the school) hoping to get signatures from people there. I only spoke to two parents who were with their children at the time and, though I had been feeling positive, they were extremely rude and aggressive in their tone and later they called the school to complain about me “being violent and aggressive.” So the school actually found out through those parents I imagine, though I do actually know one of the teachers there and they were one of the few people to sign the original petition. I did contact the school by email a few weeks after this when I made the new petition on change.org. I wanted to open a dialogue with them and get them in touch with a local pig sanctuary; the headteacher replied to one of my emails and I have not heard anything from him since.
3. Were you aware of the school’s work on their farm with chickens, vegetables plots, beehives, learning about sustainable eating, ethical farming, reducing meat and the fact that there had been a long consultation process with parents and kids before you set the petition up?
As mentioned in the petition text, I used to go to Farsley Farfield school myself so I was already aware of “the farm.” When I went to school there, the farm consisted of poly tunnels and vegetable plots, as well as the beginnings of an orchard. Because of my links to the school I know that since I left they now have a wind turbine and keep chickens but I was only made aware of the beehive recently when chatting to a parent outside school a few days ago. I was aware to some extent of the consultation process, and if I hadn’t been told about it months before even setting up the petition I would have assumed there would have been some kind of meeting regarding the pig project.
Most of the parents I have spoken with oppose my view, but some parents (and teachers) are (quietly) not happy about the pigs going to slaughter. Mr Harris wrote to me in response to an email: “I have had many more positive comments from families and only one, very recent, objection letter from a child. The proposal went through school council last year and was raised in newsletters previously. I have gone out of my way to pro-actively consult with Muslim families: typically their attitude appears to be that they will observe from afar but don’t want to be involved.”
On Tuesday I spoke with several parents (quite a few of them religious) who said they had signed my petition. One parent said that her children were very upset about the whole thing and that she wasn’t happy either, I recommended she write to one of the local papers because it definitely seems to me that people who disagree don’t feel like they can voice their opinions. I know for a fact one teacher doesn’t want the pigs to be slaughtered but is reluctant to be more outspoken on the issue for fear that they will lose their job. So, although I have been assured that the consultation process was thorough, it definitely seems to me that some people don’t feel like their objections have been heard. Schools are for children not parents, governors, or butchers, if I was Mr Harris that one objection letter from a child on an ethical issue such as this would be enough.
4. Were you surprised by the fact that it went viral recently- despite being set up six months ago?
I am not surprised the petition went viral, I was informed by a local animal rights activist that someone who had signed my petition had gone to the Yorkshire Evening Post about it. I think that was the first article written on the petition. I’ve read about similar stories and similar things have happened to me before, people love a controversial story. With veganism being one of the fastest growing lifestyle choices in the UK there’s almost always a story about it; people love to get angry about animal rights issues whether they’re vegan or someone who eats animals.
5. There have been very real life and potentially dangerous consequences for some very young children as well as for an award-winning school. The headteacher has been called a ‘murderer’ in international newspapers from the UK to Russia to Belgium, there have been fake news stories about ‘outraged parents’ and ‘school trips to the abattoir’ that have no basis in fact, there has been a protest at gates of a primary school during home time, hate mail was posted to one of the children at the school. Do you feel any responsibility for what has happened to the children and school?
I do not condone sending hate mail to anyone, especially children, I think it’s an appalling response. If people are angry they should look at their own lifestyle choices and ask if they are in line with their morals, and ask themselves what they can do to make the world a better place. Sending hate mail or saying/doing anything abusive is wrong and brings about nothing good, just more anger and division. I can’t be responsible for the things other people say and do. If people share things that are factually inaccurate it only makes me angry because it makes my claims look invalid. If people send hate mail to children they cannot align themselves with me, my values, or any reasonable person. If the pigs are saved and allowed to live out their natural lives then I won’t be responsible for that, it ultimately rests upon the school whether or not these beautiful animals live or die. I think the school could use this as an opportunity to make themselves look great, I do think they’re a good school, but imagine the good they could do if they chose to let the pigs live; if they taught lessons on permaculture, ecosystems and the reality of the destruction of the animal agriculture industry; or if they had free vegan school dinners. I think they would definitely win more awards. There has been ‘fake news’ on both sides, the so called National Pig Association (how can you be the association for pigs when you’re pro killing pigs?) wrote an article saying my petition was “factually incorrect and misleading vegan propaganda,” but, as a vegan of almost four years, I like to think I am well informed about the problems of the animal agriculture industry. My petition includes several links backing up my claims including the WWF “Appetite for Destruction” PDF and the World Health Organisation’s article on processed meat being carcinogenic.
I am aware of the protest, I have been going to the school once a month with friends to hold up my “friends not food” poster outside the school. The original protest (if you can call it that) was just before Christmas and I made myself a pig snout which I wore with a blanket wrapped around me. The message I wanted to get across was pigs in blankets are friends not food! I want to keep the lives of these pigs in their minds, I want to remind people that I do actually care about the pigs, I’m not going to just sit back and hope the thousands of signatures on my petition do the job. Last week I asked my friends and local animal rights campaigners to join me outside the school, so on Tuesday we had more banners and more power than before because I really don’t think these pigs have long left. Though we had a lot of great conversations with parents who were willing to have an open conversation with us, as well as parents who agreed with our stance that the pigs should not be killed, there was a lot of abuse. I am used to receiving heckles from across the street but this time it was far worse: one parent shoulder barged my friend; we received patronising snickers and snide remarks calling us “vile,” “a disgrace,” or “disgusting;” and one child’s grandmother was extremely aggressive towards us and the police officer- who we had been chatting to and was about to leave us when she turned up and started shouting at us. The police officer, Sgt Baldwin, asked her to calm down and she tried shoving past him on multiple occasions and he actually said to her that he would have to arrest her but she calmed down a bit after this point- it’s all on the police bodycam. The child this woman was accompanying was crying throughout and pleading with her to walk away but she carried on shouting at us and being aggressive, at several points I thought she might attack me or my friends. We did nothing to provoke this at all, we were just stood holding our signs, one of my friends said “save the piggies,” and that’s it.
On Tuesday one parent stood for a long time (before school finished) arguing with us saying that we would be intimidating the children, which is not true at all. In all of my little protests outside the school the worst response I have gotten from a child is them shouting “bacon” at me, at other times I have had children wave, do peace signs, smile, ask questions, laugh/point at me, a few months ago one kid did that flossing dance from across the road at me. The only people who have been intimidating and nasty have been a few parents (usually the same people every time) who make random accusations whilst their children stand and witness their aggressive tone and body language towards me and my mates.
All that being said I don’t want to point fingers but I think some parents are setting a poor example for their children: shouting at strangers for protesting against killing animals. It’s not really fair for vegans to have this misrepresentation of being aggressive, violent and forcing our views upon other people when we are often met with a lot of abuse for just being against the exploitation and murder of animals.
Thank you for reading,
Friends not food!