In front of us was a newspaper account of the black-clad vegan protesters who formed a line in front of the meat shelves in an Auckland supermarket. Shoppers who were prevented from buying meat reportedly lost their patience, lashing out at the protesters.
My wife’s reaction was the same as mine. We agreed that if we’d been there, we probably would have been among those doing the lashing out.
I respect the right of vegans to renounce meat, and I’m certainly not insensitive to concerns about inhumane treatment of animals. But protesters are inviting a backlash when they arrogantly assert the right to obstruct people going about their lawful business.
This has nothing to do with the respective merits of carnivorous and vegetarian diets. It’s a matter of respecting people’s right in a free society to make their own choices within the law.
The right to protest is an essential item in the democratic toolkit, and one I’ve taken advantage of myself. But I’ve never assumed that my beliefs were so sacred that they took precedence over the rights of others – which is why, although I marched against the 1981 Springbok tour, I avoided taking part in protests that tried to prevent fans from getting to matches. It’s also why I get mad when I see activists trying to bar people from attending political events they disapprove of.
Unfortunately, the thing about zealots is that they become so convinced of the righteousness of their cause that it overrides all other considerations. Thus we are now witnessing the rise of militant veganism, as was evident in the meat section of the Countdown supermarket in the Westfield St Lukes Mall.
Food has been well and truly politicised, and with that has come a rising level of strident militancy – hysteria, almost – and denunciation of anyone who doesn’t fall into line with the “meat is murder” agenda.
It’s all part of the so-called culture war – the clash between traditional liberal values (and I mean genuinely liberal, as in tolerant of people who differ) and those promoted by the radical and increasingly assertive authoritarian Left.
A significant recent development was the convergence of two of the great secular theologies of our age: militant veganism and climate change alarmism. The two came together in fist-pumping union nine months ago with the publication of a report purporting to link climate change with supposedly unhealthy global food production systems.
There you have it: two moral panics rolled into one – pure gold for the ideologues who endlessly lecture us on the supposed failings of capitalism and Western civilisation.
Published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the report – written by a team headed by our own Professor Boyd Swinburn of Auckland University, a high priest of wowserism – claimed that food production systems, controlled and manipulated by profit-crazed global business interests, are not only driving climate change but propelling us toward early graves.
How this squares with statistics showing steady worldwide improvements in life expectancy wasn’t explained, but hey – why nitpick?
Swinburn and his accomplices even came up with a fancy new term for this looming apocalypse. They called it a Global Syndemic, or a “synergy of epidemics” interacting with each other to produce “complex sequelae” – a bit of Latin always looks impressive – which ultimately threaten the planet.
There should be no mistaking the purpose of such reports. They are aimed at frightening people into meekly accepting adopting radical changes imposed by those who insist they know what's best for us.
Neither should there be any doubt about the real target of the reformist zealots. They may not say it in so many words, but their goal is to dismantle international capitalism. That’s the agenda that underpins almost all the moral crusades currently being waged in Western societies.
I recently watched the New Zealand-made documentary film Capital in the 21st Century, which was inspired by a best-selling book written by the left-wing French economist Thomas Piketty.
The film is a very slick piece of propaganda. It uses every trick in the film-maker’s repertoire to convey the impression that greedy capitalism is responsible for pretty much everything that’s wrong in the world.
Of course capitalism is imperfect. It would be dishonest to pretend otherwise. But like most works of propaganda, Capital in the 21st Century is significant for what it chooses to leave out – such as the inconvenient fact that the world’s freest, most open and most prosperous societies all have capitalist economies.
And here's the other thing: the film doesn't say what better system might be installed in its place. Either the crusaders against capitalism don't know, or they're not telling us. Either way, they're not to be trusted.
Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. This article was first published in the Manawatu Standard and on Stuff.co.nz