Animal Rebellion Smithfield stalls

Animal Rebellion at Smithfield Market: Reflections of a Day Tripper

Words and photos by Myra James

7th October 2019 isn’t a day I’ll forget in a hurry. In the run-up to the Rebellion I was struggling to know what to do. I felt pretty sure I wasn’t up for camping in the street or being arrested. But how could I ignore this important movement, calling for the changes closest to my heart – a world in which animals are treated with respect and all of us are kept safe from the worst impacts of climate and ecosystem breakdown?

I decided to book a train ticket and get myself to London for the day. I feel privileged to have been part of the day that set up the first fruit and veg market at Smithfield. Will we one day see only plant products on sale in the famous old market? I hope so.

fruit and veg market

I arrived in London, travelling from West Yorkshire, in time to join the rebels gathering in Russell Square. There I met up with Sara and Kerri from Manchester Animal Rebellion – very happy to have found them in the large crowd there. I also bumped into someone wearing the same boots as me, from Will’s Vegan Shoes (other brands of vegan footwear are available)!

After a couple of short speeches, some practical advice and singing practice, we set off on our march to Smithfield Market. Along the way we sang and chanted while people in office buildings stopped work to watch and take photos.

As we approached the market I began to feel quite emotional. I wasn’t sure whether we were about to enter a place where we would be surrounded by meat, but that wasn’t the case. No meat was evident that afternoon. We took up our place in the arcade that runs through the building. Work began on setting up the market stalls, and later stocking them supplies of beautiful fruit and veg. Meanwhile at the other end, live music was played. It was an international event. I met people from Croatia and from Italy. There were some very young children there, a reminder of why we are doing this – to try to ensure a safe future for their generation.

I was so busy helping to pile vegetables on the market stalls that I missed the start of George Monbiot’s speech – I’m afraid I abandoned the task when I realised he was speaking. I’d heard him speak before and knew we could expect something special from him, and he didn’t disappoint. He spoke of the centuries and millennia of conditioning we have to unlearn in order to accept the necessity for a world which is not shaped by animal agriculture. From classical and renaissance literature through Romantic poetry to children’s books, we have grown up in a culture which presents the rural idyll as something to yearn for. The innocent picture of people and farm animals living in harmony. The truth of animal agriculture, we now all understand, is very different. Examples of the disastrous nature of livestock agriculture and fishing came thick and fast in a fact-filled and inspirational talk. 

George reminded us of the damaging environmental impact of livestock, whether farmed indoors, or in free range systems. Run-off from free-range farming causes harmful algal bloom in rivers. Sheep farming uses twice as much land as the UK’s entire built environment while producing just 1% of the nation’s food. Meat products from local farms may well come from animals fed soya from Argentina. Blue Planet 2 alerted us to the horrifying impact of plastic in the oceans without pointing out that most of that plastic comes from the fishing industry.

We know about the Sixth Mass Extinction that we are in the midst of. George has renamed it the First Mass Extermination, because extinction sounds like something that just happens. What is happening now is something we have done.

Monbiot was followed by Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, who spoke passionately about the cruelty and obscene ineffectiveness of the badger cull.

Later came a talk by another icon of our movement, Chris Packham. I’m sad to say that I had left before he spoke but his talk, as well and George Monbiot’s and Dominic Dyer’s, can be found on Animal Rebellion’s Facebook page.

Animal Rebellion Smithfield banner

There was just one arrest during Animal Rebellion’s day at Smithfield Market – of the person who scaled the market building to fly the banner heralding the arrival of Smithfield Fruit and Vegetable Market. Although it all happened in a place where the bodies of innocent victims of the agriculture industry are taken for sale, it was nonetheless a joyful day, looking toward a better future. 

Events became more sombre during the night, long after I had left, as the deliveries of meat began to arrive. A funeral procession was held in memory of the animals, and this can also be seen on the Facebook page.

My thoughts now, in the comfort of my Yorkshire home, is with the brave rebels who have taken up their positions at Westminster. The police have warned that anyone protesting other than in Trafalgar Square risk arrest, so it remains to be seen how long this rebellion will hold its ground.

With the news dominated by Brexit this vital act of rebellion for the future of our planet is not receiving the coverage it deserves but with right on our side we have to remain hopeful that people in power will hear and act in time.