Whole Foods Escalates Attacks on Rabbit Advocates

lauren Ornelas with Nicholas at Animal Place (the lower-case “l” in lauren’s first name is the way she spells her name)

Well-known vegan and social justice activist lauren Ornelas was arrested for leafleting during a peaceful protest against the sale of rabbit meat on Sunday, November 16, in Sebastopol, California. Then, a week later (i. e. yesterday), there was another protest, with three protesters briefly entering Whole Foods, but this time no arrests were made.

That’s right: Ornelas was arrested for leafleting. The official charge is “trespassing,” but in California (and in over half of the other U. S. states) the area where she was standing (outside the store, on the sidewalk) is considered a public area where demonstrators may gather as long as they are not blocking traffic. When the police were called, they refused to arrest Ornelas, but then the store manager made a “citizen’s arrest” of Ornelas, and she was issued a citation for the criminal charge of misdemeanor trespassing. She is scheduled to be in court on January 21, and is now looking into legal representation. There is a short video about the arrest here.

The arrest is surprising because Ornelas is a well known vegan social justice advocate and founder of the Food Empowerment Project. A post on the FEP’s Facebook page says about the arrest: “It’s important to note that this is how far Whole Foods Market will go to silence the truth.”

Is this arrest part of a new strategy on the part of Whole Foods? On Saturday, Marcy Schaaf, executive director of SaveABunny said, “I was under the distinct impression that the Manager and store staff were acting in accordance with a [Whole Foods] escalation towards bunny meat protesters.” Margo DeMello, president of the House Rabbit Society, commented that there were no discussions between either the House Rabbit Society or SaveABunny and Whole Foods. “We—House Rabbit Society and SaveABunny—were once in communication with Whole Foods Market but they stopped talking to us altogether. They have refused all recent attempts to engage in a dialogue.”

DeMello added that “if that was an intentional act on the part of the Sebastopol manager, I can’t think of a worse person to arrest than lauren, based on her history of work in the food justice movement, as well as her personal relationship with John Mackey.” Ornelas first encountered John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, in 2003, when lauren showed up at a Whole Foods stockholders’ meeting to speak against Whole Foods’ standards concerning raising of ducks. She is credited not only with getting Whole Foods to adopt much stricter animal welfare standards, but with helping to get Mackey to go vegan.

Yesterday (November 23), at the same Sebastopol Whole Foods store, there was another protest to give information to customers. Protesters stood on the outside of the store. Five protesters went INSIDE the store, and while they stood in front of the rabbits in the meat case, one of them, Tara Baxter, loudly read a statement which many store customers heard. As she was finishing, Dan (the manager of the store) walked up and told them, “the cops are on their way.” After the five had joined the others outside, the police did arrive and warned the protesters that if they went inside the store, they would be arrested. Protesters assured the police that they did not intend to do this, and no arrests were made.

During her brief speech inside the store, Tara had this to say:

Last week the manager of this store put a food justice activist under citizen’s arrest for handing out educational information about the bunny meat they are selling. She now faces criminal charges . . . Whole Foods buys these bunnies from Iowa, a state with “ag-gag” laws. We can’t verify the standard under which Whole Foods is raising and butchering these bunnies without risking prison time. Similarly, we cannot speak up for these bunnies without risking arrest by Whole Foods Market. . . . Bunnies are friends, not food.

Don’t try this in Colorado, unless you are willing to be arrested; the law is different. In Colorado even gathering outside the store in the shopping center is considered trespassing. You have to be on the sidewalk outside of the shopping center. That’s where we were in Boulder on the August 17 “Day of Action” to protest Whole Foods’ sale of rabbit meat. The Sebastopol Whole Foods is in California, about 55 miles north of San Francisco and 7 miles west of Santa Rosa.

Please respond with any corrections or additions and I will update this post as appropriate.

UPDATED 8:45 a. m.: added Tara Baxter’s comments.
UPDATED 9:15 a. m.: corrected number of protestors inside the store.
UPDATED December 13: A group will support lauren at her court appearance, now scheduled for January 21, 2015, 8:30 a. m., at the Superior Court of California, County of Sonoma, 600 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa, CA 95403, Criminal Room 105.
U)PDATED January 23, 2015: charges against lauren were not filed. Yay!

21 Replies to “Whole Foods Escalates Attacks on Rabbit Advocates”

  1. Unfortunately, this protest says to the public that rabbits are off limits, but cows, chickens, ducks, and pigs are game for torturing and eating. We should protest for all animals, not just rabbits. The arrest is an issue in and of itself, but why are we staging protests only against rabbit meat? It sends the wrong message to consumers and perpetuates the idea that some animals are more worthy than others. This is animal welfarism at its worst.

    1. Yes. And we make the discrimination worse by calling small animals eaten, ‘roast chicken’, ‘roast duck’, ‘roast lamb’…….but not brave enough to speak of the bigger, “more worthy” animals as, ‘roast cow’ or ‘roast pig’ or ‘roast deer’ – that’s a bit graphic for people to handle?! It has to be, euphemistically, roast beef, pork and venison!

      1. As I recall, “beef” and “cow” have different roots. “Beef” comes from old French, while “cow” comes from old English. “Beef” derives from the language of the Norman conquerors after 1066, “cow” from the language of the ordinary people. Originally, there was a class and power distinction as well as an etymological distinction.

    2. Unfortunately, Bethany’s comment completely misses the point. The point is that we need less animals in the grocery, not more. I know the people involved in this story. They are all vegans and do indeed advocate for all animals.

    3. We all are passionate about different things and we all advocate for different things. Focusing on a new meat being added to the case is worth praise in my opinion! For me personally I share my home with bunnies so it drives me to protest. It is very hard to get out there but I encourage everyone for the things they believe in!

    4. Some who hear about this demo may think “oh, they believe eating cows is all right,” but in my opinion most people will not draw any such conclusion. In fact, they may be rather disturbed by the idea of eating Peter Cottontail, just as they would be shocked to see Fido or Fluffy in the meat department, and may be led from that shock to veganism.

    5. Bunnies are the third most popular house pet. I don’t know many people with cows, chickens, goats, or whatever- as PETS. Bunnies are pets- not food. What do you want to eat next- a guinea pig or ferret perhaps?

      1. Also, proper regulations do NOT currently exist for those farming bunnies for meat so they are tortured and slaughtered, unlike cows and other commonly eaten farm animals that are killed more humanely and are in conditions far more humane than the bunnies.

  2. Hey Whole Foods! I don’t need you. You are cute and all, but your products are just so-so, and overpriced, and being in your stores is mostly about marketing cuteness and lots of crap I can do without. I can get my organic produce at my local independent market, and will no longer do you the favor of walking in your door. Hasta la vista, baby. Consider me over you.

  3. As a civil libertarian, I’m appalled at the Whole Foods manager’s arresting people on the public sidewalk for leafletting and other peaceful protest. The store must not value its customers enough to treat humans or rabbits well. I can’t imagine John Mackey or anyone else who cares about the long term welfare of Whole Foods believing that having the manager arrest someone the police refused to arrest will result in good customer relations.

    I believe in the end, the rabbits will win. King Soopers had rabbit meat in the 1960s. They gave it up, apparently because not enough customers would eat Peter Cottontail.

  4. Read more about lauren Ornelas and her work. She fights for ALL animals and advocates for a compassionate, vegan diet. Whole Foods is adding yet another species to the butcher block for profit and if they succeed in creating a demand for this fringe “meat,” then millions more lives will be taken. Rabbits are exploited in every single realm (fashion, lab testing, over-breeding, souvenirs . . . ) and if they become a mainstream meat, there will be no protecting them. All of the activists mentioned in this article are vegan and fight for other animals, too. If you have the opportunity to help save a life, why wouldn’t you?

    1. All the activists mentioned in this article are not vegan…however it does not take away from their excellent work.

  5. Whole Foods employees stole my protest signs!

    Here are some things the store manager at the Blossom Hill store in San Jose, Ca decided was an appropriate way of interacting with our peaceful protesting of the sale of rabbit meat.

    The store manager:
    Stole my protest signs, twice. Second time tried to ruin them (Details below)
    Laughed at us repeatedly, One time for about 10 minutes.
    Boasted about how good rabbit tasted and how best to prepare it. (Details below)
    Took off his name tag and apron and pretended to be a customer and asked a bunch of questions.
    Came out of the store specifically to tell an employee (who was off the clock and headed home) not to talk to me as I was filling him in on why we were against the sale of rabbit meat.
    Said he was the landlord of the property and will have our cars towed after 90 minutes. (How in the world could he be the landlord?) Another attempt at intimidation.
    Took photos and videos of us, this was bizarre and I am guessing an attempt at intimidating us.
    Was rude and argumentative until we started recording then he would quickly walk away.

    Two employees stole my signs that said “ Stop killing bunnies Whole Foods Market”. The first time I was able to get them back after asking him why he was stealing my signs. The second incident was quite odd. The store manager ran over and grabbed my signs that were leaning on some trees. He proceeded to run away with them while some of us ran after him. Typically I wouldn’t worry much but the signs cost over $180 to have printed. A fellow protester was able to pull them out of his hands once he had stopped running and was attempting to fold the signs in half. I asked him why he was trying to impede on our rights to free speech. He laughed at me. He then got on the phone for a while and was laughing at us while talking on the phone. He was on the clock so I would imagine he was talking to another employee.

    Not long before this incident the same store manager standing a few feet away from the bunny loving protesters said to another employee “Don’t you love to eat rabbit? They taste so good!” The other employee chuckled and joined in to the offensive and insensitive banter about how best to serve the meat of the pets we love. I was horrified hearing this come from the employees.

  6. The speciesist argument is tunnel vision. All animals are connected, all vegans know that. People who are just having their minds opened often do it one animal at a time. Whatever gets people thinking about the suffering of farmed animals, we need to just do it. Connections are made and eyes opened. Yes of course we would love to see all animals out of the meat case but realistically that is not happening in the immediate future. Stopping a new animal trend before it takes off is actually a possibility and should be acted on. People say, what about the chickens? Let’s not invent a new chicken. And when people feel empathy for one animal they are more likely to feel empathy for all. FWIW many of the people involved in this campaign are vegans, including the woman who was leading this protest. And there are also people who have started on that path because of the rabbits, making the connections between animals as pets vs animals as food. ALL are welcome to stand up and fight for those who cannot. There are many aspects to the rabbit debate – rabbits are popular housepets, it is a NEW animal in the meat case at WF, they promote the Leaping Bunny label in their body care aisle but serve dead rabbits as food just around the corner, their greenwashing of so-called “humane” farming.. it goes on and on. EVERY Point is valid and if one point speaks to someone enough to stand up and say NO MORE then this should always be encouraged.

  7. Yes it would be better for the planet if we ate no farm raised animals, but that won’t happen. But at no time in the United States should we eat rabbits or guinea pigs. They are raised as pets. Can you imagine the uproar if Whole Foods sold cats and dogs? They are foods in Asian countries.

  8. I will never set foot in a Whole Foods, again.

    For me this is personal. I would hope that dog and cat owners would react the same way if their pets were being butchered in the neighborhood grocery store. Am I wrong?

  9. Because of this issue with Whole Foods selling rabbit meat (and my anger at them for making such a horrible decision) my mind was opened to the entire issue of eating meat. I am now a vegetarian and moving in the direction of being vegan. So, Whole Foods lost a customer (me) and I walked away with more awareness and the conviction in my heart and mind to put my beliefs into action.

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