Vandalized by graffiti, broken windows and fake blood, France's meat- and fish-sellers are angry at what they see as acts of terrorism.
The butchers and fishmongers of France are fed up. In recent weeks they've been victims in a series of attacks by militant vegans that have resulted in broken windows, graffiti reading "Stop speciesism!" and fake blood sprayed across storefronts.
The attacks have taken many by surprise, since butchers and fishmongers have long been seen as respected members of French communities -- an integral part of a nation deeply attached to its cuisine. As Alissa Rubin wrote in the New York Times,
"Food is sacred in France, a country proud of its more than 300 cheeses and its cuts of beef so refined that it is impossible to order a steak at the butcher’s counter without being offered a choice of at least 10 cuts."
At the same time, there has been a rise in veganism, particularly among younger people. Although only 3 percent of the French population identifies as vegan, the lifestyle gets a fair amount of media coverage, which the French Federation of Butchers says it has had to confront and that it blames for contributing to the acts of violence.
Now the Federation has written a sternly-worded letter to the Interior Minister, saying that the "attacks on butchers and the whole industry are nothing short of a form of terrorism." It has asked for protection from the government.
"How can we support that a part of the population is permanently stigmatized on the basis of his membership of a profession? We aspire to work serenely, far from the hatred and dictates of some fanatics. We are counting on your services and the support of the entire Government to stop, as soon as possible, violence, physical, verbal, moral against the honest professionals that we are."
The government has taken protective action in the past. The Washington Post reports that, earlier this year, a vegan cheesemaker was arrested and sentenced to seven months in jail after stating on Facebook that she had "zero sympathy" for a butcher killed in an attack by an Islamist militant in Trèbes. Other vegan activists were detained by police for trying to disrupt operations at a slaughterhouse in Yvelines.
But these violent attacks on private businesses are new and puzzling to many. As Pierre Sans, a veterinary professor from Toulouse, pointed out, most vegan activism in the past has been directed at laboratories and slaughterhouses. To see it happening to businesses "selling legal foodstuffs" is "rather shocking."
Even the head of the Vegan Federation condemns the attacks. Constantin Imbs said that veganism is about reducing violence:
"We have a very clear position: We are completely against ugly language and violent expressions of opinion. It's very counterproductive."