A spike in web traffic generated by a Boston billboard urging drivers to “Ditch Dairy” crashed the servers hosting the Peace Ridge Sanctuary website in December. The nonprofit animal rescue, which is located in the midcoast town of Brooks, is one of a handful of Maine organizations that are growing more bold in their efforts to urge people to stop eating animal products.

“We had to ramp up our website and put it on a more robust server,” said Melissa Andrews, Peace Ridge’s development, humane education and outreach director. “We got a lot of really positive feedback.”

A Facebook post on the sanctuary’s page last winter about the billboard elicited nearly 600 reactions, more than 200 shares and 56 comments. Only a single reaction was negative. Encouraged, Peace Ridge decided to buy ads in Boston’s subway cars, which generated an even larger response because “people have more time to sit and consider an ad when they’re on a subway than when they’re driving by,” Andrews said.

This billboard stood on Route 1 outside of Boston for two months this winter and drove so much traffic to the website of the Peace Ridge Sanctuary in Brooks that the server crashed. Photo courtesy of Peace Ridge Sanctuary

The billboard, located just outside of Boston on Route 1 in Revere, stayed up through the end of January. The Ditch Dairy advertisement in the cars on Boston’s T ran for most of April and the first days of May. A donor paired with a matching grant from a private foundation paid for both campaigns.

The full text of the ad reads: “The only happy cows are rescued cows – Ditch Dairy – for them. Peace Ridge Sanctuary.” Next to these words is an image of rolling green farm fields and a misty blue sky framing a mother cow nuzzling her calf.

Those who visited the Peace Ridge website could read that such an image is a rarity because, “On dairy farms of all sizes, calves are routinely taken from their mothers moments to days after giving birth.”

Clementine is the name of the mother cow in the advertisement and her bull calf is Forest. They came to the sanctuary last summer with their dairy herd as part of a state of Maine animal cruelty case. The image of Clementine and Forest is heartwarming, yet the video footage being shared by some other organizations in Maine is downright unsettling. For instance, the flatscreens and laptops displayed in a Cube of Truth demonstration show cows’ throats being slit and baby chicks being ground alive because they’re male.

“The videos are taken inside slaughterhouses or on fishing boats or on fur farms,” said Lisa Maxfield, one of two local coordinators for the international activist network Anonymous for the Voiceless, which stages Cube of Truth demonstrations worldwide. “It’s an opportunity to expose people to the truth.”

The Portland chapter of Anonymous for the Voiceless formed in late 2017 and has held regular Cube of Truth events throughout the city since then. At press time, one was scheduled for May 25 in Congress Square Park.

Members of Anonymous for the Voiceless form a Cube of Truth demonstration in Portland’s Monument Square. Photo by Lisa Maxfield

Dressed in black and wearing Guy Fawkes masks, the volunteers form an outward-facing square and each holds a flatscreen or a sign reading “Truth.” The cubes blend protest with performance art. Fawkes was a 17th-century Englishman best known for his role in a failed plot to assassinate King James and blow up Parliament (he was executed for the attempt). These days his mask is associated with protest movements, such as Occupy Wall Street.

“Some of the footage is pretty disturbing,” Maxfield admitted. “But these are disturbing industries doing disturbing things to animals.”

Though the masked activists never speak, outreach volunteers circle the Cube and engage with people who stop to watch the videos. The goal: Convincing them to eat fewer animal products or even go full vegan.

Maxfield does outreach during the Portland Cube of Truth events, and I asked her how passers-by react. “Some people will cry,” she said. “There’s anger – definitely. We have a lot of people who want to engage in a calm conversation. They’re aware that it’s happening but haven’t made that change yet. So often times, we’re the tipping point.”

Lana Smithson covers most of New England in her role as a local coordinator for Vegan Outreach, an international animal advocacy organization. She said in recent years people have become much more receptive to learning about animal agriculture and eliminating animal products from their diets, particularly on college campuses.

“It’s changed tremendously,” said Smithson, who has been doing this work for more than a decade. “Way more students are interested, willing to take the information and wanting to talk. And there are far less rude comments or cruel jokes. People are taking it more seriously now. “

Vegan Outreach has recently shared information at Bowdoin, Colby, Bates, the University of Southern Maine, Southern Maine Community College, the University of Maine at Orono and Maine Maritime Academy. On all these campuses, Smithson said she sees many more students who are vegans themselves, who know vegans, or who are aware of the problems with animal agriculture. She’s also encountered more vegan professors, and receives more invitations to speak to classes.

Two Colby College students hold hands while watching video footage of disturbing animal agriculture practices on iAnimal virtual reality headsets. The students had stopped by a table staffed by Vegan Outreach. Photo courtesy of Vegan Outreach

Another new development is a partnership between Vegan Outreach and Animal Equality, which has given Smithson iAnimal virtual reality headsets created by Animal Equality. The headsets show footage taken inside factory farms and slaughterhouses; the technology makes viewers feel they are there beside the animals.

“It’s very powerful,” Smithson said. “When (students) watch the video, it seems to really affect them. They say things like, ‘Wow! I didn’t know it was like that,’ and ‘I want to change my diet.’ It makes them ready to do something.”

Why now? What is driving these Maine organizations to ramp up their activism now? The groups I talked to offered varied and mostly circumstantial reasons. But my hunch is this: desperate times, desperate measures.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter:AveryYaleKamila

 

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