Milkshake Revolution: Food as Political Protest

“We will not be selling milkshakes or ice cream tonight,” read a sign outside a McDonalds in Edinburgh, Scotland, 200-or-so meters outside the venue for a Brexit party rally. “This is due to police requests given recent events.” These unspoken “recent events” refer to the absurdist “milkshake revolution” being waged against right-wing European parliamentary candidates across the United Kingdom.

It was comedy writer Tom Peck who dubbed Britain's political climate “Milkshake Spring,” a time when suited-up bureaucrats have their campaign efforts humbly melted down by activists armed with frozen dairy products. As the spilt milk coats the tailored suits of political targets, the culture is left torn between those crying “political violence” and those laughing that it’s just “political protest.” Readers best grab their own milkshake and sip along before passing judgement.

The drenched include controversial YouTuber turned UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin (dunked four times), his party’s loose associates in activist Tommy Robinson (splashed twice) and Milo Yiannopolous (once), a war veteran campaigning for the Brexit Party (which remains an allegation spread on social media) and the most prominent of all Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party (who was trapped on his campaign bus after it was surrounded by milkshakers). It appears no members of the center-left have faced similar actions.

Whether it’s laced with strawberry, chocolate or banana with salted caramel, these milkshakes are serving as the disruptive plague upon oh-so-serious pollies desperate for electoral power and their occupying activists. As to be expected, their responses have ranged from salty comments condemning the acts during media interviews as “disrespectful” and “radicalization” to outright violence. If there’s one thing to bring out votes, it’s crocodile tears, playing the victim and causing punch-outs over literal spilt milk.

After the chuckles and cleansing wore down, the words “political violence” remained on the lips of defensive journalists with opinion pieces, editorials and tweets condemning this new “milkshaking” trend as anti-Western… but what if I told you it’s actually an age-old Western tradition? The Greeks even have a word for it, “Yaourtoma,” the act of dowsing one’s disliked representatives with yogurt, fruit or tzatziki as a form of political dissent through public humiliation. During the last decade, politicians including Haris Kastanidis, Liana Kanelli, and Alekos Alavanos have been the targets of Greek yogurt throwing, though the justifications have been lost underneath the muck of dairy. 

Nevertheless, each dunking served its purpose of showing representatives that they remain accountable to the free people of their nation. In kind, what better response than to restrict this freedom? This eventually led to the 1958 passing of Law 4000, the military dictatorship’s attempt to crack down on protestors by declaring “yogurting” a punishable crime equal to treason… which only made the protest all the more enticing. The ban was later withdrawn by the rise of Andreas Papandreou’s socialist government in 1983.

 

You may protest “but the United Kingdom isn’t Greece…” and you would certainly be correct. The common people of England are under no obligation to follow the common people of Athens. The citizens should be free to pick and choose which values are worth preserving — but when these candidates run on a promise to preserve so-called “Western values” as a whole, which they’ve declared under threat by foreign invaders, is there no hypocrisy when they can’t stand tall as all those values literally come flying in their face? Or is it more just a “talking the talk” type of affair? 

In “The Making of the English Working Class” historian E.P Thompson explains that “egging” in the United Kingdom reportedly dates back to the 17th-century, when prisoners were egged for their crimes.

“The day before, in the same place, a man had been in the pillory for perjury, and had been pelted with rotten eggs, and almost strangled by blood and guts brought from the slaughter-houses, and flung in his face,” Thompson wrote. 

 The Guardian also cites examples of Elizabethan-era theater crowds tossing eggs at terrible actors.

From the French using flour to the Brits and their eggs, whatever food you choose is irrelevant given the concept remains a long Western tradition used against politicians. To stand opposed would show opposition to certain types of Western values, something that is antithetical to the brand of Brexiters like Farage. 

Tyranny is as much a western value as dissent, it just depends which values are actually respected. “In Britain, it will always be eggs,” wrote journalist Chitra Ramaswamy in 2015, showing this also isn’t the first rodeo for Farage, who was cited as having an egging experience more than five years ago. His fellow UK politicians, such as former Prime Minister David Cameron and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott responded in kind by punching eggers. Ironic how those who oppose this questionable value devolve into the more obviously violent act. 

The Daily Mirror reports how Cameron’s protestor was even dressed as a chicken — an obvious set-up to an egg-cellent punchline — who was briefly arrested but never charged for his demonstration.

“[T]hese things happen and it’s probably an expression of a lot of anger people have towards politicians at the moment,” the president of Cornwall College’s Student Union said. “A lot of students and members of the public see them as comedy figures rather than to be taken seriously.” And this clearly has changed after the evolution to milkshakes, achieving the same result of stained clothes, humiliated politicians and no bloodshed outside attempted counter-punches.

It’s difficult to gauge whether it’s a tactic able to change the minds of supporters, but was that ever really the intention? Is a woman committing a violent act when she throws a martini on a rude harasser at the club? Or are we denying distinctions and neglecting relative severity? Milkshakes won’t make the slippery slope fallacy any more legitimate, no matter how many more women are driven over in Charlottesville, Virginia in some prophesied response. This doesn’t mean the politicians are above the age-old Western liberty of public humiliation. “Great leaders used to be measured by whether you would take a bullet for them,” Peck wrote. “Farage [and the like] can’t even pay someone to take a gourmet milkshake for [them].”

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