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Food for Thought: Soup Gets Thrown at the Mona Lisa

By Emma Caspi

Voices Editor

Via David Cantiniaux

On January 28th, two female protestors from a group called Riposte Alimentaire splattered pumpkin soup on the Mona Lisa. As the liquid trickled down the glass, gasps of shock and horror reverberated around room 711 in the Denon wing of the Louvre. In a desperate attempt to subdue the mayhem, the Louvre staff attempted to cover the sullied artwork with cloth screens. The Salle des Etats was swiftly evacuated, but not quickly enough. It had only been minutes before the disruption went viral on social media.

This is not the first time our dear Mona has been defaced. In 2022, a man posing as an elderly woman in a wheelchair threw cake at the beloved painting while telling the spectators to “think about the earth”. Even protestors from the group Just Stop Oil threw soup at Van Gogh's “Sunflowers” painting. The prevalent and recurring question is, “Why are people throwing food at renowned paintings?”

To give the audience a clue before being escorted from the premises, the activists lifted their hands and yelled a question. They asked the perturbed audience if  “art or the right to have a healthy and sustainable food system” is more important to them. Most ignored the statement, gawking at the splattered soup on the bulletproof glass. After their stunt, the two protestors told the BBC that their “agricultural system is sick” and their “farmers are dying at work.”

These stunts are not caused by a hatred of the arts or because they loathe the Mona Lisa, but because of their love for the earth. Therefore, this issue does concern the infatuation and attention to the targeted painting, but more so the lack thereof to the environmental and agricultural crisis. Brian Mader, a biology professor at Dawson College, views this method as a simple equation: If you subject famous works of art to attacks, people will become angry. They value our attention, whether good or bad, and they want to redirect that to the miserable farmers of France.

Radio France Internationale explains the plethora of reasons why farmers are at their wit's end: Farmers must follow ecological norms while increasing food production and France’s food sovereignty, face unfair competition from imports, endure cut prices of produce (and, as a result, cut salaries) to fight inflation, handle the EU ban on pesticides and the Green Deal to cut carbon emissions… The list can go on. The farmers are not against these regulations. However, they believe they are forced, but given no extra means, to achieve these ‘green’ goals.

Considering the industrialization of food, Professor Anna-Liisa Aunio, The Profile Coordinator of Environmental Studies at Dawson College, explains that the unsustainable practices that follow monoculture are becoming detrimental to the environment and our health. However, Professor Aunio acknowledges and sympathizes with the farmers who “make a living with fewer economic resources,” withstand fluctuating food prices, and need to use enhancements and interventions to make a living on a working farm.

Calling for action, the apoplectic protestors from Riposte Alimentaire decided to call out their government for their support of rigorous and unreasonable methods of agriculture that are causing the farmers - and, in turn, the citizens of France - to suffer. This organization, along with Just Stop Oil in the UK, is under the umbrella of the A22 Network and includes international protest groups hoping for a greener world. According to their website, this network intends to “save humanity” through “effective civil resistance.” 

“It [the protest] is usually with the idea of being disruptive to point out that larger disruptions could await if we are complacent,” says Geoffrey Pearce, Chairperson in the Geography department at Dawson College, “but, ultimately, the question is: Is that [throwing soup] advancing that cause?"

Pearce points out that vandalizing priceless art could negatively affect our population by increasing the restrictions on civil liberties by increasing security at museums and police surveillance. Because climate change is only worsening, the protestors take drastic measures as they only “have [a] narrow window to actively avoid the worst outcomes.” But even if the protest does advance the cause, would it justify the means being vandalism?

Because, balancing the risks and costs of the current agricultural system and affordable food is tricky, it is more crucial than ever to protest effectively and efficiently, as Professor Aunio states. She points out that the most successful protests tend to be those who have “connections to mobilizing structures with a particular community,” not those who throw soup on a whim.

Understandably, Activists have been pushed to their limit by the daunting force of climate change. However, this is even more reason to engage in the most effective solution of social movements with collective action and inspiring conversations. Let’s make change without Campbells.



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