You could fill entire book chapters with all the crazy, ill-advised, destructive stunts that animal activists have pulled off in recent years. Few, however, would qualify as being more wrongheaded and counterproductive as what a group of idiots calling themselves Iowans for Animal Liberation did this past weekend.

You want to sway regular people to your cause? You want to turn hearts and minds among the farm families and rural residents of one of the nation’s most agriculturally important—and politically conservative—states?

Then don’t mess with the Butter Cow.

Commentary: Battering the butter cowThis past weekend, according to several news reports, members of the self-styled Iowans for Animal Liberation hid inside the Iowa State Fair’s Agriculture Building, which houses the famous Butter Cow. The perpetrators broke into the refrigerated display case and vandalized the cow and the case with gallons of red paint. They spray-painted the phrase “Freedom for all” on the window of the display (see photo).

To fully understand the depths of the outrage that act of vandalism provoked, consider that a life-size cow sculpted out of butter has been part of the Iowa State Fair for more than a century. The tradition started in 1911, and a succession of only five sculptors since then has carried on the tradition right up until the present.

This year’s sculptor, Sarah Pratt, began—as always—with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low-moisture Iowa butter. Inside a 40-degree walk-in cooler, she applied layers of butter until a life-size butter cow was built, standing 5½ feet tall and 8 feet long.

According to the fair’s PR department, the 660-pound Butter Cow could butter 19,200 slices of toast and would take an average person two lifetimes to consume. Much of the butter used in sculpting the cow is recycled and reused, some of it for up to 10 years.

As is usually the case, after their dirty deed was done, the activists quickly took credit for the vandalism (in truly modern fashion) by sending an email to NBC affiliate WHO Channel 13 Television in Des Moines. In it, they said that “The red paint represented the blood of 11 billion animals murdered each year.”

Carnivorous veggies

Reaction—negative reaction—was swift in coming.

Columnist and chef Kurt Michael Friese posted a stinging commentary on The Huffington Post (“The Malicious, Hypocritical Vegan Fringe Strikes Again”), writing, “Did any of the perpetrators honestly believe that this was going to attract a single solitary soul over to their point of view? If they did, then they are every bit as stupid as they seem. This point is driven home all the more by the fact that the paint they used very likely contained a binder called casein, which is derived from—wait for it—mammalian milk! The very same dairy products they were supposedly ‘protesting.’ ”

Friese went on to describe the vandals as “Carnivorous Vegans, who [specialize] in explaining in great detail why it is that my consumption of flesh means that I am Satan-spawn. They think they’ve struck a blow for proletariat bovines everywhere, when really what they’ve done is piss a lot of people off and convert not one person to their point of view. It was stupid, malicious and completely pointless. They will in all likelihood face jail time while having accomplished exactly nothing for the well-being of farm animals.”

Nor any damage to the Butter Cow.

Even as the Iowa State Patrol announced that the investigation into the break-in and vandalism would be thorough, spokesperson Sergeant Scott Bright noted that, “They claimed to have caused a great deal of damage, but [butter cow sculptor Pratt] had it all cleaned up before the fair even opened.”

If that sounds like a disappointing ending for the so-called activists responsible, consider the comments from Iowans that flooded Channel 13’s website, including some from avowed vegetarians condemning the act of vandalism:

  • Would have been better if the group didn’t get mentioned at all. That’s all they want is the notoriety.
  • Since they took credit for being destructive morons, I say find the ones that actually did it, encase THEM in butter and make them stand in the refrigerated case [holding] a platter full of beef samples with signs saying something like, “I’m the idiot that vandalized the butter cow display—try some delicious beef.”
  • I am a vegetarian, and I don’t condone this behavior at all. I think it’s disrespectful and inappropriate to ever attempt to get your message across by means of vandalism, destruction of property, hate or violence.
  • This . . . accomplished absolutely NOTHING, damaged the hard work that the sculptor put into the making it and saddened so many people that have grown up with the Butter Cow. I hope that the repercussions of their actions are harsh and expensive. I think they should also have to participate in the sculpting of the next butter cow.
  • People wanting respect, or respect for animals, but acting inappropriately and childish. Wrongs don’t make rights.
  • Should be a group called “Hi, we’re dumb and we want everyone to know it.”
  • This is NOT a peaceful protest. This is breaking the law and should be punished to the full extent of it.
  • Tie them down and slather them in BUTTER!!!!
  • They sound proud of their idiotic accomplishment; rude, disrespectful to the butter cow artist.
  • So if that group claims responsibility but won’t share which members did it, why can’t they as a whole all be arrested & charged? A fair punishment would be to make them clean the barns & fairgrounds.
  • Immature and disrespectful. By the way, these people who are against eating cows and GMOs, how do they expect us to feed 9 billion people?
  • It shouldn’t be too hard to track own these “scholars,” and if they think that breaking into a state-owned building won’t come with a heavy penalty, they are nuts! Now it’s time to go order a nice, thick, bloody rare steak.

With lots of butter on the side.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.