With tens of thousands of people entering London’s Olympic Park every day, it was entirely predictable that advocates for a host of religions, causes and lifestyles would seize the opportunity to win some of them over.
Outside London’s Stratford Bus Station, which many fans must walk past on their way to the park, there has been a daily collection of Christians, Muslims and other religious advocates looking to snag new converts, news reporters have noted.
According to NBC News, for example, “Team Islam” is being represented by about a dozen men wearing blue t-shirts with a Team Islam logo or yellow ones asking “Is life just a game?”
“We're trying to make people realize there are many teams in life—Team America, Team GB [Great Britain], France, China—but they are never going to win anything meaningful,” one such proselytizer, Muhammad Alamqir, told NBC News. “If you want something meaningful, you need to be part of Team Islam.”
Alamqir said that nearly every day he has had people “embracing Islam,” adding that the t-shirts were a hit, with people asking to take pictures with him.
Religious activism on the streets of any big city is nothing new, of course. That goes on year ’round, not just during big events like the Olympics. Team Islam might be a relatively new player, but the game of trying to convert people to one’s religious belief or lifestyle is, like the Olympics, a game rooted in antiquity.
Along with the religious zealots—no, check that: Another religious zealot present and garnering media, if not public attention, are vegan activists.An NBC News story profiled one Antonino Buonamico, a follower of the teachings of Supreme Master Ching Hai, discussing with a member of Team Islam whether eating meat was good or bad.
Buonamico, it should be noted, was wearing a turkey suit. “I'm a turkey; I don’t want you to eat me,” he told the reporter.
He said when people see his turkey costume, “They laugh and want pictures. They’re curious [and] I hope they can begin to think about [becoming vegan].”
Supreme Master Ching Hai, by the way, is the spiritual teacher of the Quan Yin Method with an estimated 20,000 followers around the world. She teaches “respect for animals” and her followers pledge not to use leather or other animal products and are opposed to animal testing.
If she’s not on PETA’s payroll, she ought to be at least drawing an honorarium.
Buonamico, an Italian national, said he was one of about 70 followers of Ching Hai who came to London for the Olympics to persuade others to “be vegan and make peace.”
Here’s the problem: Nobody’s against world peace and nobody minds a friendly guy in a turkey suit adding some color and pageantry to a public celebration such as the Olympics. And let’s face it: Buonamico is getting international attention for his cause and his fringe religion just because he’s willing to dress up like a sports team mascot and hand out some leaflets that are quickly turned in to litter.
And let’s also be honest: In the game of public relations, animal activists of all shapes and stripes and shades of belief are winning the battle media attention. They have a message—meat is bad for people and worse for livestock—and they have a strategy—link meat production with eco-catastrophe and meat eating with death and disability—that are both concise, creative and compelling.
I’m not suggesting a cultist like one of Master Ching Hai’s followers has credibility with the media, just that the scientists, business people and policymakers who actively support the industry have nothing comparable in terms of a comprehensive strategy.
The issues that anti-industry activists can taint with sloganeering are often complex and multi-faceted.
The emotional appeals featuring doe-eyed cows and cute baby piglets can’t be replicated with calls for efficient production and humane slaughter.
And the media attention that even somebody dressed like a turkey can capture without having anything substantive about their message just doesn’t play the same when the messenger is dressed in a suit and tie.
Yet this is the game industry advocates must play.
And play to win.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.