Food Fight for Activism


Casey Little

Just Stop Oil’s website promoting their cause.

Casey Little, Reporter/Photographer

   Global emissions of carbon dioxide hit a record high in 2022. European climate activists have had enough, and decided to use food fighting as a form of protesting. 

   A little after 11 a.m., two young climate protesters with Just Stop Oil threw two cans of tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The activists were 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer from London, and 20-year-old Anna Holland from Newcastle. After throwing soup at the priceless painting, the two glued their hands to the wall underneath the painting and started to protest, according to The Guardian’s article.

   Just Stop Oil is an union of activist groups combining efforts to ensure that their government stick to ending every new licenses and consents with the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels in the United Kingdom as stated on their website Just Stop Oil

   “What is worth more, art or life,” Plummer said during the London soup attack. “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet?” 

   Just Stop Oil started their protests against Britain’s oil infrastructure in February of this year by campaigning at gas stations, refineries and fuel depots. In March, Just Stop Oil disrupted the Bafta Red Carpet in London which resulted in many arrests. 

   Next in April, the protests saw an increase; protesters sabotaged gas pumps on London’s M25 highway. The late Queen of England threatened a public order bill to be tried in May that would ban protests. This angered many protesters because the bill wouldn’t allow for protests like those that won rights for unions and women. Then Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour leader for the Peace and Justice Project, joined Just Stop Oil’s group to help their protests and teamed up with spokesperson Lawrence Leather in June. 

   “We are encouraging everyone to step up now and join the movement,” Leather said. “The politicians won’t save us. It’s on us to change history.”

   Attacks against the priceless works of art started in July with the first attack being on The Hay Wain by John Constable. The protester’s glued on a parody picture showing it with multiple examples of pollution. In August Central London’s gas stations experienced Just Stop Oil’s groups of protesters. During September many of the UK climate activists were held in jail for about six months before the trial. 

   October was a busy month for Just Stop Oil as some of their key attacks were: Oct. 20, after spraying Harrods according to Just Stop Oil’s article, a luxury department store in the UK, with orange paint Just Stop Oil protesters were arrested, Oct. 24, cake was smeared on waxwork of King Charles by protesters, and Oct. 27, when a protester tried to glue his head to the painting Girl with a Pearl Earring as told in The Guardian’s article. In Nov. the threat of the public order bill came back.

   By using these eye-catching stunts to help bring more attention to their cause, an uproar in the artist and activist communities has started growing. Newspapers such as The Guardian have many column writers with extremely different opinions on the protests. Lucy Whelan, art column writer, for example disagrees with the protests.

   “I’m an art historian and a climate activist,” Whelan said in a column. “Just Stop Oil’s attacks are becoming part of the problem.”

   As well as George Monbiot, a column writer and author, who supports the protests. 

   “Do we really care more about Van Gogh’s sunflowers than real ones,” Monbiot said in a column

   In an argument against the Just Stop Oil comment What is worth more, art or life? made at a previous protest, artists disagree that enjoying art does not devalue life. Instead it provides an inside perspective to see and cherish life as well as nature. The artwork in the National Gallery in London is all based on people looking hard at life.

   In an earlier protest from Just Stop Oil against The Hay Wain by John Constable when protesters glued their hands to the frame as another art protest. Constable was a known critic of the Industrial Revolution, so the attack on his painting caused lots of confusion. 

   While extreme acts of protests gain a lot of attention, the attention doesn’t help heal the damage caused to the planet. Taking action and doing things to help directly to the cause does. By causing harm to other people’s artwork, without it helping their cause is negative damage to Just Stop Oil’s efforts. When negative damage takes place in a protest it becomes no longer helpful and starts angering others connected to what was damaged. Many artists such as myself don’t agree with the attacks targeted at not only the art but the art community as it affects our past, present and future. 

   On Nov. 22, Just Stop Oil caused permanent damage to the frame around Peach Trees in Blossom by Van Gogh stated in BBC’s report. Now the actions of their group have become harmful to not only the art community, but as well as the historian community. While this group has done good things to help climate change and delaying the use of crude oil in their country, they also have caused many problems for their country and damaged famous works of art. 

   “It’s not about saving polar bears and penguins any more,” Just Stop Oil spokesperson said. “It’s about saving us.”