How do you eat an elephant?
General Creighton Abrams was a United States Army general in the Vietnam War. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly before his death in 1974. He once famously noted that, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”
In other words, when taking on a difficult task, do it slowly and carefully.
In contemporary politics, this process is referred to as incrementalism. Dictionary.com defines it as “a policy of making changes, especially social changes, by degrees; gradualism.”
Recently, vegan activists launched an on-line petition calling for retail giant WalMart to stop selling a child’s toy. Not because it posed a physical threat to children, but because they just didn’t like it.
The now infamous “slaughter truck” is an ERTL Big Farm 1:32 Peterbilt Model 579 Semi with livestock trailer. Just after this kerfuffle emerged, I ordered one for my 5-year-old grandson. It’s a model of a truck used to move livestock for a number of purposes and, yes one of those tasks is transporting animals to slaughter.
Many of my agriculture contemporaries rushed to point out the number of other jobs the real version of the truck performs, and that’s an important informational tool that’s been covered many other places, such as the Beef Magazine article by Amanda Radke, “Vegan Activists Flip Over Walmart toy “slaughterhouse” truck.” That ground has been plowed, so it doesn’t need me muddling it up.
The bigger question – the “elephant in the room” as it were – is why go after a product that obviously generates such a small volume of sales?
Walmart could easily assume that placating the protesters with such a modest offering would get them off their back. That would be the first bite of the elephant.
Making grandiose demands is great for grabbing headlines, but the small victories are easier to achieve. When the “slaughter truck” is gone, something else deemed offensive by the activists will fall into their sights.
Growing up, I used to hear the phrase “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” The end-game here is likely the mile, perhaps even so bold as to demand that meat sales be ceased. It’s not beyond the realm of comprehension.
How many of these activists do you think would have bought a toy like this anyway? They certainly could bypass the product and leave any of us alone that might choose to purchase it. Before they called attention to it, there wouldn’t have been that many sold.
Here’s where we might make the strategy backfire. What if a number of us in the ag community buy the toy, as I did, perhaps even depleting the entire stock? Walmart would likely take notice since they surely track such sales trends. It might make a bold statement, but even if it doesn’t a lot of happy kids will enjoy playing with a neat new truck.
Note: As of this morning, Walmart’s web page shows the item out of stock, so there’s already a small success. You can, however, click a button that says “get an in-stock alert” and I’m sure that message will be noticed as well.
If you don’t have a kid to buy for, some friends of mine have started a GoFundMe page where you can donate $5 or more toward purchasing farm-related toys that will be donated to Toys For Tots or local toy drives this Christmas season. Find out more about it on Ryan Goodman’s Agriculture Proud blog.
Why don’t we try to ensure that the first bite of the elephant leaves a bad taste in their mouth?