Dairy protest at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

It’s a typical St. Louis scene: long lines of families and friends huddled around a luminescent spot on Chippewa Street where friendly workers in bright yellow shirts dole out cups of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Laughter from old friends meeting over sweets as well as giggles from toddlers with chocolate-smeared faces fill the Saturday night air. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is content. Except for those across the parking lot.

A group of protesters stood across the parking lot of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard holding signs condemning dairy consumption August 25.  Outnumbered by the crowds waiting for their dessert, they continued to stand proudly, sometimes even coming over to pass out pamphlets about veganism and entertain quick debates. One woman held a sign that read “Misery comes in many flavors.” She wore a “Vegan” ballcap and a microphone headset into which she preached about animal cruelty. Her name is Sasha Zemmel, and to her, animals do not deserve to be raised for human enjoyment, such as frozen custard.

Logan Crews
Sasha Zemmel, local animal rights activist, holds her sign at the dairy protest at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard August 25.

All animal use is abuse,” Zemmel said. “All animal exploitation is abuse. Our point is whether it’s the ice cream shop, whether it’s the steakhouse, whether it’s leather or fur, animals are not products. They’re beings. They reserve the right to live out their lives naturally and happily.”

As a local animal rights activist, Zemmel said that raising awareness about animal cruelty through protesting or educational outreach is part of her routine. The group at Ted Drewes consisted of individual activists like Zemmel, as well as members of larger groups, specifically the St. Louis chapter of Direct Action Everywhere, an international animal rights network. She said that they try to come together in action at least once a month, and if things like barbeque festivals pop up, they try to be there to advocate for the animal victims of the event. Not everyone enjoys their presence at these events, however. Especially not at a busy Ted Drewes on a Saturday night.

“You should do what makes you happy, and if you don’t eat meat, then that’s totally cool. But I don’t think we should shame people for eating meat,” Andrew West said. West, there to enjoy his night with friends, stood talking with them after the protestors left. “I want to know why they’re protesting families eating ice cream instead of protesting the tens of thousands of children in this city that are going without food, without homes, without a proper education. They’re obviously very privileged individuals [who] can make a real impact on this community, and I think they’re wasting their time.”

Sara Isaacson, a senior at St. Joseph’s Academy, also felt perturbed by the protest while she tried to enjoy her frozen custard. Looking through the pamphlet the activists passed out about the reasoning behind going vegan, Isaacson said their marketing and mission was good, but that it would fall on deaf ears at Ted Drewes.

“Obviously animal cruelty is not a good thing, but I think [saying] ‘let’s just wipe out one of the biggest industries in America’ isn’t ideal.” Isaacson said. “Coming to places like this, you’re not going to have an actual conversation that will really help anything. I wish there was a better forum to have actual understanding and discussion that’s educated and deals with the issues [to] find compromise instead of just yelling back and forth.”

Though despite all the criticism, Zemmel and the rest of the protesters tried to educate about veganism, giving tips to people who quarreled with their message and taking down contact information of people who questioned their choice in eating frozen custard. When asked what she would say to someone who thought veganism was out of their realm, Zemmel called on her experience before she cut out animal products.

“I [thought], ‘am I just going to eat salad?’” Zemmel said. “Every video [about veganism] I saw just made it more and more authentic. You find things to eat. You find new recipes. Everything I used to eat, I can still eat. Take a few minutes to do the extra research. Keep trying new things. Keep thinking about the victims, thinking about the animals and don’t give up.”