Why a flaming bowl of kale is ruining Australia Day for vegans

GlobalPost
A screengrab from Meat & Livestock Australia's latest lamb campaign that was posted on YouTube on Jan. 9, 2016. 

Blow-torching a bowl of kale might sound funny, if a little weird. But for some Australian vegans, it's discrimination. 

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), an association representing sheep, cattle and goat producers Down Under, found that out this year after launching its annual campaign encouraging Australians to eat lamb on Australia Day, a national holiday that marks the arrival of the First Fleet of British convict ships in 1788. (It's also referred to as "Invasion Day" by some indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.)

For most Aussies the holiday, like the Fourth of July in the United States, is mainly an excuse to hang out with friends and family, often around a barbecue.

This year, a two-minute video ad released Saturday by MLA has gone viral and provoked controversy with its pro-meat message.

The ad, which is called “Operation Boomerang” and features a number of well-known Australians, shows a team of special agents rescuing Aussies around the world and bringing them home so they can eat lamb chops on the Jan. 26 holiday.

But vegans have taken issue with a scene in the Mission Impossible-style video that shows a group of agents breaking down the door of a Brooklyn apartment and blowtorching a bowl of kale after the occupant — a heavily bearded Australian man — says he's vegan.

There also have been complaints about the reference to “boomerang,” which is an indigenous weapon designed to return to the thrower. Considering the violent history that followed the first "Invasion Day" in 1788, it's understandable that a satirical ad about a military plan called "Operation Boomerang" might raise some hackles.

Here's the ad. 

Australia Day Lamb 2016 | Commence Operation Boomerang

“Why is it that taxpayers dollars (yes our money gets poured into this) are being spent on an unsustainable, vicious industry, that disrespects aboriginal culture and bullies and encourages bullying of vegans?‬” wrote Colleen Can on Facebook.

And this from Michelle Caron: “What a disappointing campaign. Australians are much more compassionate than this! The killing of lambs is cruel! Going vegan is the best decision I ever made. No one needs to have murder on their conscience.‬”

But many more social media users defended the ad and ridiculed critics for lacking a sense of humor. 

“Oh lighten up people!” Debbie Daniels wrote on Facebook.

“Another day and yet another group of people outraged and insulted. I'm embarrassed that we are becoming a country of whingers. Surely there are bigger issues in the world right now that we should actually be outraged at."

And this Facebook post from Toni Lendich: “Oh get over it! There's far too much PC blathering these days. I don't even like lamb but the ads are imaginative, funny and get the message across. Some people need to grow a sense of humor.‬”

MLA Group Marketing Manager Andrew Howie defended his organization's campaign — which actually first launched more than a decade ago, and is no stranger to controversy. 

“The campaign sets out to be light-hearted and entertaining, it's a satirical campaign, it has been since its inception 12 years ago and this year is no different,” Howie told AdNews.

“... we set out to entertain every year, unfortunately in trying to appeal to the masses you are not able to appeal to everybody.”

But it’s not the first time the Australia Day advertisement has appealed to the masses by poking fun at a minority group — and offended one.

The 2015 ad featured a gluten-intolerant Ned Kelly, who was an an Australian gangster in the 19th century.

The year before, “Lambassador” Sam Kekovich, a former Australian Rules Football player turned media personality who has been the face of MLA's lamb campaign, was seen handing a lamb chop to a child wearing a shirt that read “Vegan and Proud."

The 2014 ad, incidentally, received one of the highest numbers of complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau for the year. 

Here's that ad:

Australia Day 2014: Generation Lamb

Most of the complaints to the ASB this year have referred to “discrimination against vegans.” Others also allege racial discrimination and violence. The ASB plans to review the ad.