Day 6

Milkshaking is now a verb — and the latest tactic for confronting the far-right

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage got doused with a milkshake while campaigning in northeast England. New Republic staff writer Matt Ford says milkshaking is part of a long history of using food to humiliate politicians and an effective form of political commentary.

'They are people who constantly crave mainstream acceptance, mainstream legitimacy,' says writer Matt Ford

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage gestures after being hit with a milkshake while arriving for a Brexit Party campaign event in Newcastle, Britain, May 20, 2019. (Scott Heppell/Reuters)
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When Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was doused with a banana and salted caramel milkshake on Monday, some swiftly condemned the move.

But throwing food at politicians as a form of political protest goes back millennia. According to Bon Appétit, the first recorded incident of a politician pelted by produce was in 63 AD when people tossed turnips at a Roman emperor.

Here in Canada, the moment then-prime minister Jean Chrétien was slapped with a cream pie is embedded in the country's collective memory.

With that in mind, milkshaking has unofficially become a verb.

While root vegetables might hurt, New Republic writer Matt Ford argues chucking a milkshake is OK — and a valid form of political protest. Earlier this week he published a column titled Why Milkshaking Works.

"For the far-right, in particular, it's humiliating," he told Day 6. "They are people who constantly crave mainstream acceptance, mainstream legitimacy."

Critics of milkshaking argue the action can have ripple effects, including limiting a politician's right to free speech — as former British prime minister Tony Blair argued after Farage was drenched.

"Nigel Farage does have a right to freedom of speech, and people do have the right to protest however they see fit," Ford said.

Another concern is that milkshaking could encourage political violence intended to harm.

A 2017 assault on far-right political commentator Richard Spencer had commentators across the internet asking: Is it OK to punch a Nazi?

But Ford argues that a milkshake is unlikely to hurt the unwitting victim — and he's hardly convinced that it should be considered assault.

"If you're a lawyer arguing in court, you might be able to argue that it's assault. But to compare it to assassinations, terrorism — to actual well-known forms of political violence — I think is highly misleading at best," he said.


To hear more about the history of political protests with food, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.

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