It all started with a cookout. Even in hyperfactionalized Asheville, indie booksellers and animal-rights activists hardly seem the likeliest of antagonists.
But sparks have continued to fly in the wake of a July 6 face-off involving Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, Stewart David of Carolina Animal Action and renowned chef/author Fred Thompson. Since then, the situation has escalated, with the bookstore banning David and his wife, Terri, and a vegetarian Web site dropping hints about a boycott.
Thompson was in town to promote his latest book, Barbecue Nation: 350 Hot-Off-the-Grill, Tried-and-True Recipes from America’s Backyard (Taunton, 2007). The event was hosted by Malaprop’s, a downtown fixture. To help woo potential readers, the author set up a grill outside the store and started handing out samples of fresh-cooked pork.
That’s when the Davids showed up bearing a banner and distributing fliers opposing meat consumption. “I told him we weren’t protesting—we were just offering another point of view,” Stewart David said later. Everyone involved seems to agree that tempers flared after that, but amid a lot of finger-pointing, it remains unclear exactly what happened.
David says that Thompson was “very hostile” and that someone in the author’s party threw the protesters’ fliers to the ground. Meanwhile, a letter from the store to David notes that staffers present that day found David’s behavior “highly confrontational.”
“I have varying opinions about how he could have run his protest differently,” Thompson told Xpress.
Eventually, a Malaprop’s employee came out and told the Davids they couldn’t protest there. In a later interview, Stewart David told Xpress that he refused to leave, and the employee called in the police.
By the time Officer Louis Tomasetti arrived on the scene, Thompson had moved inside to continue with the book signing, but David and his wife were still on the sidewalk with their banner. According to Tomasetti, the Davids wanted the author and his daughter charged with littering for throwing the couple’s fliers to the ground.
“In my opinion, [the Davids] were acting unreasonable,” Tomasetti told Xpress, “but they were acting within their rights.”
In the end, no one was charged with anything. “They were obviously both not mature enough to express their opinions without infringing on each other’s rights,” said Tomasetti.
Before leaving, however, the officer relayed a message to the Davids that they weren’t allowed in the store. A July 12 letter from Malaprop’s Manager Linda Barrett Knopp confirmed this, banning the Davids from the premises until further notice.
“Not only were the author and our staff uncomfortable with your behavior, but so were our many customers, self-proclaimed vegetarians and vegans among them,” the letter reads.
According to Tomasetti, the Davids were in their rights to remain on the public sidewalk, but if they’d ventured inside, they could have been charged with trespassing.
After that, the action shifted to the Web. Knopp’s letter prompted an e-mail from Stewart David that found its way onto a vegan blog site, quickly generating more heat. “Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville NC Represses Free Speech,” trumpeted the headline on a July 25 post on LiveJournal.com that reprinted David’s account of the dispute. And though the e-mail stopped short of calling for a boycott, the concluding paragraph included the words “if you plan to do business elsewhere,” and it ended by endorsing Barnes & Noble on Tunnel Road.
Since then, David says he’s received an e-mail from the bookstore asking for a meeting to resolve the situation.
In a July 26 statement faxed to Mountain Xpress, Malaprop’s defended its position and took issue with David’s characterization of the store, saying:
“Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café has a 25-year tradition of defending free speech and providing a community center where ideas can be discussed and debated in a safe and respectful manner. We believe that communication, not confrontation, serves our community best, and have acted in that spirit with members of Carolina Animal Action.
“As a general policy, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café asks anyone who treats our authors or staff with disrespect to leave. We believe in peaceful coexistence and maintaining a peaceful, respectful environment at our store.”
A month later, the incident still leaves plenty of room for head-scratching. Malaprop’s is a longtime supporter of vegetarianism, both in its menu and its book inventory. For his part, David says he’s frequented the store since 1990. And Thompson, reached by phone from somewhere in the Midwest, said, “I thought it was kind of funny that they were boycotting a book”—especially one noted for including vegetarian recipes.
On Aug. 1, the Davids returned to the sidewalk to protest another book’s inclusion of meat recipes. Kelly Hammer, co-author of Brain Food: Recipes for Success for School Sports and Life (M. Evans & Co., 2007) was signing books inside Malaprop’s. That demonstration went off without incident, however.
Thompson, meanwhile, who’s still on the road promoting his book, says he bears Asheville no ill will and just wants to be left out of the local tiff.
“It’s an eclectic store, and Asheville’s an eclectic place,” he said, adding, “It’s between the two of them.”