Think about what you have eaten in the past few days … unless you are a vegetarian or vegan, that thought most likely included some form of animal. Which animal? Cow, chicken, pig? How about dog, cat or budgie? Of course not, because that would be severely f**ked up. Whilst I agree that eating animals we view as domesticated is grossly wrong, I struggle to understand why. Most of us will happily play with any dog we see on the street before walking another 100 metres down the road, reading a menu filled with words such as juicy and crispy and ordering a burger without even thinking about where the meat comes from. We accept animal cruelty laws and are appalled when they are broken, but we don’t do the same for animals raised for food. This is demonstrating our extraordinary capacity to dissociate – “Having reduced the animal to nothing more than the products manufactured from its carcass, we manage to avoid confronting the concept of its having a life; and thus, we need take no interest in its quality of life.” With this lack of interest in quality of life comes a lack of knowledge about the meat industry as a whole. A lack of knowledge about the treatment of the animals and a lack of knowledge about the damage the agriculture industry is doing to our planet (a whole other issue in itself). The industry, knowing that exposure would lead to many people reconsidering consuming meat and thus a decline in profit, maintains a level of secrecy from the public. In Food, Inc, Eric Schlosser refers to this effort as a “deliberate veil…that’s dropped between us and where our food is coming from.” Food, Inc is just one of many documentaries that have surfaced in the past decade about the meat industry, attempting to lift this ‘deliberate veil’ and get people to associate the actual living animal to the food on their plate.
The most successful of the documentaries discussed above are the ones that seem to employ the use of anthropomorphizing animals.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human emotions, characteristics and intelligence to animals. It includes giving animals emotions that humans experience such as happiness or sadness, dressing animals in clothes or having them engage in human activities – “The more “human” we perceive the animal to be, the easier it is for us to relate to it and develop empathy.” By these documentaries employing this technique, it allows us to mentally picture their suffering by putting ourselves in the animal’s position. But can this be viewed as a form of manipulation? By changing these animals into something we can personally identify with, are we being led to believe something in order for us to take action?
My opinion? Yes it is manipulation, but I am all for it. Harmless Disney movies which give animals human-like features for entertainment are great. But, documentaries which give typically less-loved animals human-like features in order to stop people from treating them completely inhumanely and disgusting are even greater. As an environmentalist and vegetarian, I can’t get enough of these documentaries – they are actually the reason I became a vegetarian (in particular, Cowspiracy – an absolute must-watch).
Even though we may be being manipulated by anthropomorphism, it is us, consumers, who hold the most power. Knowing how these animals are being treated, and having bridged a personal connection to them, we have a few options, according to Emily Fox: “We can seek out and purchase meat from companies that treat their animals properly, or we can choose to avoid meat entirely. We can try to forget ever having learned about America’s meat industry, or we can be conscious to remember. At the very least, it is important to consider the meat we eat, and the life that was sacrificed to sustain another’s. In order to be a culture that values life, remembering where our meat comes from is at least a step in the right direction.”
This clip takes meat-eaters to the actual source of their food and prevents them from dissociating their food and animals. If you can’t kill the animal, why do you let someone else do it for you?