Was meat ever alive? – dissociation of animals and food

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.”

Further Information:

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?



Exploiting the vulnerable: poverty porn

The video above highlights and mocks a dominating issue in mainstream media across the Western world – poverty porn. Whilst featuring too many similarities to regular porn – wildly exploitative, dripping in disease and with the same actions happening in each video – poverty porn has been defined as “any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause”.


Like the above image, there is a definite stereotype evident within today’s perception of humanitarian work. Hunger, poverty, crime, disease – most campaigns follow the same basic structure: define the problem, determine the cause, make moral judgments, suggest remedies and predict likely results. But these images often create apathy, rather than action, offering simple monetary solutions to complex problems that may do more harm than good. The campaigns pull on our heartstrings and compel us to pull out our wallets, an action that does not go unappreciated; but, the stereotypes that emerge from such campaigns can be seen as “deforming reality”, as it “portrays the image of an impotent society, entirely dependent on other Western societies to survive, as well as being overly voyeuristic.” The use of poverty porn to label an entire country as deprived makes the audience assume, falsely so, that the whole country shares the same story. If the only videos we see of Africa are that of extreme poverty, we might start to believe that all of Africa is suffering, but “not only is that totally outrageous, it’s offensive” since “Africa is made up of 54 diverse countries, countries with both prosperity and poverty.

Exploitation of the poor?

My question is that if we are publicly exposing people’s misery all over our media, are we not invading their privacy, without full consent, purely for financial gain? Authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert write that the helper and the helped define poverty entirely differently: “Most North American audiences define poverty by physical suffering and a lack of material resources, while the poor define their condition psychologically and emotionally. They use words like shame, inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation, fear, hopelessness, depression, social isolation and voicelessness.” So, if those who are suffering describe poverty as being shameful, isn’t poverty porn exploiting those who do not necessarily have the desire to be exposed?

A simple solution for a complex problem

Poverty porn, moreover, fails in producing a deep understanding of the issue of poverty as well as the needed structural changes that must occur in order to effectively address it; rather, poverty porn just provides temporary relief by offering material resources obtained through a simple phone call or monthly donation. “Poverty porn makes a complex human experience understandable, consumable and easily treatable.” Sure, many people living in poverty may not have enough food to eat, and so food aid would be greatly appreciated – but this is not going to break them out of poverty, this is not a sustainable solution. Poverty porn puts a blanket over the huge, harder to solve issues such as a lack of access to education and healthcare. Obviously, poverty porn is hugely successful in gathering donations – clearly there is a reason it is so popular – and the well-meaning collectors have done a lot of good, but it leaves behind the perception that the donors are the only ones with the ability to make a difference. Nothing is done to empower and walk alongside the poor to transform their own communities and produce sustainable solutions to make a long-term, widespread impact without enforcing our own ideas of betterment.



Further information:
a good example of a successful campaign video