The meat processing industry is an increasingly monopolized sector of the global capitalist economy that uses animals as ultra-processed raw materials in automated and cost-reduced production processes. Only the shareholders of the meat industry benefit from this, to the detriment of all other stakeholders: precarious employees in the industry, deceived consumers, low-quality meat products, and above all, suffering animals.
Under the neoliberal pressure of globalization, the meat industry has developed into a cartel of a handful of mega-corporations, whose absolute priorities are the efficiency and profitability of the standardized production of meat products. The global meat cartel is successfully meeting the growing demand for meat, especially in emerging economic superpowers where the purchasing power of the population is growing. For this purpose, about 150 billion animals must die every year (FAOSTAT). The last reliable aggregate data on the results of the global meat industry is four years old and more recent is not easy to find. The reason is not in the difficulty of collecting and statistical processing, but in the effect that such up-to-date data could have on the public or on the consumption of meat and meat products, if the influential media paid enough attention to them. The meat industry prefers not to brag about its results, and even less about what happens behind the high fences of mega meat farms and slaughterhouses.
The suffering of animals for human consumption is based on carnism (Joy, 2010). Carnism is an ideology imposed on people through a set of sophisticated government techniques that make it difficult for the numbed and information overloaded consumerist mind to make a moral connection between a live animal and the meat on the plate. As a result, the vast majority of people ignore the slavery and mass murder of sentient animals, considering them to be things and property, or unable to even face their suffering. On the other hand, some animal species are taken for granted as family members or worshiped as gods, depending on the individual culture. This instrumentalized hierarchy of animals is at the core of carnism.
Carnistic perception of non-human animals is reinforced by millennia of prevailing religious and scientific dogma about the superiority of the human species over other forms of life on Earth. In the modern era, industrialization, urbanization and secularization have caused further alienation of man from others and have led to today’s extremely indifferent, but also as much as possible covert, cruelty to the treatment of animals raised for human consumption and other benefits.
The carnism derived from anthropocentrism is so naturally embedded in interspecies relations and everyday interactions that we are not aware of it. When, for example, we watch a commercial for grilled meats, with which a stereotypical family and their golden retriever are fattened, we receive a subliminal carnist message (a dog could be grilled in SE Asia). When statesmen give themselves live “national symbols”, they are communicating that these animals are more valuable than other species. When we visit a zoo, we are funding and supporting the findings of the “profession” that only certain species are worth preserving and displaying. We maintain carnism by making daily decisions about which animals to eat, wear, and love, to paraphrase the founder of the theory of carnism, Melanie Joy.
“CARNISM ORIGINATING FROM ANTHROPOCENTRISM IS SO SERIOUSLY EMBEDDED IN INTERSPECIES RELATIONS AND DAILY INTERACTIONS THAT WE ARE NOT AWARE OF IT. KO NPR. WE WATCH AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR GRILLED MEATS, WITH WHICH A STEREOTYPICAL FAMILY IS GRILLED TOGETHER WITH THEIR GOLDEN BRINGER, WE RECEIVE A SUBLIMINATED CARNISTIC MESSAGE (IN SE ASIA, A DOG COULD BE BARBECUED).
In the last 50 years, significant progress has been made in theoretical considerations and political practices that challenge anthropocentrism and carnism. From the criticism of traditional discrimination based only on species, intellect or “soul” (Singer, 1975; Regan, 1983), scientists have moved to treating animals as equal beings capable of feeling (dis)comfort and expressing their interests (e.g. Francione , 2008, Kymlicka, 2013). There is no demonstrable philosophical objection to extending human rights to animals (Cavalieri, 2001). The suffering of farmed animals has been compared to the Holocaust after many Holocaust survivors became involved in animal welfare activism (Patterson, 2002). Many activist groups and international non-governmental organizations in one way or another persistently fight against the “inhumane” treatment to which animals are helplessly subjected. This struggle is based in part on the biocentric paradigm of the equality and equivalence of all species and individuals within the Earth’s ecosystem (Taylor, 1986), which increasingly critically questions the anthropocentric development agenda. The dilemmas of man’s relationship with other animals have recently begun to influence political processes as well: sovereign states have adopted biocentric constitutions; in several Western countries, animals have been recognized as sentient beings in real law, while political parties with a priority program for animal welfare have begun to cross the thresholds of national parliaments. The formal abolition of animal slavery could become one of the most important social achievements of the 21st century, just like the formal abolition of human slavery in the 19th century and the establishment of universal human rights in the 20th century. This difficult and protracted battle will be fought both in the private and public spheres.
Since the first meat patty developed on the basis of germ cells was presented to the public at Maastricht University in 2013, the results of research on artificial meat have received media attention. Creative cookbooks about in vitro meat have hit bookstore shelves (Van Mensvoort et al., 2014), and Michelin stars are finally being awarded to high-end vegetarian restaurants. Western startups are competing to be the first to develop a delicious 3D steak or a cellular chicken croquette. Capitalism also penetrates niches that potentially undermine it, thereby neutralizing them. Judging by the current unprofitable production costs, artificial meat represents an opportunity to start a global reduction in the consumption of animal meat and thus alleviate animal suffering only in the very distant future. Above all, artificial meat does not eliminate deep-rooted myths about the normality, naturalness and necessity of eating meat, but only imitates animal flesh. We also know very little about the environmental costs of this type of production. Although the market for plant-based protein products such as tofu sausages or grain-based burgers has literally exploded in recent years, the meat industry eloquently asserts “that it does not see plant-based protein as a threat to [meat] sales” (Fusaro, 2015). At the same time, through skillful marketing, including invented traditions of self-evident meat consumption in the past, it does everything to ensure that consumers maintain fixed ideas about meat.
“NOT CONSUMING MEAT NOT ONLY RESULTS IN A HEALTHIER AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY BALANCED INDIVIDUAL AND CLEANER AIR, WATER AND NATURE IN GENERAL, BUT IT ALSO LEADS TO A LESS CONFLICTOUS AND MORE HARMONIOUS SOCIETY.
Presumably organically produced meat is also not a solution, as it still implies the killing of animals. If the meat is not only labeled “organic” as a market bait, the price of slightly less cruel breeding is so uncompetitive that it represents only a few percent of the meat market in industrialized countries where consumers can actually afford it. Conventionally produced meat remains cheaper also due to significant state subsidies to large meat processing companies. The “external” environmental costs of intensive meat production and the public health costs of a harmful meat diet are not included in the final price. We taxpayers cover the difference by contributing to the environmental and health policies of public budgets; of course, subsidies to the meat industry also come from our taxes. Only a significant increase in demand for organic meat could make it more affordable, as the food market would respond with an increased and thus cheaper supply. In the current world conditions, such expectations are unrealistic. The quality and variety of human nutrition has always been determined by social class. As long as most people persist in an almost daily meat diet (Piazza et al., 2015), cheap meat will find its way onto the plates of carnivores. With feed production increasing to meet the demand for meat, people are only expected to eat more meat as other foods become less available and more expensive.
“SUPPOSED ORGANIC PRODUCED MEAT IS NOT A SOLUTION, BECAUSE IT ALWAYS IMPLIED THE KILLING OF ANIMALS. IF THE MEAT IS NOT JUST LABELED “ORGANIC” AS A MARKET BAIT, THE PRICE OF SLIGHTLY LESS CRUEL FARMING IS SO UNCOMPETITIVE THAT IT REPRESENTS ONLY A FEW PERCENTAGES OF THE MEAT MARKET IN INDUSTRIALIZED COUNTRIES WHERE CONSUMERS CAN ACTUALLY AFFORD IT.
But there is no scientific evidence that people should eat meat. A meat-free diet has been scientifically proven to significantly improve our health (eg Marsh et al., 2012). Moreover, the empathic attitude toward animals that inspires meatless eating is positively related to empathy toward humans (Praylo and Arikawa, 2008). This means that not eating meat not only results in a healthier and more psychologically balanced individual and cleaner air, water and nature in general, but also a less conflicted and more harmonious society.
In the past, people fought against social injustices by personal example, starting with changes in themselves. Slave owners first freed their slaves. Sufficient collective pressure on the authorities to prohibit unacceptable social practices eventually made those practices unacceptable, if they could not be completely eradicated. Due to the carnism that is consumed in every pore of society, the individual also faces unconscious limitations of personal freedom regarding what he (can) be. Dietary freedom can only be regained by making a conscious choice of available food based on objective information. The ideological pressure of carnism is indeed sophisticated and difficult to resist, but that is no excuse for submitting to it if and when we become aware of it. Only when we make completely independent decisions about our diet will we know how compassionate, solidary and non-violent individuals we really are. Is our capacity for empathy great enough if it reaches beyond the age, gender, nationality and social class of fellow human beings, but not beyond the culturally conditioned distinction between living species? Is the taste of meat really so indispensable that it outweighs all the above-mentioned effects on ourselves, nature and society?
Regardless of the individual’s final point of view, only full awareness of the origin and method of food production enables the individual to truly decide independently what kind of food he can afford materially and morally. Until we have a clear picture of what kind of animal suffering is necessary to eat meat, we don’t know what we are eating. The meat industry cannot completely hide its processes; it’s up to us to stop blinding ourselves.
Indeed, the meat diet was chosen for most of us and for us already in early childhood by our parents or guardians, much like many of us were forced by religious initiations, e.g. baptism. But the inculcated meat diet can be weaned after it is autonomously perceived as another form of systemized control that maintains and spreads violence in society.
“TRULY MEAT DIET IS FOR MOST OF US AND CHOSEN INSTEAD OF US IN EARLY CHILDHOOD BY OUR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS, MUCH LIKE THEY FORCED RELIGIOUS INITIATIONS ON MANY OF US, E.G. BAPTISM. BUT THE EDUCATIONAL MEAT DIET CAN BE WEANKEN AFTER WE AUTONOMOUSLY PERCEIVE IT AS ANOTHER FORM OF SYSTEMATIC CONTROL WHICH MAINTAINS AND SPREADS VIOLENCE IN SOCIETY.
As adults, we are responsible for our own health, and we influence ourselves and our environment by consciously choosing our diet. With these kinds of decisions, or with our wallets, we still vote. Informed and autonomous dietary choice is indeed a political issue that leads to contemporary practices of active citizenship. Today, citizens can stand up for their own and the community’s well-being by protesting in the streets, working in civil initiatives and alternative institutions, and above all by maintaining a well-thought-out set of own values regardless of instilled “herd instincts”. A citizen can contribute to changing the social status quo even by what he/she does NOT do: refusing to participate in “democratic” elections without real representation, as well as excessive consumerism, greed and competition, intellectual laziness, invented inter-ethnic hatred, indoctrinated schooling and violence in general in all its manifestations, including the attitude of most people towards animals raised for human consumption. Regardless of the content of an individual’s personal beliefs and consequent decisions, the latter will have a political impact, albeit insignificant, but cumulative, and will ultimately affect the quality of the individual’s existence through social conditions. Not defining any social injustice helps maintain its supposed naturalness, normality and/or necessity, and only a world without injustice will be a good world for everyone.
The submissive consumers of the global meat industry actually resist changing their unconscious and default beliefs, i.e. themselves. They fail to see that the resistance to carnism is not only in place for the liberation of suffering animals, but also for the freedom of their own dietary choices. It is also about people, about the health, freedom, happiness and survival of each of us and all together. It is a democracy of food.