We are on our way to eating away the world. But nobody wants to admit it. Lisa Gålmark dissects the silence surrounding meat culture and demands a radical change.
Domestic flights and cars – out. Fossils fuels, long distance food transports, bottled water – out. Instead: enlarged collective transportation, airships, solar energy, wind power, energy efficient light bulbs, local production. Taxes on carbon dioxide.
Yes! Climate mitigation, and the debate about it, fulfils every environmental activist’s wildest utopian dream. At last, the many were forced to accept that which the few had been nagging about for so long. A longed for redress to all (of us) nature protecting muppets!
However, is there not something missing? Something tucked away under the living room carpet, evaded with remote-controlled precision, scratching under the floorboards, attentively drowned by talk about other things.
When the airline industry – which takes us closer to one another, opens national borders, forges continents and humanity, and is resposible for three percent of the emissions – is regarded as a mega problem, and every little change for the better is scrutinized – a bottle of water to myself equals millions of bottles of bought water to everybody else who thinks similarly – how can it be that a commodity produced to be consumed three times a day, and which constitutes the single biggest cause for the world’s total emission of climate gasses (18 percent), is not focused in debates of today?
Is not lifted up from under the carpet, is not liberated from the cellar position? But remains there. Almost everything must be brought out into the light but not the exhibit of proof, not the testimony, the shaky foundation of the prevailing culture.
Let me explain, with a broad, and a fine, brush. Meat may be everything under a peel, the inside of an orange or a banana: fruit meat; or it may be mechanically recovered meat from mixed pulses or beans or peas or nuts: nut meat. However, that which is customarily labelled ‘meat’ consists of the muscles, the heart, the liver, the kidney, the fat, the tendons, the skin from a once living being: dead meat. Corpse meat is the material result and the symbol of the seamy side of the progress of culture; the trivialization, the objectification of that which lives.
From nature, to other animals, to other humans. Not as a tragic act of need when there is nothing else to eat, but as a virtue. An everyday holy formula: This is how we build our bodies and our deportment in relation to others. A rather religious adoration proscribed clearly and most recently by the sausage company Sibylla in their advertisement in a Swedish morning papper on 6 November 2007. Above the picture of a hamburger, the ad proclaims: ‘A meal for real men.’ It might as well have claimed: ‘A meal for real human beings.’
Weapons were once forged for the killing of animals. The killing of animals contributed only marginally to the nutrition, but it implied power and trained in distancing by annihilation or reduction of empathy with others, animals, or humans. The meat from killed animals showed what may happen to the one who does not obey. Those who were commanded to kill, instead of gathering, cultivating, and caring for the children and the elderly, belonged to the category of men, young men, boys. This is how power was constituted and this is how those in power were able to create a class of people to perform the subduction, and the wars. Masculinity became the same as weapons and meat, violence, and power.
Belonging to the male category became a necessary, however not sufficient, condition for being ascribed status as a fully worthy human. In ancient Greece, the established definition of the ideal human, the human of full value, proscribed a person classified as ‘man’. However this person must also inhabit an ordinarily formed body and belong to a family of local estates and influence. Penis was no carte blanche, only one of several conditions to gain full rights.
People in the female category, women, girls, had no political rights, and were in general not taught to participate in the execution of force. Girls have not to the same extent as boys been ordered to kill animals or to take part in conquests and wars. Girls and women were house slaves and could be passed on or traded as slaves, and instead of becoming cannon fodder in wars, be used as deliverers of children and labourers. Girls were thus not systematically desensitized in relation to others, but were raised to work and persevere in the fields and in the homes. To close one’s eyes and serve, and not decide what will be put on the table. To stay silent in the assembly.
The Western white human dominance, the slave trafficking and trading with raw goods, animals and nature, presupposed being accustomed to the killing others with weapons. Without desensitization and habituation, no readiness to perform the deeds. The killing of animals for food postulated and enabled the subduction or annihilation of other people and the conquest of land areas.
The order of food still contributes to and creates the culture. That which defines a human being. That which culture promotes and regards as commendable demeanour. The food order directs the ethics of Western culture: ‘Get used to the fact that life entails distancing and death. Get used to it as a child – in the past as a boy, and today as a girl, or a boy. Practice this at every meal, incorporate the credo: Let die and live on yourself. Not with a blow of sorrow in your heart from time to time because there exists no choice, but as a virtue.’
Culture built this moral of violence and disseminates it in politics. Every little human being is taught: Killing and objectification of that which lives is something we do every day although we do not have to.
But, oops: Climate crisis! The virtue of death, the power on which male masculine superiority rested, was found leading, not to life, but rather to death. Traditionally death for animals, and for many fellow humans in the Southern hemisphere affected by the relations of weaponry, in our time in the form of dismal trade agreements, now of all life. Should the emissions of climate gasses not be reduced substantially, perhaps to zero, there is a risk of total collapse. Should the world get maximally unlucky, we may all be swept away in one sudden mega wave.
It was the Western world which taught that it was just to go ahead. More of the same, more to everyone. Modernity, in everyday speech called the development, was the proud flag of the Western world; other people were taught how it should fly, simultaneously as the West was earning from the feast. Indeed, it was only to take a little time before earnings would trickle down to child labourers with their lowly paid and unpaid mothers. Unfortunately, millions of fellow humans perish from this miscalculation every year. Shit happens, as the cynicism was called in the 1990s. But also this, in due time, was to be taken care of.
The development presuming to save everybody was a shrewd idea forgetting a large part of humanity, as well as nature and animals. And, by forgetting the last-mentioned, the very prerequisite for life and sustentation, and, in fact, also for all trade, justly performed or not. The result: panting oxygen-deficient seas, cut down ancient forests which otherwise would have maintained the rain in the ground and carbon dioxide in the air; air in which the degree of oxygen is declining and harmful particles increasing.
Fifty million mammals and birds are slaughtered yearly while wild animals are being extinguished due to diminished habitats – in only thirty years (1970-2000) the number of animals living in nature has been reduced by forty percent (WWF Index). Ninety percent of the big fish species in the oceans of the world are at risk of depletion. The number of zoonosis, sicknesses transferable from animals to humans originating in the meat businesses, the trading in confined animals, and wild animals, have increased and threatens to spread mass death of human beings through large scaled epidemics (pandemics).
Modernity, the development with its death meat served at the everyday dinner table, had forgotten the form of the Earth. Round and good; round and good with certain rules. However, basic rule-setting for one’s actions and one’s society was never a priority of the leading cultures. Perhaps then, the crisis is what the Earth needs. Since, now we know: The Northern hemisphere, with its self-aggrandising omni potency, did not, at the end of the day, create an economy and a food culture fitting for global usage. When other continents are persuaded to follow accountings in which all life may be bought and consumed – and this objectification becomes an everyday cult – then everything may fall. As Vandana Shiva might have said about the mismanagement: We are eating the world into destruction.
Six billion may, whichever way we see it, not live, eat, and consume as a Swedish citizen. The Swedish development of 5,9 tonnes carbon dioxide equivalents per person and year is not a praiseworthy model considering the global possible space amounting to 1,2 tonnes per person and year. The Western way to economise and produce, in spite of the many progressions and nice wordings, was no formula for development. It was rather a prescription of perdition.
Imagine that the hubris-afflicted, instead of plundering, had listened! If they, a long time ago, instead of forging weapons, had made fine ploughs and toys, worked with, and gathered plant food and shared the house chores. If they, instead of shooting at the strangers on the shore and stealing their land, had tried to make new friends. If they, instead of mowing down encountered lands, had formed mutually beneficial trade relations with other peoples. Planted, gathered, cooperated, played, and developed a more equal technology.
History cannot be made over. However, it may give a hint at which kind of development is sensible. Or, at least, wiser than others.
Yet, silence resides. Silence, as in the grave, or almost. Months went by before the big Swedish newspapers covered the FAO-report showing that the global husbandry, i.e. the Western food culture, i.e. the death virtue, contributes to more climate gasses emissions than the airlines, the cars, and the boats do together. Remaining to make known is that the production of “meat” constitutes one of the biggest sources behind the decreasing biological diversity. That the animal based food order is one of the three biggest factors of environmental destruction. That it threatens energy resources, water resources, and implies pollution of watercourses and death of the bottoms layers of the Baltic Sea.
And, but this we know already, that this production, should nothing be done, will increase by the double before 2050.
Increase by the double. How is it possible? Keep in mind the prescribed silence, the graded definition of the human being; how power has been passed down by weapons and killing: the raising of children to desensitization and violence through enforced acceptance of the food on the table, and the result: the potentially self-destructive non-perceiving of the condition of others.
Do not forget this death virtue’s upscaling after the Second World War. From 1945 onward ‘meat’ from animals became the norm: institutions, authorities, structures, relations, and actions commanding the material result of the killing of animals as the fully worthy and irreplaceable protein. Although the killing of animals en masse devours water, land, forests, and oil. That is, devours future means of subsistence for many people all over the world.
Since the 1960s, when animal husbandry was intensified, the consumption of fossil fuels has risen nine times; Swedish enterprises have been leading in the export of Western meat normativity and milk normativity by the selling of agricultural systems – from Shanghai to Rio to Pretoria. Large investments were made to make people shift from their, in general, vegetarian food habits to consuming animal produce in order to become like white people. The size of the investments, with its disclosed racism, has effectively obscured the white food culture’s imperialism and contribution to the problems of the world.
However, when activists of today, who perform and illustrate desert outside of the aeroplane industries’ head office, do the same outside the slaughter houses of Scan, and the chefs of the world gain insight into their role in the climate crisis and show that it is the spices rather than the flesh which create the taste – well, then all our insignificant plates are transformed into locations for non-violent revolution. When the media lets the uncritical listing of recipes from Scan and Swedish Fish ebb out, and private homes already have begun dealing with the issue – abracadabra: A humanity which does not only enjoy sustainable food but acknowledges the right of all humans to eat.
So, now it is time for me to call out. Like Cassandra, yet not like Cassandra. She, who in the Greek mythology prophesized about the Trojan horse but who was made invisible. The horse appeared as a gift, while, in reality, it implied ruin. Cassandra whom no one listened to, but who ought to have been listened to.
Hello, dearest farmers, and interior ministry with society’s subsidy purse in your hand, what would you like to have the food culture say about us humans? It is no longer feasible to assert that we must kill in order to live. All better judgment suggests the opposite: To live, cease to kill.
Dearest you, do not waste tax millions in support of the unprofitable meat protein and cow milk production. Give these sums to more life-embracing agricultural projects and enterprises in which plant meat, pea milk and oat milk, canola oil and olive oil (omega 3) are placed at the top. Remove immediately that life-threatening product directly objectifying and killing animals – and directly and indirectly risking the health of human beings by environmental pollution, climate change; coronary diseases, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses which for the main part are caused by the intake of animal fat.
Facilitate for those who wish to adapt. Resume the large cultivation of pulses on the Gotland island and in other parts of the country. Let the animals roam free to graze the land beautifully diverse and concede from having them killed before they have lived their lives. Perceive nature as it is, a human projection, and an invaluable cooperative partner, dangerous and life giving, a context in which animals endeavour to outlast, some on plants, other on other animals because they do not have a choice.
At large, and at its wisest, humanity is a plant eater. This is how humanity makes the land suffice. This is how humanity practices to build sustainably, and care about others regardless of their outer semblance. This is how humanity, with all humanity’s loveable flaws and imperfections, creates possibilities for survival.
Published as “Köttets tid är förbi” in Ordfront Magasin January/February 2008 with illustrations by Anneli Furmark
© Arimneste Anima Museum # 11