Russia’s war against Ukraine marks a turning point in Europe. But at this turning point, other global crises, such as the climate crisis, are receding. On the other hand, we are significantly involved, among other things, through our excessive meat consumption. The fact is: CO2 emissions from factory farming have an even worse effect than global transport. In high time for a “meat turn”. And one who provides arguments for this in his new book “Why We Eat Animals” is the Austrian cultural researcher and philosopher Thomas Macho.
Andrea Mühlberger: In your book, you do not just take sober figures as a starting point, but from the complex story of the relationship between humans and animals. Complex because it flips between pets and refrigerators, taste and conscience. One of your answers to the question of why we humans eat animals is that we no longer perceive and recognize them as animals in the form of sausages, burger meatballs, flattened schnitzel or sushi bites. Why do we really need this self-deception?
Thomas Macho: Because it does not match our ideas, because it does not match our fantasies. We love animals as long as we see them in movies. We love animals like our pets and pets, but we do not want to know much about the pigs in crates or the cattle, which are often also kept under the most difficult conditions.
In other words: we bite into the burger and suppress that it comes from an animal that was once alive just like us. With feelings, with the right to good feed, for enough space in the barn – but which was killed for our consumption. At the same time, we can look our dog or cat in the eye, behave like friends, cuddle and feed them. Is not it a little schizophrenic?
It’s a little schizophrenic. And the argument in my book also points to this schizophrenia: We need to bring these separate parts back together. It means: We need to reconnect the reality that livestock has suffered so dramatically in our industrial world and, incidentally, only since the late 1800s, with our love of animals and this feeling that animals are actually close to us.
But we must also reconnect it with killing animals, you write. This killing should actually be made visible again. By the way, I’m also thinking of your countryman who has just passed away, the artist Hermann Nitschwhich with its “orgy-mystery-theater” basically aims to make people aware of the brutality of the slaughter …
Not only do I find it remarkable that he reproduced the rawness and the blood and the obviousness of slaughter in his productions. He also reminded us that the guilt we always felt when slaughtering or killing animals should be mitigated ritually. Nitsch’s performance art was also ritual art.
But would we actually eat less meat if we were more aware of this killing of animals?
So there are figures that say that between 60 and 85 percent of all meat eaters would not eat meat if they had to kill animals to do so.
In your book you write about a pig farmer who forces people who want to buy pork from him to kill these animals themselves …
Yes, that is certainly a big exception. I think the easier solution would be to eat fewer animals and deal with the guilt that you might feel more sensible. This can of course be a form of ritual in the old-fashioned way. In the religions at least the table prayer or something. But it can also simply be the price we pay for it. It means: the feeling that we are buying something that is valuable and expensive because it is related to the life of an animal that was to be killed.
At the same time, you say: If we completely refrain from eating meat, it is not so ideal either, because then we give up an important part of ourselves – after all, humans are predators and meat eaters …
In any case, he was always very much identified with the predators. The idea was that if we become too radical, it is in itself a kind of immunization and differentiation from other living beings. Whereas the older form of consciousness of eating and killing animals simply meant, for example, assuring the slain animals that they themselves would be fed one day: “We are also mortal. You will also eat us.” Maybe not the predators, just the worms, but there will be some kind of exchange, some kind of metabolism.
So this “eat and be eaten” that we keep playing forever?
I agree. But I do not want to make any arguments against veganism or vegetarianism here. I think it’s amazing that at least young people today are increasingly cultivating vegetarianism and veganism.
Some more, some less: But the fact is that every adult in Europe consumes, on average, almost 60 kilos of meat a year. Why do we eat so much meat at all?
Because we do not even notice it. And because we do not notice it, because it is de-ritualized and takes place every day, we suddenly eat meat products three times a day without thinking about the background and the conditions, especially in light of the climate crisis.
They write that our “unconscious cannibalism” – that is, that we are no longer aware that we eat animals when we eat meat – which, if we are not careful, will lead to our possible future on this planet being the same. harder also “consume”. How can we stop this development? Would “meat-shaming” be an alternative for you?
“Meat-shaming” is a possible alternative because the great moral revolutions in our history – the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah wrote a very interesting book on the question of honor – were provoked by shame rather than guilt alone. The moment it becomes embarrassing, as is already the case with “flight shaming” – in that moment you may not want to do it completely, but you may want to do it less often. 360 million tons of meat are consumed every year! And yet one can only remember what was already discussed in Germany, for the responsible Minister of Agriculture has repeatedly publicly stressed that we use only about 60 percent of our land for growing animal feed.
Which way should we go now, Mr Macho?
We should actually go all the ways that open up. In other words, the combination of vegan or vegetarian nutrition and novel food, sausage meat substitutes that are currently being experimented with in many start-ups, will prove to be an effective way. And in the end, we have to go back to a practice where you no longer eat meat every day, let alone three times a day, but maybe really only on holidays and special occasions, but then you pay more money for it.
And if so, how do we regulate our human-animal relationships? How do we put them back together?
For example, through increased visibility. It could also be a goal of education and upbringing. If animals are kept in an appropriate way, it is also much easier to bring the children into contact with the animals at an early age, which they are then confronted with at the lunch table.
How do you feel about eating meat yourself?
Very rare. Well, I do not even notice when I do not eat meat anymore, but I do notice when I eat one for once. And I think that’s a good way.