Meat: A Natural Symbol of Power

Meat A Natural Symbol of Power
After addressing the estimation of the sociologist Norbert Elias that as part of a general and gradual refinement in humans’ social behavior vegetarianism would probably be much more popular, for the second part of this series we wish to address a theory about meat by the anthropologist Nick Fiddes. In his book Meat: A Natural Symbol Fiddes suggests an anthropological explanation to why humans are so keen on meat, and what is according to him, the only condition which might alter them.
His thesis is extremely depressing but highly essential for understanding the motives behind meat eating. Though we disagree with his assertion that there is only one motive behind meat eating, we do agree that the motive he suggests is indeed extremely central, and it is extremely underrepresented in the animal rights community.

Basically, Fiddes’s argument starts by recognizing that meat is very highly valued by humans all along history, practically by every single culture. Meat’s value is incomparable to any other food, in no proportion to its nutritional significance (in other words to its actual practical importance to humans). Fiddes deduces that this special status of meat results from the fact that it embodies humans’ dominance over nature and the other animals. Animals symbolize power and nature, and so eating other animals is the ultimate symbol of humans’ power, of their superiority over other animals, and their triumph over nature.

Consuming the muscle flesh of other highly evolved animals is a potent statement of our supreme power.” (Page 2)

And Fiddes Quotes professor Julia Twigg about the hierarchy of food:
“meat is the most highly prized of food. It is the centre around which a meal is arranged. It stands in a sense for the very idea of food itself… our meat and drink. At the top of the hierarchy, then, we find meat, and in particular red meat, for the status and meaning of meat is quintessentially found in red meat. Lower in status are the ‘bloodless’ meats – chicken and fish – and below these are the animal products – eggs and cheese. These are sufficiently high in the hierarchy to support a meal’s being formed around them, though they are confined to the low status events – the omelet and cheese flan of light lunch or supper. Below these we have the vegetables, regarded in the dominant scheme as insufficient for the formation of a meal, and merely ancillary.” (Page 13)

Fiddes argues that meat qualifies as a symbol since its economic and social importance is greater than might be anticipated from its purely nutritional value: “When nutritionists or policy-makers discuss the energy, fat, or protein contents of foods, for example, and expect a willing public dutifully to adapt their habits, they are deceiving themselves in failing to accommodate the numerous other roles that foods play in people’s lives. Indeed some ‘authorities’ seem to live in a fantastic science-fiction world, alien to those of us who simply enjoy buying, preparing and eating food.” (Page 41)

The last point is very important for activists to internalize, as it shows how the famous claim – that veganism is practically merely a technical switch of some ingredients with some others – is a bit detached from humans’ motives. We addressed this issue in a counter article to Michal Pollan’s article “an animal’s place” (and to his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”), please read it if you are interested in that particular angle.

And finally, just a few more essential fragments from the book to better understand the theory:
“Killing, cooking, and eating other animals’ flesh provides perhaps the ultimate authentication of human superiority over the rest of nature, with the spilling of their blood a vibrant motif.”
(Page 65)

“We do not esteem meat in spite of the domination of sentient beings. Rather, excepting the qualms that we may (individually) feel when faced with our responsibility for a living animal’s death, we (as a society) esteem meat so highly partly because of that power. It is not that we each consciously exult in our mastery of nature whenever we bite into a piece of flesh, but we are brought up within a culture which has regarded environmental conquest as a laudable goal, and which had deployed meat as a primary means to demonstrate it.” (Page 228)

Meat satisfies our bodies but it also feeds our minds. We eat not only the animal’s flesh; with it we drain their lifeblood and so seize their strength. And it is not only that animal which we so utterly subjugate; consuming its flesh is a statement that we are the unquestionable masters of the world.” (Page 68)

So to put it bluntly – humans don’t eat meat despite that it’s made of murdered animals but because it is made of murdered animals. Fiddes’ scary conclusion is that the killing, oppression, domination and violence that animals endure are not an unfortunate by-product humans are willing to accept so they can enjoy their desirable meat, but the reasons they find meat desirable. Again, we disagree that it is the only reason humans eat meat, but we definitely agree it is a significant one, and so it is highly important to acknowledge it.

Not-Byproduct

The Strength of Inexplicitness

Fiddes argues that the symbolism’s inexplicitness even makes it stronger:
“The power of the ideas depends upon their being communicated without being rendered explicit, for their meaning can then be understood by all concerned, but at the level of assumption, common sense, and accepted fact.
That animals are killed for humans to eat is obvious to the point of banality. However, the inherent conquest is rarely discussed overtly in the context of food provision. Our willingness to eschew confronting certain aspects of meat’s identity is more than a matter of preferring to sidestep that which might be unsavoury. The fact that most of us make little mention of the domination inherent in rearing animals for slaughter does not indicate that it is irrelevant. On the contrary, that which remains unsaid about meat conveys an added dimension of meaning which is particularly potent. It is the very taken-for-grantedness of values implicit in the meat system which makes the message so powerful, whilst rationalisations of meat’s importance (such as nutrition and prestige), partly serve to obscure these values from our consciousness.”
(Page 44)

In other words, the fact that animals’ flesh is referred to as another product, is probably the strongest indication of humans’ dominance over nature and other animals. A symbol of power is most powerful when it’s most trivial. The banality of consuming the body parts of animals bred to be murdered is the symbol in its most pronounced figure.

Not only that Fiddes argues that the symbolism’s inexplicitness makes it stronger, he thinks that when a symbol becomes explicit it is much easier to confront it. And he gives the veal industry as an example:
“Paradoxically, this obscurity preserves and perpetuates the influence of these implicit meanings since, not being recognized, they can scarcely be challenged. Veal, for example, enjoyed high prestige for many years partly, I suggest, because of the extreme subjugation of the creatures intrinsic to its production. That, however, was seldom voiced; instead its value was explicitly attributed to such arbitrary qualities as delicate falvour and light colour. Only once its production methods were brought into the domain of explicit public consideration did they become intolerable, at which time this previously inherent meaning lost its positive power and instead became a negative influence on the meat’s popularity.” (Page 44)

We agree that the symbol’s inexplicitness makes it stronger, but we wish we could agree that the veal industry is an example of the claim that once the symbol becomes explicit it is much easier to confront it. The fact that even such a small and publically unaccepted industry still exists, many decades after its cruel production methods were brought into the domain of explicit public consideration (Ruth Harrison wrote about it in Animal Machines 54 years ago and it probably wasn’t the first time) proves that animals’ suffering doesn’t become intolerable by humans that easily.
The process that Fiddes describes doesn’t happen in other industries and it is not because they are less cruel or less explicit. It’s because they are harder for humans to give up on.
The egg industry must also serve as one of the most prominent examples of humans’ dominance over other animals and over nature. Everything about this industry screams dominance and control. Animals who are victims of the egg industry were selectively bred to lay as many eggs possible, the males are tossed into a grinding machine or are gassed to death minutes after they are born because they don’t lay eggs and are not profitable enough for meat production which for that function humans have obviously selectively bred a separate kind of chickens. The females are confined in battery cages which are the absolute embodiment of nature control with their slanted wire floor designed for easier eggs collection and cage cleaning. The solution to the infamous pecking of chickens, which is of course a result of another nature control symbol – packing the maximum possible animals in the minimum possible space to maximize profits, is to physically cut a natural and essential organ. What is more a symbol of nature control than inventing a machine which cuts chickens beaks? Maybe forced molting, the originally natural process of molting which humans are forcing the birds to go through when it suits humans and while starving and thirsting the chickens to forcefully initiate it.
And despite all that and much more, the status of the egg industry is far from the status of the veal industry. The reason isn’t stemmed in which industry is more violent to the animals or in which there are more explicit dominance symbols, but what is more convenient for humans to criticize. Obviously it’s the veal industry, as humans can easily consume other flesh products (even of young calves who were cruelly torn away from their mothers, bred in factory farms their whole lives until they were brutally slaughtered, but weren’t confined in veal crates), while it is much harder for them to give up eggs. As many activists know too well, human values and perspective regarding moral issues is often a result of their preferences, and not the other way around. It’s simple to drop veal, and that is why the veal industry is the one with the cruel label.

Giving up veal when realizing how horrible the production conditions are, is a way too easy test. A real test is explaining to humans that chickens in the meat industry are doomed to eternal physical and mental ills due to the selective breeding humans are tormenting them with, and see how many of them would give that up.
So far humanity as a collective is failing even in outlawing the veal industry.

Neatly Packed Dominance

Fiddes theory doesn’t necessarily contradict Elias’s civilizing process theory, only its practical implications. While Elias estimated that humans’ advance in the threshold of repugnance
would lead many of them at some point to feel repugnance for meat, Fiddes argues that humans’ conflict between their need to express their power and control, and their advance in the threshold of repugnance (which he doesn’t refute), is manifested in conducting “civilized” rituals over symbols of power and violence, such as intentionally regarding “products” which are produced by methods considered as the most violent ones of meat production, as the most prestigious delicacies. The most prominent examples for that are probably Foie Grass and White Veal.
Another example is the infamous barbeque, which involves plenty of rituals around meat and all its symbols. It utterly embodies a symbol of power and control disguised as an innocent social gathering and celebrations of holidays. It is not a coincidence that barbeque is such a common celebration of many holidays and family gatherings. It is also not a coincidence that even though all year round cooking is traditionally “women’s chore”, when it comes to barbeque, men usually don’t let women even come near the grill. It is “a man’s job”, and it’s usually done by “the man of the house” or the most machoistic male present.

BBQ
Besides conducting “civilized” rituals over symbols of power and dominance to disguise their true violent essence, an even more common and trivial manifestation of humans having it both ways, is consuming meat in a much more graphically refined form. Processed meat for that matter is a very practical way of humans’ ability to maintain their natural symbol of power and their advance in the threshold of repugnance.
Everyone unconsciously knows that meat, no matter how cooked, processed or concealed in ready-made sealed microwave dinner boxes, is still necessarily produced by murdering animals. So in that sense it functions as a natural symbol of power and dominance even when it is neatly packed, even when its name was euphemized, and when there are no visible signs of violence such as blood or recognizable organs. Humans continue to consume meat and for the same reasons, one of which is the power and dominance embodied in it, only that they are getting less and less graphic remainders of the violence.

Fiddes argues that to solve the alleged conflict modern consumers have with meat (simultaneously adore the power and violence embodied in meat, and being deterred by it), the industry camouflages the connection between meat and its origin, and so humans can consume the desirable products of power and violence without getting the undesirable graphic remainders of the power and violence involved:
Meat marketing had responded accordingly, to assuage customers’ sensitivity to the nature of the product. Nowadays, the consumer need never encounter animal flesh in its vulgar undressed state. Instead it will come cooked and reshaped, in a sesame bun or an exotically-flavoured sauce, as a turkey roll or as chicken nuggets, in a crumb coating or a vacuum-package, with not a hint of blood in sight. More and more butchers’ windows sport fresh green vegetables, fragrant herbs, and perhaps a stir-fry mixture. The most innovative diversify with in-store bakeries or specialist groceries. A deliberate process of disguising the source of animal foods has gathered pace in the twentieth century reacting to our evident unease with the idea of eating dead animals” (Page 95)

The names we give to the flesh of the main meat animals are another device whereby we reduce the unpleasant impact of having to acknowledge their identity. We do not eat cow, we eat beef; we do not eat pig, we eat pork; we don’t eat deer, we eat venison. It is as if we cannot bear to utter the name of the beast whose death we have ordained.” (Page 97)

In a way what Fiddes argues is that when it comes to animals, Elias’s civilizing process was hindered or even stopped, since humans don’t see the violence in today’s processed food. The violence is so concealed that humans feel it is ok. They don’t feel repugnant by a processed meat product that doesn’t resemble an animal anymore.
Technological advances in transportation, conservation and packing of meat, industrial and home refrigerators, ovens, and processed ready to eat TV dinners, all enabled the violence to be more and more covered up. There are less and less reminders that an animal was killed for the products.x

Unlike Fiddes, we think that, first of all, if it was true that because of a deliberate act of disguising the remains of violence, the repugnant threshold doesn’t work on humans today (since processed products don’t remind humans of violence), then we would have seen many humans who might not be vegetarians but would at least refuse to eat the dead turkey on thanksgiving, or medium rare stakes, or crabs, or fishes are served whole. But what we do see is mainly the opposite. There are humans who don’t eat pigs and cows but do eat fishes and chickens. That is despite that chickens and fishes are served when they resemble themselves more than “pork” and “beef” resemble cows and pigs. The reason is that other factors are much stronger, such as health concerns, environmental impact, and the empathy ability which for most humans is easier when it comes to mammals. There aren’t many humans who eat meat, but only as long as it doesn’t look like an animal. But there are many who don’t eat cows’ flesh mostly for health reasons, and also for environmental, or emotional identification reasons.

But more importantly for that matter, there is no intended process of disguising the remains of violence. Although in some cultures there is a linguistic euphemism expressed in that humans don’t eat cows but beef, not pigs but pork, not claves but veal, that is true only for some cultures, only for some animals, and even only for some parts of some animals. Even the same cultures who “disguise” cows, pigs and claves under beef, pork and veal, don’t find it hard to consume chickens, fishes, turkeys, lambs, lobsters, crabs, ribs, thighs, breasts, and T-bone steaks for example.

And as for the processed food packages who “disguise” the animals inside, and many butcher shops and meat aisles in supermarkets looking cleaner and less bloody – it is true to some extent, but it’s also very partial. In many supermarkets around the world, whole body parts (in many cases including whole heads) are hanged for the customers to be impressed with the “merchandise”, many supermarkets still keep live fishes to be murdered on the spot for the consumers, or purchased alive by them, and all of which and a lot more, can be found in outdoor markets all around the world.

Butcher_Shop

Most packages may cover the raw flesh and probably the blood, and by that try to disguise the violence, at least to a certain degree, but they certainly don’t cover the animal. In fact, if there is a strong visual reminder for the consumers of what they are about to consume, it is in the images stuck on the packages of many processed meats. Obviously these are extremely deceiving and mendacious images of how the animals have lived, but it doesn’t try to disguise their existence. On the contrary, most labels proudly advertise their origin.
For the last couple of decades there is even a trend of telling an entire story of how the animal inside the package was raised, where s/he lived, what s/he ate and etc. obviously it’s false and manipulative but that is not the point here. The point is that there is no attempt to disconnect the animal from the “product”. If the argument was true, most labels would have been of cooked dishes, so humans would associate it with the joy of consuming the product, but many are of the living version of the murdered animals inside. If anything, the producers are making the connection between processed meat and the animals murdered for it, not disguising it. And that is because humans consume meat because they want to eat animals. What they prefer not to see or think of is how the meat was prepared for them, but they know meat is animals’ flesh, that’s in large part why they are buying it.

Making_the_Connection
The disguise, if any, is a superficial disguise only. It is simply because blood and bones disgust many humans. True, it is disgusting because it is a dead animal, and probably many humans don’t want to think about death when they are eating, but there isn’t really a disconnection between animals and meat. Not only that the connection is there, humans want it there. They want animals’ flesh. They just don’t want it too visual. There is no factual disguise, only visual.

And even that argument is very partial. Humans have no problem getting into an air-conditioned mall in almost every city, and buy a large bucket of dead chickens who resemble very much to themselves, holding their legs and eating their body parts. They literally hold them by their bones. The fact that it is a dead animal can’t be mistaken. And there are no efforts to disguise it. It is called fried chicken, it looks like chickens, it smells like a fried corpse of chickens and feels like chickens while eating it, not only because of the flavor, but because humans hold their legs while doing it.
KFC is one of the most popular restaurants in the world. Humans don’t find it repugnant to buy a bucket full of dead chickens. There are no violence signs on a pizza but there are in fried chicken. Yet KFC is not less popular than Pizza Hut. If the thesis was true it would have been less popular.
Another similar example is lobsters who are considered a delicacy among many humans and the only reason they are not more popular is their price, not the fact that it is hard to disguise the remains of an animal when in many restaurants humans pick the animal they want to be cooked for them, from an aquarium when they are still alive, knowing they would be boiled alive.

A few years ago, when humans in the UK discovered that they were buying horses meat, there was an outcry. This story is extremely irritating and frustrating from several angles, but to our current matter, there was no mass revelation among humans who self-observed and wondered how come they felt so repugnant when finding out that they were eating horses but are absolutely indifferent when buying cows flesh. Humans are absolutely indifferent to eating cows since cows are animals humans eat and horses are usually exploited for other functions. Horses are mostly beloved and cows are not. Habits, false traditional outlooks, ungrounded symbolism and etc. are much more powerful than how recognizable the dead animal is in a meat product. After the news exposure, humans stood in the supermarket, holding a chunk of dead animal in their hands, hoping that it is not a horse but a cow, and then bought it. In that moment the recognition that it is an animal in their hands was stronger than ever (we argue that it is almost always the case, but for the sake of the argument, it was definitely the case in that particular moment), and so the violent truth behind the clean processed food should have been revealed and cause a feeling of repugnancy. But this truth is not so inconvenient for humans. They buy meat because it is an animal. It is not the fact that it is an animal that deters them. It is not the violence that repulses them but the social status. It is about them. Cows can suffer just as much as horses obviously. They might even know it rationally. But humans are not rational beings and they don’t buy cows because they think cows suffer less than horses. It is not about the cows or the horses. It’s about the humans. Britons don’t eat horses because they find it uncivilized. And even the fact that the French eat horses probably plays a bigger part in the Brits’ refusal to eat horses, than the horses themselves.

Fiddes even argues that fast food restaurants try to avoid using red colors because of the blood reference, and that they tend to prefer green because of its lifely reference.
However, the earlier mentioned KFC uses red in its logo, and red is a very dominant color in their restaurants. It’s also the color of their vile bucket of murdered chickens.
The name Burger King in the companies’ logo is red including in their big signs above their restaurants, so the first big thing humans see in the chain’s branches is red.
The infamous McDonalds’ ‘M’ is yellow but it’s always on a red background. Their fries packs are red. Their kids meal box is red, and in many cases their soft drinks cups are also red.
Chipotle’s logo is white letters on red background and their menus are written on a red background.
This is not a picky point. It goes to show that humanity is not really in the conflicting position Fiddes argues it is. We wish it were so. We wish disguises were necessary, as it would have meant that humans are at least highly defensive. Unfortunately they are highly indifferent.

Highly_Indifferent

Truly sensitive humans don’t fall for the industries lies, they simply stop consuming animals.
The pretendedly sensitive humans prefer their meat from a package that tells them soothing lies about the animals they are about to consume, and by that making the strongest connection possible between the “product” and its victims.
And most humans are indifferent anyway.

Humans don’t need the living conditions of animals to be disguised from them, evidently, they don’t stop consuming animals after they are exposed to them. And that is because humans are selfish, self-centered beings, who live their small and non-ideological lives hoping they can do much of the things they like and least of the things they dislike. Humans don’t live ideas, they don’t need disguises nor reminders. You can put a constant sound of crying cows in a burger place and what will happen is that few would go vegetarian, some would finish eating their dead animal but never come back to that place, and most would rapidly be accustomed and continue to come and eat cows to the sound of their screams.

The fact that in the last couple of decades, eating more natural food, including meat, became more fashionable, contradicts Fiddes argument of a deliberate disguise of the connection between meat and animals, since part of this course is offering the consumers information (false and manipulative of course but which does make the connection between the “product” and the dead animals inside). But it doesn’t contradict Fiddes’ main thesis, on the contrary, it proves how meat is literally a natural symbol. The trend of eating organically fed, or grass fed animals is very much indeed a symbol of power and control over nature. Humans still want to eat meat because it is made of animals, they just want to eat more naturally grown animals. The dominance element is still there.

And moreover, even if the demand for better conditions for the animals was a product of humans’ sensitivity to animals and not to their own health, meat was still a symbol of power and control. Humans asking to improve the lives of animals who are confined from birth to death and murdered so they would eat them is still a strong expression of their dominance.
The way most of the ones who are in favor of improving the conditions in factory farming look at it, is that humans have gone too far with their control, and that they should go back to a more natural control over nature, not to give it up.
Even without the natural ability to hunt, eating meat is a very strong symbol of power and dominance. The fact that humans are not equipped with natural hunting abilities compared to real predators, yet they have still managed to become such mega hunters that they don’t even have to hunt to eat meat, makes meat a symbol of power without any bleeding pieces of flesh. These are not needed to maintain the myth. The fact that humans are walking in air-conditioned supermarkets and tranquilly choose which animal body part they wish to eat, is the strongest power symbol. Because it embodies the fact that humans will get what they want. At least until enough of us wake up and stop them.


Culinary Threats are Stronger than Existential Ones

Fiddes disagrees with Elias’s mass vegetarianism estimation as a consequence of an advance in the threshold of repugnance. According to him, the meat industry reacted with a gradual disguise process that enables humans to actually consume even more meat by creating the perfect match: a natural symbol of power and dominance packed in a non-repugnant suite.

Since according to Fiddes humans are so obsessed with meat due to its symbolic significance, the only way humans would change their relation to meat is if they change their relation to what it symbolizes. And a conceptual reversal towards nature has started according to Fiddes and with it perhaps will come a conceptual reversal towards meat:
“Our ethical principles concerning the proper treatment of non-human animals, including the justice of consuming them for food, are also clearly influenced by our view of the correct relationship of humans to the environment in general; and this is likewise a central theme in the modern debate on ecological threats to our continued existence as a species, in which meat is regularly implicated.” (p. 226)

First of all, Fiddes’ estimation lays on a very anthropocentric thought since it’s based on humans’ concern over “their” own planet.
This is not a real undermining of humans’ control over nature. It is a selfish fear of losing “their” home. Nature for that matter is still the place humans live, not where everybody lives. The awakening is to the notion that humans must protect earth because they have no alternatives, not an awakening to that earth has other inhabitants.
Fiddes conclusion is very frustrating. It implies that humans will start considering changing their habits not because they started considering others but since they realized that they are in danger as well.

Secondly, it is very likely that some humans who have opened their minds to anti-anthropocentric ideas (which can be a product of the environmental thought) have also reconsidered at some point their relation to other animals. However, by far the most serious representatives of the call to fundamentally alter humanity’s relation with the rest of the species came from the animal rights movement, which is very far in its essence and most basic perceptions from the environmental movement. The connection between the two is very compelled, and is mostly on the sentimental level, not the conceptual or philosophical one. The animalistic critical thinking is mostly a product of rational western liberal and utilitarian tradition of thought, while the environmental movement is mostly none of the above. It is spiritual, and non-liberal to the point of borderline fascism. We know it might sound counterintuitive for some, and for those we recommend to read our article regarding some of the differences, called – The Anthropocentric View of the Environmentalists.

Thirdly, the fact is that even this extremely anthropocentric perspective doesn’t work. Even when humans realize to what extent their consumption habits damage what they see as their own planet, and their future generations’ home, they are not changing their consumption habits.
The famous UN report – Livestock’s Long Shadow – was published more than a decade ago with very unequivocal data. Humans know that the climate change gas emissions from factory farms are greater than that of cars, planes and all other forms of transportation put together. They are also aware of factory farming’s strain on resources such as water and land. They know about deforestation and how it’s directly related to meat and how it’s responsible for climate change through the release of stored carbon dioxide. They know about the methane release and how it contributes to climate change. They just prefer their selfish, immediate pleasure.

In the best case humans would decrease their cows consumption, in the worst case it would be on chickens’ and fishes’ expense. Humans don’t reduce their meat consumption when it threatens their own personal health so why would they do so, “for the planet” and for future others?

Fiddes argues that: “There are two typical responses to environmental crises. One is to regard individual ecological problems in isolation as the result of inadequate scientific understanding and poor control, and to seek to rectify them by further applications of industrial technology. […] For such people, who remain the majority, meat continues to fulfil its traditional function of exemplifying that value of human pre-eminence and – health scares apart – remains popular.”

“At the other pole of opinion are those who regard the environmental crises as inherent in our current cultural constitution, who see individual ecological problems not in isolation but as interrelated symptoms of a wider malaise. Whatever their particular vision of the future, most such individuals believe that only by adopting a more sensitive approach to our dealings with the planet – including recognition that the non-human environment has needs which must sometimes override our immediate demands – can catastrophic deterioration in local and global ecosystems be averted. It is in these circles that the reputation of meat, as a continuing symbol of human domination of nature, has suffered most severely.” (p. 232)

The problem is that in the middle of these poles are most of humanity, which would change light bulbs, notice their electricity use, change to paper bags, maybe buy an electrical car or at least an environmentally friendlier one, and some might even eat less cows flesh and no one’s flesh on Mondays. But that’s it. They won’t become vegetarians, not to mention vegans, and not even necessarily reduce their overall meat consumption but merely switch species. From mammals to birds and fishes. For further reference please read our post about Earth Day.

In 1991, when Fiddes wrote things like the following: “Should the consensus of opinion in future society dictate that nature must be dealt with more sensitivity, meat may well continue to be used as an expression of our relationship to our environment, and its social acceptability fall as a consequence. It is at least possible that, in this way, in some years time meat eating could come to have a widespread image comparable to that of, say, smoking or drug addiction today – as a relatively vulgar, unhealthy and anti-social indulgence” (p. 233), it probably sounded dreamy. Nowadays, after 27 years during which the global meat consumption continued to increase so dramatically, despite that correspondingly climate change awareness increased dramatically, this dream became a nightmare. Because it appears that even when humans are aware that their greatest threat is climate change, and that meat consumption is one of the main causes, they continue to consume it.
While there was definitely an increase in the awareness to the importance of vegetarianism for environmental reasons since then, it was definitely not in proportion to the increase in awareness to the importance of environmental problems.
Global warming awareness was still in its infancy in 1991. Ecological problems were considered (wrongfully) more local and certainly not human endangering. But they are now and still the response in terms of meat consumption is extremely marginal.

It took decades for environmentalists to regard the meat industry as a significant environmental hazard, and still, most recommend reducing the consumption amount.
Giving up meat is definitely the first thing one should do regarding climate change, yet it is the last. Recycling, smart houses, electrical cars, reusable bags, carbon trade, carpooling, and  even shorter showers, anything but not their beloved flesh.

In 1991 it was a very optimistic estimation of the future, but the present of 2018 is extremely pessimistic.
A lot have changed in humans’ environmental awareness. Almost nothing have changed in humans’ behavior.

In the US for example, it seemed that there was a reduction in cows flesh consumption in the last decade. Though it was mostly related to health concerns, it was estimated that at least some of it was related to climate change. However recently, reports were published in the US media, that in 2015 and 2016 cows flesh is making a frightening comeback.
The main reasons mentioned are economical – lower prices and more disposable income. According to the Department of Agriculture, Americans ate an average 55.6 pounds of cows in 2016, up from 54 pounds in 2015, which in itself was the biggest increase in 40 years. This comes after a decade during which U.S. beef consumption was on a steady decrease, mainly as a result of prices soaring by 50% between 2006 and 2016. For much of the decade, consumption sank as costs rose.
The main reason for the recent price drop is a dramatic fall in the costs of commodities like oil, needed to transport the victims, and corn, to feed them.
So the US’s cows flesh reduction wasn’t as a result of environmental concerns, and so far this trend was reversed. On a global scale even this limited reduction didn’t occur, and in some parts of the world it’s soaring.

Humans haven’t started eating meat for ideological reasons only and they definitely won’t stop for ones. They started eating meat because they could, now they won’t stop despite they can.
Meat is a natural symbol of power and dominance but that is not the only reason why humans are so keen on it. The taste, the smell, the health myths, the social status, the habit and many other reasons, play a significant part in humans’ consumption of animals flesh not less than its power and dominance symbolism.

Like Elias’s theory, Fiddes’s also seems too optimistic and flattering to humanity.
Humans don’t live big ideas but carry on small lives. Some will contribute their 2 cents (mostly by not eating flesh on Mondays) and feel like 2 million dollars, and most won’t give a shit and do as they please. That’s why the few who really care, must do everything in their power not that as many humans as possible would hurt as less animals as possible, but that no animal would ever be hurt by any human.

2 thoughts on “Meat: A Natural Symbol of Power

  1. Parts of Fiddes thinking are reminding of Carol Adams work, published only a year earlier. Until today she keeps collecting cultural expressions from around the world, mostly ads, which strongly reinforce her claim about meat being much more than merely a source of nutrition. Yet she seems to ascribe valuing dominance and hierarchy to the patriarchal culture we’re surrounded by, while he places less focus on it.

  2. In a way his theory is more coherent than the common interpretation of the human race as mostly pleasure seeking, lazy, simple beings, as some would have us believe. When looking at people at a wider scale it makes sense such a basic feature effects how they eat. Also, it seems to explain why violent nature programs are so popular, and more to the point- why leather and fur items retain their popularity, and why many archaic forms of animal abuse such as horse riding/rodeo/hunting/angling still exist.
    It sounds really implausible that the allurement of meat will take the sharp turn he speculates. So far there are evidences of slight changes in some western countries, but it’s a minute dent considering years of ominous headlines stressing the urgency of going off animal products, the UN plea this year being just one of many. Their report and other prestigious scientific publication probably make a stronger connection than Fiddes could have ever imagined, but they all fail to reach the uninterested public, just as it is with animal rights.

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