Will our grandchildren, looking back many years later, remember our era as a time when people ate other living things, when their grandparents participated in bloodshed and unnecessary suffering? Will the past – our present – become for them an unimaginable and terrible show of incessant violence? The film, released by the BBC in 2017, poses such questions. The film tells about a utopia that has come in 2067, when people stop raising animals for food.
Carnage is a mockumentary film directed by comedian Simon Amstell. But let’s seriously think about his message for a moment. Is a “post-meat” world possible? Can we become a society where farmed animals are free and have equal status with us and can freely live among people?
There are several good reasons why such a future is, alas, highly unlikely. For starters, the number of animals being slaughtered around the world is truly enormous at the moment. Animals die at the hands of humans due to hunting, poaching and unwillingness to take care of pets, but by far the most animals die due to industrial agriculture. The statistics are staggering: at least 55 billion animals are killed in the global agricultural industry every year, and this figure is only growing every year. Despite marketing stories about the welfare of farm animals, factory farming means violence, discomfort and suffering on a massive scale.
That’s why Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book, calls our treatment of domesticated animals on factory farms “perhaps the worst crime in history.”
If you pay attention to eating meat, the future utopia seems even more unlikely. The fact is that most people who eat meat express concern about the welfare of animals and are worried that animal death or discomfort is associated with the meat on their plate. But, nevertheless, they do not refuse meat.
Psychologists call this conflict between beliefs and behavior “cognitive dissonance.” This dissonance makes us uncomfortable and we look for ways to reduce it, but, by nature, we usually resort to only the simplest ways to do this. So instead of fundamentally changing our behavior, we change our thinking and develop strategies such as justifying thoughts (animals are not capable of suffering like us; they had a good life) or denying responsibility for it (I do what do everything; it is necessary; I was forced to eat meat; it is natural).
Dissonance reduction strategies, paradoxically, often result in an increase in “discomfort behavior”, in this case meat eating. This form of behavior turns into a circular process and becomes a familiar part of traditions and social norms.
The path to a meat-free world
However, there are grounds for optimism. First of all, medical research is increasingly convincing us that eating meat is associated with multiple health problems. Meanwhile, meat substitutes are becoming more attractive to consumers as technology advances and plant-based protein prices gradually decline.
Also, more people are voicing concern for animal welfare and are taking action to change the situation. Examples include successful campaigns against captive killer whales and circus animals, widespread questions about the ethics of zoos, and the growing animal rights movement.
However, the climate situation may become the most important factor influencing the situation. Meat production is highly resource inefficient (because farm animals eat food that could feed humans themselves), while cows are known to emit a lot of methane. that large-scale industrial animal husbandry is one of the “most significant contributors to serious environmental problems at all levels, from local to global”. The global reduction in meat consumption is one of the best ways to combat climate change. Meat consumption may soon begin to decline naturally due to a lack of resources to produce it.
None of these trends individually suggest social change on the scale of Carnage, but together they can have the desired effect. People who are aware of all the disadvantages of eating meat most often become vegans and vegetarians. The plant-based trend is especially noticeable among young people – which is important if we really expect to see significant changes after 50 years. And let’s face it, the need to do everything we can to collectively reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change will become even more pressing as we approach 2067.
So, current trends offer hope that the interconnected psychological, social and cultural dynamics that drive us to regularly eat meat may be starting to wane. Films like Carnage also contribute to this process by opening up our imagination to a vision of an alternative future. If you’ve seen this movie yet, give it one evening – it might amuse you and give you some food for thought.