Inherit the world, devour the earth : representations of western meat production and consumption in contemporary fiction.
Type of content
A quick survey of reality television offerings, news articles, and advertisements are enough to show the ubiquity of meat on the screens and in the diets, homes, and psyches of many Western consumers. However, the animals that are reared, slaughtered, and packaged into meat products, and the industrialized processes that they undergo in order to transform them from animal subjects to consumable objects, are, for the most part, missing from these types of media fodder. In this thesis, I contend that these absent animals, the processes they encounter, and the discourses used in order to perpetuate Western meat production and consumption can be found in three contemporary novels: Meat (Joseph D’Lacey 2008), Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell 2004), and Under the Skin (Michel Faber 2000).
As multi-faceted cultural texts, fictional narratives allow for the exploration of the ambivalent and, at times, contradictory relationship between humans and animals, and the many issues that arise as a result of the majority’s choice to consume certain animal species. Fictional works provide readers and audiences with a critical distance, or a means by which the usually invisible can be rendered visible and they thereby provide an avenue for reflection on aspects of daily life that have become entrenched and, consequently, remain unseen and rarely challenged. The continuing prominence of meat in Western diets and the discourses harnessed to reinforce the status quo; our relationship to the nonhuman animals from which this meat derives; the issues surrounding its production on the paddock, in the laboratory, and behind closed doors in the factory farm and slaughterhouse; the effect of meat consumption on interpersonal relationships, human and “animal” health and the environment, and the metaphorical and symbolic value of meat might be hard to find in mainstream advertisements, prime-time news bulletins, and reality television, but they are not excluded from the fictional narrative arena.
Through their various representations of the human-animal divide, biotechnologies, factory farming and slaughterhouse processes, and their portrayals of anthropophagy, the novels I have selected are a provocative means of bringing to light the speciesist ideologies and discourses that perpetuate industrialized Western meat production and consumption. I contend that these fictional representations can be read as subversive challenges to the meat-centric status quo, and are more informative and interrogative than the smorgasbord of “reality” television and advertisements that prompted my research.