Veganism is a tricky subject. Although it is rapidly growing as a movement, with the Vegan Society reporting in 2016 that half a million of people in the UK are now leading a vegan lifestyle, it still remains a minority in a society of carnivores. I’m sure that everyone knows or has encountered at least one self-righteous, or what I like to call ‘crusading’, vegan. A vegan who believes that their moral high ground gives them the authority to alienate those not following the same lifestyle. Despite this stereotype representing a small cross-section of a relatively small community, it has nonetheless stigmatised the vegan movement to the point that the wider public can dismiss every single vegan as some kind of extremist elitist.
This is what makes the mockumentary ‘Carnage: Swallowing the Past’ so clever. Not only was it created by one of my favourite comedians Simon Amstell, (of ‘Popworld’, ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ and ‘Grandma’s House’) with the music by Jeremy Warmsley (aka Mr Summer Camp, another personal favourite) it also manages to put forward the main arguments for veganism in a hilarious, concise and positive manner. It also, between the gags, brings up many of the key discussion points in animal welfare and veganism today.
‘‘Carnage’ is framed as a documentary made in the year 2067, a time where Britain has become an all-vegan society and where discussion of the country’s past of eating animal products is the ultimate taboo. Actors portray the younger generations that have grown up knowing nothing but a vegan way of life, perplexed by their elders who used to eat meat and drink the milk of ‘little babies’. The film aims to address the taboo by detailing the history of veganism, intensive farming and meat eating in British society, from 1944 through to “present” day. It does this through the use of both archival and staged footage of TV clips, news reports and interviews with fictional activists, chefs and other important figures who played a part in veganism becoming the norm.
Amstell’s narration by comparing the farming of animals to the slave trade. He is not the first person to make this comparison. Animals have been likened to previously marginalised groups within society, because they are discriminated against on the basis of their species, rather than race, nationality or sexuality. It has been predicted that animals will be the next group to be relieved from persecution.
The hypocrisy of our current treatment of animals is also highlighted, with reference to the incident involving David Cameron and the head of a pig. If we are outraged by this sort of behaviour towards pigs, how do we justify killing and eating them?
Within society, trying to decide whether murder or rape is the worse crime is something that is not discussed. And it needn’t be. As humans, we see murder and rape as the most immoral acts that can be committed against one another. And yet, we casually commit both crimes, with animals as the victims, every day. Cannibalism between humans can only be justified as an act of last resort, for the purposes of survival, by those stranded and with little other choice. Rape and other sexual offences, meanwhile, occur in the absence of consent. Often, the targets of these offences are unable to consent, either through lack of communication or understanding, like children, the disabled, and animals. Amstell’s unapologetic use of the word ‘rape’ in reference to animals reflects this point of view, particularly talking about cows who are artificially inseminated in order to produce more milk for the dairy industry.
Bringing up all of these points throughout an otherwise comedic film supports Amstell’s overarching argument that the entire societal structure of Britain must be challenged in order to achieve the all-vegan future depicted in ‘Carnage’ (which is presumably Amstell’s desired future, what with him being a vegan himself).
Human beings do not need to eat animals. We have gone before without eating animal products, as Amstell recalls the rationing of animal products in the Second World War, leading to the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign and encouragement for self sufficiency. It also not necessary for our diets, nor as a means to survival. Rather, we eat animals simply because we can. Our consumerist, capitalist culture has led to animals being commodified, an entire food industry based around the enslavement, rape and murder of living beings.
Ultimately, ‘Carnage’ offers three reasons why we should no longer eat animals: for the sake of the animals themselves, to help reduce the effects of climate change on the environment, and for the purposes of human health. Eating meat from animals pumped full of antibiotics and steroids leads to stronger diseases that could be passed on to humans through consumption (also known as zoonotic diseases.) It is particularly useful to recognise arguments for animal protection that do not rely on animals being saved for the sake of themselves, but instead show the negative impacts that their current treatment has on our society, such as human health. These arguments will help to further practical changes to implement in order to improve protection for animals.
For a documentary to be effective, I believe it needs to have two successful components. An interesting subject, and an effective presentation of said subject. The use of ‘anti-farm propaganda’ does crop up occasionally in ‘Carnage’, but it is by no means the focus. Rather than simply relying on shock value to convince people to give up animal products, Amstell instead addresses the actual issues. His brand of humour also makes it an easier watch, from the fictional musical within the film featuring the line, ‘What kind of animal rapes for milk?’, to the suggestion that Ronald McDonald’s hair is red because he swims in the blood of animals killed for their products.