Why Apocalypse Cow needed some intersectional input

I had high hopes for Channel 4’s documentary Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet. Billed by channel 4 as a ‘provocative documentary’ that ‘argues that the biggest problem driving us towards global disaster is how we feed ourselves, particularly on meat’ I hoped it would help raise awareness about the cruelty endemic to animal agriculture as well as shine a spotlight on the way animal agriculture contributes to climate change.

While it made a clear case for the need for the reduction, if not elimination, of meat consumption for the sake of the climate, there was a disturbing scene where the presenter, George Monbiot, killed a deer before consuming a burger made from his/her flesh. The thrust of the argument here was that the numbers of some animals need to be ‘managed’ and so consuming the flesh of those ‘culled’ takes little/less environmental toll. The same argument is often made in Australia regarding kangaroos where this form of animal flesh is cast as sustainable – begging the question, of course, of for whom? Not for the animals, naturally. This highlights the age old division between environmentalists and animal liberationists where fundamental philosophical divides abound. For example, do we protect ecosystems by killing certain species/restricting their numbers or do we consider individual animals’ right to live?

These are highly vexing questions and as we see more environmental awareness – due in no small part to the increasing number and ferocity of climate emergencies – they will keep rearing their heads. But when we frame the debate like this we ignore a – desperately needed – intersectional analysis (Crenshaw).

Considering an issue in intersectional terms means recognising and addressing the interplay of multiple and overlapping oppressions. Key among them, for the purposes of this post, is the link between violence to and exploitation of animals and violence to and exploitation of the environment linked through the concept of dominance.  When humans see themselves as apart from and superior to the environment and other animals it gives them/us licence to use them for our needs:

Oppressive and patriarchal conceptual frameworks are characterized not only by value dualisms and hierarchies but also by “power-over ” conceptions of power and relationships of domination (Warren 1991b) and a logic of domination, i.e., a structure of argumentation that provides the moral premise that superiority justifies subordination (Warren 1987, 1990).

When we adopt anthropocentric arguments about ending animal agriculture, such as those espoused in this documentary that it must end because it harms the environment humans need to live in, we miss the point. We miss the underlying mechanism that allows us to misuse the environment in the first place – the logic of dominance. Not only do we miss it, but in arguing we should consume the flesh of other animals – those deemed as killable pests (like the deer) –  we actually prop up the mechanisms we need to dismantle if we are to ever re-orient our relationship with the environment to the degree now needed.

Artwork: Heather Fraser

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