I was asked to create a series of images in response to the Meat Licence Proposal. These images were displayed at the dinner marking the launch of '2009 - Year of Activism.' They were conceived to provoke discussion about the proposal amongst the dinner guests.
A lot of my work is concerned with character and storytelling, so I found it easier to create these illustrations once I'd created a narrative to put them in. The narrative was simply - A British society in which The Meat Licence is in effect. How would the licence be adopted by our culture? Would particular customs/traditions evolve to help ease it into our way of life? How would existing social systems adapt to the licence?
This image is a souvenir photo of a young man with his family to mark the occasion of his first kill. He has been given the animal's tail as a memento.
This illustration shows a group of children on a school trip to an abattoir. The style of these illustrations was intended to be slightly nostalgic, as though from a textbook. This was in order to make the Licence appear more embedded in our culture.
A business man proudly holding his captive bolt pistol. The idea being that he is a kind of 'weekend warrior' - the killing of animals being an outlet for him from his hum drum 9 to 5 working week.
This is a loyalty card, similar to one from a coffee shop or fast food outlet. Kill six cows and you get the choice cuts from the sixth for free.
This is a captive bolt pistol designed for the discerning woman. Fits dicreetly into any handbag.
A young man with a ceremonial spear. I imagined particular fashions and desirables becoming associated with the Licence. I wondered whether these items might reference cultures where the slaughter of animals is already commonplace and/or ritualised.
I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine; and my reason is, that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages, therefore one male will be sufficient to serve four females. That the remaining hundred thousand may, at a year old, be offered in the sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom; always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.
Jonathan Swift (1729)
When Jonathan Swift proffered his solution to the problem of the urban poor in Dublin in 1729 he caused an immediate sensation. His pamphlet, A Modest Proposal has since become a classic text in Irish history and literature and set a high water-mark for radical freedom of speech in colonial Ireland. The central thrust of his solution to the city's decline (which in the current orthodox view was due to overpopulation) was to suggest that his fellow citizens ought to simply eat the excess children. He delivered his terrifying proposal in beautiful and prosaic language. By subtly equating the children of the Irish poor to livestock, he divided opinion and sparked debate.
When the U.K. Meat Licencing Law (2012) was first mooted, Swift's tongue-in-cheek pamphlet was something that immediately sprang to mind. The searing and incisive indictment of colonial misrule seems to me directly comparable to this proposed law. The MLL plays with current conceptions of inferiority. It asks us to analyse our hierarchical structure of a food chain from which we have become detached - and yet still feed fat upon. In this brief post I aim to ask what direction the MLL might take, were it to adopt a more Swiftian route.
The crux of Swifts argument lay in his direct assault on the supposed wealth of the nation - its people. It did so by suggesting that some people were more important than others and that their children were less of a drain on society than those of the urban poor. The logic of the piece depends on the reader accepting inter alia that there is a hierarchy, and that those at the top are there by right and legitimately so. The MLL also depends on this logic, by forcing us to accept that by consuming meat in the commercial 21st century way (that is: by purchasing it in ASDA or Tesco, wrapped in cellophane) is to admit that the majority of those living in the UK accept the benefits of the mass slaughter of animals, but are unwilling to contribute to the process directly. The MLL, if successful, would require us all to confront our constructed hierarchy. So far, so good - but Swift was not serious, and did not attempt to make a law. So why make a comparison?
My argument here is that as the MLL currently stands it can hope to have but a limited impact. Take these as absolutes: it will not succeed, and will not be an effective law by 2012, or by 2020. For this we can thank the absurdity of the law itself, the economic cost of such an endeavour, and the probable lack of public support. By contrast, Swift's proposal (a much more absurd one) had a contemporary effect, caused debate and clamour and is held up all over the world as an example of how an acute satire can really wound. So how did he do it, and what can we learn from it?
Swift's proposal was horrendous, it was macabre. It was written by a man that was relatively famous and was identified as the author within a very short time frame. It was popularized, reprinted, lionized. It was written beautifully, simply and with logic. It was hilarious, but it stung. Rather than seeing the MLL as a test-law that will fail, why not use this vulgarity, this irreverence that it contains to its full potential? Why not take the Swiftian route and use the rich potential for a public satire contained in the MLL proposal to its fullest expression? The more public the better - debates, documentary, newspaper columns. Make it a 21st century pageantry - take the piss, attack middle class complacency and point out the inconsistency of our position, how uncomfortable we are with our grazing habits. When the dust settles the artistic, moral and legal goals of the project might well have been better served by such a ballsy move.
The Meat Licence Proposal launched "2009 - Year of Activism" with a special invitation dinner, facilitated by Metal as part of their AGA Dinner programme, at Metal House, Liverpool.
The event was an exclusive opportunity, for the individuals invited, to "chew over" the simple premise of The Meat Licence Proposal:
People who are comfortable with eating meat, should be equally comfortable with killing animals.
A key question raised over the course of the dinner was:
What constitutes 'real engagement with the act of killing?'
Over the course of 2009, we will be endeavoring to share The Meat Licence Proposal with the broader public - and welcome your suggestions regarding appropriate ways to do this.
Check out the video below,
5 minutes in, Dan Ariely outlines reasons why some countries have a high level of people signing up to organ donation. Is it about culture? Government strategy? Or clever design...?
I find this video interesting because some of Ariely's examples show how disengaged from decision making we are generally, whilst other examples illustrate how are choices are affected by the options available, and are largely irrational as a result.
At the point of installing a new piece of software, we are routinely asked if we 'agree' or 'disagree' with the terms of licence.
How many of us really read and engage with these terms?
Should a similar End User Licence be introduced at points of meat consumption? -
"I am comfortable with killing animals and, if required by law, I am willing to kill animals."
A kind of "Meat Licence Lite?"
I was watching tv round at a friends the other night & the program 'Could you eat an elephant?'
What a program this was, two esteemed chefs, one of who runs a restraunt called the 'St John' which has 'nose to tail' attitude to eating animals.
They made the interesting point that its a bit odd that we in the uk only tend to eat the meat of four animals.
Pig, Cow, Sheep, Fish.
So they decided to explore cuisine around the world, meeting people with less limited tastes than us.
My mates made two interesting comments.
1) S said that as a Muslim, my religion says I am not supposed to eat anything, if the thought of eating it makes me gag.
2) J said I can't believe that they are eating horses, horses are so noble.
We got into a bit of an argument/debate about that last comment, started to ask ourselves why feel so close to some animals & not others. J Said that it was maybe a something to do with the service that animals such as horses & dogs, have given us as we have evolved together.
As we catogorise which animals would need which licenses, should the meat licence treat killing & eating all animals equally, no matter how squeemish it makes us feel?
Will there be a spectrum from pets to ugly bastard animals?
Who are the food perverts? The dirty foreigners or us?
"Kill it, Cook it, Eat it" is a series being shown on BBC 3 (episode 3 tonight ) which takes a new slant on the traditional TV cooking show. In each episode a group of individuals are taken through the process of slaughtering specific animals and preparing them for consumption.
The programme provides a useful grounding in some of the issues surrounding the slaughter of animals in the UK.
The programme seems also to illustrates some recent trends:
The Meat Licence Proposal is seeking to address the "disconnect" between product and process by legally compelling ALL individuals to directly engage with the act of killing implicit in all meat products.
Are viewers of "Kill it, cook it, Eat it" engaging with the act of killing?
(Post prompted by Andy and James.)
The Meat License Proposal: Podcast No1
I was chatting with a friend about the Meat License a few months ago, when she said that she had a friend who would be interested in the project.
She said, "Well he's a Veggie, but he went off on some eco-holiday-trip to an island, and ended up killing a pig, in the name of ecology."
'Wow', I thought, 'he would be great to interview for the Meat License Propsal'.
I couldn't have made up a more interesting case study to look into the idea of someone being unexpectedly compelled to kill an animal.
If someone who has lived as a Vegetarian for years, can kill an animal, then what can their experience give to those of us that will be faced with killing the animals that we want to eat in future?
More4's "Lawmaker" programme reaches it's handover stage this evening (Thursday 11th) when proposals for new laws, put forward by viewers, are put to the backbench MP's who win the Private Members Ballot.
Interestingly, two of the Proposals on Channel 4's website seem to share a common theme - making things harder for younger people.
Karen Cholerton's Proposal suggests that driving tests should be much harder, including a compulsory attitude test (and "some sort of video that includes people who have been invoved in car crashes and fatal accidents...)
Clare Hanbury's Proposal demands that all young people complete a mandatory years paid work before they are allowed access to higher education...
To coincide with Barcamp Liverpool we have made The Meat Licence Proposal site open to all users without the need to log in for 3 days only.