Red meat, red herringhttp://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/red-meat-red-herring/2006/03/23/1143083898475.html ://http://www.theage.com.au/news/opini...083898475.html ://http://www.theage.com.au/news/opini...083898475.html
March 24, 2006
The ad seems at times to tacitly suggest not eating meat may be dangerous.
An ad for meat tries to bypass morality by appealing to evolution, writes Richard King.
Amid the superhuman feats taking place in Melbourne this week, a lesson in human evolution has been doing the rounds on our TV screens. This is part of a marketing campaign by Meat and Livestock Australia, a company representing the interests of livestock producers, processors, exporters, food service operators and food retailers. Timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, the campaign includes the following tag line: "Red meat - we were meant to eat it."
The advertisement takes us on a whirlwind tour through 2 million years of human evolution - all the way from the African grasslands to a family meal in the Australian suburbs. Our guide on this tour is the actor Sam Neill, who, according to David Thomason, marketing manager at the company, brings "trust and credibility" to the role. Whence Neill's credibility comes Thomason doesn't specify, but I imagine it might have something to do with his performance as Dr Alan Grant in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Grant knows his herbivores from his carnivores.
Here is the spiel from the company's website, an expurgated version of which appears in the current TV ad: "To understand the importance of red meat you have to go back millions of years to the time when our ape ancestors came down from the trees and moved to open grasslands. During this time, only the fittest species of early man would survive. Those who adapted to the new surroundings lived on. The big leap came when our ancestors started to eat red meat. The nutrients in red meat helped our brains grow. Hunting forced us to think. We learnt how to shape tools, communicate and work together - we were turning into human beings. Over thousands of years, our bodies adapted to a diet high in red meat. In fact, our bodies and nutritional needs are very similar to our early ancestors. This is why your body instinctively desires red meat for health and wellbeing."
Thus the advertisement tries to "position" red meat as a "foundation food". Far from being a rearguard action aimed at assuaging recent fears that red meat may be linked to bowel cancer, the marketing campaign is a proactive affair, seeming at times to tacitly suggest that not eating meat may even be dangerous.
My objection, however, is not to the science, but rather to the philosophy underpinning it. For it becomes apparent before very long that the question of what is or isn't natural is a red herring of immense proportions. The real issue is a moral one - and it is as moral beings, not animals, that we must endeavour to deal with it.
Most vegetarians do not object in principle to eating meat, but rather to the disgusting way in which animals are treated before slaughter. Sows confined to narrow stalls for the term of their reproductive lives; the trade in the live export of sheep and cattle; the systematic extermination of the majority of male chicks at birth; the appalling condition of battery hens - these are immoral practices perpetrated by the meat industry. The company tries to bypass morality with a direct appeal to evolutionary science. But to justify eating factory-farmed meat by reference to human evolution is a moral and intellectual cop-out. What if I tried to justify rape by reference to human reproduction? I'd be cast, quite rightly, as a moral imbecile.
Man is a moral being first. That is why an increasing number of people are choosing not to eat meat - and why even Sam Neill, fine actor though he is, will not convince them to change their minds.
Richard King is a writer based in Western Australia.