Are Some Chefs Tools?

We talk a lot about masculinity and the powerful symbology that meat-eating has within our culture here at The Discerning Brute. We also discuss how strongly the tools of meat preparation resonate with those seeking to exhibit masculine power. From big knives and sharp, heavy cleavers to tenderizers and grinders, this is nothing short of a shiny, dangerous arsenal designed to dismember, shred and slice flesh. And like the “Meat Business Rock Stars” banner that was flying at Brooklyn’s Meatopia event, the message is often “beware”.

Most recently,  – known for their celebration of meat-induced masculinity, launched a new show called “Knife Fight“. The ad that I’ve seen plastered up around New York City subways shows two tough-guy chefs, arms crossed, wielding knives with the bloody heads of pigs resting on cutting boards below them. This pig-head meme is a popular one, and it we see it within nearly every food publication and it has even bled into the art world. Most young chefs worth their weight in foie gras seem to line up for the opportunity to be photographed with a knife in one hand and a pig’s head in the other, with a delicately blood-splattered apron, in moody, baroque lighting, riding a fine visual line between hero and villain.

The suggestions that images like these make are complicated. We are asked to think of the subjects as stoic and masculine – doing the hard work that must be done of bringing home the bacon –  but we are also told, through eye contact and the readiness of their weapons, that they can harm or kill, which is a clear performance of power, telling us to take heed. The head of the pig is displayed as the centerpiece and focal point in images like this, like the recent New York Times article, The Proper Way to Eat a Pig“, where the subject is photographed with the head on a platter. Whether or not it’s an homage to Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist, we are asked to recognize the face as a primary element, and like our own human face, to see it as the sacred vessel of personality. To acknowledge and celebrate the face is to both acknowledge that the pig was a subject of perception; one who had an inner life. And it is in this celebration of the face that we find one of the most perplexing disconnects of carnism. The head then becomes the ultimate sacrifice, and is transformed into a ritualistic object. Like the Korean pig head ritual, it grants power to those using it. This visual is used to shock because it is shocking to see the victim’s face. It is intended to disgust because there is subconscious desirability around the power of doling out that which is gruesome.

Ultimately, all of the drama, mood and posturing in an effort to showcase power collapses under one simple fact that Carol Adams pointed out so eloquently: it is only a performance of power against the already powerless.



Berluti’s Dissonance is Fashion Carnism

Image: New York Times/ Chris Moore/Karl Prouse

The luxury fashion label, Berluti, made headlines with their over-the-top Fall 2013 presentation at Paris’ Museum of Natural History. People were awestruck by the collection being presented among a Noah’s Ark of taxidermy and dioramas of extinct and endangered species. Many of the human Mannequins wore animal heads in an aesthetic attempt to belong. Artists, fashion aficionados, and people in general have an overwhelming sense of awe when in the presence of animals, and Berluti certainly capitalized on the opportunity to associate their brand with this awe. When asked why, Berluti’s creative director Alessandro Sartori claimed, according to, it “got him thinking about the genealogy of his own profession: how tailoring had evolved, what was lost, what had survived.” Poetic? For sure. But it also showcases a disconcerting lack of responsibility as being more than just an analogy to evolutionary history. The designer, the attendees, and the public  were cheated out of a much more profound and important connection that could have been made; that Fashion does not evolve in a bubble removed from nature. And furthermore, the effects of both the physical production models and the semiotics of fashion symbols has profound, global impacts on animals, ecosystems and peoples.


The show featured a predictable mix of what has represented the ultimate in luxury for centuries: various animal skins, animal hairs, pelts and plumage. I wonder if anyone at Berluti or the Museum knew that only 100 years ago, many species of birds were driven to extinction or near extinction because of women’s hat trends? Or that the fur industry is responsible for trapping endangered and protected species like Canada Lynx and Bald Eagles on a regular basis? What about the fact that semi-aquatic animals like mink are kept caged for their entire lives, depriving them of everything they evolved to do? Of the fact that Nutria were introduced to the Gulf Coast by fur farmers and became an invasive species destroying the wetlands? And what about leather? How can this classic luxury symbol be responsible for the worst environmental and human rights issues?


How is it possible for something so counter-intuitive to the educational agenda of The Museum of Natural History be featured within its walls? The answer is pathetic; no one realizes and no one connects the dots. Wearing animals is seen as given, not as a choice or ideology with its own set of values. In this sense, it is fashion carnism. Why is it acceptable to wear “down-filled quilted leather” but not elephant leather? Are we not supposed to look at animals as being more than a stockpile of fashion accessories in-the-raw?
I’m not saying that Berluti is solely responsible for these atrocities, but it’s rare that an opportunity to connect these dots so obviously presents itself. Fashion carnism, like traditional carnism, is a dominant, violent ideology that, according to Dr. Melanie Joy ,”…need[s] to use a set of social and psychological defense mechanisms to enable humane people to participate in inhumane practices without fully realizing what they’re doing.” In other words, so long as animals’ bodies are turned into mainstream symbols of luxury, removed entirely from the real-world impacts of the brutality of production, there will continue to be more endangered and extinct animals to add to the museum.

Challenging Carnism

by D. R. Hildebrand

Challenging Carnism

Earlier this month I read about a student in Great Britain who was eating, what he believed to be, the wing, or the breast, or the thigh of a chicken, at a KFC.  He happened to pull the flesh apart, and saw something that looked like a brain.  He grew nauseated, photographed the specimen, and posted it on his Facebook page.  Eventually, KFC identified it to be a kidney, and apologized.

I posted the story on my own Facebook page and asked, both sarcastically and in seriousness, what the big deal was—that we should know by now that in a world in which “food producers” have zero interest in ethics or expectations, but rather in turning sentient creatures into a profit, there will be no shortage of mistakes.  One person disagreed and replied, “By your logic, if you get a piece of bark in your orange juice, you should have realized that oranges grow on trees.”

The point, as is often the case among omnivores, was either deflected or missed: if you opt to eat a breast or a rib or any part of an animal, what prevents you from eating any other part as well?  A foot, a stomach, an egg?  Eating one body part and not another is a mere cultural contrivance, not a natural law or inherent truth.  There is no universal norm stating that kidneys are taboo while wings, breasts, and thighs are acceptable.  In some societies people consume hearts, livers, blood, and urine.  Only in desperation do people eat bark.  If I mistakenly bought a grapefruit instead of an orange I would only care because I happen to enjoy the latter more than the former, not because I have been programmed by a self-serving system that declares one to be repulsive and the other ideal.  In the end, kidneys, like nearly all body parts, are edible.  Most bark is not.  And kidneys are necessary to one’s being, whereas oranges fall if not plucked.

Coincidentally, horse meat was then found where there should have been cow.  All over the UK there is outrage and shock that twenty-nine percent of the beef they call burgers is that of horses: “People should be able to go into the supermarket,” one Labour politician said, “and be confident that what they are buying for their families is legal and safe.”  That it is what?  Legal and safe?  Why is horse meat neither legal nor safe when the pigs we deem “dirty” are a staple at breakfast?  What is so fundamentally different about the flesh of a horse than that of a cow, a sheep, a dog?

Nothing.  And herein lies the issue: meat-eaters are not flabbergasted by the sale and production of horse per se, for they eat the flesh of countless species; neither are they sickened at the notion of eating a chicken’s kidney, for they eat hot dogs made of penises and eye balls and much more.  Meat-eaters are upset because they have been challenged.  They have been challenged to face their inconsistencies.  They have been challenged to confront their choices.  By eating animals and parts of animals that they have been programmed to believe they absolutely never should, they have been challenged to ask why they eat some and not others, or any, for that matter, at all.  And they hate this.  They hate to be challenged when they could much more easily be ignorant.  They cannot answer the questions because there is none that makes sense.

Melanie Joy, professor and author of the book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, gave a remarkably lucid interview with Andrew Cohen on essentially this topic, this carnist view of animals and the dampened emotions on which it stands.  “Carnism,” Joy explains, “teaches us not to feel.”  It is the invisible belief system that conditions us to eat certain sentient creatures and not others.  Interestingly, Joy is not concerned with why vegans abstain from eating animals, but rather why omnivores choose to eat the specific animals they do.

Few omnivores are either used to, or comfortable with, this sort of framing of the discussion.  Vegans make the weird choices.  Vegans have the explaining to do.  The fact of the matter is, while we all make choices, few meat-eaters can explain why they make their specific choices.  They don’t know why they eat cows and not horses.  They don’t know why they eat breasts and not kidneys.  The carnist view is so dominant and so entrenched that they see it as good enough that they are part of the norm.  Even their go-to answer, “Because I just like the taste, damn it!” is not valid here because Brits were eating innumerable horses without any display of revulsion; and kidneys, from what I have read, are supposed to be delicious.

Continuing to challenge meat-eaters to defend their choices is essential to raising the awareness about which Joy speaks.  It is not cognitive awareness, for we all know the horrors of slaughter.  Rather, it is emotional awareness, “taking it into your heart,” as Joy says, and reflecting on it, processing it, and responding to it with action.  Defending veganism is effortless.  It is all logic.  Defending carnism is the opposite.  It is complete absurdity.  No carnist should ever be excused from this defense, simply because the challenge is too great.