Before I introduce my artwork, I would first off like to introduce myself. I am a current art student working towards a Bachelors of Fine Art, who is a practicing vegetarian living in Alberta. Hopefully this brief introduction will provide the basis from which to understand the work Beef (fig.1).
When I first began exploring this work, my initial research was in selecting a breed of cow that was both visually interesting but also one of the breeds which is regularly used in the Alberta beef industry. The breed I ended up choosing to create was a Pinzgauer cow, whose dimensions are approximately 8 feet by 4.5 feet. In my research into this breed I came across a very alarming description, in which the cattle were described as having “good maternal characteristics, growth rate and carcass quality”, on the Alberta government page for agriculture and forestry (Alberta Beef Breeds). I was immediately uncomfortable reading a description which both humanized the animal by describing its maternal care, yet in the same sentence praised its carcass quality. This somewhat polarizing description seemed incredibly unusual to me, but upon reflection it is because of the consistent division people make between the meat on their plate and the animal it comes from. So, though I may find this description disturbing, I applaud the honesty of the statement.
The detachment people make from their food and its source was the basis of this project. The life-sized representation of a Pinzgauer cow, named Beef, is a physical representation of the separation I witness on a regular basis between the beef, or other meat product that ends up on a dinner plate, and the life it is sourced from. In the work I have divided the body of the cow into the sections, which the meat is, divided and collected, then realigning them with very large black nails. This emphasises the visceral, somewhat violent collection of meat from the body of an animal. To the left of the body, the eyes are attached to the wall by resting on two nails each. By hanging the eyes in a way, which more accurately mirrors the proportions of a human face instead of a cow, the eyes develop a strong sense of self and life for the viewer. These eyes are the representation of the life of the animal, which when being used for meat purposes is disconnected from the body. Instead of being viewed as an animal, the body is viewed as a resource or product to be sold and consumed in mass numbers that can only be matched by factory farming practices.
It is no secret that the factory farming system is consistently subjecting the animals it processes to incredibly cruel practices of abuse, not to mention its harmful environmental impacts. Videos illustrating the very real and very horrifying actions of these mass production farms have circulated facebook and various other social media platforms, being viewed millions of times. When I speak to friends, who do eat meat, about these videos and these practices the animals are given incredible sympathy. But, this sympathy only lasts until the next meal, at which point they forget the videos and statistics that horrified them so much in the first place and enjoy a meat-based meal. Clearly the issue is not a lack of information, but a discomfort with confronting the systems of abuse perpetuated by mass meat consumption.
I cannot say whether you should or should not consume meat, because ultimately it is an individual’s choice what they wish to do with their body. However I am consistently frustrated by the willingness to turn a blind eye to these issues of abuse that had seemed so incredibly disturbing not long ago. As I had said with the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry page, though I may not enjoy reading a sentence about a animals which discusses their ability to care for their young along side their ability to produce meat for consumption, I respect the honesty of it. When an individual is unable to face the truth of where their meat is originating from while they simultaneously consume it, perhaps this is because they see an issue with the system of meat production.
I realize that making a lifestyle change, especially one for the sake of wellbeing of something else, is incredibly challenging. Though I am vegetarian and generally avoid the consumption of dairy products, I still eat eggs. I realize this may seem incredibly hypocritical and it is to a degree. In participating with the same mindset I have promoted, I have had to ask myself why I am unwilling to give up eggs? Especially eggs that I know are being produced in such horrible conditions because I actively purchase them at the lowest price. Ultimately I have to realize that that decision is rooted in the selfish choice to prioritize efficiency and personal enjoyment that I get from continuing to consume eggs, over that of the well being of thousands of chickens. This is incredibly challenging to swallow because I have always considered myself a person who deeply cares for animals and would never do anything to harm them. However, I have to realize that by making the choice to consume cheap eggs, I am perpetuating the system of abuse of these animals.
Ultimately I am not asking anyone to convert to vegetarianism or veganism because I know that has to be an individual choice. Perhaps this is just another form of cushioning for the ego so that we can continue to tell ourselves what good people we are. However, at the very least we should acknowledge the effects that our individual choices have and decide if that is something that you are willing to continue to promote. This is a system of moral analysis that is based on individual priorities and is relatively impossible to blankly state right or wrong, in a world of so many ethical grey areas. From Beef I hope that the viewer is prompted to reflect on their own choices, and priorities and decide if they are comfortable with their participation in the meat industry.
Government of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Office of the Deputy Minister, Extension and Communication Services Division, Alberta Ag-Info Centre. "Alberta Beef Breeds." Government of Alberta, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, Office of the Deputy Minister, Extension and Communication Services Division, Alberta Ag-Info Centre. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.