Animal Studies Journal


[Review] Paula Acari. Making Sense of ‘Food’ Animals: A Critical Exploration of the Persistence of Meat. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. 356 pp. There are many audiences for Paula Acari’s new book on the persistence of meat as edible matter, Making Sense of Food Animals, and not all of them academic. One of the striking facets of this well-researched, clearly argued and empirical analysis, drawing on 41 interviews with Australian meat eaters and meat producers, is the lessons for animal advocacy organisations for rethinking their messaging strategies. Central to the book’s argument is Acari’s challenge to narratives of transparency and visibility, often employed by such groups, made famous by activist Linda McCartney’s claim that ‘if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian’ (often wrongly attributed to her husband, Paul). Acari demonstrates, drawing on interview data and a robust interpretation of Foucauldian theory, that both looking and knowing are easily absorbed into the ‘already encoded eye’ of a human gaze that comes pre-trained by the ‘normalised entitlement’ of animal exploitation (263); as such, without a ‘de- or re-coding’ of that human gaze, calls for more transparency of slaughtering merely reinforce rather than disrupt the sense of animals’ edibility. As the cognitive linguist George Lakoff advises those advocating for change, it is unwise to utilise the stories of those whose power you wish to disrupt. Recirculating such stories strengthens the existing cognitive models and the beliefs which rest upon them. To challenge such cognitive codification, which, in relation to the edibility of animals, has ‘been socially, culturally and economically normalised over centuries’ (274), requires a more radical approach that highlights existing mechanisms of power, and has ‘rigorous, comprehensive strategies ready to challenge and refute them, not simply piecemeal responses as part of an apparently balanced discussion or debate’ (291). Acari’s book is a useful tool in helping animal advocacy groups rethink their campaigns to construct (and test) new messages that might ‘land’ with meat eaters, whose cognitive models continue to ‘make sense’ of animals as edible. What Acari hopes is that we reach a ‘heterotopia’ where it makes ‘no sense’ that animals are edible. As she readily admits, this is a ‘big nut to crack’. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, nor try to be more effective in our efforts.