The vegan society held one of the most intriguing campaigns to have graced the front of the Students’ Union this past year. Instead of handing out leaflets, having bake sales or just generally trying to talk to the vast student populous, the society chose to tie-up with ‘iAnimal’ a company that transport people inside factory farms and slaughterhouses via virtual reality technology.
Paul McCartney once famously said: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we would all be vegetarians” but of course they don’t, and most people remain unaware of the lives and deaths of animals raised for food.
Marrying the message of veganism with a full-scale entry into the world of slaughterhouses, however went beyond our traditional perceptions of food consumption. Veganism in its modern form has been panned as a pretentious, alternative way of life that professes perplexing double standards that limits animal love to meat consumption.
“Terms like ‘free range’ and ‘farmfed’ only refer to a minuscule change in the environment of the animal”
The Vegan Society’s aim is to change this very perception. Through their presentation of the slaughterhouse, from a virtual reality perspective, one is not only given a first hand account of how their meat is treated, but moreover the suffering animals have to undergo for our consumption.
Evoking a plethora of emotions from all participants, the campaign largely serves to shock people into realisation. Upon the video’s completion, participants were asked by Vincent Kam, the president of the Society, whether this video would deter them from eating meat.
The answer, however, is not as simple as yes or no.
While television adverts showing starving children can easily be ignored by the flick of a remote, an immersion into virtual reality forces you to come face to face with a conception of reality you’d come to take for granted. The close up encounters of pigs being stuffed into lines, unaware of the fate that lies ahead of them, will elicit a response from the most emotionless of participants.
The staggeringly simple voice over forces you to not only place yourself in the position of the animal, but also view the fellow animal in a human form, and thus understand the true message of veganism.
As a meat eater for the better part of my 21-year existence, it took a 360 degree virtual reality video of pigs being blinded and led into a gas chamber to truly realize why people chose not to eat meet. Understanding why people treated pigs like Nazis treated people is an absurd double standard that’s positively perplexing to get around.
That, in essence is what the campaign achieved successfully: to get people thinking about how we treat a fellow living entity that we rely on for such a large section of our lives.
The very fact that supermarkets across the nation regard gas chambers as “the most humane way” of killing animals, show how closed our understanding really is, and why the need for a dialogue towards veganism deserves, if nothing else, our attention.
Abbey Oxley, secretary of the Vegan Society, dispelled the perception of ‘ethically raised’ animals by highlighting that terms like ‘free range’ and ‘farm fed’ are deceptively advertised, as they only refer to a minuscule change in the environment of the animal. She also highlighted the hypocrisy of individuals choosing to consume free range products on one day, and eating meat from major fast food joints the next.
Which ever way you look at it, there is a need for people to, at the least, re-examine why they consume meat. Moreover a deeper understanding of the functioning of a vegan diet needs to go beyond populist generalizations of alternative lifestyles and moral high-ground.