When I gave up eating all meat nearly 15 years ago, I had some explaining to do.
Breaking away from the pack is never that easy. Friends and colleagues wanted to know if I had suddenly gone religious (most certainly not: I practise no religion and frown upon all); or become an animal-hugger (well, not quite); or if I was too sick to eat a ‘normal diet’ anymore.
That last one was closer to the truth. I became a partial vegetarian because I wanted to stay healthy. I realised how unhygienic meat production and distribution were in my part of the world, and yes, I was also sensitive about the excessive cruelty to animals who end up on dining tables.
And it’s not just in Asia that organised meat production is increasingly hazardous to human health (not to mention the untold suffering by farm animals and the growing power of big agri-business companies). Animal rights and environmental activists have been pointing these out for years. And as powerful documentaries like Fast Food Nation (2006) documented, it is not only meat that’s crushed in the powerful mincing machine, but the whole of society.
But just how do we carry this message to the young Digital Natives who are the most eager consumers of meat and fast food? As we discussed some months ago, the big challenge is to take complex development issues in the right durations (shorter the better) and right formats (mixed or pure entertainment).
I was delighted, therefore, to belatedly discover the innovative and insightful series called The Meatrix. Funnily, I heard about it from two sources almost at the same time. A Malaysian activist I was visiting in Georgetown, Penang, last week highly recommended it. Two days later, my colleague Manori Wijesekera returned from having screened one of our own films at the 16th Earth Vision Film Festival in Tokyo – where The Meatrix was a finalist in the children’s environmental film category.
The Meatrix is an animated spoof on The Matrix trilogy (1999 – 2003). It uses humor and thinly veiled characters and situations from the original Matrix films to educate the uninitiated about factory farms.
Evidently, it was made with the blessings of the Wachowski brothers who created the science fiction thriller series. The first animation, The Meatrix, starts when Moopheus the Cow finds Leo the Pig at a family farm and informs him that corporations are taking over the way farms used to be. By taking the blue pill, Leo can remain at ease in his current situation, or by taking the red pill, Leo can see just how far the rabbit hole goes. (Of course, the good Leo takes the red one.)
Watch the first animation on YouTube:
In this case, the Meatrix is the illusion created by big time agricultural corporations who have taken over most family-run farms in the west, and turned them into ruthless factories producing meat and dairy products. Those who take on the Meatrix – at grave risk to their life and limbs – reveal how these factory farms are pumping steroids, antibiotics and growth hormones to maximise production, exposing unsuspecting consumers to major health risks like mad cow disease and antiobiotic resistance.
There are two short sequels to the original Meatrix: The Meatrix II: Revolting, and The Meatrix II½. They all pack action, suspense and even a bit of romance….just like the Matrix films did. And all the Meatrix animations are under five minutes in duration – just right for the fast media generation!
The Meatrix is collaboration between GRACE (Global Resource Action Center for the Environment) and Free Range, a cutting-edge design company with a social conscience. It’s the mission of GRACE to eliminate factory farming and to preach the message that sustainable agriculture is both a better environmental and economic choice for rural communities.
In February of 2003, Free Range developed the Free Range Flash Activism Grant, offering the prize of a flash movie production to forward the work of a worthy nonprofit. GRACE was the first recipient, in recognition of its important work on farm reform.
When The Meatrix I launched in November 2003, the viral grassroots film broke new ground in online advocacy, creating a unique vehicle in which to educate, entertain and motivate people to create change. The Meatrix movies have been translated into more than 30 languages and are now the most successful online advocacy films ever with over 15 million viewers worldwide.
The Meatrix animations and the interactive website built around them are fine examples of crossing the other digital divide (between Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives) that I have been writing about. This is Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) with none of the pomposity and preaching of UN agencies and other development organisations who are, sadly, trapped in their own version of a Verbiage Matrix where text, text and more text seems to be their whole reality.
It’s time some of our development friends took a red pill to see what lies outside their charmed and illusory circles.
PS: By the way, I still eat fish and other seafood, largely because on my frequent travels in Asia I turn up in places where being a complete vegetarian is simply not realistic (try Korea, for example). I now say I eat only those creatures that swim, but none that walks on land. One of these days, I will give up temptations for all flesh…