Carnage: Swallowing the past

Carnage: Swallowing the past
A review of 'Carnage: Swallowing the past' by Simon Amstell (BBC, 2017)

‘What’s some ice melting in the South Pole got to do with me eating a cheeseburger in Croydon?’ In this single line, Carnage: Swallowing the past encapsulates the eternal issue at the heart of environmental activism - distance. 

Written and directed by self-confessed vegan Simon Amstell, better known for his merciless mocking of hapless D-list musical ‘icons’ than his activism, Carnage is a self- aware, hilarious and, at times, poignant mockumentary about veganism, that is as surprising as it is effective. 

Set in 2067, in a world where eating meat or products derived from our fellow animals - or ‘carnism’ as it is now known - has been abolished and older generations struggle to come to terms with their guilt over their meat-loving past, while the youth of the day recoil in horror when confronted with the truth about their forebears’ former eating habits. 

To return to the opening paragraph, Carnage makes the point that ignorance of the effects of meat consumption come down to distance, or abstraction. No longer does the average consumer come into contact with the animal they are eating until it’s sitting on their plate, while the impending consequences of climate change are so remote, both temporally and geographically, that any inquiry into changing our consumption habits is postponed indefinitely.

While the overriding feeling of those people looking back on their former carnivorous appetites is one of shame, Carnage avoids shaming as a rhetorical device, instead poking fun at the vegan movement, a disarming tactic that invites the viewer to explore the vegan rationale without being preachy.  

As Greens, there is a lot to take from Carnage. How to convince a public unaware, willfully or otherwise, that we must change our consumption habits to avoid ecological disaster? 

Greens need to get creative with our messaging, inviting people into the environmental movement and creating a positive outlook, a world to aspire to, rather than one of doom or using people’s unsustainable habits, of which we have all been guilty as a stick to beat them over the head with. If we cannot convince, the result could be carnage. 

Carnage: Swallowing the past is available to view on BBC iPlayer.