Commentary: The art of a fool

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New “art” exhibit opened this week in Philadelphia. As the cradle of liberty, home of Independence Hall and site of the birth of the American republic, the City of Brotherly Love has every right to host what is being called “The Ghosts of Our Meat.”

Just don’t expect me to show a whole lotta love for the perpetrator, British artist Sue Coe, who’s turned his distaste for animal agriculture into a cottage industry. Her current exhibition features dozens of paintings and prints that, to quote her self-serving news release, “addresses issues of animal rights, animal cruelty the meatpacking industry and the ethics of meat consumption.”

The scenes include debeaking (“a cruel process done to production chickens”), and skinning fur-bearing animals for their pelts.

Coe is also the author of several books, including “Dead Meat,” a screed documenting her visits to feedyards and packing plants. Her philly.com review quotes a Prof. Stephen Eisenman saying that Coe’s art should inspire viewers to understand that “the slaughter of an animal becomes murder, the butchering a desecration and the sale and consumption of meat something ghoulish or macabre.”

I’m guessing the good professor is a born-again veggie believer.

The fawning review of Coe’s artistic renderings also noted that “her powerful images have appeared in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, which doesn’t exactly span the spectrum of literary and intellectual publishing.

Worst of all, the showcased painting used to illustrate her exhibit is—literally—straight out of the late 19th century, with workers hand-skinning cattle with knives and a cow appearing to be still alive, lying on a stone floor and bleeding into a floor drain a few feet away.

Those were unacceptable conditions a century ago, much less representative of anything remotely resembling modern meatpacking operations.

Look, I’ll make it simple for all those who buy into Coe’s holier than thou take on food production. Either we’re understanding of and respectful to Homo sapiens’ role in the planetary ecosystem, or we’re some sort of super-beings who are exempt from the laws of Nature that govern all life on Earth.

If the latter is true, then Coe and her supporters/apologists can make the case that our superior science, technology and sheer ambition qualifies our species for a pass from both the rewards and responsibilities accorded all other species—predator and prey—that populate the continents and oceans.

In which case, all discussion of humanity’s “natural” diet (and lifestyle) is off the table. We can eat whatever we can cultivate or create from whatever ingredients we can harvest or manufacture and all other plants and animals need to adapt to our needs as best they can.

Of course, that’s not the case, nor would Coe or Eisenman or any other diehard vegans entertain such a proposition for more than a microsecond. They would argue exactly the opposite: Modern “industrial” agriculture and so-called factory farming are affronts to Nature, and thus our domestication, propagation and accommodation of food animals is an abomination, principally because of the (alleged) violence involved.

After all, that’s what ever painting and every paragraph Coe has produced aims to communicate: Meat equals violence and death, and thus is rendered unacceptable in her world view.

Which conveniently ignores the violence and death that is the unifying dynamic of all animal and all plant life. Eat or be eaten. Dominate or be dominated. Conquer and control or struggle and survive.

Death is the currency that breeds new life. Violence is a tool Nature uses—often with a heavy hand—to maintain the delicate equilibrium among species so revered by veggie believers.

Too bad they don’t understand that you can’t take the species out of its ecosystem, nor can you take predation out of the cycles of life.

Within that sphere, people eating animals is normal and natural, while the fake-believe world embodies in The Ghosts of Our Meat is nothing more than a fantasy propelled by the very forces of “industrialism” condemned by Coe and company.

It depicts a world that doesn’t exist.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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David Brewbaker    
Iowa  |  November, 06, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Vegamatics Like Coe Are Trying To Justify Their Decisions Not To Consume Meat. I Bet She Wears Shoes, Make Up (Maybe) & The 100S Of Products Made From AnimaL Production. Should The Africans That Raise Cattle,Sheep & Goats To Live & Survive Stop Animal Agriculture? Ask A Zulu.

Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  November, 07, 2013 at 12:15 PM

What will their next step be, getting the wolves in Yellowstone to stop eating the elk? That is just a part of "nature". Every fowl or mammal with forward pointing eyes is carnivorous. Every mammal with canine teeth are carnivores. I have forward pointing eyes and canines and there fore I am part of nature that is carnivorous. And if she wants to do a picture that will really catch attention she should do one right after a wolves kill and feeding.

stephen    
illinois  |  November, 25, 2013 at 10:27 AM

my eyes point forward, and I am a vegan. you can be one too. you don't have to kill to live. you don't have to kill your neighbor, your dog, or that smart pig who lives at the farm next door. the wolf on the other hand, must kill to survive -- it is in the nature of the species.

morgan    
Washington DC  |  November, 25, 2013 at 02:10 PM

Let me understand: You are responding to an exhibit of Sue Coe's art that you have never seen (you tell us it is showing in Philadelphia. Nope. Try Carlisle, PA). But ignorance doesn't hold back your scoffing at a more sympathetic view of the artist's work and philosophy that you quote in lieu of looking for yourself. So it must be something about the artist having the temerity to question the industrial strength slaughtering of livestock and other animal husbandry methods that get your metaphoric meat hooks in a tangle. Your essential argument is as trite as it is thought-free: "Eat or be eaten." You suggest that we have evolved as carnivores (wrong) and evolution is for ever and ever, amen. (Wrong again). How ironic that you see the ecological destruction promoted and ensured by industrialized animal agriculture as ecologically sustainable, while accusing Coe of going the route of Superman, which you posit as 'let the rest of life on earth adjust to us superior humans'. Just the opposite, Dan. Can you seriously suggest that animal agriculture as practiced in 2013 is ecologically sustainable, non-polluting, and resource respectful? You sounded glad to believe that image of the cow in the slaughterhouse could only be a relic of bad old backward 19th century husbandry techniques. Sorry to say, this scene was witnessed by the artist in the very late 20th century; such cruelties can be found repeated daily in 'modern' slaughterhouses in this country and around the world. I suggest that Coe's work is an encouragement to look at uncomfortable even painful realities and contradictions it is easier to avoid. Just because we can do a thing, does that mean we should keep on doing it? More thoughtfulness, please.

Corrine Wynne    
December, 11, 2013 at 03:03 PM

I am really taken aback at the lack of understanding-but I want to add the New Rolling Stone Article on Animal Abuse and Ag Gag laws trying to stop the Animal Saviors is enlightening and while the idiot who wrote this blurb above states that the artwork is out of date and no one does this anymore should really look at the article click the link and watch the abusive video of the young man pounding the calves in the head with his fist-no, sir, I believe you are way off base with this article about what this woman depicts because much the same takes place to day.....we just now have evidence of it. Ag gag is to prevent the return of investigators instead of preventing the return to animal abuse for the industry-oh wait, I digress-the abuse NEVER HAS STOPPED!!!!! Punch one of our calves in the head and see the end of gun and the lights of squad car-your guess which will get there first!

Corrine Wynne    
December, 11, 2013 at 03:05 PM

I am really taken aback at the lack of understanding-but I want to add the New Rolling Stone Article on Animal Abuse and Ag Gag laws trying to stop the Animal Saviors is enlightening and while the idiot who wrote this blurb above states that the artwork is out of date and no one does this anymore should really look at the article click the link and watch the abusive video of the young man pounding the calves in the head with his fist-no, sir, I believe you are way off base with this article about what this woman depicts because much the same takes place to day.....we just now have evidence of it. Ag gag is to prevent the return of investigators instead of preventing the return to animal abuse for the industry-oh wait, I digress-the abuse NEVER HAS STOPPED!!!!!


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