In its futuristic scenario, the mockumentary, Carnage, makes the absurd claim that “no one knew what to eat” when intensive animal farming collapsed after the super swine ‘flu epidemic of 2021 and “strict, new animal welfare laws” made meat too expensive. That is, until Freddy Jayashankar, a charismatic, celebrity vegan chef came along in 2023 and taught people how to eat vegan food. Apparently, until then people had not noticed that in addition to animal products they already ate some quantity of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and various processed or pre-prepared plant-based foods, and that supermarket shelves were groaning under the weight of such things. They could not have imagined that vegan recipes existed in books, and were completely incapable of finding the millions that are on the internet. To underscore this pathetic plight, Amstell shows a couple staring forlornly at their plates containing nothing but a whole dead bird, incubating who knows what deadly diseases. These poor human victims, forced to choose between being fatally infected or dying of starvation in a sea of plenty.
In the Carnage story, vegan celebrities played an important role in leading the change. They were in the vanguard of the “the rebels who paved a path to freedom.” Now that really is hilarious! Also given credit were performance artists engaging in vacuous, exhibitionistic, PETA-style stunts. Completely lacking was any equivalent of a Donald Watson, a Tom Regan, or a Gary Francione, dealing in serious moral ideas. The one supposedly serious vegan activist, Troye King Jones, erstwhile PETA activist and creator of graphic animal cruelty videos, was portrayed as a fatuous figure, consumed with judging people and being angry. He eventually learned to develop empathy and to “come from a place of genuine love”; to “reach out to people” instead of despising and judging them—because we all know that this is what vegans are all about: hating non-vegans and shaming them! We could all clearly learn a thing or two from Troye’s miraculous transformation, according to Amstell.
But he is obviously unaware that leading animal rights philosopher and advocate, Gary Francione, has written about the fact that vegan advocacy is not about judging individuals; it’s about judging speciesist conduct that imposes unnecessary suffering and death on others, which we must do if we are to take morality seriously. It’s about “presenting the case for why all animal exploitation is morally wrong and that if animals matter morally, we cannot justify eating, wearing, or using them,” and that “if animals really do matter morally, veganism is the only rational response.” Francione has also said that what we need to bring about a vegan world is a “revolution of the heart.” A foundational principle of the abolitionist movement is ahimsa, or non-violence, towards all sentient beings, human as well as nonhuman: “Abolitionists recognize the principle of nonviolence as a core principle of the animal rights movement.” These ideas are well understood and accepted by abolitionists. Amstell’s petty caricature of vegans as angry and hateful is harmful to the vegan movement.
Here’s Amstell’s leading vegan activist, Troye King Jones, explaining why he’s a vegan: “I think I, I, just got really upset by, like, the, a lot of, I felt like it was just, just a lot of death really. Like a lot of death. So much death.” Wow. Weighty stuff. What lucidity! When you compare this blithering nonsense to the profoundly compelling and logically coherent moral arguments advanced by philosopher and leading animal rights theorist, Gary Francione, and the important contributions of other thinkers like Tom Regan, Gary Steiner, and Sherry Colb, as well as the many articulate online abolitionist voices and skilled abolitionist grassroots vegan educators, it makes you realise just what a travesty this film is; what a disservice it does to the vegan movement.
In Carnage, the most significant person driving the vegan revolution was Freddy, the celebrity vegan chef, who was “radically captivating” and “beautiful, but also pure…like a monk: a monk you could fuck,” according to “academic,” Maude Pollycock. Yes, it really does get that bad. Unequivocal veganism has nothing to do with holiness or personal “purity,” an epithet used as a slur by welfarists. It has to do with fundamental justice.
There was one reference to Meat-Free Mondays being like “Ethnic-Cleansing-Free Tuesdays” which is clearly taken from animal rights theorist, Gary Francione, who is well known for using such analogies to highlight the speciesism of these kinds of campaigns. This is the only sign suggesting that Amstell has any familiarity with animal rights theory. But then given that plagiarising Gary Francione is now a cottage industry (and yes, better they plagiarise him than Peter Singer!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that he has actually read anything by Francione. It would be difficult to imagine that he could make such an incoherent mess of a film if he had read any abolitionist animal rights theory.
It must be said that that Carnage was a lot of effort and resources for ultimately nothing. It’s not entertaining. It’s not educational. It fails as education because whatever useful information it manages to convey, any benefit of this is negated by the confusion it fosters in an arena that is already beset with massive confusion.
Despite how much I disliked this film, I do think some people will go vegan as a result of seeing it. One example of a positive response comes from Max Benwell of The Independent who gave Carnage a rave review. Benwell seems to have been swayed towards veganism by it: “I’m not a vegan, but after watching Carnage, I’m even more certain that I should be.” His view is that the film “puts a highly convincing case forward for veganism without once being preachy.” While I found it singularly unfunny, he thought it was “hilarious.”
However, while Benwell, and perhaps others, may go vegan as a result of seeing Carnage, many will likely revel in their “victim,” excusitarian status encouraged by the film to bolster their non-veganism. The disturbing images of routine animal cruelty will incline some to turn to “happy” exploitation such as “free-range” eggs, “organic” milk and “pasture-raised” beef; or alternative forms of animal exploitation, like vegetarianism or reducetarianism, in the absence of any explanation of why it’s imperative to go vegan as a matter of basic justice. This omission in Carnage and the resultant misplaced emphasis on treatment rather than use is likely to be interpreted by many viewers as meaning that better treatment, or more “humane” exploitation, is an adequate response to the moral problem. Moreover, the “carnism” idea emphasised by the film promotes the notion that we are exculpated by the assertion that humans are victims of an invisible system that somehow tricks them into exploiting. All of this is counterproductive to shifting the dominant paradigm of animals as things to animals as persons—something that is absolutely essential if we are to abolish all animal exploitation. Without that focus on the moral wrong of all animal use, regardless of treatment, we will never have the legal changes as envisaged by Carnage in its Bill of Animal Rights.
If some people go vegan after watching Carnage, then that’s great, but I just hope they go on to get the necessary education on animal ethics that is so manifestly lacking in this film. I presume that Simon Amstell had sincere intentions to communicate a pro-vegan message in a way that he thought would be accepted by the general public. Attempting to court the approval of non-vegans through “taking the piss out of vegans,” or vegan self-abasement, is not the way to do it. Neither is assaulting viewers with a hopelessly confused, and often downright irrelevant cacophony of themes, much of it pure trivia. Whether or not Carnage could ever have been compatible with any kind of comedy, presenting a clear, coherent moral argument is the way to do it. But that assumes that one has educated oneself first before trying to educate others. Only in the animal confusion movement can we imagine that it would be thought that deriding and caricaturing those in the forefront of a social justice movement, along with trivialising and misrepresenting the social justice issue promoted by that movement, is the way to secure justice for the oppressed group concerned.
Considering the number of negative vegan stereotypes it peddles, Carnage could just as well be seen as an anti-vegan film as a vegan one. The fact that some vegans are celebrating and promoting Carnage is all too indicative of the penchant that many have for shooting themselves and any chance of a genuine vegan movement in the foot.
Regardless of what kind of film he’s made, one thing Simon Amstell did get very right was going vegan. And if you’re not already vegan, I ask you to do likewise, for the sake of justice for animals, your own health, the environment on which we all depend for our survival, and the equitable distribution of food resources for humans. If all of that isn’t enough reason to make the change, I don’t know what would be.
By Linda McKenzie
You can find everything you need to know to go vegan here.