Animal Worlds: Humanities in Public

MMU's Humanities in Public festival returns with its 2014/2015 calendar and this time around they want to tackle the emotive issue of animal rights

Feature by Jamie Faulkner | 30 Sep 2014
  • Animal Worlds: Humanities in Public

Humanities in Public, Manchester Metropolitan University’s year-long festival dedicated to the humanities, returns this October (and runs untill June 2015) with a calendar of events that addresses topics as diverse as new Manchester dialects, concepts of disability and what steampunk really means.

What caught our eye, here in the Food and Drink section, was the Animal Worlds strand. With stands from the likes of League Against Cruel Sports and The Black Fish and a screening of Earthlings – a documentary about the ways animals are abused in modern society – as well as thought-provoking talks, the overarching theme could well be described as ‘our continuing exploitation of other species and what to do about it.'

In the past we’ve given you a Primer for the Ethical Foodie and talked about the realities of veal farming in the UK, so the fate of animals, especially where consumption and industrialisation is concerned, is a matter that’s close – but probably not close enough – to our hearts. (NOTE: Scrap blog post idea about 17 most bacony things ever.)

So, we talked to some of the speakers and contributors to Animal Worlds to find out more about what they’re bringing to the table. Clue: it’s all vegetarian or vegan.

That’s mainly down to the fact that the Vegetarian Society will be there with stalls and cooking demos. Lance Bell, the society’s head of campaigns and engagement, told us the plan: “We’ll have two stalls in the main concourse, with information about going vegetarian, some easy meat-free recipe cards to give away, and staff will be on hand to answer any questions. There’ll be pop-up cookery demos from our cookery school, Cordon Vert, throughout the day, showing how quick and simple veggie food can be with minimal equipment.  We’ve also invited Dr Dan Lyons, the chief executive officer of the Centre for Animals and Social Justice, to speak; he specialises in the study of animal research, the philosophy of animal rights, and the political representation of animals' interests.”

For something equally nourishing, esteemed animal rights advocate Kim Stallwood will be there to talk about his book Growl, which explores what it means to care deeply about animals. And what does Stallwood hope this work will achieve? “Growl is the book I wish I could have read when I first became involved with animal rights. It’s not so much a letter to my younger self but more a crash course of what I’ve learned over the years and what I wish I could have read all those years ago. In this sense, my hope for Growl is that it inspires people to act for animals and deepens their understanding on animal rights and why a concern for animals sits in the progressive context of social justice — without making all the mistakes I did!”

Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes, a lecturer in English at MMU, will be talking about literary examples of the slaughterhouse and exploring how animal death and consumption are represented: “For example, it seems to be OK to show images of an animal dying on screen so long as it served a utilitarian end (i.e. it was then eaten), but not if it was purely for recreational purposes. Why do we make these decisions and how are they driven by the way we think about animals in a way that de-individualises them?” But has he actually been to a slaughterhouse? “I have never been to a slaughterhouse. Quite frankly, I don't think I could stomach it. Watching Franju's Blood of the Beasts gave me nightmares for days.”

And Dr Wahida Khandker, senior lecturer in philosophy, will be looking at the wolf’s role in various cultures, as part of her wider interest in critical animal studies, which brings up key questions about the relationship between human and non-human life: “What are the interests, social structures and tendencies that govern the lives of different animal species? How do the conditions in which we keep them (e.g. farms, zoos, circuses, laboratories) impinge on their own tendencies? It is also interesting to consider the effects of our changing understanding of other animal species on policies of ‘wildlife management’ – from culling to breeding programmes.”

On the email signature of the Vegetarian Society there is a fact: 'an 8oz chicken breast might look small but it takes over 542 litres of water to produce. That could fill up your bathtub 6.5 times.' We’re certain Animal Worlds will be challenging our ideas about food production with facts like these and much more.   

Animal Worlds: Companions, Captives, Commodities, 6-20 Oct, various venues. Part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public festival