4.3 Eating “Smelly Bones”2
The concept of meat is another fundamental issue touching the human-nonhuman relationship that receives significant attention in MaddAddam. According to Jovian Parry, in Western societies as well as in MaddAddam, meat is a significant symbol and transmitter of power and prestige (245). As has been mentioned in the first part of the analysis, contesting the strict divide between different species represents a topical problem in terms of genetic engineering and transgenic organisms, and its crossing has been tabooed in many societies. Yet if viewed from a different perspective, specifically the consumption of meat with the notion that we are what we eat, it gains a different level of meaning. Eating animals can be viewed as a total imposture of human dominance over them, while at the same time the seemingly given line between human and nonhuman animals is being blurred as the animals practically become part of human bodies through the consumption of meat (Parry 244). People accept animals’ flesh and, consequently, they are becoming partly animal in nature. According to Galbreath, MaddAddam “not only contrasts artificial and natural foods, but also uses the idea of food to challenge the idea of natural hierarchical order and human exceptionalism” (2). But this is not the only ambiguous issue that Atwood outlines through her apocalyptic world.
As Galbreath further observes, MaddAddam functions “as a cautionary tale, generating an ethical awareness of current agricultural practices from a long-range perspective (2). Significantly, one of the signs of the impending catastrophe in MaddAddam is the gradual disappearance of real meat from ordinary people’s diet, as these kinds of meat are more and more difficult to produce. Instead, different substitutes of the real meat and other animal products are introduced in Oryx and Crake, mostly soy-based, such as SoyOBoyburgers (85), Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages (175), SoYummie ice-cream (203), or CrustaeSoy shrimps (244). Besides using meat substitutes, another phenomenon occurs – the invention of the so-called victimless meat, the laboratory developed in-vitro meat substance. A third alternative approach is adopted by a fast-food chain called the SecretBurgers, which offers meat of unspecified origin because, as its motto explains, “… everyone loves a secret!” (The Year 42). As rumours have it, sometimes you could find a mouse tail, cat fur or even human fingernail inside one of these burgers (The Year 43). Despite the mostly human-caused continuing extinction of more and more species, yet another business is thriving. The joint enterprise of a “luxury couture operation called Slink” and “a chain of gourmet restaurants called Rarity” markets the fur and meat of endangered species to its clients (The Year 39). Even though the trade in endangered species is illegal, the CorpSeCorps-ruled society is so corrupt and venal that there is no one you could report this breach of the law to without risk.
As experienced also nowadays, the meat substitutes in MaddAddam are approached with doubts by the majority of people. Jimmy is a shining example as he often ridicules vegetarians and has a strong craving for meat in the world where it is so hard to go by. He often dreams about killing pigoons in the post-virus world, but this would upset his only partly-human companions, the Crakers, who were programmed to value other living creatures’ lives and not to need animal flesh and other animal products (Oryx 186). Among the variations of meat, soy products are definitely the ones that are abhorred the most, yet at the same time they are the easiest to obtain in MaddAddam. This fictional situation only reflects the real one, where there are still many people who are suspicious towards meat substitutes. And not only the disgust this nonanimal-sourced ersatz meat evokes makes it unpopular, there has also been some governmental intervention in the countries which are largely dependent on profits from the meat industry export. As McHugh notes, one example is the lobby against introducing meat substitutes in New Zealand which ensures these are not imported to the country (“Real Artificial” 182). This situation is quite the opposite in MaddAddam, where the government would have strived to encourage the demand for meat substitutes as real meat is in shortage and impossible to obtain for common people.
Real Artificial Meat
Apart from the meat substitutes, Susan McHugh distinguishes three other types of fake meat obtained from genetically engineered animals in the MaddAddam world. The first form is the “victimless meat”, artificially produced in laboratories, in MaddAddam represented by the ChickieNobs and similar inventions. Another type is portrayed by the pigoons as by-products of lab research that are quietly added into the food chain. Thirdly, there is the aforementioned kanga-lamb, a special modified splice that should solve the environmental problems caused by intensive farming, in the nonfictional world represented for example by the EnviropigsTM (“Real Artificial” 183). From the real world’s perspective, the most prevalent topic is the ethical ambiguity of the real artificial meat, where real animal flesh is produced artificially in a laboratory. As Winston Churchill predicted already in 1931 when talking about the 1980s, "We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium” (“Fifty Years Hence” n.pag.). He further adds that these synthetic products will “be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation” (n.pag.). In spite of a slight science fiction savour, this issue is very real nowadays, where one of the most influential American pro-animal-rights organizations PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) announced a one-million-dollar prize for the winners of its in vitro-cultured meat contest running since 2008 (“PETA’s ‘In Vitro’ Chicken Contest” n.pag.). Even though the contest has not brought any winner and the prize was abandoned in 2014, as the PETA president Ingrid Newkirk claimed not even half a year ago, “In vitro meat is no longer a question of whether this will be our future—but when” (n.pag.). Newkirk further highlights the environmental benefits of the in vitro meat as it “produces 96% fewer greenhouse-gas emission, and its creation requires up to 99% less land, 96% less water, and 45% less energy than meat derived from live animals” and is “free of antibiotics and pathogens that could lead to pandemics” (n.pag.).
While the PETA organization together with the scientists who develop these fake meat products might not ponder the questions of its bioethical impacts and praise its advantages, the critics - together with Margaret Atwood through MaddAddam - have created a heated debate. According to Galbreath, “the crumbling natural infrastructure accompanying climate change in Oryx and Crake only triggers a search for new food sources, not an amendment of destructive activities” (1). While the critics can only guess what will be the impacts of real artificial meat, Atwood proposes a convincing future. In each of the trilogy parts, she introduces a new in vitro meat product, starting with ChickieNobs in Oryx and Crake, another one being the WyzeBurgers mentioned in The Year of the Flood, and lastly the NevRBled Shish-K-Buddies from MaddAddam. In the pre-plague world, these artificial types of meat are regular components of the food market. The laboratory grown WyzeBurgers, which are served in school cafeterias, resemble meat so much that Ren, who is a vegetarian, finds them unpalatable as they carry the smell of meat even though they are so-called victimless (The Year 288). In the HealthWyzer Compound, Zeb meets the no-animal-suffered meat in the form of the NevRBled Shish-K-Buddies as a regular barbecue option (MaddAddam 233).
The concept of real artificial meat is firstly introduced in Oryx and Crake when Crake guides Jimmy through the Watson-Crick institute and they come upon the facility where the chicken breasts are grown in vitro on special tubes. While some perceive the ChickieNobs rather as vegetables than meat as they grow on stems and have no faces (The Year 172), Jimmy’s first reaction is of pure repulsiveness. Even though he grew up with pigoons and should therefore be used to the concept of hybrid animals, even for him this is a step too far and he cannot picture eating this type of meat (Oryx 238). These post-chickens have no heads and no brain functions that would allow them to feel pain, therefore they are thought to be the solution to the critique of the animal welfare campaigns (Oryx 238). Furthermore, Jimmy ponders whether he would be able to tell the difference between the traditionally-bred chicken, and the cultured one, because “as with the tit implants – the good ones – maybe he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference” (238). Parry labels ChickieNobs as “one of the most commercial creations” of MaddAddam and stresses the “inextricable link between living organisms and capitalism” (222). Another issue is the agency of chickens that Jimmy makes allusions to in reference to ChickieNobs when he asks with horror what the chickens are thinking (238). Warkentin notes that this dramatic distortion and violation of agency of farm animals only reflects the “tight relationship between present-day research in biotechnology and big business” and stresses the “power of marketing” (98).
Apart from the prospective use of in vitro meat as meat substitutes, it is also desired for its medical, commercial and even artistic potential. As the Australian artists Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr claim, there is a long tradition of the collaboration of artists and scientists or biologists (1). Zurr and Catts have created an entire Bioart project using semi-living sculptures through their “artistic collective, called The Tissue Culture & Art Project (TC&A)” (Zurr, Catts 11). They justify their project on ethical grounds as they are persuaded that their role as artists “is to reveal inconsistencies in regards to our current attitudes to life and to focus attention on the discrepancies between our western cultural perceptions and the new techno-scientific understandings about life (3). They intend to do this “by drawing attention to the existence of partial life and semi-living entities” (3). In MaddAddam a similar type of Bioart is performed by Amanda Payne, who has a project called Vulture Sculptures, where she arranges the bodies of dead animals into shapes of words and then lets them be eaten by vultures while photographing the whole scene (Oryx 287). In the second part of the trilogy, Amanda invents new “art capers”, such as those where she places cow bones into huge patterns, then pours them over with syrup so insect would cover them and later records it as a video. Or otherwise she uses “fish guts and toxic-spill-killed birds” (The Year 75) as material for her art installations to send a similar message as Zurr and Catts.
Hunger: A Powerful Reorganizer of the Conscience3
The acceptance of the tissue-cultured meat as part of the ordinary daily diet seems still far-fetched from the present-day perspective. In MaddAddam, Atwood proposes how such a change in diet might take place. After his initial disgust when seeing the actual production of ChickieNobs, Jimmy’s attitude to eating cultured meat gets more positive over time. As he explains, if you can “forget everything you knew about the provenance” it is no longer a problem (Oryx 284). Warkentin suggests that when new types of meat become familiar, cheap and convenient enough, people are more likely to overcome the initial revulsion this “frankenfood” might evoke (98). The process of forgetting the meat’s provenance is further discussed by Jay Sanderson, when he presents two possible reasons why the Jimmy’s change of attitudes happens. As the first one he states the convenience of obtaining such genetically modified foods as opposed to the real, unmodified meat, and the second one is that the former has become cheaper and thus more available to the common people (Sanderson 234). However, there are also other reasons the ChickieNobs prevail, and that is their economic advantage over farmed meat, as “ChickieNobs undercut traditional factory farming expenses and eventually edge ‘real’ chicken out of the fast-food take-out market” (Parry 246). The same change of attitude often characterizes also meat eating versus vegetarianism, as Atwood does not forget to point out in the last part of the trilogy, where the formerly avowed vegetarians from the ranks of God’s Gardeners are not hesitant to kill other living creatures in the post-plague world when it is more convenient and practical than foraging for non-animal protein. As Toby, one of the former Gardeners, remarks, “it hasn’t taken them long to backslide on the Gardener Vegivows” (MaddAddam 34). After all, “hunger is a powerful reorganizer of the conscience” (The Year 43).
“…and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth”4
As a complete antithesis to all of these apocalypse-preceding and - to some extent even inducing - concepts of meat, Atwood introduces God’s Gardeners, a religious vegetarian group that strictly rejects any form of exploiting other living creatures. As their leader, called Adam One, explains, God endowed Adam with the stewardship over all living creatures, but humankind has failed this task and disgraced this God-given trust by starting to eat animal flesh, “for Man in his unfallen state was not yet a carnivore” (The Year 15). By falling into greed, humankind has “defiled” the “sacred task of stewardship” (The Year 69). When God decides to flood the earth, Noah is chosen as the caretaker who should preserve all of the existing species for the newly established world. The Covenant that God made with Noah is often reminded as the justification for human dominance over other living Beings, yet as Adam One recalls, few people mention that “all living creatures” were included in the Covenant, too (The Year 120). In the Gardener’s reasoning, this is a proof that nonhuman animals “are not senseless matter, not mere chunks of meat” but “have living Souls, or God could not have made a Covenant with them” (The Year 120). As has been mentioned earlier, the three large interrelated groups surviving the catastrophe included the humans, the Crakers and the pigoons. In order to ensure peaceful cohabitation, the humans make a pact with the pigoons in which they take an oath not to kill or eat each other (MaddAddam 370). Whatever Atwood’s intention, the trilogy ends with the impression that only interspecies cooperation and mutual respect can ensure further life on this planet for those who are lucky enough to survive the possibly impending environmental catastrophe. Otherwise, not to conclude the thesis with feelings of fatality and irreversibility but to plant a seed of hope, the author might suggest that only the respect towards other creatures is able to ward the apocalypse off even before it bursts out.