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September 25, 2017
Culture

Don’t have a cow, man

Why an internet firestorm over the dead cow that hangs from the ceiling in Etica's Pizza al Taglio restaurant makes us fear that civilisation is coming to an end.

  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Picture: Josie Withers

CityMag publisher Joshua Fanning and I, as listeners of our podcast would know, used to date – for six years. And then we broke up.

Farrin Foster is CityMag’s editor

It’s been almost three years since then and we have continued to work together. But even so, when we argue, there are layers of resentment and complexity that sometimes seem impossible to navigate. The vitriol of an argument fuelled by years upon years of deep, personal, and intimate injury is hard to match.

Unless, of course, you looked at Etica’s Instagram account over the weekend.

In terms of vitriol, the comments on this post really do excel. They go well beyond the things Joshua and I say to each other in our worst moments (and, as an aside, the worst moments seem almost certainly to be behind us – so don’t worry about us, y’all).

There’s certainly a conversation to be had around the issues of animal rights, animal welfare, and whether the decision to hang a dead, taxidermied cow from the ceiling of Etica’s sister restaurant Pizza al Taglio is the right way to kick off that chat. No doubt there are some legitimate questions to be asked here.

Remarks

The title for this article unashamedly copies an Instagram comment by the very funny Kirby Manning, whose knowledge of The Simpsons is on point.

But the way this conversation is unfolding – in a flurry of attack words, threats, and with no meaningful exchange of ideas – is inhumane (a term that will almost certainly incite rage given the context).

For a lot of those attacking Etica, there seems to be no attempt to understand that the people they are attacking are humans with thoughts and feelings and, yes, ethics. There are obviously some differences of opinion here, but there are also points of commonality.

Etica’s Mel and Federico Pisanelli are far more concerned about animal welfare than your regular restaurateurs.

While I can see that the sale of meat and dairy products for capital gain is not acceptable from a vegan perspective, restaurant owners who make a point of acknowledging and minimising the animal sacrifice in their business should still be considered allies to some extent. In a world where factory farming and devalued consumption of animal flesh in giant chains like McDonald’s continue to dominate the agricultural industry, Etica is probably not your biggest concern.

But this tiny firestorm rages, and it’s hard not to see it as a peculiarly internet phenomenon.

If those who work at Etica and those who criticise the restaurant were talking face to face, a more productive, compassionate conversation would surely ensue. I’ve met Mel and Federico – they are gentle and thoughtful and smart and hospitable. It would be very difficult to experience them as humans and still want to call them ‘stupid, shit eating fuckheads’, as one Instagram user did over the weekend.

And, the things about veganism is that it is an inherently compassionate lifestyle choice. It is admirable and difficult to sacrifice so much (and, in a society built for meat eaters veganism is a sacrifice) for the welfare of others. That choice requires the kind of empathy only few of us can muster. And yet, on the internet, that compassion has mutated into nasty, disturbing hate speech.

If the internet is the forum where the big philosophical issues of our time are to be played out, then we are in trouble. Vitriol has a place in our world – it is human to let the kind of anger caused by years of personal grievance and misunderstanding spew forth every now and again.

But, when that anger is impersonal, when it is how we choose to discuss ideas, then it has no purpose. With this tenor of conversation there can be no meeting points, no resolution. And that’s scary.

So – instead of screaming at each other on the internet, let’s have a chat.

For the sake of animal welfare, for the sake of humanity – please, let’s talk.

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