When it comes to eating meat, it is never purely about protein. Some carnivores are so committed, they recognise vegetables only as side dishes, while those who abstain from animal products will almost certainly refuse a steak from an ethical, organic supplier – but might do so in favour of an intensely processed vegan proxy. Our attitudes to eating animals are highly personal, but increasingly consequential. Is it possible to strike a middle ground?
Meat Me Halfway, by Brian Kateman at non-profit organisation the Reducetarian Foundation, is a thoughtful, engaging documentary about our attachment to eating animals, and how we might move on from it.
It follows Kateman as he seeks to unpick the resistance he has encountered in encouraging people not to give up meat altogether, but simply to eat less. As a failed vegetarian in college, he co-founded the Reducetarian movement to target those who would never dream of going entirely (or even mostly) plant-based.
Eating less meat seemed a no-brainer to Kateman when considering its benefits to individual health and in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions and lessening our reliance on the structural cruelty of factory farming. Yet he was met with scepticism and ridicule from committed carnivores, and anger from animal rights activists who saw him as undermining their ethical position.
By staking out the middle ground, Kateman seemed to provoke the polar views on meat-eating, while some people like his father – equally sceptical of climate change and guacamole – remained unconvinced of the need to cut down. Indeed, meat consumption has gone up alongside our awareness of its toll on the environment.
Last year, people in the US are thought to have eaten an average of more than 100 kilograms of red meat and poultry, a return to levels not seen since the 2007 recession. Meanwhile, the UN has warned that we have less than a decade to act before the climate crisis is irreversible.
Food systems account for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. But as Bill McKibben of non-profit organisation 350.org notes in the film, against now-familiar scenes of planetary collapse, food has the benefit of being one area “where change is possible” – starting with dinner tonight.
For much of the 80-minute runtime, Kateman cedes the floor to experts who mount a wide-reaching case against meat – or, as he would have it, in favour of less. (The film is partially funded by a cultivated meat company.)
But a subject often as resistant to logic as this one needs to be treated with nuance befitting of the knottiness of the issue, and empathy for those who lack the luxury of choice. Here, Kateman puts himself forward as a guide.
In his own uneasy navigation of the world of meat – from the farm and slaughterhouse to the supermarket and lab – Kateman is even-handed, self-aware and willing to test his own convictions at the expense of appearing an expert.
But it is in his fond, frustrated engagements with his parents that Kateman is at his most relatable. Their circular conversation about climate change will be familiar to many, and refreshing to see. These quotidian conversations, at once casual and high stakes, rarely feature in representations of the climate crisis, though they may be how we most often engage with it.
“Like watching a sinking ship,” Kateman despairs after leaving his parents’ home. But the turnaround by the film’s end brings hope that the stalemate at the dinner table cannot last forever.
Meat Me Halfway will be available on demand on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo and other platforms from Tuesday 20 July
More on these topics: