I Want You to Panic: Leveraging the Rhetoric of Fear and Rage for the Future of Food
60 Pages Posted: 4 May 2021
Date Written: April 28, 2021
Humanity Is About to Kill 1 Million Species in a Globe-Spanning Murder-Suicide. Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change.
Doomsday headlines like these are terrifying. But are they enough to make us act? The causes of the current climate crisis are many, but the science is clear that the meat and dairy industry shoulders much of the blame. Given the role the animal agriculture industry plays in perpetuating the climate crisis, combined with the harms the industry imposes on the animals and workers within it, politicians and governments—given their degree of power and influence—should ostensibly be leaders in setting policies that might set humanity on a course-correction. Instead, we see fear prompting politicians and governments to action—action designed to slow progress and thwart change.
This article explores the role that emotion—specifically fear and rage—play in shaping the legal, political, and cultural discourse around the future of food, and offers a strategy to leverage those emotions to help people more effectively confront the impact that their dietary choices have on the environment, farm animal welfare and exploitation, and factory farm workers. Part One provides an overview of the current climate crisis. It also unpacks the role that animal-derived meat plays in perpetuating cultural norms around traditional masculinity, which the American Psychological Association has identified as harmful and which has been identified as a driving force behind climate skepticism. Part Two explores three examples of governments—state, national, and international—using fear as a primary motivating force to wage linguistic and semantic battles over the meaning of “meat” and “milk.” This section unpacks legislative efforts in Missouri, Arkansas, and other states to pass so-called “Real Meat Laws” that seek to prohibit the commercial speech of producers of plant-based and cultivated meat. It explores similar efforts in the U.S. Congress to prohibit plant milk from using the word “milk” on its labels in a thinly-veiled fear-driven attempt to protect the dairy industry. And it explores the European Union’s recent passage of Amendment 171, which, if allowed to take effect, would introduce sweeping restrictions on plant-based food labeling. Part Three suggests that one way to facilitate the paradigm shift we need around food is to leverage the role that emotion plays in consumer decisions around food, and offers mandatory Graphic Warning Labels (GWLs) as a tool to do just that. Building on research done around the globe into the effectiveness of GWLs on cigarette packages that blend Logos and Pathos by combining data with scientifically-accurate yet emotionally disturbing and fear-inducing images, this section argues that consumers need to be confronted with logical and emotional appeals to reject animal-based food each and every time they pick those items off a grocery store shelf. Ultimately, this article agrees with teenage Swedish climate activist: “I want you to panic,” she said. “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
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