Meat Market, the Next Generation: New Documentary Resets How We Experience Meat Consumption

The maker of 'Carnal' wanted to prove that even on farms that are run by self-proclaimed animal lovers, the animals' lives are a nightmare. But his method for doing so is extreme

An image from the poster for the documentary 'Carnal.'
Avner Matzliach

Instead of making another documentary about the suffering of animals in the food industry, Avner Matsliach decided to examine the moral tolerance of the spectators and to try to open a sanctuary for animals that the food industry no longer needs, a sanctuary that provides sex services to humans to obtain funding. Does that sound like abuse to you?

Director Matsliach decided he didn’t want to make just another film to document what goes on in the cowsheds and chicken runs where they raise animals for the egg and milk industry. Such films have already been made, such pictures have already been taken, and these sights have already shocked many viewers. His goal was different. In his new film, “Carnal,” Matsliach wanted to prove that even on farms that obey all the laws and meet all the standards, and that are run by self proclaimed animal lovers, the lives of the animals are a continual nightmare.

So Matsliach, 45, a vegetarian since age 11 and a vegan for the past five years, decided to embark on a unique cinematic journey: His goal was to establish an old age home for farm animals that are past their prime, and went out to search for the good-hearted farmers to find out if they would agree to give him such animals that were no longer productive, and, on the way, to learn from them about the lives of the animals they raise. But that wasn’t the end of his unusual ideas.

From 'Carnal'.
Avner Matsliach

“As far as I’m concerned, even when this industry is run properly it’s shocking and full of suffering,” Matsliach tells Haaretz. “So I wanted to go out and talk to the good farmers, those who work according to the standard and even beyond it, and to show that such an industry, with its assembly lines and mass raising of animals, simply cannot be run without this suffering. That’s why the answer is not to install cameras in the slaughterhouses and to increase supervision. In my opinion, we simply have to stop consuming these things.”

An animals brothel

As a very early stage in his filmed journey, which will compete in the documentary film competition of the Haifa International Film Festival opening on Thursday, Matsliach realized that the fantasy of establishing a sanctuary for farm animals isn’t practical. It’s going to be a very expensive story, the farmers he met explained to him. But his attempts to try to find original sources of funding let him to the realm of the bizarre:

'Carnal' director, Avner Matsliach.
Rami Shllush

“At a certain point I thought, what if the funding of the place where animals will get to enjoy a happy life in their old age, as a token of appreciation and gratitude for their service in the food industry, were to come from their providing sex services [to humans]? That amused me, because that question has a comic-defiant element – on the one hand you come and want to do well by them, on the other hand you have no money, so you make a deal with the devil.

“On the one hand you say, I’ll treat the animals better, I’ll make sure that they don’t suffer much, and on the other hand you begin to calculate degrees of suffering – where will they suffer more and where less, and what do they prefer, to continue working in the food industry or to undergo supervised serial rape?”

In the end this idea, which is quite hair-raising, led Matsliach to create a film that from the start warns the viewers that they shouldn’t take the ideas raised in it too seriously. (“The viewers are asked to waive the distinction between reality and fiction. The relevant question is what the reality should and shouldn’t be,” read the opening credits.) And still, the bizarre idea of funding a sanctuary for animals by means of zoophilic tourism (sexual activity between humans and animals), of all things, could be effective in the film he wanted to make, the director quickly realized.

It enabled him to get into the heads of consumers of animal products, the mind games that they play with themselves to enable this suffering: How much suffering must inevitably be caused so that the farm that provides them with eggs and milk will be economically viable? “That’s a thought that’s true of the food industry, but also of the bordello for animals that I want to establish in the film,” Matsliach said. “I realized that in doing that I’m taking principles that are central to an industry surrounding which there is a consensus, and applying them to an industry that’s the total taboo of human-animal relations.”

The parallel between his zoological bordello and the farms that produce animal products, Matsliach decided, would put the viewers to the test: Would they accept the levels of suffering and exploitation that they are willing to accept in the food industry, in a zoophilic initiative?

“People often say that zoophilia is similar to pedophilia, because even if it seems that the animals are consenting, that’s not necessarily the case. And the moment that the viewers think about that, the question arises – and do the animals give their milk and eggs consensually? In both instances this is satisfying an appetite. Most of the consumption of animal products comes from appetite, and not from considerations of survival or health. And the same is true of the zoophilic appetite. So why is one thing permitted and the other forbidden?” asks Matsliach. “In my eyes the tension between these two extremes can drive you crazy.”

Along with discussions that he conducts in the film with farmers and with the state supervisor about the suffering of animals in the food industry, he also goes to Germany to examine the zoophilic angle and the level of suffering that is forced on the animals. The chairman of a zoophilic organization in Berlin explains to him there that the German government decided to forbid zoophilia “because it assumes that any sexual contact with animals is characterized by force and violence and abuse against animals, whereas they want to protect the animals.

“But nobody has discussed arguments such as the fact that in the food industry they exploit animals far more, and even kill them. For example, it isn’t logical that [by law] piglets can be castrated without anesthesia, but the moment that you hold a pig’s testicles and are aroused,” he says, demonstrating the movement with his hand, “then that’s forbidden. It’s permitted to cut them off, but touching them is forbidden! That’s totally illogical.”

As far as Matsliach is concerned, his film is activist in nature and his target audience is viewers who eat meat and egg products. “My objective is to try to bring about a reset in their concept of animal products, of what it means to put meat into your mouth. After all, the act of eating and the erotic act are very similar in many ways – the passion, the penetration of a body into the body, the preoccupation with animal excretions, whether it’s milk or other things. 

Matsliach is a graduate of film studies at the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem, and worked for years in the TV industry. At a certain point he left the field for several years to become financially stable, and now he’s returning to it with this film. He worked on it for about four years and did almost everything by himself: wrote, directed, filmed, edited and paid for everything out of his own pocket. No foundation or broadcasting group was willing to support “Carnal.”

The German zoophile interviewed in the film is young and slender, almost fragile, smiling and intelligent. Not someone you would give a second glance if he passed you on the street. “He reflects the conflict in a clean and authentic way, because you look at him and see a young and delicate guy, not a monster. And still it’s someone who does what you think is the most shocking thing in the world. And that’s precisely the conflict you experience when you see a person with a knife cutting the throat of a cow, or loading it onto a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse, or emptying chicken coops with cruelty.

“After all, he could also be a refined and thinking person. They can all be terribly humane – the animal farmers and the zoophiles, as well as the Agriculture Ministry regulator who’s in charge of enforcing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law and for years decides on the degree of suffering of billions of animals.”

“Carnal” tries to show how the animal products industry, what many vegans call the “animal Holocaust,” continues to exist despite the terrible suffering caused to the animals. “In my opinion the consumer, or the spectator, is the one who plays the main role in the film, even though you don’t see him, because he thinks, he judges, and I hope that some inner movement is created in him while he watches,” explains Matsliach. “If things that were clear to him about himself suddenly begin to change, I feel I’ve succeeded.”

Matsliach paid for ‘Carnal’ out of his own pocket. Not suprisingly, no foundation or broadcasting group was willing to support it.