Troy Vettese

‘We Need to Talk About Kielbasa: The Left’s Problem with Meat'

8 November 2022, 4-5.30pm
Alfred Denny Conference Room

Troy is the co-author of a thought-provoking new book with Verso, Half-Earth Socialism, which was met with some derision by many fellow socialists for its arguments in favour of veganism. Troy’s paper sets out to respond to this critique by problematising a traditionalist left’s uncritical embrace of meat-eating.

About the lecture

One might think that vegetarianism or veganism are practices that belong to the left. Think of straight-edge vegan punks or the climate activists ladling out lentils at occupations. Yet, there is also a stream within the left that is vociferously opposed to veggie politics, despite the considerable ethical and environmental costs of meat. They are a certain kind of conservative communists that are wary of being too far from the mainstream.

George Orwell excoriated sandal-wearing, queer vegetarians, and instead romanticised working-class colliers and practical-minded socialists like himself. Other sausage socialists include Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who believed that meat-eating was a crucial part of human evolution and our species exceptionalism (spawning a whole field of pseudo-scientific evolutionary biology over the last century).

Moreover, they believed that meat - and with it, the domination of nature - constituted the good life that socialism would provide for all. Such communist carnivory represented a break in the history of the left, as utopian socialists were often vegan or vegetarian (such as Robert Owen, Percy Shelley, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman). Nor has meat consumption served socialists societies well, as the devastation wrought by factory farms in East Germany in the 1980s or present-day China attests.

One would think that Marxists, who are capable of such insightful critique, would be more reflective of dietary habits that contribute so much to climate change and the Sixth Extinction. The left should be wary of carnivory, as its justification often rests on appeals to conservative reason: pseudo-scientific hierarchies, tradition, and power.

About Troy Vettese

Troy Vettese is an environmental historian and a Max Weber fellow at the European University Institute in Fiesole. Half-Earth Socialism, co-authored with Drew Pendergrass, was published by Verso in April 2022.