Understanding the Morality of Animal Consumption
By Marcella Pansini
Okja tells the story of a teenage girl named Mija on a journey to protect her eponymous pet—a genetically engineered super pig—from an American company called the Mirando Corporation that is fixated on turning Okja into food for mass production and consumption. As stated by Lucy, the eccentric powerful CEO of the Mirando Corporation, “Our super pigs will not only be big and beautiful, they will also leave a minimal footprint on the environment, consume less feed, and produce less excretions. And most importantly, they need to taste f***ing good” (0:02:27). Lucy’s announcement fixating on the flavor of a pig sets the stage for the dichotomy in how animals are presented throughout the film, they are seen as either food and a means of profit or as friends and a source of comfort.
Okja is incredibly capable of intelligence and care; however, the Mirando Corporation’s primary concern is that the super pig must ‘taste good.’ Carnism, the invisible belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals is normalized, which is seen through the film’s depiction of a high consumption of meat by the American public. With Carnism, we believe we kill animals out of necessity, whereas we really kill them out of ideology (Gander). In my opinion, the public’s belief that it is okay to consume certain animals has little to do with the animals themselves: it is mostly based on our perceptions formed by cultural influences. Pigs, or super pigs like Okja, are just as intelligent and sentient as dogs, who are treated like family while pigs are treated as property (Gander). In the film, Mija and her grandfather, who are South Korean, treat Okja like a member of the family. On the other hand, American consumers constantly demand new innovations in the meat industry.
As claimed in Korsmeyer’s Food and Philosophy, “Part of the experience of this kind of [violent] meal involves an awareness, however underground, of the presence of death amid the continuance of one’s own life” (159). The idea of animals and food being viewed differently depending on the cultural perspective is seen in Okja as well as Food and Philosophy. Many modern consumers, such as the Americans, are fine with eating meat as long as they are not reminded of where their food came from. In Okja, the Mirando Corporation combats this guilt by framing its consumption of super pigs as ‘eco friendly.’ They assure its consumers of the morality of their product while framing the consumption of animals as an issue of personal freedom rather than personal justice. Okja depicts how many societies and the meat industry are solely concerned with one thing: making a profit.
In the film’s climax, Mija is finally reunited with Okja through the help of the Animal Liberation Force. However, Okja is captured by the Mirando Corporation and is on the chopping block, seconds from death. This scene features a wide shot with Mija, Okja and a Mirando Corporation worker, which captures the horrifying environment the three characters are currently in. By using a muted, blue-toned color scheme, the scene appears cold and threatening. The metal trap encompassing Okja also works as a physical and emotional barrier between Mija and Okja. The laboratory, clinical clothes the Miranda Corporation worker is wearing and the needle in his hand emphasizes the dichotomy between the worker’s use of ‘cold’ science and Mija for how they perceive animals. Mija is finally able to confront Lucy and asks her for her reasoning, “Why do you want to kill Okja?” “Well, we can only sell the dead ones,” she replies (1:46:09). This difference in the perception of animals is finally settled by Mira trading a solid gold pig figurine in exchange for Okja’s life, satisfying Lucy’s greedy desires.
In conclusion, Mija feels concern and compassion for Okja but her concern makes the audience painfully aware of the millions of animals that are not so lucky and are forced to suffer at the hands of humans. Depending on one’s culture, one can see animals and food as either one in the same or two very different concepts, but these consumers fear being faced with the consequences of their choices, much as Korsmeyer has.
Gander, Kashmira. “Carnism: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 6 Sept. 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/carnism-why-love-dogs-eat-pigs-wear-cows-leather-pork-dr-melanie-joy-vegan-psychology-a7932621.html.
Joon-ho, Bong, director. Okja. Netflix, 2017.
Korsmeyer, Carolyn. “Food and Philosophy: Delightful, Delicious, Disgusting.” sakai.unc.edu/access/content/group/e67830b0-3c81-4694-86e5-ad1873d94d2b/PART%20TWO%3A%20WHAT%20IS%20FOOD/3.%20Green%20Butchers/Korsmeyer%20Delicious%20_%20Disgusting.pdf.