Caroline Wimberly is an associate at environmental think tank Brighter Green, where she manages the China Program.
As the US and other industrialized nations begin to trim per capita consumption of animal products - whether for personal health, as a form of climate activism, evolving consideration of animal rights, to fight deforestation, or for other reasons - the rest of the world is beefing up. Literally.
Any serious discussion or commentary on the future of food must address the dilemma of rising global demand for meat and other animal products. Throughout history almost without exception, when people gain wealth and move to cities, they consume more meat. The huge inputs - and often inefficient outputs - of animal products are becoming more well-known and taken seriously in food, agriculture and climate policy circles.
The Rise of Meat Consumption in China
These factors have not curbed the shift toward increased meat eating (so far) in the global South. Nowhere else can this trend be seen more clearly than in China. The world's largest country consumes half the world's pork, and now raises and slaughters more than 700 million pigs each year* (in addition to importing nearly three million metric tons of pork**). For comparison, the US processes about 106 million pigs each year*, 97 percent of whom are raised on factory farms. While a growing number of people in the US and other parts of the world ask more questions and demand answers about their food, a great deal of the rest of the world remains in the dark about how their food is produced: whether through willful ignorance or a lack of access to information.
The Meatrix®: Relaunched in China
It is in this complex context that Brighter Green partnered with GRACE Communications Foundation to translate GRACE's award-winning animated short film, The Meatrix®: Relaunched. When it premiered in 2003, spoofing the famous film series, The Matrix, to explore the dramatic shifts in US agriculture, from small farms to vast animal factories, the original Meatrix film attracted worldwide attention and became an easily digestible tool for the sustainable food movement.
Several sequels and numerous translations have been created since the original animation, including the tenth-anniversary call to action, The Meatrix®: Relaunched. Given China's importance and influence on the global food system, as well as the changes in video technology, internet use and viral videos since 2003, a project to reach varied audiences in China seemed timely.
Brighter Green is a New York-based action tank working at the intersection of issues related to the environment, animals and sustainability, primarily in the global South. Our research on the globalization of factory farming and its various, lesser-known environmental, animal welfare, climate change and food security impacts includes an extensive case study on China's adoption of US-style industrialized food production and rising meat consumption.
Further research on and outreach in China led to the unfortunate realization that few resources about food systems and rapid changes in production and consumption are readily available, especially in Chinese. The Meatrix®: Relaunched in different Chinese dialects is part of the response to that predicament: to accelerate a sustainable or "good" food movement in China, including through making better known the realities and downsides of the industrialized US food system - and especially the multiple horrors of factory farming.
Making the Film Accessible to Multiple Chinese Audiences
We wanted to make The Meatrix®: Relaunched accessible to broad and diverse audiences in China, so the choice of dialects for translation was strategic. Mandarin is the most widely-spoken Chinese dialect and China's official national language, but we wanted a broader reach, usability and potential impact, for The Meatrix®: Relaunched, and the issues it raises. So we created a spoken Mandarin translation (with the voices of the Meatrix's characters provided by a Beijing-based voice-over artist) along with voiceovers in Shanghai, Sichuan, Hokkien and Cantonese, for a total of five distinct versions.
In addition, we worked with a Beijing-based web development company to create a Chinese-language website to share these Chinese dialect versions, offer follow-up resources and give people in China a set of actions they can take to help change the food system, and their own diets. We're also encouraging them to share the videos on social media, especially WeChat, which is the most popular platform in China for messaging, sharing "moments" and reading (mostly) uncensored content.
Going Beyond the Meatrix
Another facet of Brighter Green's work in China is the recent launch of a Chinese language "good food academy" website with informational resources, multimedia content and opportunities for users to ask questions and participate in webinars, live chats and discussions with experts, advocates and each other.
This past summer, we began showing The Meatrix®: Relaunched to new audiences as part of the Good Food Road Show, a project of Brighter Green's Good Food China program, implemented in partnership with a small team of Chinese professionals and volunteers. The Road Show team, consisting of three Chinese food activists and a US plant-based chef, held 39 workshops with local partners in 20 cities and 15 provinces and municipalities over the course of four months (April to August 2017).
Each workshop included a screening of the new Meatrix Relaunched in Mandarin, presentations on the true costs of food (for the environment, health, animal welfare and power and control in the food system), whole foods nutrition and a cooking demonstration of delicious, mostly local, plant-based meals. The Meatrix's message to consumers to make more conscious food decisions and advocate for a better, fairer, climate-friendly food system was ever-present during the tour.
Here's to The Meatrix®: Relaunched going viral in China and contributing to a larger move towards sustainable food and climate leadership. The world is watching.
The Meatrix®: Relaunched in five Chinese dialects can be viewed at: 黑肉帝国.com.
*FAOSTAT, accessed September 14, 2017, Livestock Primary, China, United States of America, Producing Animals/Slaughtered, Meat, pig, 2014 (the most recent year data is available)
**Ministry of Commerce, People's Republic of China. 2017. Monthly Statistical Report on China's Agricultural Import and Export, December 2016.