Rituele slacht en hoger onderwijs

Nieuws | de redactie
1 september 2011 | De laatste dag voor het reces steunden Kamerleden massaal een verbod op ritueel slachten. De stemming over zo'n voorstel is indicatief voor de steeds grotere rol van identiteit in de politiek, zegt Herman Lelieveldt. “Politiek gaat steeds minder over ‘wie krijgt wat’ en steeds meer over ‘wie zijn wij’.” Daarom zijn ‘liberal arts and sciences’ juist nu zo relevant, zegt hij.

Bij de opening van het academisch jaar van de Roosevelt Academykwam onderzoeker en UHD Lelievelt met een uitdagende analyse van deonverminderde actualiteit en relevantie van die benadering vanhoger onderwijs en onderzoek. “Let me give you an overview of thevariety of disciplines that we would need to better understand thestory of ritual slaughtering. If you do not mind, I start with myown discipline, political science.”

Vele disciplines hoogst actueel

Maar hij schetste dit nog verder “We need to know somethingabout European law in order to find out to what extent we are infact free to devise our own rules regarding the slaughtering ofanimals. Psychology is needed in order to better appreciate theoften inconsistent ways in which we deal with animals. Statisticscomes in handy when you are consulting surveys about what citizensthink about animal welfare.”

Zijn analyse van de case-study ‘ritueel slachten’ is evenscherpzinnig als politiek pikant. Hij analyseert bijvoorbeeld hoehet komt, dat “ook partijen die zich sociaal-economisch als linksprofileren, in cultureel opzicht zich aan de rechterzijde van hetpolitiek spectrum begeven.”

U leest de volledige rede van Herman Lelieveldthier

On the last Thursday of June the members of the Dutch parliamentcelebrated the end of the parliamentary year with their traditionalannual BBQ. The event brought together the usual mix ofpoliticians, civil servants, ministers, journalists and lobbyistswho like to flock to these kinds of events, especially when thereare free food and drinks.

For more than thirty years now the so-called product boards thatrepresent the Dutch food and drinks sector has offered this BBQ andhence secured itself a privileged way to soft-lobby the nation’skey decision-makers. As the board responsible for the meatofferings, the Product Board for Livestock and Meat suppliedkhebabs, hamburgers, satees and not to forget the prize winningSpareribs of  Theo Beerens, this year’s winner of theSpareribs Trophy 2011.[i]

Despite the cozy gathering, two Members of Parliament, MarianneThieme and Esther Ouwehand, boycotted the BBQ, a boycot that infact has by now also become something of a tradition. You willeasily understand the reason for this boycott if I tell you thatThieme and Ouwehand represent the Party FOR the Animals. Every yearthe party stages an alternative BBQ which they use to drawattention to the miserable conditions of animals in the foodindustry and to warn against the consequences of excessive meatconsumption and overfishing.

Thieme and Ouwehand enjoyed a fully vegetarian menu with itemssuch as no-tuna salad and croquettes made of lupine flour.[ii] They did so in a victorious mood. Just oneday earlier a large majority of parliament had voted in favour of abill proposed by Thieme that would restrict the practice of ritualslaughter in the Netherlands.

Dutch law states that for animal welfare and safety reasons,slaughterhouses are required to stun animals before killing them.The same laws however grants an exception to Jews and Muslims topractice their slaughtering ritual in a manner according to theirreligious prescriptions. This includes the requirement of animalsbeing fully conscious at the time of killing. The Party for theAnimals opposes this exemption.  In their view it causes anunacceptable amount of animal suffering. Thieme proposed a billwould abolish the exemption and would prescribe the stunning of allanimals before killing.

In the course of the legislative process the party staged asmart campaign to rally support for its proposal: it cited a widerange of scientific studies, conducted hearings with experts andshowed undercover footage of slaughtering practices that made alasting impression on many fellow parliamentarians. The strategyworked. On the last day of the parliamentary session 2010-2011 noless than 116 MP’s – 80 % of the members present – voted in favourof the proposal.[iii] The only parties thatvoted en bloc against the proposal were the three Christian partiesthat considered the measure an inadmissible restriction of thefreedom of religion.

The success of the Party for the Animals presents us with afascinating puzzle. How did a party with only two seats inparliament manage to get this proposal adopted? Why are animalconcerns in general getting more and more attention in politicaldebates? What does this tell us about the nature of politics intoday’s society?

Today I would like to offer you some tentative answers to thesequestions. Answers that go beyond what has been said about thisparticular debate so far. Some of you may recall the last minuteattempt of Jewish and Muslim groups to stall the bill on the eve ofthe parliamentary vote, with Rabbis flying in from all over theworld to make their case.

Today however, I would like to present a more fundamentalanalysis of what has happened here, something going beyond thesimple reports about the struggle to get the bill adopted.  Inthe course of doing so I will argue that that we need a variety ofdisciplines in order to really understand what has been happeninghere. This then indeed is a plea for the liberal arts and sciencesand that may sound to you as preaching to the converted. The pointis of course that we are not completely sure whether all of youfreshmen, indeed have been converted yet.

Last week many of you approached your tutor and told them youdid not like that mandatory science or art course you were enrolledfor. Why should I as someone wanting to become a doctor knowsomething about political philosophy? Why on earth are youdisturbing my mission to take in as many art-history courses byrequiring me to do mathematics? We tutors will have told you a verysimple answer. Because it will make you a better scholar, preciselyin those fields that have your primary interest. I hope today’stalk may help you better appreciate this philosophy.

But let’s now turn to the substantive question I just raised.What explains the Party for the Animal’s success in getting theirproposals passed and the success of this party in general? Here is the short answer that will serve as your itineraryduring my talk: Debates about identity – about who we are and whatbinds us – have grown in importance over the last decades. Thisincludes debates in politics, which are also shaped to anincreasing extent by fights and disputes about ‘who we are’ andwhat we stand for as a country.

Food, in terms of what we eat and how we produce it, is havingan ever greater impact on our lives and shapes our identities andlifestyles more and more. These concerns have been exploited veryskillfully by the Party for the Animals, which is riding the wavesof the pure, local, and authentic ways of dealing with food. It isthis constellation that has made so many parliamentarians soreceptive of a proposal that does away with the foreign and exoticway of slaughtering animals as it is practiced by some Jews andMuslims, and brings it more in line with the way the Dutch want todo those things.

Food and identity

Let me start first with formulating my hypothesis about theemergence of food as a factor that increasingly defines ouridentities. Eating has always amounted to more than simply a way tofeed ourselves. We can easily list the different culinarytraditions of a wide range of countries and are often prone toconnect the way these societies enjoy their food with what thistells us about their culture.

Not all countries however have been alike in cherishing theirculinary cultures. Traditionally we assume that the Mediterraneancountries have been much more aware and explicit in dealing withfood, than the Nordic part of Europe and the United States , whereeating for such a long time seemed to be no more than feeding.

It is exactly in those countries that have not been associatedwith strong culinary traditions that we have recently witnessed asurge in attention to what we eat and how we produce it in the lastcouple of decades. The Dutch, German, English, the Danish and theAmericans have discovered or rediscovered their culinary roots andin the course of doing so reinvented them. While less and lesspeople are involved in producing these foods, we as consumers arespending more and more of our leisure time and disposable incomeson enjoying it.

Fun-shopping is as much about looking for goods as it is aboutlooking for foods. If you come back from your shopping spree andturn on the TV it is hard to avoid one of the many programs devotedto food. Whether it is Rick Stein checking out Galician cider inhis culinary tour of Spain or Gordon Ramsay shouting and cursing inyet another culinary contest he chairs. The print media stocks moreand more titles of food and culinary magazines and newspapersdevote an increasing amount of editorial space to food – few of uswill recall the days where newspapers just published a dailyrecipe.

So it is safe to say that food is to an increasing extentshaping our lives (and our bodies as well, but that is a theme Iwill not touch upon today). It has become more salient to us. Nowwhat, we may ask, are the current trends in the way we embrace ourfood? One term, in my view, best captures today’s food mood. We areliving in the age of the locavore.

The term was coined first in 2005 by Jessica Prentice, a foodwriter from San Francisco who together with fellow activistschallenged people in the Bay area to eat within a 100 mile radiusfrom their home. Already in 2007 the term became word of the yearof the Oxford American Dictionary.[iv] I usethe term to capture several elements of food production andconsumption that are so popular nowadays: the local, the naturaland the traditional.

Locavores, first, embrace food that can be found around thecorner. If you have been lucky to secure a table a Pure C, thetrendy beachside resto of three star chef Sergio Herman in Cadzand- a beachside village in Zeeuws-Vlaanderen – you will spot hisyoungest kitchen aid picking wild rocket just minutes before yousit down for lunch, to only find half an hour later as part of yourappetizer. Many people sign up for fruit and vegetable bags, wherethe season instead of you determines what you will eat. Thisincludes a lot of RA students who get their bags from ’t HofWelgelegen an organic farm just on the outskirts of Middelburg.

A second characteristic of the locavore trend is the emphasis onkeeping things as pure as possible. The 2011 hit among chefs isserving their guests a so-called vegetable garden: briefly sautéedseasonal vegetables planted in black Quinoa. The summum of purityis served by the worlds’ best Restaurant NoMA. It is VintageCarrot, left in the ground for two years and roasted whole in goatbutter.[v]

Locavore thirdly also stands for tradition. It champions old,often labor intensive ways of producing food and varieties offruits and vegetables that have been ignored by the mass foodproducers. The Slow Food movement, founded by the Italian CarloPetrini, believes in the taste of these original often cumbersomeways of producing food.

Slow Food is a booming international movement, with flourishinglocal chapters all around the world, that each organize theirfestivals where they feature local delicacies. Products areincreasingly labeled according to their mode of production or theirorigin: Blonde d’Acquitaine, the Poule de Bresse,and our own Zeeuwse platte.

Food identities and politics

We now turn to the question of the political relevance of thefood identities. For reasons of time I will not venture into adetailed analysis of the specific debate and the skillfull way inwhich the party was able to get the bill passed.[vi] Let’s take a broader look at the issue bylooking at the question of the mobilization of animal concerns intopolitics. What explains the fact that in 2006 no less than 180.000citizens cast their vote for a party that almost solely focuses onanimal welfare, and that the party was able to get its two MP’sre-elected four years later?

Following Anthony Downs it is helpful to compare elections to amarket to understand this.[vii] In theelectoral market political parties offer policies and seek to wintheir share of the vote. On election day voters go shopping in thiselectoral supermarket and inspect the shelves for the offerings ofthe various parties. Not surprisingly Downs predicts that voterswill buy those offerings that match their preferences as much aspossible. What is interesting however is to wonder what type ofproducts political parties have on offer. Which issues do theyemphasize? What are the products where competition is fiercest?

Let’s take a step back in time and visit the period during whichparty systems were formed in Europe. These parties organizedthemselves along the lines of class and religion. For a very longtime these two cleavages organized politics. The names of manyparties still refer to these cleavages: Christian democrats,liberals, and social-democrats can be found in most Europeancountries.

Over time the religious dimension became less prominent at theexpense of the socio-economic dimension. The issue of ‘who getswhat’ dominated politics for quite some time and is still veryimportant today. This also explains why most voters associate theterms left and right with the position of political parties onsocio-economic issues.

When we look at the Party for the Animals however, we see thatit does not say that much about these issues. It is a single-issueparty that devotes 90 % of its program and parliamentary work toimproving the lives of animals. In the ideal world of the Party forthe Animals circuses would be forbidden, recreational fishingdiscouraged and your goldfish would not be allowed to swim aroundin fishbowls anymore.[viii]

These topics do not fit the old established left-rightdistinction as we have known it for so long. They tap into adifferent dimension, that of national identities and in this caseon on the way people in the Netherlands relate to animals. How theyshould treat, feed and eat them. That such a program resonates sowell nowadays tells that identity-issues can be mobilizedsuccessfully amongst voters.

This is not an isolated phenomenon. An elaborate analysis ofparty programs and political debates in six Western Europeancountries by Hanspeter Kriesi and his team shows that slowly butsteadily, debates about ‘who gets what’, have given way toquestions such as ‘who are we’ and ‘who belongs to us’.[ix]

Economics in other words has given way to identity as the majordriver of politics. The religious cleavage has been re-configuredinto a cultural cleavage which includes identity issues. In manyEuropean countries most political parties manifest themselvesincreasingly in these identity terms. Their programs and theirpositions are more and more about what our country stands for, whatbinds us as citizens, what norms and values we as a nation shouldembrace.

On the one we might say left end of this new cultural spectrumwe find parties that embrace what Kriesi calls integration: theybelieve in openness, tolerance, international cooperation, andworld citizenship. Parties on the other side of the culturaldimension stand for what Kriesi calls demarcation: they want tocurb immigration, protect national identity, and uphold nationalsovereignty. These themes sound by now very familiar to us: allacross the continent we have witnessed the emergence of newpopulist parties that have been very successful in exploiting thelanguage of demarcation: the Dutch Partij voor deVrijheid, Flemish N-VA, The French FrontNational, the Italian Lega Nord.

Up till now identity politics focused mainly on issues ofcitizenship and policies on immigration and integration. What is sointeresting about the Party for the Animals is that we see a newavenue of identity politics being successfully mobilized. One thatfocuses on the way we treat animals.

The ban on unsedated ritual slaughter shows that these issuesresonate well in politics. It expresses a desire to define theNetherlands as a country where all animals are slaughtered in ahumane way. No exceptions are allowed, even not for religiousreasons and this means that from now on Muslims as well as Jewswill have to abandon their old practices and stun animals beforethey kill them. According to Dion Graus, speaker on behalf of theFreedom Party: ‘It would be outrageous if there would be aconstellation where some animals are abused and tortured and othersnot’[x]. According to Stientje van Veldhovenof the liberal democrats D66: “Welfare considerations make itimperative that for animals in the Netherlands the religion of thebutcher should not matter”.[xi]

Here we see a very clear example of demarcation in practice:instead of a somewhat open and flexible attitude towardslaughtering that allows for the practices of different cultures,slaughtering practices are now to become more uniform.

In 1999, when fusion-cooking was at its pinnacle, Prime-Minister Wim Kok cited the then existing exemptions for Jewsand Muslims as examples par excellence of doing justice to thenorms of newcomers. According to him: ‘In this way integration inDutch society is facilitated without having to violate fundamentalvalues’. [xii] Only 12 years later wewitness a radically different approach to the way politiciansevaluate these practices.

The Party for the Animals, which in socio-economic terms,clearly belongs to the left side of the political spectrum, uses astrategy of demarcation when it comes to animal rights and hencebelongs to the right side of the cultural spectrum. If this maysound a bit confusing to you, then you are not the only one.Politics indeed is getting more complicated because we are in themidst of a process of ideological repositioning. It is very clearthat in this process identity politics will play a very prominentrole in the years to come and that food will play an ever moresignificant role in this process. In the words of Jean-AnthelmeBrillat Savarin: ‘The fate of nations depends on the way theyeat’.[xiii]

Liberal arts and sciences

Obviously the preliminary answers that I have supplied to youonly generate a much longer list of new questions that we have toanswer in order to better understand what has been happening. Asfreshmen you may be surprised to hear that this is in fact thehallmark of good scientific work. It is not so much about findingthe right answers, as it is about asking the right questions. Letme give you an overview of the variety of disciplines that we wouldneed to better understand the story of ritual slaughtering.

If you do not mind, I start with my own discipline, politicalscience. One reason for the success of the Party for the Animals isthe openness of our political system. The system of proportionalrepresentation makes it relatively easy for parties to enterpolitics, and this at least partly explains why the Netherlands iscurrently the only country in the world with an Animal Party inparliament.

Many other questions however need the help of neighboringdisciplines. Take the analogy of comparing elections to a market:it was not a political scientist but an economist, Anthony Downs,who came up with this comparison. We need to know something aboutEuropean law in order to find out to what extent we are in factfree to devise our own rules regarding the slaughtering ofanimals.[xiv] Psychology is needed in orderto better appreciate the often inconsistent ways in which we dealwith animals.[xv] Statistics comes in handywhen you are consulting surveys about what citizens think aboutanimal welfare.[xvi]

History is needed to trace the development of ritualslaughtering practices over time. Religion to better grasp the wayMuslims and Jews define their rules. Anatomy and biology will helpyou better understand the scientific reports on animal sufferingduring slaughtering. Retoric and Argumentation is indispensable tounderstand the way politicians frame their arguments,[xvii] as is Journalism to appreciate the roleof the media. Sociologists, anthropologists and geographers areable to tell you how identities are shaped. And for a trulycomparative perspective a good command of Spanish, German, Frenchand Dutch will help you analyze these debates in differentcountries.

As new students I would like to encourage you to get the mostout of RAs course offerings by selecting a wide variety of coursesand by coming to these courses with an open mind. As a tutor I haveencountered quite a few cases where students who initiallycomplained about a course they really did not want, later told meit turned out to be the best course they took in that semester.

In a world that very often suffers from shortsightedness, abroad approach to the many problems that we face today provides thebest guarantee to a better understanding of what is happening

[i] http://www.pve.nl/pve?waxtrapp=fyidJsHsuOpbPREcBlBKHQ

[ii] http://www.pinkpolitiek.nl/content/view/101//news/view/126

[iii] Handelingen II 2010/11, nr. 98,item 25, p. 44 (28 juni 2011).


[iv] William Safire, Reflections on theRise of the Locavore, International Herald Tribune, 13October 2008, p.9.

[v] Julia Moskin ‘New Nordic CuisineDraws Disciples’. New York Times. 24-08-2011. Noma tookover the title from Spanish El Bulli, the bedrock of molecularcooking. ‘Instead of the new (techniques, stabilizers, ingredients)it emphasizes the old (drying, smoking, pickling, curing) with alarger goal of returning balance to the earth itself.’

[vi] For an insightful analysis seeAnnieke Logtenberg and Joram Snijders: Killing the Ritual:Problem Definition in the Parliamentary Debate about RitualSlaughter. In H. Lelieveldt (editor) Food FightsExamining the dynamics of issues,institutions and consumers in foodpolicy. Middelburg. Roosevelt Academy. P. 29-58. Available at:http://www.roac.nl/roac/_files/publications/Foodfights.pdf

[vii] Anthony Downs (1957). AnEconomic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.

[viii]http://www.partijvoordedieren.nl/departij/partijprogrammas. Demotion -Ouwehand-Thieme to forbid the sale of fishbowls (28286, nr.196), 12 februari 2008, was rejected by all parties except theParty for the Animals.

[ix] See Kriesi, H., Grande, E.,Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S., & Frey, T. (2006).Globalization and the transformation of the national politicalspace: Six European countries compared. European Journal ofPolitical Research, 45(6), 921-956. For a useful summary and aconnection to the problem of the legitimacy of the EU see Kriesi,H. (2009). Rejoinder to Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, ‘APostfunctional Theory of European Integration: From PermissiveConsensus to Constraining Dissensus’. British Journal ofPolitical Science, 39, 221-224. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G.(2009). A Postfunctionalist Theory of European Integration: FromPermissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus. British Journalof Political Science, 39, 1-23.

[x] ‘Mevrouw de voorzitter. Ik wiltoch even waarschuwen. Een quotum houdt namelijk in dat sommigedieren wel mishandeld en gemarteld mogen worden en andere niet. Datis natuurlijk te gek voor woorden. Een ander gevaar is dat hetmijns inziens zelfs riekt naar racisme. Het heeft tot gevolg dat jebepaalde mensen wel dieren laat mishandelen en anderen niet. Datkan natuurlijk absoluut niet in deze tijd.’ Handelingen II 2010/11,nr 73, item 2, p.8 (13 April 2011).

[xi] Handelingen II 2010/11, nr. 54,item 4, p. 5 (17 februari 2011). Veldhoven uses the quote tosummarize the position of another party, but it reflects theposition of D66 as well. ‘Dank voor de inbreng van het CDA, en voorwat ik samenvat als dat het voor een dier in Nederland qua welzijnniet moet uitmaken welk geloof zijn slager heeft.’ For the positionof the D66: “Ik heb heel duidelijk aangegeven wat onze positie is.Wij zouden graag naar nul gaan. Mijn punt is dat de SGP nietconsistent is in haar afweging. Verder heb ik duidelijk aangegevenwat de ambitie van D66 is.’ All members of D66 voted in favour ofthe proposal.

[xii] Cited in Havinga, T. (2008).Ritueel slachten. Spanning tussen religieuze tolerantie endierenbescherming. In A. Böcker, T. Havinga, P. Minderhoud, H. vanPut, L. de Groot-van Leeuwen, B. de Hart, A. Jettinghoff & K.Zwaan (Eds.), Migratierecht en rechtssociologie, gebundeld inKees’ studies. Migration Law and Sociology of Law,Collected Essays in honour of Kees Groenendijk (pp. 211-220).Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers. P.214.

[xiii] Jean-Anthelme Brillat Savarin(1994 [1824]). The Physiology of Taste. London: Penguin.P. 13

[xiv] Macmaolain, Caoimhin (2007),EU Food Law. Protecting Consumers and Health in A CommonMarket. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

[xv] Hal Herzog (2010) Some welove, some we hate, some we eat. Why it’s so hard to think straightabout animals. New York; Harper.

[xvi] Eurobarometer (2007)Attitudes of EU Citizens towards Animal Welfare. SpecialEurobarometer 270. Brussels: European Commission.

[xvii] Stone, Deborah (2002).Policy paradox. The Art of Political Decision Making.London: Norton.


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