How "BoJack Horseman" Explains the Hypocrisy of Factory Farming

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factoring farming row of cows eating

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The show is set in a world where chickens farm other chickens.

In the cartoon "BoJack Horseman," humans and other animals live and work amongst each other in the fictional town of Hollywoo. You might think such folks would avoid eating animals, but they go on ordering hamburgers anyway, despite a cow waitress's judgmental glances.

At first, I thought the whole "cows serving beef" thing was just a dark joke. But the show mulls over the food system pretty seriously in other episodes, and it gets much, much darker.

Humans often separate themselves from the animals they eat. Claims that animals can't really feel pain or think abound, despite substantial evidence to the contrary and plain old common sense. But you can't escape the hypocrisy in a world where cow waitresses serve burgers.

And yet, despite knowing they're basically cannibals, the animals act pretty much like humans when it comes to food, excesses included. In one episode, "Chickens," a fast food restaurant called “Chicken 4 Dayz” sells buckets of fried chicken for cheap.

"Don't ask questions, just keep eating," explains a Chicken 4 Dayz commercial.

And the show doesn't just target factory farms. It takes a hard look at all meat production.

"Over at Chicken 4 Dayz, they pump their chickens full of hormones and keep them cooped up in tiny cages," says a chicken farmer (a chicken who farms chickens). "Now, as a chicken, this concerns me." It concerns him just enough to "humanely" raise and slaughter his fellow chickens.

Not that everyone's okay with the situation. In one episode, Todd Chavez and Diane Nguyen, two of the show's main characters, go on a mission to save a chicken being raised for slaughter. The characters' moral quandary is probably eerily familiar to plenty of vegans and vegetarians in the real world. The characters know factory farming is evil, but they feel powerless to stop it. Even after they save their chicken, they pass a horde of people standing in line to buy more buckets of chicken.

This episode perfectly illustrates the worldview of many vegans; it's a little like the flipside of the stereotypical insufferable vegan. While most vegans I've met are perfectly sufferable, many are ferociously devoted to their cause to the point where they can seem a bit lecture-y. But can you blame them? From their perspective, billions of perfectly sentient animals are being tortured so people can keep devouring buckets of five-dollar chicken nuggets.

"BoJack Horseman" raises the tough question: If society knew it was torturing and slaughtering animals just like us, would we stop eating meat? Characters in Hollywoo don't seem to care that they're eating their own species. People don't eat meat out of logic. They eat meat because they like the taste, and then they come up with justifications.

"These animals aren't like us. They're specifically bred to be eaten, and genetically modified for maximum flavor," continued the farmer, a rooster, in his commercial. "When our chicks first hatch, we lovingly inject them with natural delicious hormones, which makes them meat, thereby erasing any moral gray area!"

Still, perhaps the reactions of the main characters reflects how society is starting to reflect on its overly carnivorous nature.

"How do you respond to allegations that factory farming is torture, or cruel, or like a terrifying movie about some strange dystopian society, but in this monster story, the horrifying monsters are us?" asks a newscaster in one episode.

Even if humanity doesn't go vegan anytime soon, people are talking more about factory farms these days. Perhaps we'll settle on a middle ground that doesn't include cheap buckets of chicken.