The "Present Referent": Nonhuman Animal Sacrifice and the Constitution of Dominant Albertan Identity

Kelly Struthers Montford


In the summer of 2012, “meat” themed posters were hung throughout the city of Edmonton, Alberta. A textual analysis of three of the posters from this collection revels that the concept of sacrifice (Derrida, The Animal) is more appropriate to describe “meat”-eating in Alberta than the concept of the absent referent (Adams, Sexual Politics of Meat). These posters celebrate the consumption of “meat” and unabashedly make evident the living animal origins of “meat.” I argue that that the prominence of the cattle industry relative to Alberta’s economy, and its ties to the production and reproduction of dominant Albertan identity negate the requirement of the absent referent. The consumption of “beef” is largely considered an expression of loyalty to the region, and as a means to preserve Alberta’s (imagined) heritage (Blue, “If it ain’t Alberta”; Korniek). The noncriminal putting to death of nonhuman animals can instead be understood as symbolic and literal sacrifices in the constitution of dominant Albertan identity and economy (Derrida, The Animal). As such, this paper makes an intervention into ecofeminist literature as well as vegan literature written for mainstream populations that employ the absent referent in the aim of countering “meat”-eating practices (Adams, Sexual Politics of Meat, Pornography of Meat; Foer; Freedman and Barnounin; Joy; Robbins; Singer).

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