The Torchwood episode “Meat” touched some more sensitive nerves and emotions than even some of the most powerful and touching episodes thus far. Initially, we simply became aware that someone was selling alien meat. Then, we discovered that they were keeping an alien imprisoned, and cutting pieces off of it while it was still alive and suffering, since it would grow back whatever was cut off.
That someone would want to take advantage of such an opportunity, a seemingly endless supply of meat, is not at all hard to understand. But what was the motive? Merely to profit?
At first I suspected that perhaps the meat would turn out to be a delicacy. But it ended up simply being a way for the person who had stumbled upon the alien to finally earn a living as never before.
We “eat” one another to make our own fortune at the expense of others. The message of this is not subtle. We find ways of silencing or tuning out or simply avoiding hearing the cries of those cut to pieces – literally or metaphorically – in the process of our own finding a way to survive.
In the process of recognizing the sentience in an alien that was not at all humanoid, the main characters showed more of the depths of their humanity than in many other episodes. They cared, and showed they cared.
Surely empathy is the key to our being a species that it is worth having survive, and so the stifling of empathy in order to try to accomplish our own survival at the expense of others is, in the long run, self-defeating.
What we do if and when we encounter alien life, whether sentient or dumb and tasty, will most likely be unsurprising and a reflection of how we have dealt with living things on our own planet up until that point.
I tried to find a cartoon I once saw, which suggested that the realreason human beings want to find other planets is so that we’ll be able to have fish again once we’ve depleted all of earth’s supplies. If anyone has a copy of it or can track one down, I’d love to find it again and share it.