Since January 1 2023, posters with a quote by Franz Kafka, who, when looking at a fish in an aquarium, said "Now I can look at you in peace, I don't eat you any more", have been on display in selected trains of the Prague metro. The graphic design is based on a painting by American artist Dana Ellyn, who kindly gave permission for her work to be used in the campaign. We ran a successful fundraiser at this link during the first two weeks to extend the campaign, so it will be there all month. If you take a picture of Kafka on the subway and share it, be sure to add #kafkavmetru (meaning Kafka in the subway, or simply #kafkainsubway).
Kafka the vegetarian
Although the famous Prague writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924) came from a butcher's family, he decided to stop eating animals as an adult. He decided to adopt a vegetarian diet about the age of thirty, at first for health reasons, as the conventional diet was not good for his sick stomach. Later, however, ethical motivation came in too, and his new perspective on the relationship between humans and other animals soon made its way into his work.
Besides the famous Metamorphosis, in which a man turns into a giant insect, this theme appears in his short story An Old Manuscript. In one scene, a butcher and his cronies are killing a bull while the narrator lies on the floor of his workshop for over an hour, covering his ears with pillows so that he cannot hear the dying animal. However, the famous quote about fish is not to be found in Kafka's work. According to his close friend Max Brod, he uttered this sentence to his girlfriend during a visit to the Berlin aquarium. (Šťastný, 2008)
Ambivalence in relation to the animals
From this quote it is clear that while he was still consuming animal bodies, Kafka felt what the American psychologist Festinger (1957) many years later named as cognitive dissonance. That is an unpleasant state of mind when there is a discrepancy, for example, between an individual's attitudes and actions. In the case of eating animals, this is a specific type of dissonance, called the meat paradox by Australian psychologist Loughnan (et al., 2010). And this was apparently also the case with Kafka, where there was a contradiction between his positive attitude towards animals and his acquired habit of eating them.
Autorka obrazu: Dana Ellyn
This contradiction is familiar to most of us, because on one hand we usually have compassion for all animals indiscriminately in childhood and we deem killing them rather unacceptable (as recent research shows), but on the other hand we grow up in a culture that requires us to consume some animals. The American psychologist Joy has coined the term carnism to describe this widely shared but largely unreflected ideology. This ideology is based on a series of myths and beliefs that it is desirable and necessary to eat meat of certain (so-called edible) animals.
Fortunately, acquired patterns of behavior can be critically examined and changed when we find that they aren’t logical or consistent with our values. The history of our civilization is replete with examples of people or entire groups who have defied this dominant ideology and advocated a nonviolent approach to animals.
Picture by Dana Ellyn
For example, Leo N. Tolstoy (1883) writes in one of his texts, "This is dreadful! Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity—that of sympathy and pity toward living creatures like himself—and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel.” Historical figures who decided to stop eating animals and began to spread the idea include Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo da Vinci, Ovid, Seneca, and presumably Pythagoras, after whom vegetarianism was originally named Pythagorean diet.
Today, the movement is associated with a vegan lifestyle that seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals, even for the purpose of profiting from animal products. One of the reasons for this is the lesser-known fact that even mass production of eggs and milk cannot be done without killing animals.
Examples of current celebrities who have gone vegan include James Cameron, Billie Eilish, Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman and Joaquin Phoenix. In the Czech Republic, they include Ben Cristovao, Jana Fabiánová or Petr Vachler.
Time for a change?
The beginning of the year is usually full of taking stock and resolutions and is therefore an ideal time for positive changes. If you belong to the growing group of people considering adopting a vegan lifestyle we recommend HappyCow.net for finding pro-veg shops and restaurants and Challenge22.com for the free advice about vegan life style. If you can speak Czech, you can also use our Soucitne.cz portal as a useful resource.
Picture by Dana Ellyn
Supporting the Kafka campaign
This entire campaign is funded by donations from individuals, with all the money going towards printing posters and renting advertising frames. All of our work is done by volunteers for free. We ran a successful fundraiser to extend the campaign, so Kafka will be on display in the Prague metro for at least two more weeks.
You can also support the campaign by taking a photo with Kafka on the metro and sharing the photo in stories with the hashtag #kafkavmetru (or #kafkainsubway) and tagging @soucitne so we can reshare it.
Text: Tereza Vandrovcová, proofreading: Silvestr Vandrovec Špaček, Petr Beneš, Illustrations: Dana Ellyn (web)
- Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford University Press, Stanford
- Joy, M. (2009). Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. Conari Press.
- Loughnan S., Haslam N., Bastian B. (2010). The Role of Meat Consumption in the Denial of Moral Status and Mind to Meat Animals. Appetite, 55, 156–159. doi https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2010.05.043
- McGuire, L., Palmer, S. B., & Faber, N. S. (2022). The Development of Speciesism: Age-Related Differences in the Moral View of Animals. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 0(0). doi https://doi.org/10.1177/19485506221086182
- Šťastný, J. (2008). Vegetarian Kafka. Jan Šťastný (Vegspol).
- Tolstoj, L. N. (, 2010). První krok. In Čejka, J. (ed.), Zvířata jsou naši bližní: Výbor z děl světových humanistů a křesťanských myslitelů. Práh.