‘Okja’ begins with the mercenary Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announcing, ‘The world’s [human] population is 7 billion. 805 million humans struggle with hunger every day, including 30 million right here in the United States. The world is running out of food, and we are not talking about it. We needed a miracle. And then we got one.’ Her ‘solution’? A secretly genetically engineered ‘miracle pig’ species arrived at after much animal experimentation and competitive breeding, with the star super pig being Okja.
Okja’s kind is supposed to consume less feed, yet grow bigger, with less pollutive excretion. However, if we are to all consume a plant-based (vegan) diet like Okja, there will be no need to breed his kind at all, with enough plant foods to end starvation. This is how we can create truly minimal carbon footprints. After all, a study estimated that animal agriculture accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gases, more than that emitted by land, air and sea vehicles combined! The reality check is that there is truly no Okja, which means such pollution continues as we speak.
What is Okja the gentle giant like? He looks like part pig, dog, cow, hippo, elephant… Like a hybrid of all, the fictitious Okja who seems familiar yet foreign at the same time is an ingenious placeholder for all bullied livestock animals. With the protagonist girl Mija’s (Seo-Hyun Ahn) deeply affectionate bonding with Okja in the mountains, the movie makes the audience question the forced ‘fate’ of animals designated to become meat. Why have we forgotten that animals can be good friends; not food, that none of them wish to be killed for us?
It is incredibly short-sighted to envision a better world only for humans, as ‘masters’ who lord over the lives and deaths of fellow non-human co-citizens of this planet. Industrialised slavery, exploitation, torture and slaughter of animals is about as inhumane as we can get? Ironically, having grown the best, Okja was the ‘super-est’ of the super pigs because he was allowed to live and run freely, not like those pseudo ‘free-range’ farm animals, who are merely given slightly more space for slightly longer durations before their last days.
The film also exposes real life factory farms’ kill floors without excess gore. It explains why the likes of Animal Liberation Front’s (ALF) activists take risks to secretly attain video footage of the atrocities that animals are put through, such as forced mating, to shatter the illusion that animals lead full and happy lives before facing the knife. Okja’s plight is that of every livestock animal. While ALF and Mija managed to save Okja, poignant is the truth that all other animals remain captive, to be treated like meat and produce machines.
The movie also spoofs beloved celebrity TV zoologists and veterinarians, who claim to love animals, yet profit off showcasing captive animals, while continuing to eat some of them. Mija was not featured as vegan though, not even a vegetarian, using Okja to catch fish for stew, while her grandfather kept chickens in a coop. Looks like we have way to go towards equanimity and liberation of all animals.
Okja was a 2017 Netflix blockbuster. A year later, in August 2018, a Swedish 15 year old, Greta Thunberg, started spending her school days outside the Swedish Parliament to call for stronger action on climate change. She held up a sign reading ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School strike for climate). But one cannot be a true environmentalist without adopting a plant-based diet. Thunberg, a vegan herself, in the short film #ForNature funded by Mercy For Animals, made by Tom Mustill and her, she narrated hard truths about the climate crisis that many have chosen to ignore for too long.
Industrial farming is less than a century old but its destruction of nature is almost beyond repair, should humans still choose to do nothing. Thunberg is not wrong when she said we are stealing her generation’s future.
In #ForNature, it was said that 75% of new diseases (including COVID-19) came from animals due to the way they are farmed and how nature was abused. Presently, for two years already, we are still dealing with COVID-19. People are still getting sick with it, with some severely so, even living with lasting side-effects. The latest worldwide COVID-19 death count is currently 5.25 million, still increasing by the second. What worse is that new COVID-19 variants are still discovered now and then, while other new diseases might be breeding with our non-action.
We are also confronted with the facts, that every year, 60 billion land animals and 200 million tons of fish are killed for food. With this much killing for about 7.9 billions of humans (while there are only 1–4% of them as vegans), it is no wonder that the climate is pivoted towards disasters. Industrial farming is just one of the many climate issues we are now facing, but it is a key issue with many interconnected ones, that simply cannot be ignored — lest a truly destructive and irreversible domino effect occurs.
Okja is about a girl and her beloved animal friend, while #ForNature is for nature. There is one similarity. The fictitious super-pigs are just like real-life industrialised farm animals bred as food. They are born in factories with horrible conditions, with terrible treatment for incredibly short and brutish lives. In the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, the Buddha taught, ‘[A]ll sentient beings from beginninglessness, in the cycle of birth and death within have been reborn without rest, with none not previously being our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, male and female relatives, and even friends, close loved ones and attendants. Changing when reborn, then receiving birds’, beasts’ and others’ bodies, how can they from within be obtained and eaten?’ (一切众生从无始来，在生死中轮迴不息，靡不曾作父母兄弟男女眷属乃至朋友亲爱侍使。易生而受鸟兽等身，云何于中取之而食？) Perhaps Bong Joon-ho, the writer and director of Okja can make a sequel with Mija going vegan, crusading on for all sentient beings’ freedom and well-being? Till every cage is empty!
Updated on 02 Dec 2021
Co-written by Tangerin and Zhaode