On Digestate: A Food & Eating Themed Anthology

I think that Digestate was the first thing that I kickstarted. As you may know, I think the very idea of kickstarter in the field of videogames is kind of a hole in the ground. It preys on nostalgia and it has been, generally, something to huck your money into without a return (look at Darius’ blog post about his own returns [read the comments {this is the only time I will tell you to read a comment thread, probably}]). But, thankfully, graphic novels actually seem to be getting pushed out/finished/printed/whatever.

So after a few months of waiting, I received Digestate in the mail this past weekend. I devoured it in one sitting.

(Side note: I made that pun on purpose, but I didn’t want to just write “ha!” or “haha!” in parenthesis. I’m toying with the idea of trying to create an uncomfortable laugh only in text–“HA! HAHA! Ohhhhh! HAHAHAHAHA!” but I think that might not work so well. Maybe this is where linking GIFS is appropriate.)


So after a few months of waiting, I received Digestate in the mail this past weekend. I devoured it in one sitting. 

Weirdly enough, I purchased Digestate because I was feeling angry. James Kochalka posted on his blog about his piece, which he characterized as a “defense of eating meat.” And I, horrified by the idea, immediately plopped down some cash for the comic anthology. Note: you shouldn’t do this. You shouldn’t spend money to be angry.

I’m happy with my purchase, though not for the Kochalka piece (I love James’ work, but I don’t even think that he makes an argument for eating meat so much as he demonstrates the ethical knot at the center of eating practice and then goes “well, meat is tasty! whoopeee!”).

EDIT: James Kochalka rightly comments and points out that he doesn’t say anything of the sort. The “whoopee!” above isn’t meant to be an actual quote from his piece. His argument is that human beings are agents of suffering and that our very existence might be based on the fact that we are able to generate suffering in other creatures, meaning that (and this is a quote) “our job is to torture all living things until their consciousness is ready for spiritual enlightenment. [Humans] are cursed evil creatures but our every vile act helps bring peace to the souls of our victims. I hope.” Once again, I don’t find this compelling, but I also didn’t mean to totally mischaracterize Kochalka’s argument.

The talent on display throughout the collection is astounding, and the anthology format really gives a sense of different arguments for and against meat consumption.

Because, really, that’s what the book is about. It is about “food and eating,” and there are some stories that fit that really well (Alex Robinson’s “That Peanut Butter Kid!” and Neil Brideau’s “Tell now, The Tale of the Argus Mushroom!” come to mind immediately), but mostly the authors use the topic of food to meditate on the ethics of eating, consuming, being complicit in the murder of, or living in direct connection to animals.

I’m not going to trot out the “power” of words and pictures like everyone does when they talk about comics to a general audience. Just look at this image from J.T. Yost’s “Slaughterhouse Stories” (click through for bigger):

Yost’s story, made up of full-page artwork and a narrative laid over it in paragraphs, affected me the most out of all the stories in the collection. It meditates on slaughter and what it does to human and nonhuman alike. It is beautiful, and I can’t imagine that anyone who eats meat wouldn’t shy away from it a little more afterward. That said, it isn’t merely polemic. Yost isn’t manipulating information. The story is clinical. The words are rendered clearly, with no flourish, a textual version of Yost’s own clean, thick lines.

Ugh, that last paragraph. Words.

What I’m trying to get at is that most of the stories in the collection, especially the ones that are actually working to tell a story, are very clear. A throughline exists: our lives cannot be separated from what we eat. We are connected to the lives of animals, and one another, by what and how we choose to eat.

I don’t eat meat, and I have become increasingly militant about explaining to others why they shouldn’t either. Ethically, the consumption of other creatures is bankrupt. Environmentally, factory farming and the subsidies that prop it up are irresponsible and catastrophically destructive. I’m not interested in policing other people, but I’m certainly open to pointing out how and why certain behaviors are violent, ethically bankrupt, and traumatic for me personally.

With that in mind, I was drawn to certain stories in the text. Victor Kerlow’s “Taco Head,” about a person with a taco for a head who wants to eat a taco, is both brilliantly satirical and  wildly open to interpretation. A page below:

A number of stories focus on the relation between animal others and human beings. Jess Ruliffson’s “City Chickens,” avoiding an animal consumption narrative in favor of one about care ethics and responsible animal ownership, is a nice bridge between something like “Taco Head” and K. Thor Jensen’s “Living With Murder,” about the realization that his daughter’s toes are meat in the same order as beef and pork.

The most profound takeaway from the whole anthology is Box Brown’s comic that ends the collection, “When Cows Ran Free: 1000 Years After Meat.” Brown gives us a world where cows can run free, but kids are still mean to other kids who they don’t like for stupid reasons. There’s a beautiful reading of the comic–humans and cows will always be meat, but just like kids grow up and stop being mean for no reason, maybe the human/animal relation will change.


So I suggest that you go buy Digestate. At 287 pages, it is totally worth a paltry $20.

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4 Responses to On Digestate: A Food & Eating Themed Anthology

  1. James Kochalka says:

    Saying that we are evil demons with a holy spiritual purpose to cause suffering and usher our victims to state of spiritual enlightenment is NOT the same as saying “well, meat is tasty! whoopeee!” (And by putting it in quotes it leads the reader of your review to believe that you are actually quoting the comic, which is not at all true. In fact, my comic never once mentions that meat tastes good.)


  2. James Kochalka says:

    It was very sweet of you to make the correction. I hope you don’t feel like I bullied you!

    It’s fine with me if you want to post the two page comic here.

  3. Pingback: James Kochalka’s “In Defense of Meat” | this cage is worms

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