The Hungarian Foie Gras Boycott: Struggles for Moral Sovereignty in Postsocialist Europe
In socialist Hungary, even as the state was saying, ‘go ahead consume’, the official discourse always emphasized that consumption comes with a certain moral obligation and responsibility. For example, car owners were instructed to keep their cars clean and to be polite when driving, couples were instructed to buy modern furniture with clean-lines instead of pretentious “bourgeois” furniture that’s overly decorated. The collapse of state socialism removed not only all formal barriers to consume Western goods, more importantly, it also cleansed consumption from morality. This however didn’t stop people from attaching their own moral meanings to consumption, meanings that of course varied along class lines. Initially, for example, a common source of discomfort was fancy and excessive packaging and other concerns about wasteful consumption—understandable given the pervasive material thriftiness and spontaneous reusing and recycling activities under state socialism. With entering the European Union, we once again see a new official moral discourse developing about right ways of consuming. These new concerns are distinctly Western and postmaterialist. Some of them concern animal rights and the humane treatment of animals raised for consumption. The EU’s prescriptions about how to feed and slaughter geese or pigs, for example, explicitly forbid traditional Hungarian practices, and, given the prominent place of meat in the Hungarian diet, had the effect of discrediting Hungarians for their complicity in animal torture.