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Environment

'Need for Meat' at the Berlinale

Meat: bad for the environment, yet oh-so-tasty. Could you be addicted? A Dutch director discusses her personal exploration of the topic of meat in her film, playing this week at the Berlinale.

Hamburgers, steaks and sausages - Dutch director Marijn Frank couldn't stop herself from indulging in some meaty delicacy. She is a self-confessed meat lover - and addict.

But when her daughter was born, she decided that it was time to take another look at meat and at the industry surrounding it.

In "Need for Meat," one of the films being shown as part of Berlinale's Culinary Cinema selection, Frank takes a personal journey to find out why we eat meat.

DW talked to her in advance of the screening.

Deutsche Welle: What made you want to make the film?

Marijn Frank: This is a film that I wanted to make for a very long time. It's an idea I had in my head for 15 years - I wanted to do it at film school.

I wanted to do a film about meat and the problems of eating meat, but it had to be a film that's very good and nice to watch for everyone. Lots of films about meat are harsh and negative and you go away thinking, "I'm a bad person for eating meat" and then the next day you go and get a shawarma because you think, "I can't do this, it's too hard."

I wanted to make a film that's accessible for people and so that they could identify with my problem of loving meat, but knowing I should eat less for my health and for the environment.

Then there was also my daughter. I was eating meat and my husband was eating meat, but my daughter was not. My husband wanted to give my daughter meat as well, but I wanted to make the film first. I make a consumer program in Holland about food so I know all about meat and know what's wrong with it and I yet I still can't stop eating it. I thought, "what's wrong here?"

Berlinale Film Need for Meat

The decision of whether to give her daughter meat spurred Frank to make the film

I wanted to give myself three months and start the journey to find out about it. I started working at a slaughterhouse - my goal was to kill a cow and make a decision for my daughter.

What were your concerns about eating meat?

For me, it's very clear that meat is very bad for the environment. It uses up a lot of land, which is used to feed the animals, and then there are the carbon emissions and the greenhouse gases that are given off by the animals. The other thing is that I don't agree with the intensive system of keeping so many animals in small places. The animal welfare, from my point of view, is very bad.

Then there are the issues in terms of health. In Holland, every few months there is a scandal about meat and a report from the WHO has said that meat causes cancer. There are so many reasons not to eat meat. In terms of the reasons for eating meat - there's only one that I can come up with, which is because it tastes good. But that's such a crap reason. And yet I can't get myself to stop.

You felt addicted to meat?

I first went to a professor of addiction. He studies people who are addicted to things like alcohol. They put me in the scanner and showed me the part that dealt with sex. For alcoholics, the brain reacts more strongly to images of alcohol than of sex - human beings are programmed to react more strongly to sex.

For me, my brain reacted more strongly to meat than sex. It was strange to find out that the professor was really struck by that. He said I should start therapy like the therapy they have for other addicts and on confrontation.

Berlinale Film Need for Meat

The pleasure centers in Frank's brain responded more strongly to meat than to sex

To confront your addiction, you decided to work in a slaughterhouse - what was that like?

I started by boning the meat, and it was nice to learn that. I was excited to get the bones out and I tried to do it as well as I could. But then I had to watch the killing of the animals - and that was horrifying. I was crying and trembling uncontrollably. I thought, "this is the end of the film. I can stop eating meat now."

But then I had an appointment to meet a young chef a few days later and he just made the best cote du boeuf and then I was completely eating meat again.

Do you think addiction to meat is a problem for many people?

I think when I look around me - when I hear other people talk about meat - I think it is an intense craving. We are programmed to like meat and it's good for the brain. A long time ago, meat was hard to find, and so if we could get it, we really wanted it.

Berlinale Film Need for Meat

In the Netherlands, 500 million animals are slaughtered for meat each year

Now, it's everywhere. The craving is not in balance anymore. Only 3 percent of people in Holland are vegetarian. A lot of people say they will stop eating meat or only eat organic meat, but they don't. I don't think it's only my problem, I think it's universal.

How did doing the film change your perspective on meat?

It has changed me, and it's still evolving. I've started to appreciate meat again. It doesn't cost much, and so we forget about what a special product it is, and what it takes to get a small piece. There's the land it takes, the energy and that it involves and a living beautiful animal that has to die.

I hope people can identify with me. I really am a meat lover. There are films about vegetarians telling you what to do, and I didn't want to do that. I hope people will start thinking about what they put in their mouths. I hope they will see meat as special, and eat less.

Interview: Louise Osborne

You can find out whether Frank was able to bring herself to kill a cow and whether she decided to give her daughter meat in her film "Need for Meat," which will be showing at the Berlinale film festival on Wednesday, February 17, and Thursday, February 18.

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