The Zoonotic Pandemic

The Pandemic and the Labyrinth

Time is shattered. We cry away the minutes, tears crashing to the ground as if they were made of glass. We attempt to pick them up, even if they no longer reflect the celestial realm. Like Lady Macbeth, we endeavor to wash our hands, bloodied by the murder of women, migrants, travestis, trans folks, young people, and infants.

Billions of animals are sacrificed in the world’s slaughterhouses, and their blood keeps reaching the mouths of millions of humans. Rendered blind and deaf by the taste of blood, we swallow the suffering of the other.

We have been living with the pandemic of indifference, silence, and complicity for centuries—the pandemic of going to the supermarket or to the closest butcher and buying the corpse of a chicken, a pig, a hen, a sheep, a bull calf, even a fish, which we bring home and cook. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has not stopped the slaughtering of animals, and even the most sensitive people chew on a “fillet” without a second thought.

Over the past 2,000 years, Western and Eastern science, and the prodigious human brain, have not been able to solve the problem of hunger, let alone the horrors of inequality and squalor, brought about by an economic model based on the subjugation of women, girls, trans people, migrants, and all beings susceptible to exploitation.

I’m referring above all to animals, because this coronavirus (COVID-19) is caused by the brutal and normalized practice of killing animals for consumption—a historical error we must urgently correct. 

Veganism isn’t only for the rich. People without resources deserve to eat without killing, and to not be killed by what they eat. This virus seems to expand our capacity for destruction: to kill by eating, to kill by breathing, to kill by touching, to kill by speaking.

If an economic system only deepens injustice, it is imperative for us to find another way of life, and thus another way of eating. Consuming fruits, vegetables, and seeds is the correct and healthy way to nourish ourselves. 

If Coronavirus jumped to humans because we eat animals, then let’s stop eating them. Only then may we crack open this outdated system, which leaves us trapped, deaf, blind, and without a horizon.

Substituting animal-based foods with plant-based foods is what Adriá Voltés calls the “proethic transition,” which entails a simultaneous change in our mindset.

We are inside the labyrinth we built with our own deafness, and the most paradoxical thing is that we have another labyrinth in our ear: we hear only what we want to hear.

Inside the labyrinth, confusion reigns. Where should we go? How do we get out? How long will the nightmare last?

The best thing to do in situations like these is to find the exit by going back to the entrance. If Coronavirus jumped to humans because we eat animals, then let’s stop eating them. Only then may we crack open this outdated system, which leaves us trapped, deaf, blind, and without a horizon.

Many people ask themselves, what can we do? How can we change a state of affairs that, even before the pandemic, was not working? 

There is one immediate action we can all take. This may not be available to everyone, due to structural inequalities, but right now, those who are hungering for change can stop eating animals and their derivatives. With that single act we can destroy the foundations of patriarchal, heteronormative, predatory, carnist capitalism, which is based on the exploitation of human and non-human animals.  

The Screen and the Mirror 

To paraphrase Monsiváis: Now that we can’t even leave the house, I’ve realized how horrible the mirror is. Our confinement during this pandemic is double, because it has locked us into the screens of our devices like never before. Screened in, literally flattened in front of these omnipresent black mirrors that reflect exactly what each of us carries inside.

“Ancient Mexico,” says historian Paul Westheim in La Calavera, “didn’t fear death. It trembled at the uncertainty of people’s lives. They called it Tezcatlipoca, the one who knows everything, the god of doom, whose missing foot was a terrible smoking mirror in which he could see the future.” Today, many of us can see the present and see, with horror, the return to the immediate past, what we call “back to normal”—that shameful way of life that led us to this debacle. If we are to return to the future, then let’s begin with what we have in our hands: our plate, our knife, and our fork. 

The ancient Toltecs—who used to say great artists were “those who did things right”—would carry a mirror on their backs, says Alberto Davidoff in his “Arqueologías del espejo” (Archeologies of the Mirror): “The mirror behind the wise man, perhaps, refers to the knowledge of the past, which keeps growing like a plant with deep roots. The wise man looks up to the real sky, and behind him, he looks at the images that other cultures have created of it.” 

I like looking back at our ancient culture because I believe that the knowledge still preserved by indigenous communities contains the possible answer to our universal confusion: the conception of life as a battle where each day you make your heart blossom, help you and those around you to transcend the path you’ve tread, without stopping, always walking, with the strength of a jaguar, unleashing the fire—the immortal spark stored in your heart. Laurette Serourné, the great archeologist, observed all of this in the Teotihuacán murals.

Nobody knows at what stage each person is in this process, but we do know that we share the plenitude of simply being and deserving freedom and life with all other beings.

Humanity has reached a breaking point. Let’s turn off our screens and let’s cry again, but this time may our cries be like those of María Sabina, the medicine woman, under the influence of the “holy children,” as faithfully narrated by the anthropologist Alvaro Estrada in his splendid biography:

“I saw something fall from the sky with a great crash, like lightning. It was a blinding luminous object… the object became a plant-like being, covered by a halo. It was like a plant with multicolored flowers. Its head glowed brightly. Its body was covered in leaves and stems. There it stood, in the middle of the hut, and I looked directly at it. Its arms and legs were like branches and it was drenched in freshness, and a reddish background appeared behind it. The plant-like being faded into that reddish background until it disappeared completely. When the vision vanished, I was sweating, sweating. My sweat was not warm, but cool. I realized I was crying, my tears were made of glass, they clinked when they hit the ground. I kept crying, but I whistled and clapped, I dreamt and danced. I danced because I was the great clown, the master clown… At dawn I slept peacefully. I slept, but it wasn’t a deep sleep; I felt as if I were rocking in a dream… As if my body were rocking in a giant hammock hanging from the sky, oscillating from one mountain to the other. I woke up when the world was already sunny.”

This last phrase is reminiscent of the end of Primero sueño by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: “keeping to more certain light, the world illuminated, and I awake.”   

We are in the middle of the labyrinth. Uncertainty and confusion surround us. We have to find the light, the exit. This battle can only be faced serenely. We can’t do it by forcing our anguish further, by “digesting agonies,” as Marguerite Yourcenar would say.  

Carnism is a sickness, defined by Melanie Joy as a system of beliefs or conditioning that push us to eat meat. It is a sickness, an addiction we can escape immediately. 

We can live without violence, without corpses on our plates, without blood on our hands. 

The time has come to open the flower of our hearts, to become mirror people, to see the spirit of nature rise before us and embrace it. To stop being “needy animals,” as philosopher Carlos Pereda calls us, and assimilate the vigor, the innocence, and the prodigy of the other animals that accompany us on this journey of labyrinths and mirrors which we call existence.

—CDMX, June, 2020

Translated by Marlène Ramírez-Cancio

Jesusa Rodríguez is a scenic creator whose work is characterized by ironic humor and political parody, as well as critical reflections on the end of patriarchy, respect for non-human animals, and the fight for the protection of native corn in Mexico. She has written, directed, and acted in endless political farces and revues. She has also directed adaptions by authors as diverse as Shakespeare and Marguerite Yourcenar, as well as classic and contemporary operas. Rodríguez performs and organizes workshops with indigenous groups. She is currently a Senator of the Republic.

Marlène Ramírez-Cancio is Associate Director at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics.She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Performance Network and the Center for Artistic Activism’s Advisory Board. Marlène is also co-founder and co-director of Fulana, a Latina satire collective collective whose videos have been shown internationally, and whose members lead satire and parody workshops for emerging artists. 


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