Q: How Does an Animal Become Meat?

A: We kill it!

I’ve noticed a bit of discourse going on in America lately. Expressions of shock at the slaughtering of animals. The insinuation that it’s barbaric. Warning viewers of the gruesome images they are about to see.

Now, I am an omnivore. I love fried chicken, sausage, bacon, lamb, hamburgers. But I’m not under any illusions as to where that food comes from. I know that I am eating a dead animal that was killed in order to nourish me. I am a thinking omnivore- whenever possible, I want to make sure that the meat I am eating was raised free-range, preferably on a small farm, was fed appropriate food, and was slaughtered in a humane and respectful way. Or I will eat wild game that was hunted legally.

I want my eyes to be wide open about the whole process. If I can’t acknowledge the fact of the slaughter and stomach that, well then I shouldn’t stomach the meat either.

So back to the media. Remember the interview of Sarah Palin in front of turkeys being slaughtered for Thanksgiving? News anchors, pundits, average Americans made that into such a HUGE DEAL. The anchors warned squeamish viewers to turn away, blurred out what was happening, and expressed pious shock.

I kept wondering, where the fuck does America think our Thanksgiving turkeys come from? Exactly how do we think the live turkey becomes the big packaged thing that we get in the grocery store? Did we really expect death not to be involved? Why is it so gruesome that we can’t even see two turkeys be slaughtered, when we must have slaughtered literally millions to satisfy Thanksgiving demand?

So Dec. 8 was Eid Al-Adha, the “Festival of Sacrifice,” which includes the ritual slaughter of sheep and other animals. The animals are killed according to special standards, which involve saying the name of Allah as the animal is slaughtering and respecting the sacrifice of its life. The meat is then divided into thirds: one third is kept by the family, one third is given to friends, and one third is donated to the poor.

I cannot imagine a more respectful way to treat an animal intended for human consumption, nor more generous way to distribute the meat.

The Washington Post ran a slideshow after the fact of rural Muslims in America performing this ritual slaughter. Fine and dandy, the pictures are great. But the captions are filled with the same shock and moral indignation that accompanied coverage of Palin’s turkey interview. Before you can see the pictures, you are presented with this message:

“WARNING Editor’s Note: Some images in this gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature.”

Some of the interesting photo captions include:

“A child feeds a sheep who will be killed at Home Place Farm in Maryland. ”

“Most of the animals die silently but it is not always quick. ”

“An animal lies trembling and tied on the ground. For one holiday guest named Benizir the tradition seems out of place in America. She believes it better to send money back to Afghanistan, her homeland. “And I feel sorry for the animals,” she says.”

“Five-year-old Nizar Ghoumari of D.C. weeps after pleading with his family to have one of the sheep alive to keep. He ran off in tears after realizing it would be slaughtered.”

“Mahfooz wipes away the blood of a sheep at his home in Virginia.” (Accompanying a picture of a man splattered with blood.)

“Nalia Zahid of Herndon, Va., winces as she and her children watch the final struggle of an animal.”

From reading these captions, you would imagine that eating meat is uncommon in America! The shock, the horror, the sorrow that the photographer and caption-writer chose to depict seem to come from people who have never contemplated an animal as a source of food.

Thousands, if not millions, of animals are killed every day to feed Americans. And most were not killed in the respectful way, after free-range lives on a small farm, that these sacrificial animals were. The death of animals is a banal, quotidian fact. They die by the thousands, and at factory farms and major slaughter houses their killing is almost completely mechanized- no prayer, no respect, no portion sent to the poor. They are killed all day long, every day, butchered, packaged, shipped to grocery stores, and sold to the majority of American consumers.

So why, when faced with a simple fact that is behind most of our daily existences, do we respond in such a silly way? I think a lot of us are simply in denial, a chosen and studious ignorance, about where meat comes from. Most of us are town, city and suburb dwellers, and if we choose, we never have to go near the site of animal slaughter. We are completely divorced from the production of our food, to the point that we act as though its very production is barbaric, but yet do not consider ourselves barbaric for being the reason for the slaughter.

Thoughts? Omnivores and vegetarians, please respect each other’s choices.

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16 thoughts on “Q: How Does an Animal Become Meat?

  1. The other day the cafeteria at my hotel served Veal, which is the only meat I generally abstain from. I said as much and my boss immediateliy jumped down my throat for being a damn Hippy.
    I then started to describe the torture that Veal involves and he cut me off, askinig me to please not ruin another delicious food product for him.
    I think that is a microcosm and another facet of what you’re talking about. People love animals and eating meat, and I think they find it hard to face that they are one and the same. Add on to that the horrible degradation we (as consumers of industrialized ag) put those animals through, and I think we are seeing a broad-based fit of denial by the meat-loving throngs of America.
    My boss coudn’t have made it clearer: I am aware of what’s going on, but as long as I am not forced to confront it I can just ridicule others for caring and do whatever I want, without thinking about it, at all.

  2. I ran into the same sentiment at a past job. We were planning an annual event, where we usually served beef or chicken for our meat dinner option. One year we decided to do lamb instead. ALL OF A SUDDEN a huge swath of our guests wanted the vegetarian option, like suddenly their consciences kicked it when confronted with a BAAAAAAAAABY animal.

    I was like, get a moral guys. I think that was a little about the “cuteness” factor. Like it’s so abhorrent to eat a cat or something, but a shrimp, no problem! Did an animal die, or didn’t it?

    I don’t know what this annoys me so much, it just does. And I’m a meat-eater!

  3. I have also found it odd what meat eaters decide is an acceptable animal to eat and what is not. People cherish and pamper certain animals, bringing them into their homes, spending hours playing with them. Other animals are strickly for eating and it ‘ruins their meal’ if you discuss various aspects of that animal and its life. It also apparently ‘ruins meals’ to refer to dead animal flesh as carcasses. Is that not what it is? People seem to not like using plain, direct language regarding the killing and consumption of animals.

    So certain domesticated animals (cats, dogs) or favored animals (elephants, horses) and baby animals are not ok to eat? How do people decide? I think people are too far removed from what goes into their food. If you are not comfortable with how animals are slaughtered, then do not eat them. I am not ok with it, so I made the choice to not consume their flesh.

    I would have to say, though, that for some people it is not a “silly” response to be disgusted or appalled. I can only speak for myself, but I feel that way because I do not like to see suffering or violence and as childish as it might sound, innards make me squeamish. However, I then use that response to inform my eating habits.

  4. Good point about my use of “silly.” I was writing as one of the many omnivorous Americans, and intended that word to refer to omnivores who can’t bear the reality of where their food comes from.

    I would not choose that word to describe the reactions of vegetarians and vegans to animal slaughter because their discomfort with meat leads them to not eat it, which is a lot more sensible.

  5. Thanks for writing this… this continues to be a surprising theme that I encounter. The more I think about it, the less I want to be involved with the meat industry, and that’s why I’ve chosen to not eat meat. It’s not hard, and I heartily recommend it, but for those who don’t want to, I’d like to encourage to think about where your food comes to. As you (idyllicmollusk) have said, go for free-range and businesses that have humane standards.

    I’ve been involved in a lot of activist groups around my college campus, and right now I’m particularly engaged with a group trying to remove clothes made from sweatshop labor from our bookstore. It’s a very simple issue – everyone sort of knows that when they read “Made in Honduras” (and sometimes even “Made in the USA”) the laborers don’t get paid much, but no one really wants to sit down, think about it, and change their practices.

    Apathy, man. People would rather just not think about it and belittle or avoid the people that do.

    Shannon: I would say the dictionary definitions of “carcass” and “meat” are for different purposes, but I certainly agree that if “carcass” brings up disturbing images, those images should be something a common meat-eater should be prepared to address.

  6. Just today I ran into a young lady that was looking to go to Africa but was concerned about the goat consumption, as she doesn’t eat lamb here since they are “too cute”.

    When did how ugly something was determine how violent you could behave towards it?

  7. Pat, your last comment/question sounds like it could be taken directly from a discussion about abuse and assault.

  8. @Shannon –

    I realized that as I was writing it, but yeah, it works both ways. This is just my personal philosophy, but I don’t see humans as all that especially elevated above other animals – and therefore I disapprove of violence towards animals nearly as much as I do specifically of violence towards humans.

  9. Hehe

    I don’t refer to meat as carcasses when people are eating meat for the same reason I don’t ask my wife if she’d like me to ‘pork her.’
    Makin love and Fuckin mean the same thing, but with a very different shade of meaning.
    Carcass is also a very different term for meat, with different connotations and applications.
    If you really respect people’s individual choice on this matter, then referring to their food as a carcass may not be the best choice :D.

  10. The very first definition offered by dictionary.com for carcass is “the dead body of an animal, especially one slaughtered for food”. I refer to meat as carcasses because that is what meat is and I believe sometimes people need to be reminded of the fact that they are eating the body parts of a dead animal (since people seem so removed from what they eat). I am aware of the connotation of the word and I use specifically to have an effect on people.

  11. But surely you get Scott’s point. Some omnivores are omnivores after careful consideration. Calling meat a dead animal is one thing, but carcass has more intense connotations for people and would be seen by most thinking omnivores as a word used mostly for “shock value”. Scott’s saying that if you respect your friends’ choices to be thinking omnivores, using language like that would seem disrespectful of their careful choice.

  12. Yes, I do get Scorn’s point. If individuals have examined what goes into making their food and decide that being an omnivore is for them, then it is one of those things that I may not agree with, but can still respect. My intention is not to be disrespectful, but to highlight the fact that it is a dead animal (going back to that I am not sure most people know what is involved in producing their meals).

    I realize that this is something I struggle with – when I cling to my own beliefs in a way that may disrespect the beliefs of others (the tendency to think “I am right and how can you not see that?”). I am sure someone could graphically go on about murdering babies because I happen to be pro-choice. (Yes, not equivalent, but I was trying to think of something that would involve some sort of death or “graphic” element and would involve a personal belief of mine which people frequently argue against). I do not mean to stem a tanget, but rather see another belief of mine could be attacked in a manner which I would find personally disrespectful so that I may (in some fashion) relate. Sorry!

    Thank you for continuing to help me wrestle with ideas/beliefs which I may not share, but which help me better understand my own as well as your perspectives!

  13. Me too!

    Not offended in the least, lively debate is my Favorite.. But be aware that using language like that can do more to inflame a problem than solve it.

    Living in the land of the MANLY MEATAVORE (Dallas TX,) I’ve noticed that many meat-eaters get very defensive as soon as anything Vegetarian comes up, not as much out of ignorace of the idea anymore as a Defensiveness against having their eating habits pointed out as a Moral Failing.
    Which is essentially what Vegetarianism is at the end of the day, hence a bit of awkwardness is to be expected.
    In this situation, pointing out that your dinner companion is eating a CARCASS is not liable to cause some newfound introspection, it is liable to cause a hardening and refusal to consider your viewpoint because you’ve just insulted that person.

    In the same way I think PETA’s brochures and anti-abortion advocates using graphic images just totally backfires for their causes. I’ve been living among people who are my Political polar oppossite for as long as I can remember, and if you want to affect any real change in their opinions you have to come at it from a point of common ground. I sympathize with the desire to just (oh man, just SCREAM in some people’s faces) but all that does is make you feel righteous while widening the chasm between whoever you’re trying to convert.

    Now have a happy Festivus, and someone pass me the Tofurky!

    (in all seriousness, Tofurky keeps getting better, LOVE IT!)

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