'Slaughterhouse Live' and the ethicurean debate on animal slaughter
Last Sunday’s Style section of the New York Times bravely plastered not-so-stylish images below the fold on its front page: A sliced-up hog carcass alongside a cleaver-wielding student of animal slaughter under the title, "Slaughterhouse Live."
Saw III references notwithstanding (it is Halloween week, after all), the idea was not so much to disgust as to showcase the apparent delight some take in tackling the ultimate DIY project: slaughtering their own animals for meat.
“Delight” might be too strong a word. Indeed, all the students of slaughter interviewed expressed satisfaction in their quest to learn how to better appreciate their food sources and the animals that die for them...but none seemed even remotely “delighted.”
It was author Alex Williams’ take that this practice comprises the logical next step in the locovorist, welfarist, farm-to-table-ist philosophies of a certain set of über-foodie cool kids. But “praise” notwithstanding, his assessment was not free of indictment: “...D.I.Y. butchering also allows self-conscious carnivores — who in the past were candidates for vegetarianism — to justify their flesh-laden dinners.”
As some of my past posts will have indicated (most notably this one), I’m big on the locovorist, welfarist, farm-to-table-ist philosophies that would help grant me a personal pass to consume meat within the restrictive guidelines of my own conscience.
But Mr. Williams should not mistake idealist principles with self-conscious, guilt-assuaging tactics. Nor should some of his hand-wringing interviewees take the same tack. Consider Peter Singer. He authored the book Animal Liberation and argues this DIY movement could be a step backwards for animal rights. He worries that a tough-as-nails, slaughter-your-own, “I-feel-their-pain” bravado may permeate this "Slaughterhouse Live" scenario.
Given that we might-have-been vegetarians are abandoning the so-called “only right path” (presumably to veganism) for one that covers us top to bottom in animal blood, I can see how Mr. Singer might object. But does this student's experience sound like a carnivore’s dream?:
“That faint smell reminded me of being covered all over my arms in this animal’s death...It was more profound than I expected, because it was an olfactory experience, like a smell you remember from childhood. Every time I ate a tamale from this pig, I remembered it laying on a pallet and being shaved.”
In fact, most of the slaughter students interviewed explained they were not big meat eaters, that they were simply seeking new ways to live and consume meats as a limited part of their diets. Guided by Pollanesque principles, they wanted to opt out of the industrial animal agriculture route and prove that others could do the same.
In other words, they don’t want to drop out of the system. Like me, they want to function within it, proving there IS another way to eat like an omnivorous human––and be humane––without expecting the entire of humanity to do without as measure of success.
I mean, why does it have to be either/or, black or white, carnivore or herbivore?
Even Temple Grandin, interviewed for this article, spoke to the merits of the DIY method as a far more humane alternative: “The easiest way to kill an animal is to approach it as it eats out of a feed trough in its home pen and shoot it in the middle of the forehead — bang...There, there would be no stress at all.”
And that’s the principle that guided me as I killed the first of my chickens. Along those lines, here’s what I practice: Enjoy your animals. Give them a great home. Respect them enough to kill them yourself (or have someone else do it without having to transport them). But don’t expect that it’ll be easy. Or that you’ll suddenly feel self-righteously carnivorous and eminently guilt-free, as Mr. Singer suggests.
“Animals do not want to die,” the blog post’s author concluded. “They can feel pain and fear, and, just like us, will struggle to breathe for even one single more second. If you’re about to run 250 volts through a pig, do not look it in the eyes. It is not going to absolve you.”
Because it’s not about macho antics, vegan-thwarting alternatives or the alleviation of guilt. Ultimately, it’s about something much bigger: getting closer to a real solution to the problem of industrial animal suffering with the understanding that personal beliefs on the subject are not one size fits all.