The most shocking of all the discoveries was that 17% of British adults think that there is such a thing as “pork wings,” meaning that they think pigs have wings. Which by extrapolation would mean that 17% of Britons think that pigs can fly.
The survey was done on behalf of National Butchers’ Week, and while it was only conducted in England, it’s hard to imagine that Americans would fare much better on a similar survey. The survey was conducted of 1,000 adults who all eat meat.
Ed Beddington, the editor of Meat Trades Journal, said, “It’s quite frightening how limited consumer knowledge on meat is.”
And while I never thought that I would ever find myself agreeing with the editor of Meat Trades Journal, I think he and I can wholeheartedly concur on that single point, even if we’re both agreeing for different reasons.
Much of what drives people to eat meat is a cognitive disconnect between the animals slaughtered and the meat they’re eating.
Carol J. Adams discusses an idea she calls “the absent referent” in her book The Sexual Politics of Meat. Animals become absent referents when they’re slaughtered; they become something that meat makes reference to even though the animals themselves aren’t there.
“Animals are made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term ‘meat’ with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine. Language thus contributes even further to animals’ absences.” (The Sexual Politics of Meat 20th Anniversary Edition, pg. 66)
We have so commodified animals that we can talk about meat without ever thinking of the fact that meat is a dead animal. We are so disconnected from the living beings and the processes by which we consume them that the idea of an animal on our plate is unsettling even to those who eat meat.
We live in an era where veganism is becoming mainstream and people are more open to the idea of a plant-based diet than ever before, but we’re also living in an era where the mechanisms of animal agriculture have disconnected people from the reality of what their food is, so that they’re not able to make an educated choice about an industry that works very hard to keep its operations secret.
A person who doesn’t know enough about animals to know that pigs don’t have wings can hardly be expected to understand that pigs are one of the smartest animals on the planet, that they have personalities, enjoy companionship and play, and very much understand pain, isolation, confinement, and torture at the hands of humans.
If we really understood animals, how they live, and what they have to go through in order to become food for humans, if we really understood that, how could we continue to eat them?
Photo: Jim Champion