A while back, I published a piece called Something Almost Primal, which discussed a disturbing trend in animal product marketing. This industry double-speak describes animal products as being ‘ethical’ and ‘humane’, even though they are, by their nature, the result of physical and emotional violence.
This is, by no means, a new issue, and thankfully, the discussion about these misleading terms is growing louder all the time. The truth is that there can be no ethical options in an industry that commodifies and exploits sentient beings.
The message of the ‘humane’ animal farming propaganda can be simplified as follows:
1. Modern life has put us out of touch with the origins of our food.
2. Industrialized methods of meat, dairy and egg production are unethical not because animal use is wrong in and of itself, but because animals are crowded in factories and treated like machines.
3. The solution is to return to methods of the past, including raising animals in a more ‘natural’ way.
4. The most ethical way to obtain meat and other animal products is to be as closely involved with its production as possible.
5. Ideally, if consumers eat meat, they should kill and butcher the animal themselves, or at least witness the act being done.
Having been a vegan advocate for more than ten years, I know how adamantly people resist being exposed to the details of animal slaughter and butchery. Purchasing or consuming animal products does not, by any stretch, make a person willing to think about the methods by which a living, breathing animal is turned into pieces of ‘meat’ – a word we use to describe flesh when we intend to turn it into food.
And yet somehow, even those who aren’t willing to do the killing themselves continue to contribute to the demand for animal slaughter with their purchases, from pieces of an animal’s body to the eggs, milk, wool and leather that come from those bodies either before or after they are killed.
I remain confused by the fact that more people don’t turn away from animal products in response to the sheer revulsion they naturally feel at the very thought of “body parts as food,” not to mention the physical process of making that concept a reality. The only explanation I can think of is that we humans have a truly frightening ability to shut off our awareness of what is out of sight, in order to participate in things we are morally and physically repulsed by.
When people actively participate in slaughter, they must numb themselves to the horrific nature of killing. One cannot entertain feelings of sadness or remorse or horror and still follow through with the act of taking another’s life. In order to do it, one must silence the part of oneself that is horrified by the idea of causing the life to drain out of an animal’s body.
Admittedly, in order to buy animal products from the supermarket you must silence the voice of your conscience too. But to actively participate in the death of an animal forces people to deaden a part of themselves, with consequences that we may not even be aware of. Is it fair to place that burden on those who carry out this despicable task in order to allow the rest of us to partake of the spoils while avoiding getting our hands dirty? Or should the very fact that most of us couldn’t bear to face it be reason enough to stop the practice altogether?
The distaste for blood and gore is a reminder of our true nature, which is herbivorous and gentle, not carnivorous and vicious. The sweet and tender personalities of the victims; the terrifying sights, sounds and stench of slaughter; and the gruesome horrors of butchery — these things must be pushed away from our consciousness so that they don’t interfere with our ability to consume the remains.
The romanticization of animal slaughter seems to be a deliberate attempt by the animal exploitation industry to deaden this sensibility, as it is quite obviously in direct conflict with their agenda, which is to convince the public that it is natural and logical to continue eating meat and other animal products, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
But one person at a time, our population is beginning to reject foods and other products of animal origin in favor of a more clean, wholesome and ethical way of eating and living. In increasing numbers, whether the industry likes it or not, the culture that considers it acceptable to live off the flesh of another is being exposed, and people from all walks of life are leaving behind the predatory paradigm of the past.
There’s no doubt that hiding farms and slaughterhouses from view makes it easier for modern consumers to ignore the truth about where their food comes from. But ironically, as the local farm movement brings animals back into the public eye, people are beginning to realize that they’re really not okay with the whole idea of obtaining food from the bodies of animals.
But thankfully, unlike true carnivores, we have the choice to reject the role of predator in favor of a more enlightened way of nourishing ourselves, one which is in alignment with our true natures as animals who prefer peace over violence and gentleness over aggression.
As explained by the moral philosopher Plutarch (46-120 AD):
“I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb?
We slaughter harmless, tame creatures that, I swear, Nature appears to have produced for the sake of their beauty and grace. But nothing abashed us, not the flower-like tinting of their flesh, not the persuasiveness of their harmonious voice, not the unusual intelligence that may be found in the poor wretches… No, for the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being.”