A while back, I published a piece called Something Almost Primal, which discussed a disturbing trend in consumer-targeted language, that consists of describing certain animal products (which are, by their nature, exploitative) as being ‘humane’. As I explained in the article, I believe that this trend has been intentionally engineered by the animal industry, as a way to regain consumer confidence in their products.
The message being promoted seems to be as follows:
1. We are out of touch with the way we obtain our food, including modern methods of meat, dairy and egg production, which is unethical because animals are raised in factories and treated like machines.
2. The solution is to return to a way of living that is more closely aligned with the methods of the past, including obtaining products from animals who lived more ‘natural’ lives.
3. The most ethical way to obtain meat and other animal products is to be as closely involved with its production as possible. Ideally, you should kill and butcher the animal yourself.
There’s no doubt that modern methods of obtaining all animal products are horrific and brutal, and that tucking out of sight the factories and the slaughterhouses makes it easier for modern consumers to ignore the truth about where their food comes from. But I believe there is another, unexpected aspect to this development, and that is that modern consumers, as a direct result of their disconnectedness from meat production, have actually become more sensitized to the horrors of killing.
What’s particularly disturbing about the new trend of killing with one’s own hands is that it seems to be a deliberate attempt (by industry) to target this aspect of modern human psychology, which is surely in direct conflict with the widespread desire to continue eating meat and other animal products. To be clear, what I’m referring to is that a good majority of people are nothing short of horrified by the idea of taking another’s life themselves.
In fact, I would go so far as to guess that a large majority of the people I know personally would be distraught if they were required to simply witness the slaughter of an animal, let alone participate in it. Having been a vegan advocate for ten years, I know how adamantly people resist hearing details of animal slaughter and butchery. Being willing to purchase animal products in the supermarket does not, by any stretch, make a person willing to acknowledge the reality of where they came from, or to think about how a living breathing animal is turned into pieces of ‘meat’ – a word we use to describe flesh when we intend to use it as food.
I remain confused by the fact that more people don’t turn away from animal products in response to the sheer horror and revulsion they feel at the idea of participating in the slaughter of an animal, but we humans have a truly frightening ability to shut off our awareness of what is ‘out of sight’, and thereby continue participating in something we are morally repulsed by.
Last summer, while staying in a quiet rural area of upstate New York, I had the opportunity to participate in a very interesting discussion about the ethical debate around using animals for food. During the conversation, one man stated that he had recently been examining his own indirect participation in the slaughter of animals through his diet. He was clearly very troubled by the conclusions he had reached.
“I’m a hypocrite,” he said, explaining that although he eats meat, he is horrified by the thought of how it gets to his plate. “I could never kill an animal myself.”
Although he acknowledged that he had friends (some of whom were in the room) who did kill animals themselves, what he was expressing was a feeling that I know is shared by many.
When people actively participate in slaughter (as more people used to do, in times gone by), they become numb to the horrific nature of killing. You can not entertain thoughts of sadness or remorse or horror and still follow through with the act of taking another’s life, especially on a regular basis. In order to do it, you must silence the part of yourself that is horrified by the very idea of being responsible for causing the life to drain out of an animal’s body.
Admittedly, in order to buy animal products from the supermarket shelf you must silence the voice of your conscience too. But to come face to face with the reality of killing, and to actively participate in the death of an animal forces people to deaden a part of themselves, in ways that we may not even be aware of.
In the modern Western world, the majority of people are so far removed from the origins of their food that they can not stand to even be reminded of where it comes from… the terrifying sounds and stench of the slaughterhouse, and the horrors of butchery… And, one person at a time, our population is beginning to reject foods of animal origin in favor of a more ethical way of eating.
And how does the animal industry respond? They go right for the jugular, so to speak, and encourage people to kill and butcher animals themselves, to re-capture the delights of killing, all but telling us that flesh actually tastes better when you first have to wash the blood off your hands.
They’re clever, you have to give them that. But the future is yet to be written. In increasing numbers, people from all walks of life are leaving behind the predatory paradigm that has prevailed in the past. Whether the animal exploitation industry likes it or not, no amount of money spent on Public Relations will be able to stem this tide. The culture that considers it acceptable to live off the flesh of another is being exposed, and it is nothing less than the evolution of humanity. It can not be stopped, as it is an ideal whose time has come.