Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thank you. I love you. Now I'm going to eat you.

I'm still having a hard time understanding this new rite of passage driving the trend towards what some are attempting to portray as "ethical" meat eating. I've written about this numerous times before because it's just all over the place. Happy meat farms are popping up everywhere, encouraging people to bring their children for cuddly photo-op afternoons. Fashionable chefs enjoying their 15 minutes are pushing pampered pork as the responsible indulgence for those who can afford a meal as expensive as my weekly grocery bill.

Michael Pollan seems to have instilled in people that it's not that animals are killed for us to
eat them that's wrong, but that it's the "out of sight / out of mind" mentality we're allowed to have thanks to factory farming that's the problem. So the solution? Witness or participate in the killing of an animal and then, by virtue of this supposedly consciousness-raising experience, absolve yourself of the hypocrisy of not having the stones to know where your meat comes from. In doing so, you purportedly alter your mindset and get to continue eating animals guilt-free, and with a supposed newfound respect and gratitude that make it all hunky dory to do it without questioning why you feel the need to eat meat in the first place.

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article by food writer Monica Eng, in which Eng chose to share her own jumping on the Pollan-esque bandwagon. She kicks it off by by presenting the following to the reader: "Before you start with the angry letters, please hear me out. We're probably more similar than you think. Like most of you reading this story, I love animals. I love to pet them. And I love to hold them. But I also love to eat them." Try reading that sentence again, but replace the word 'animals' with 'kittens'. That's about as much sense as this skewed outpouring of affection makes. What makes it possible for Eng to write a paragraph about "loving" animals, "loving" to pet them and also "loving" to eat them, though, is that she ultimately views them as things. Near the end of her article, for instance, she writes: "
In the end, the crabs would be the only thing I actually killed. And they were the thing I felt worst about." Animals are things to her. You can love hugging a teddy bear, love petting a teddy bear and feel no qualms about eviscerating it with scissors; for Eng, the same seems to be true of living, sentient creatures.

Her article is filled with before and after depictions (both written and photographic) of animals being slaughtered in small-scale abattoirs or slaughterhouses -- unlike the nightmarish places in which the overwhelming majority of animals killed for food in North America are actually slaughtered-- and of her reactions upon viewing the goings on. The thing is that having the stomach to witness an animal being slaughtered doesn't
make the slaughtering any more ethical, nor does it somehow make you a more ethical person when you continue to eat them. All having the stomach to watch an animal being slaughtered means is that you're either desensitized or masochistic. I'm not sure I'd want to be either, myself.

The whole gist of this happy meat bandwagon and of how it's giving trend-following meat eaters this skewed sense of relief or comfort is perfectly exemplified by Eng when she writes that today "many proudly proclaim their meat love [...] with the near-virtuousness of vegetarians. That's because ethical meat options have expanded faster than you can say 'ex-vegetarian'." She goes on to elaborate upon how many vegetarians, suddenly provided with what she views as an equally ethical option to abstaining from eating animals altogether, are now reverting to their previously omnivorous ways.
Somehow, according to Eng, having watched someone else kill an animal (or killing it yourself) transforms you into someone with newfound reverence and appreciation for the animals killed to fill your belly.

For instance, she describes standing around a pot watching crabs being boiled alive and how she and her kids felt gratitude for the crabs' "sacrifice", as if they hopped in willingly for the honour of being served up on her dinnerware. Even worse, she shares with fondness her hope that she's instilled a sort of higher consciousness about killing animals for food into her children, as she writes affectionately how she watched her daughter ''whisper to a paper-thin slice of prosciutto: 'Thank you, pig. I love you pig. Now I'm going to eat you'." Those sound like the words uttered by a scorned-lover-turned-rapist to his victim in a badly-written horror movie. Far from being sweet, it's just skewed and sick.


J said...

Ok, well a lot about this piece bothers me. I'm sure for many of the same reasons it does you, so I won't bother to rehash it right now.

But what I can say is that I am incredibly disturbed by the comment made by Eng's daughter. To me, that is more illustrative of a potential serial killer than an ethical and moral "coming to terms" with what is on the table. Seriously, wow.

And "happy meat"? I'm sure that animal would have been much happier were it still alive!

M said...

I think it's pretty twisted to claim to feel love for something that was killed so that you could stuff it between a couple of slices of bread. I think, in some ways, that it shows more hypocrisy than just not knowing where your meat comes from in the first place.

I first heard 'happy meat' expression used by Gary Francione (http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/) and on the Vegan Freaks podcast. They use it to refer to this whole "ethical meat-eating" movement.

Unknown said...

Wow, THANK YOU so much for this. I think the bullshit "ethical meat" supposition is doing a pretty great job of rolling back the minimal progress that vegetarianism has made on human consciousness, and it makes me completely sick.

M said...

It's a double-edged sword. On one hand Pollan and the writers who embrace his message about meat eating may move away from factory farmed animals, but on the other hand, changing the degree of suffering an animal undergoes before it's served up on your plate doesn't eradicate that suffering.

Love your blog, by the way!

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Excellent blog...wish I wrote it! Will share.

Unknown said...

I hadn't heard a few of these terms as well, good piece, thanks for writing/sharing this lunatics views. I've heard a lot of people justify their meat-eating ways, but none like Eng's. What a shame The Tribune allowed such trash. I'm troubled beyond words about the 'lessons' she's teaching her poor, influential children.