Friday, April 24, 2009

100-Mile Diet Authors on "Getting to Know the Meat You Eat"

I read Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon's 100 Mile Diet book around a year and a half ago. I was curious about what they had to say about sustainable and regional eating. Little did I know at the time that I was getting my first whiff of the whole "back to meat" locavore movement. Smith and McKinnon have since landed their own 100 Mile Challenge foodie show on Canada's Food TV network. They've been writing a series of articles for the National Post to promote the show, the most recent of these covering what they portray as respecting the animals you end up eating. In it, McKinnon writes about how becoming locavores ended the couple's 20 or so years as vegetarians:

"We had quit eating meat because we didn’t want any part in the cruelties of factory farms that seem to have forgotten that they work with living creatures. As we met small-scale farmers and saw the deep care that some bring to their animals right up to the moment of slaughter ('Many good days, one bad day,' as one farmer says in a video short at, we felt comfortable bringing meat back into our kitchen."
I guess that I'm a little dense for want of understanding how the words "deep care" can be used to describe how one treats a creature one intends to slaughter. McKinnon elaborates upon this by describing how various people who what passes for emotion while engaging in the process on some level or another, and proves how little worth he, himself, actually ascribes to a sentient creature's life by comparing slaughtering an animal to composting plants:
"Most people turn out to be more sensitive than they expect. The Weremchuk-Williams found themselves thanking the fish that they caught — out loud. The Clark-Vernons, despite living on a small farm, shed tears for Duncan, a ram who went on to become two kinds of very, very local sausage. Alisa and I even struggle a bit each spring when it’s time to compost extra seedlings that won’t fit into our tiny garden. The power of life is so strong that it stings a little to put out even its smallest spark."
McKinnon's concern for the purported "deep care" brought to animals by small-scale farmers ends up sounding even more hollow, as he describes in a flippant manner how a turkey named after him was, essentially, not so much a life to him, as food-in-waiting:
"To have a barnyard animal named after you is bittersweet. On the one hand, I feel oddly connected to James Jr. (I’ve asked for a photo for my desktop.) On the other, this James will one day be eaten. Who knows? I may even be invited over for a drumstick."
Sussing out the sincerity of a single iota of the sentimentality locavores like McKinnon insist on trying to display when they describe (or, attempt to justify) the rearing of animals for slaughter is irrelevant. If anything, if any of it is in fact sincere, it sort of creeps me out. There just seems to be something innately wrong-headed in sentimentalizing the taking of a life -- whether it's a farmer or foodie doing it about domesticated animals, or a killer doing it about his human victim.


Unknown said...

Yeah, that weirds me out. I have friends who do raise animals for slaughter and they're always speaking of how much they "respect" their animals, and how much they "appreciate" their animals' "sacrifice" of life. Really? Did that chicken just toddle right up to the stump so you could chop of its head, "sacrificing" itself for the good of humankind? I think not.

I read that book around the same time and I found it both fascinating and something I had to read squint-eyed. I don't know if you remember, but at one point they feel so squeamish about the octopus that they decide not to buy it - "because octopus, in animal studies, demonstrates the intelligence of a 3-year-old child." That was their measure of when an animal is just not appropriate to eat - when it can run (swim?) through a maze. Geez, there's some excellent deductive reasoning.

M said...

I agree. I've never been able to wrap my head around how someone can claim to respect a sentient animal they raise with the explicit purpose of killing and eating that animal.