Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Visit to the Abattoir

Jay Rayner, participating in Fodder's "On the Hoof" program... where customer/students go with a butcher to choose a cow and subsequently learn how to break it down... makes a visit to the abattoir:
Ah yes, the knotty business of slaughter. I have long been a vociferous carnivore, and yet I have never witnessed the end of an animal I am going to eat. This has always struck me as wrong. In print I have never shied away from the realities of eating meat, argued that we need to escape the notion of it as something portioned and tight-packaged under cellophane. In practice I have avoided that reality. And so, as part of On the Hoof – very much a voluntary part – I will also be going to the abattoir to see the animal I have chosen being killed.
This is a contradiction in my own life... though granted I'm not a famous food writer... that I often think about when looking at meat "portioned and tight-packaged under cellophane." I do believe that there is a value in seeing, say, a porterhouse when it's still inside a "rusty-brown coloured, 13-month-old Limousin cow, dark of eye and furry of coat"... and to watch the process of slaughter and butchery... to see if I still saw meat the same way afterwards. Not to ruin any suspense... and if you eat meat I think you would do yourself a service to go read his description of the process and look at the pictures (some blood, but not terribly graphic) before continuing... but Jay Rayner at least, claims to feel exactly the same about meat as before he entered the slaughterhouse... and in a subsequent blog post offers up this question:
I asked Christine Thompson, who with her husband David had raised this herd, whether everybody should be forced to make the connection between animal and carcass. No, she said, because it might put people off eating meat and that was not in their commercial interests. Fair enough.

So then, do you think if you had to witness the death of an animal it would put you off meat eating? More to the point, do you think anybody who chooses to eat animals should be forced, as I have done, to witness what goes on in a slaughterhouse?
I suspect that if I visited some of the factory farms where meat I've grabbed off the shelf, without any consideration of provenance, came from... I'd be put off that for good. Suggesting strongly that I should be paying a lot more attention to whether meat I consume is humanely raised... than I have been. I make an effort, but the closest Supermarket to me does not have a large selection of such products... and convenience has won out a fair bit. However, I don't think the slaughter itself would particularly bother me. I'm sure it would be unpleasant, but I doubt it would change my opinions much unless it seemed to me that there was a lot more suffering involved than I've seen described.

Now should people be forced to visit a slaughterhouse? It sounds like a Simpsons episode... and I wonder how far you can take it... should you be forced to use the bolt gun? Learn the proper jugular slitting technique so the cow's blood drains out most effectively? A slaughterhouse visitation requirement for meat consumption is obviously unrealistic regardless (some quick math suggests it would take nearly 40 years of 24 hour 7 days a week visits to get the US population an hour in one of our 900 slaughterhouses)... but it seems to me there should probably be more opportunities for people to learn about that side of things. To me, even just seeing the sides of beef hanging... still very recognizable as having once been animals... would be an important step for most folks... and that could simply be accomplished by having more visible butchery in the Supermarket. Visits to farms to meet the animals would be even better, and maybe even convince a few people that they don't want to eat the cute cow. But I don't see there being much justification to force people to watch their food die first, simply because we hope it will upset them enough to become vegetarians.

Ultimately I don't think it's the slaughter itself that matters, but that the animals have a good life leading up to a humane death... and that we are more cognizant of that, than actually seeing the blood drain as some sort of meat eating hazing ritual.

photo by Flickr user Jaydot used under a Creative Commons license