Hippy-dippy, soft-brained butchery

Written by Glenn on June 1st, 2010

This is what respect and honour really look like(photo by Farm Sanctuary)

Apparently we can get around feeling any remorse for killing and eating a baby animal by appealing to “honour” and “respect.” I just read through a post on the Foodists blog about the happy times of dismembering a baby sheep.

Here’s an exemplary paragraph of wishy-washiness:

We all felt honoured to be a part of an event this special, and it was a sober moment as we laid out the carcass of Angus II, a beautiful, organic-raised lamb that lived a wonderful life running freely and dining on the wild grasses at Cutter Ranch Lamb. About 125lbs at slaughter, Angus II was about 65lbs with head and hooves on as she lay on our cutting table, with a bag containing the majority of its internal organs, or offal, such as lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, etc. Very little of this beast was going to be wasted.

I’ll get to the whole “honour” and “respect” bit in a minute. First off, though, notice how the author speaks of this dead lamb (a lamb is a baby sheep, by the way) as having “lived a wonderful life.” No matter that her life was less than one single year long. Can anyone’s life really be “wonderful” if it’s cut that short? She never even got to be an adult. If she were a human child, her death would be a tragedy, no matter how lovely a meadow she got to run around in. And what about the lamb’s mother? Does she not matter in anyone’s consideration? Who explains to her that her baby is being honoured by this wonderful event?

Also, why does the author refer to the lamb as “she” one single time, but “it” for the rest of the article? Does she really know the gender of the lamb? Or was the gendered pronoun just a slip – maybe for one second she recognized the corpse in front of her as an individual with characteristics, rather than an object? Probably just poor proofreading. And who in the world names a female sheep “Angus II”? My guess is that the lamb was named after she was killed and packed away.

Now, on to honour and respect. Notice that the author writes about feeling “honoured to be a part of an event this special.” But then she writes:

Many of the group had never butchered a whole animal before and were excited to learn new culinary techniques and processes, but some were pleasantly surprised by how the lead up to the event was less about techniques and more of the respect and honour to, not only our lamb, but to all ingredients being sourced from preparation to final plating.

So this butchering is about showing “respect and honour.” I think this is completely bizarre. I mean, who in their right mind talks about feeling honoured to be at an event, but then equates cutting up a dead animal to honouring that animal? Would she feel as “honoured” if someone were chasing her with a knife? How come she has two entirely different definitions of honour?

And how about respect? How does slitting a lamb’s throat and cutting her up into little bits and eating her show her any respect at all? When I respect someone I don’t reach for my butcher’s knife. Trying to call butchery “respectful” is an odd warping of the meaning of the word respect. Unless, of course, you really do consider animals as objects to be used.

Which is why this seems so soft-brained to me. On the one hand these butchers talk a lot about respecting the animals and humane care and treatment, as if the animals’ lives mean something – beyond our own purposes for them. But then they talk about respecting an animal as one would talk about respecting a car.

This weird and wacky tone is exemplified here:

Prior to the arrival, Foodists’ chef Anthony Nicalo sent a preparatory message to all would be butchers:

“Respect the animal. Show up on time and be prepared to work. You will eat some great food and take some with you to enjoy in the weeks and months to come, but the focus during butchery and prep is work—including cleaning. Take pleasure in the process of cooking and the responsibilities that come with the opportunity to cook—respect the animal and the farmer who raised it.”

Is he for real? Respecting the animal means that we should “Show up on time and be prepared to work”? That’s the most meaningless thing I have ever heard. That lamb doesn’t care one bit about whether or not you arrive on time or do a good job. All of your playacting about respect is for your own benefit.

All of this is really just a way for people who chop dead animals apart to feel good about themselves. What option do they have? If they were to actually consider the animal’s life from the animal’s perspective, how could they pick up their knife? In order to keep going, they need to tell themselves these lies about honour and respect. It’s really a tragedy that their fun and games has to lead to so many lives cut short, so many deaths, so much pain and suffering.

Trailer for Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home from Tribe of Heart on Vimeo.

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9 Comments so far ↓

  1. Alison C. says:

    I totally agree with everything you say here. You make some really good points.

  2. Joanne says:

    And people wonder why there are serial killers out there disemboweling humans for pleasure? They probably got the idea from reading foodie blogs.

  3. Isla says:

    Meat eating hippies – a true oxymoron.

    I have a very spiritual friend who is mild in nature and will gently lift spiders out of his home saying: “there you go little fella”, but eats a heavily meat based diet justifying that “meat is grounding”. When I called him on it, he labeled me a crusader and talked for 20 minutes about how everything is his house is made by slaves anyway.

    Reading posts like this are the only thing that makes me feel sane in this world.

  4. Isla says:

    I also want to bring up the movie Avatar, which is largely based on honour killing. The blue aliens (forget their actual title) kill animals to survive by blessing the animals first and saying: “I see you, brother” and they are meant to be more spiritually evolved than the sky people (Earthlings). Any thoughts on this?

  5. Nicole says:

    Well said!

    In addition to your conclusion, I think that this soft-brained thinking has something to do with people feeling that if they have what they think are noble intentions that are carried out in a noble way, that that’s a good thing. But it makes no sense. After all, what’s noble about murder? We all know murder is the taking of a life against the will of the individual killed. There’s nothing noble in that.

    I think this sense of nobility is related to your point that as long as these people believe they’re doing something good, then they feel good about themselves.

    You quoted the author of the article as saying they felt a sense of somberness when laying the lamb out on the table. I felt really frustrated about this because I just don’t understand what disconnect it is that had them not recognizing what they were doing is wrong. If they felt somber, what was it that stopped them from asking themselves why they felt that way? Obviously they think it’s necessary to do what they do, so they used that to move onward. In all seriousness, their actions closely fit the definition of psychopathy. And it’s really scary that we abhor this in people but it’s acceptable behaviour when it comes to animals.

    And, like the folks at FoodFight say, “What kind of asshole eats a lamb, anyway?”

  6. Becci says:

    @ Nicole

    “And, like the folks at FoodFight say, ‘What kind of asshole eats a lamb, anyway?’”

    Perfect reference, haha. And a good, albeit nauseating, blog post.

    An adorable video that actually does respect lambs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9__jckosjZw

  7. I think there is something in truly respecting and honouring an animal for food – NECESSARY food- that say, native people used to do (and still, in some situations, do).

    Unfortunately, that has been replaced with platitudes and feel-good butchery that is completely un-necessary.

    In some Native communities, it is still a necessity to eat meat, but in the great part of the world, especially the disgustingly unnecessary scenario you describe, it’s not only killing an animal, but also depriving other people of the food they need. It wouldn’t be a neccessity to eat meat in certain communities if people like this weren’t wasting grains on livestock.

    As a vegetarian and a Native person, I am very fortunate to be able to choose the kind of diet I have, and I think that anyone who has the resources and power to choose would choose vegetarian to free up resources and food for everyone.

    Thanks for being such a great writer and activist. Your work is meaningful and appreciated.

  8. Nicole says:

    “I also want to bring up the movie Avatar, which is largely based on honour killing. The blue aliens (forget their actual title) kill animals to survive by blessing the animals first and saying: “I see you, brother” and they are meant to be more spiritually evolved than the sky people (Earthlings). Any thoughts on this?”

    When I was in college, I took a few Latin-American studies courses and during one of them I watched a video of Peruvian alpaca herders and the ritual involved in the killing of the alpacas for food and clothing. Part of the ritual involved laying the heads of the alpacas, which were completely unrestrained, in the laps of the herders. They stroked the heads of the alpacas to calm them and whispered soothing words to them. Blessings were a part of the rituals. They felt this was necessary, as it showed respect for the alpacas and to the gods that blessed them with the animals. This kind of action towards animals occurs in other aboriginal cultures the world over for some of the same reasons.

    I’m not going to comment on that for what I hope people know are obvious reasons. But where Avatar is concerned, I’m told by friends who have seen the movie that there is a very strong stereotype of “the noble savage” running throughout the movie. Without having seen Avatar but being very familiar with how this stereotype is perpetuated in literature and movies, I would hazard a guess that the portrayal of the slaughter of animals was created as a way to romanticise an act that is otherwise reprehensible (there’s a particular term for this, the attribution of a quality to a character to develop an image for the reader, but I can’t remember it). The noble savage stereotye is all about the romanticisation of aboriginal peoples who are othewise considered uncivilized (by Western standards). And it’s also a very racist stereotype. It seems the image of the aboirginal peoples in Avatar have been created in much the same way that similar characters have been for hundereds of years.

    Also, the society that is the main focus of the movie is also a utopian society (an example of a utopian society is Orwell’s “1984″ or Huxley’s “Brave New World”). The ideals of utopian societies require non-violence in most instances, so it wouldn’t make sense for the movie to have portrayed the characters as killing anything in a violent way. That said, it could be said that there is inherent violence in utopain societies since rigid control of people, property, and rights is essential, and extertion of that control trumps everything else.

    When we think about Glenn’s original subject – the “honourable” killing of an animal – along with Avatar, the noble savage, and the idea of utopian society, we can get a sense that there are some very insidious connections between modern ideas on slaughter and treating animals in a “nice way” before killing them.

    This is probably a much longer, geekier response than you anticipated :)

  9. Tofu Ricotta says:

    It is like a religious ceremony, a sacrifice to appease not the gods (or pay off the priests) but one’s own decadent appetite. An apotheosis of self-aggrandizing righteous violence.

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