As a vegan, I believe in active resistance and non-violence. Sadly, this does not mean I never have a violent thought. Far from it. At any given moment there’s an entire fight sequence going on in my head and as much as I strive to be most like Wonder Woman, the reality is I am much closer to being the Hulk. In the words of Bruce Banner from the latest Avengers’ movie when asked what his secret weapon is for being able to control his anger and turn into the Hulk at any given moment: “That’s my secret. I’m always angry.”
There are two particular stores in Toronto that make me want to hulk-out regularly and throw a brick through the window every time I pass them. I wouldn’t (at least not during working hours when people are in there) but dear god, the urge is strong. One is called, Bacon Nation, and they also have a food truck in the city that says, “Go Pig or Go Home” splashed across the front and well, fuck them.
The second is a butcher store I bike past on my way home from work nearly every day and this month, the Star wrote a piece featuring them. Reading the article was, from a human behaviour perspective, fascinating. From an animal rights perspective it was nauseating. I decided to blog about it though because it is an excellent example of not only our incredibly contrary relationship with “food” animals but it also speaks to this growing trend of “humane meat” that people think is actually possible so long as they go to a butcher shop or buy from a local farm (the butcher’s website proudly advertises “HAPPY meats and sandwiches”, caps on the word “happy” included). In the words of Carol J. Adams, feminist, activist and writer: “Meat eaters like to believe that they are doing what complete vegetarians do – eating humanely – without actually doing what complete vegetarians do – not eating animal products.”
The store, called Stock in Trade, was primarily featured because rather than carving whole animal carcasses in the back away from customers as many butcher shops do, the carving is done right in the store window every Thursday morning. According to the article, this is done for three reasons: one, to save space. Two, the co-owner worked for 15 years, “toiling in…windowless kitchens,” and three, “to be very transparent.” The co-owner even goes as far to say something that I completely agree with, save for referring to the animal as an “it”: “You can have more respect for it if you see it as a whole,” he say. “It’s not just something you buy Saran-wrapped. It is an animal. It has emotions. It has a character.”
That blast you just heard was likely your own brain exploding inside your head. What the fuck?!? This man openly and correctly assigns emotions, character and entity to an animal. The article itself does the same: it describes the “shrieking grind” of a blade as one of the butchers, “saws through the pig’s spine.” It describes, “a pig’s smiling face and its dismembered limbs,” featured in the store front on certain days. All of these attributes specifically describe the body parts of a living being – limbs, spine, face – and yet there still remains that complete and absolute disconnect from the animal as ever having – or perhaps more accurately, ever deserving – a life.
Interestingly enough, the butcher quoted in the article was once a vegetarian which she admittedly stopped doing because, “she was in love and wanted to impress somebody.” That was easier to stomach than her previous answer which was, “not wanting to limit herself and the importance of raising animals ethically.”
What made me laugh/cry/swear/rage/hurl the hardest was when the butcher described their process of “breaking” the animals down in the front window:
“We think it’s important for us to engage the customers in the meat that they eat,” she says. “Often, there’s a level of shock from people walking by because they’re not used to seeing this part of the process.”
That’s true. But the fact remains: the most significant part of the meat-eating process that would truly engage people is the actual slaughter of a living animal. And we will never see that in a store-front window because it is unimaginably bloody, loud, scary, smelly, cruel and unnecessary. As Paul McCartney famously said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.”
The dead pig in the article is spoken of by the owner, the butcher and the writer (there’s a nursery rhyme in there somewhere) as though they were alive. But their language is deceitful and they are also deceiving themselves. Assigning a personality, or “a smiling face”, or feelings to an animal after they’ve been intentionally killed so you can sell their body parts to the public for a living does not make you any more ethical or transparent about what you are actively choosing to participate in. Showing an extra step in the process does not make the process any less repugnant. Acknowledging the animal’s life in the past tense does not mean you actually respect their life, particularly when your business depends on them not having one.
Ethical, humane, “HAPPY”, grass-fed, free-run, free-range, locally sourced are all buzz words and marketing phrases designed only to make us feel better and to sell products. Don’t be fooled. They don’t actually change anything for the life of an animal in the end. So what if the animal is free of hormones and organic and lives on a farm with wide-open spaces? They still all end up with the same horrific fate: to be stunned with a bolt gun held to their forehead, to be strung up by their hind leg on a chain while their throat and abdomen is cut open, to have their hair burned off, their skin removed and their still-warm bodies eviscerated, boxed up, transported and shoved in a display case accompanied by a sign that says, “Fresh Meat.”