There are a few feminist websites I read regularly and Jezebel Magazine is one of them. Here’s a headline that greeted me the other day as I was taking my daily stroll through their site:
“I Fulfilled a Lifelong Dream and Butchered a Pig.”
First, in the words of Oprah Winfrey as told in a story by actor Alan Cumming: “You gotta get bigger dreams.”
Second, in my experience and despite the stereotype, vegans don’t offend easily (if cognitive dissonance levels were measured like radiation when it comes to animal suffering, we’d never leave the house). It’s not easy to shock us because we’re basically appalled daily by the staggering contradictions of animal treatment in our world.
Even when I’m reading my left-wing, intersectional-feminist sites, I know that the suffering of “food” animals still aren’t included in these conversations. It’s a severe blind spot of the left, and animal rights as a serious ethical discussion is usually just avoided as opposed to flat-out mocked or rejected by them.
So when I came across this post written by Kate Dries, which, again, is titled, “I Fulfilled My Lifelong Dream and Butchered a Pig”, I wondered if I’d been clickbaited and sent to a culinary school’s website or a hunting how-to. Nope. I was on the same women-centered site that later the same day posted a piece on how white, mainstream feminism has ignored and excluded the past and present contributions of women of colour. So they know about linked oppression and “ism’s”. Though most sites have yet to claim their speciesism, I was shocked (not an easy task, remember) to read 1,901 words – plus a video – of a woman’s “calm” and “almost meditative” experience of dismembering a pig. The rationalizing started early:
“As cheese is my one true love, I don’t eat a ton of meat…” Dries writes, which, if you know how mother cows are treated in the dairy industry is like saying, “I don’t hit my own kids, just everyone else’s.”
When Dries refers to an earlier experience as a child watching her mother prepare raw chicken and not being allowed to touch the flesh of the bird, she describes herself as, “fixated on the flabby tan crescents lying there prone on the cutting board, waiting for whatever would come to them.” Waiting for whatever would come to them, as if animals passively give their lives up to us without any struggle or fight simply because we see them as food.
My vegan rage meter started to climb as I continued reading, along with having to take a break after every sentence to roll my eyes:
“I began to feel that if I ate meat at all, I should be willing to personally confront its past as animal.”
That’s when I wondered if I’d stumbled onto a hunting website because this kind of rhetoric is classic hunter speak. Vegans get accused of anthropomorphism all the time but to hear some hunters speak, you have to wonder who fits the stereotype of a hippie more. Actor Chris Pratt describes his experience of hunting as this:
“I have a great deal of respect for the animals that I kill, and I feel remorse and all of the emotions that come with it. The thing inside me that drives me to go out and hunt is very animal. But the remorse, emotion and respect I feel, and the closeness to God that I feel when I’m out there, is my humanity. It’s an opportunity for me to explore what parts of me are animal and what parts of me are human.”
So, to clarify: pulling a trigger and killing an innocent animal makes him feel in touch with his humanity, closer to God and also animal-like? The problem here, and with all meat-eaters whether they hunt or not, is it’s never about what the animal feels – it’s always about how consuming animals makes THEM feel.
Dries continues with her “willingness” to “confront its past as animal” of recounting how she recently sat “enraptured” by an episode of A Chef’s Life and being “disappointed that the moment of death” – the slaughter of a pig in a backyard – wasn’t shown on TV. She marvels at her own attention span, and how she found herself, “quite willing to focus entirely for 20 minutes on a video” of a butcher dismembering an entire pig, or as it’s called in the business “breaking down” a pig (which is about what I was doing at this stage of her post). This same butcher in the video, Bryan Mayer, ends up being the one who teaches her how to do it.
When they meet in person, Dries describes the butcher as “kind and patient”. Like any title with the word “butcher” in it – musicals, vocations, mobsters – the first two things that leap to my mind are kindness and patience. I mean, if someone’s going to show you how to take apart an animal carcass, it’s good that the compassion of their chosen profession is already reflected in the title.
Dries continues her narrative in typical meat-eater fashion, trying to convince the reader (and herself) that by assigning complimentary adjectives and humour to the animal she is about to cut apart and eat is the same as “confronting” her choice. But what she’s really doing is trying to rationalize it:
“Usually a butchering class has a bunch of people working on one animal but I was lucky enough to get a one-on-one – really personal time with this particular beautiful creature of God (I mean the pig, not Bryan).”
This gaping contradiction is not new for meat-eaters but I can assure you, it ONLY appears when ordinarily logical and caring people want to find a way to keep eating animals. They wouldn’t refer to road kill as “beautiful”. They wouldn’t refer to a skinned and headless dog carcass on a butcher’s table as beautiful. And they most certainly wouldn’t have a desire to “break” either of them by taking a knife and slowly detaching the animal’s legs, shoulders, ribs, and buttocks. The only reason we do this to farm animals (and fish and other creatures we’re conditioned to eat) is because it is normalized. Systematic, normalized suffering and death, just like every other oppression in history.
Let me ask you: if you call a female cow on a dairy farm a “beautiful creature of God” before you drag her calf away so we can take her milk for human consumption, does that absolve you? If you pray before dinner, thanking God for the “beautiful creature” who lived a miserable life and died a violent death in the name of your tradition, does that relieve any of their suffering? Does it change ANY of the reality that the animals we eat is completely arbitrary and there is no need to be breeding, killing and eating them at all? Meat-eaters rationalizing their food choices are beginning to remind me of white evangelicals or Catholic priests, believing that confessing their sins to the larger public but doing nothing to change the actual behaviour is accountability; that it’s justice. It isn’t.
As Dries goes on about her lesson in pig dismemberment, she refers to the pig as “thing” or “it” no less than 25 times: “…the whole thing was about 250-300 lbs. when alive, which is pretty big for a pig. This meant we were dealing with about 90-100 lbs per side, once it had been bled out and hung for about a week to cure”.
Lovely. Such non-violent images. I’m surprised there’s no Hallmark calendar with a different animal corpse hanging for every month of the year.
She also takes ownership of the animal’s body parts twice (“our pig”, “my piece”), a task much easier to do when no identity or personhood is assigned to the once-living-being you are now taking apart with a knife and hacksaw.
In another classic meat-eater narrative, Dries assures us the pig was “raised by a guy named Tim” as “a pastured pig, which means it got to roam around and have a nice free life until it’s death.” Ah, yes. “Humane Meat”. Another incomplete story meat-eaters selectively choose to tell like an evangelical selects a Bible verse to justify their homophobia. And what could be more wholesome than being “raised by a guy named Tim?” Tim sounds great. Tim works at a place called Autumn’s Harvest Farm, which sounds like a colour you’d paint your bedroom. But make no mistake, “harvest” at this farm means only one thing: the slaughter of animals. And when people say they “raise” animals, know this: they mean raised for slaughter. No farmer makes that clarification though because they know when most people hear the word “raise” in this context, we think of raising children and what could be more innocent and well-intentioned than raising children? Don’t be fooled. Once that pig reached what is called “market weight” or “slaughter weight”, their days of freedom and roaming and the pleasure of a nice life were over. Remember Tim, the guy you probably pictured in a flannel shirt and work boots surrounded by happy animals? That same guy makes the call to come and pick up fattened pigs to be taken to the slaughterhouse. Or he does it himself. I’m not sure which is more horrifying for the pig: having a knife plunged into their throat, gutted and bleeding and gasping for air at the hands of a stranger or by someone they trusted to protect their lives only moments before.
But hey Kate Dries, please tell us more about what the butcher has to say about that very pig you say you are “confronting”:
“The other really great benefit is the bone structure, the muscle-to-bone ratio; there’s a lot more meat on the carcass because the bone structure is much smaller than say ruminates like beef or cattle, sheep and goat,” Bryan explained. “So it’s a really, really efficient animal in terms of what you get off and in terms on muscle.”
This is still rationalizing, not an actual justification of what they are participating in. Using all of a victim’s dead body parts doesn’t mean there’s no victim. Unbelievably she appears to be using this as a response to people who don’t eat pigs because they’re really smart. She states she isn’t trying to convert anyone, but then does exactly that: “A good thing about pig is that there’s very minimal waste, basically everything is used for food.” Huh? What does one have to do with the other? This is more rationalizing meant to seem like ethics, like a “Save the Earth” bumper sticker on the back of an SUV.
(It’s also typical meat-eater logic: Meat-eaters only think of an animal’s value or impact once they’re dead. But animals, like humans, create a lot of waste, waste that is collected in manure pits, which often burst and cause run-offs into rivers and streams, contaminating water and air. It’s irresponsible to only factor in the “efficiency” of an animal once they’re dead.)
Dries, by her own admission, becomes more and more, “emotionally detached from the animal I had known it to be at the beginning, large blank face staring at me and all.” The trouble is, she never knew this animal. To do that the animal would have had to have been alive; you don’t get to know someone when they’re dead. The additionally disturbing thing about this statement is that it’s not framed with any sense of culpability or remorse. She even refers to the motion of breaking through animal bone using her own body weight as “almost rhythmic in nature” as if she’s reaching some higher level of consciousness in the process. Instead of seeing her emotional detachment as a sign that perhaps it’s her psyche’s way of coping with something she should actually be repulsed by, she seems to take it as some euphoric teaching moment. Similar to Chris Pratt feeling remorse for the animals he kills – instead of sitting with that remorse and really thinking about why he feels it, he ultimately dismisses it at a necessary part of hunting even though that feeling could be avoided altogether if he just stopped hunting. (Perhaps it is his humanity trying to interrupt him as he pulls the trigger).
When Dries and the kind and patient butcher are “moving through the animal section by section” – as if they’re putting up dry wall – they come across parts of the pig’s body “flecked with purple-blue spots of clotted blood”. The kind and patient butcher explains that this means blood was “allowed” to clot (forgetting that’s what blood does naturally) as “the animal wasn’t bled out fast enough.” Kind and patient butcher assures Dries, “it won’t taste bad” and sure enough, they eat some and, “It was the best pork I’ve ever had,” Dries says. Of course it was – she has to convince herself the taste is worth what she just did to an animal.
As Dries is (finally) reaching the end of her story, she asks the kind and patient butcher how many pigs she would have to butcher to feel good at it. The butcher assures her he’s still not there and responds with, “Thousands“. Congratulations. You’re a monster.
The contradictions in Dries’ piece are embarrassingly tone-deaf. One moment the dead animal in front of her is a beautiful creature, the next, an inanimate object whose bones she is sawing through. On one hand she says she imagines butchering a pig is like a medical student working on a cadaver and in the next paragraph seems surprised that there isn’t more “hacking” and that “much of the time you’re following the natural seam of where different parts of the pig come together.” Yes, almost like a body with working parts, meant to be together, not apart. And here’s an important difference meat-eaters always fail to consider: a human cadaver had a choice, even in death. Animals never get one.
My suggestion to Dries, or any meat-eater wanting to confront an animal’s “past”, is to see them when they’re alive. Attend a slaughterhouse vigil in your city with animal rights activists and bear witness to the animal’s fear as they roll in by the hundreds on trucks – in all weather conditions – prior to being violently slaughtered:
Bear witness how you can hear their screams when you’re not even inside the actual slaughter facility:
Too much for you? Go visit a farm sanctuary where you can have real “one-on-one” time with rescued pigs – there’s a fantastic one in the same state where Tim works. Start following Esther the Wonder Pig on Facebook and see how pigs interact with the world around them. Read a book by an AR activist or ex-farmers or slaughterhouse workers. Visit any number of sites working toward Animal Liberation: Free From Harm, Mercy for Animals, Food Empowerment Project, Animal Justice Canada. Watch an undercover video or documentary. Google Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or Factory Farming. THAT is confronting your food. THAT is an animal’s life. THAT is what you are participating in when you butcher them or pay for someone else to do it for you. THAT is a meat-eater’s hypocrisy as they claim to acknowledge the lives of animals while fetishizing how delicious their body parts taste in the same breath.
My next suggestion to meat-eaters: please stop speaking on behalf of animals because that’s not actually what you’re doing. When meat-eaters say things like, “I am grateful for this animal’s sacrifice” or, “I am confronting its past as animal” you are rationalizing your choice, not confronting their suffering. Comments like that are about YOU: YOU trying to reconcile why you believe in non-violence yet still eat bloodshed. YOU who profess to love animals yet chew the flesh off their bones. YOU who know this to be a living being yet somehow believe, no matter how deep down, that farm animals must be somehow inferior to deserve this ending.
So meat-eaters, I know you like to dismiss vegans and animal activists because it’s much more convenient for us to be the crazy ones than you be the cruel ones but please stop acting like you give a shit about animals. Please stop with your bullshit platitudes about respect and honour of an animal as you bite into their muscle, flesh and tissue. Please stop giving thanks and asking for peace when a carcass is the centerpiece of your table. Please own your contradiction for what it is: hypocrisy. If you are truly serious about respecting animals, then you don’t eat them or anything secreted from them. You don’t hunt them, wear them, or experiment on them. You don’t pay for someone else to kill them or promote them as entertainment. And you definitely don’t dismember them and write a 1,900 word essay glorifying your actions. You stop using and eating ALL animals in every possible form. THAT is respect. THAT is confronting them. THAT is acknowledging them.
In the video that accompanied her writing, Dries ends with this:
“I think a lot of people, myself included, can be pretty detached from the food they eat. I really like meat but I also try to be really cognizant of how much I’m eating and where it comes from and I thought that this would get me closer to understanding why I eat meat. Being careful about where things are sourced from, being environmentally-friendly. This is like, a really boring, square answer but that’s really why…I really wanted to do this so I could feel more in touch with mother earth.”
I’m not convinced Dries even believes what she’s saying. I think she’s mistaking “boring” and “square” with the discomfort she probably feels about what she’s done. I think she knows it’s hypocrisy to care for some animals and eat others. But like every meat-eater I’ve ever met, including the one I used to be, until you really examine yourself and find out how “food” animals actually live and die, and the abject misery they endure by our hands for burgers and nuggets, meat-eaters will just keep lying to themselves, in order to try and live with themselves.