Friend or Food?
Please Note: This post contains graphic material (text only).
I can remember the day clearly.
I was 12 years old.
My family had moved to a small town in outback Australia where the majority of people made their living off the land. As part of my ‘Agriculture’ class, a bus load of my peers and I were shipped off to the local abattoir to see the process of where our food came from.
I remember the frantic hooves of the animals waiting in their pen. I remember their bleats – short, sharp cries for help that never came. I watched as the metal fence would open with a loud clang and a lone creature would be pushed or prodded up a ramp, their little feet scrambling and scratching as they made their way towards a small room that looked like a box. Mere seconds passed. Then from what looked like a ghoulish laundry chute coming out of the box, a severed head would tumble into the back of a truck.
From there we were escorted to the processing floor, where layer upon layer of skin and flesh were removed from each kill. I remember them explaining that the grated floor allowed all of the blood to drain away efficiently.
The final point of the tour was a sterile room filled with rows of styrofoam and plastic wrap. A line of women worked methodically packaging each piece of fresh meat into neat little trays and with a “whoosh” covering them with plastic film and labelled stickers.
The end product was something I clearly recognised. An item that was in our shopping trolley every week.
That night I was served lamb chops, potatoes and peas for dinner. I announced that I wanted to be a vegetarian. I was told in no uncertain terms to eat what was in front of me or go hungry. That night I didn’t eat the lamb.
But my hunger strike would be short lived. It wasn’t until 15 years later that I became a vegetarian.
It’s usually at this point in the story that people interrupt me and say, “Whoa – you went to an abattoir when you were twelve???” I used to respond “Yeah, I know, how insane was that school!” but these days my response is completely different. My answer today is “Absolutely, I think every single man, woman and child should have to visit the farms and slaughterhouses where their meat comes from.”
These days it’s far to easy to live in a world disconnected from the truth. You see a tray of fresh chicken packaged neatly in the supermarket. Cartons of milk proudly display happy cows frolicking in green fields. Egg packaging show happy chicks nesting comfortably in cosy red barns.
We sing “Old MacDonald” to our children. We teach them that cows go “Moo” and turkeys say “Gobble Gobble”. But when do we explain that the burgers we had for lunch came from those same animals? We don’t. Because teaching our children, would mean making the connection ourselves, and it’s much easier to live in a state of denial.
At the time of writing this article, hundreds of cats and dogs in China are being brought to the annual Yulin Meat Festival. Crammed into tiny, filthy cages, these sentient beings will be hit on the head, their throats cut and then boiled as hungry customers queue outside.
For many of us, these images are too hard to bear. It’s widely known that this province does not have a breeding facility. These dogs and cats have been rounded up off the streets, stolen from backyards and many times taken from their loving owners.
Collectively we condemn the festival. How can they possibly treat these beautiful dogs that way? Don’t they know dogs are loving, loyal creatures that feel fear, pain and suffering just like us?
Like most animal activists, I signed petitions to stop the festival. I shared the story on social media. My heart was broken by the images of cruelty I saw.
But then I made another connection.
Each year, 55 billion animals are killed for human consumption. 55 billion sentient beings that feel fear, and pain just like the dogs of the Yulin festival.
Where is the petition to save these animals? At what point did we decide dogs were our friend and cows were our food?
I ask this question of myself as well. You see where I said I was vegetarian, I was not 100% accurate. I’m actually a pescatarian, which means I still eat fish and shellfish. I have to ask myself, why will I not condone the suffering of a lamb, yet I will eat octopus – a creature that is known for its intelligence and ability to feel acute pain? What absolution am I giving myself in my own mind to afford one animal a soul and condemn the other to my plate?
If I’ve learnt anything from nearly a decade of eschewing eating most animals, it’s that people hate to feel preached to. There’s the old joke: “How do you know someone is a Vegan? – Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
But as someone who loves animals I feel it’s time to ask ourselves these hard questions. While we may not like the answers, at least we can then start to take action to make the world a better place for all creatures.
Are you a vegetarian?
Do you only eat free range?
How do you balance your love for animals in your everyday life?
— For further reading and to take action against the Yulin festival visit Animals Australia.