Apologies for stating what may seem pretty obvious to most of us but I’m beginning to wonder just how far some of us have become removed from this reality? Let’s try a little test – see if you can tell which of these pairs is meat, which is an animal and what the connection is between them.
This point has been in the back of my mind for a while now and after watching another episode of “River Cottage” starring celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall I can’t hold back any longer. Hugh’s “USP” (unique selling point) is a deep affection for chickens and this comes through in his programmes where he is a tireless campaigner for chickenkind. All these celebrity chefs have a USP. It is not enough these days to just be a talented chef with fresh recipes and a good TV personality, they must have something extra. We’ve got the one that says f**k all the time, the black one, the Chinese one, the Cockney boy, the motorbike Geordies, the daughter of an ex-chancellor, the two fat ladies, the fish guy with a dog, the one who might be gay……. I tell you, if you’re looking to break into the celebrity chef market you’re running out of opportunities unless you’ve got a limb missing!
Anyway, Hugh wants everyone to stop buying factory farmed chicken and buy free-range organic ones instead. The issue he keeps coming up against is cost, with most households on a budget not being able to spare the extra money required to buy a happy dead chicken as opposed to a miserable dead chicken. It’s hard to tell how much truth there is in this when in the last programme one ‘guest’ said she couldn’t afford organic chicken but later announced that always buys organic duck (far more expensive). Her buying choices were based simply on the fact that she had no affection for chickens but she thought ducks were cute! Another part of Hugh’s strategy is to expose his ‘guests’ to the reality of how factory chickens live their short lives versus how the better raised chickens live and also to the process of killing and preparing an animal for cooking. This is not exactly unique, the f**k man has tried it in his own back garden with his kids (not killing his kids, just teaching them that animals are killed and turned into meat) and there have been other programmes along similar lines.
What amazes me is how most people simply don’t associate the animal with the food, or don’t want to. For them, chicken is what you buy in packets in Tesco, the lumps in a Chicken Tikka Masala or what KFC are good at, not a feathered, living, thinking, feeling animal. Not something we should care about. Maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising because it’s very possible that most people have never actually been in close proximity to a real chicken, or bull or pig – certainly the animals are nothing like as familiar to them as the packaged supermarket meat they encounter once a week. Even if they have met the animals in a ‘petting zoo’ that was different, they were cute, nobody would kill them. Even excluding personal contact, none of the adverts for meat products focus on the animal, just the end product, so we’re not even getting the right message from the TV. Understandably, given that poor treatment and execution are not top of the things most likely to sell a product!
How sad it is that a society, our “western” society at least, that once had an extremely close relationship with its livestock has progressed to the quite ridiculous point where we can’t even associate a packet of supermarket meat with one (or more) dead animals. How strange that people are able to disassociate themselves completely from the massive breeding, engineering and slaughter that goes on in their name. It does make you realise how things like ethnic cleansing can happen even in this day and age, just think of them as cattle. Is it really that unconnected?
Of course, not everyone is like this. There’s a big difference between city dwellers and farmers or country folk for example and there are still city dwellers, like myself, who remain fully conscious of what’s going on but despite this, the number of people losing touch must be growing at a rapid rate. I was unfortunate enough to be given a guided tour of a cattle slaughterhouse, in Croatia of all places, many years ago. It was a real eye-opener and whilst shocking it does bring you face to face with the reality behind being the dominant species on the planet and having a carnivorous lifestyle. It didn’t stop me eating meat and I don’t think anything ever will but I can certainly have some sympathy with those who refuse to do so.
I don’t want to world to go vegan, that’s not what we are as a species, not yet at least, but I would like us to show more respect for the animals that die for us. I would like us to be far more open about what is going on and not to pretend that it isn’t. I would like people to eat their Sunday roast in full knowledge that a sentient being was slaughtered to make it possible, to feel thankful for that and perhaps to feel slightly guilty if much of it is thrown in the trash.
My last point is about all this free-range organic malarkey. I don’t know what the right term is for livestock that is “cared for” while it is being fattened up. I’m not sure that organic or free range cover it but no matter, the question is whether it is the right thing to do or not? Or perhaps whether we are doing it for the right reasons. Isn’t it a little devious to be nice to an animal whilst knowing that you’re going to kill it and eat it? People talk about the improved taste so are we being nice to them out of pure selfishness to get better food or to assuage our guilt. After all, if our mission was to be nice to the animals and to improve their lives we wouldn’t slaughter them would we. I suppose looking after them while they are alive does show them some of the respect I would like to see but there’s something about it that worries me nevertheless. Is it just a fashion, like global warming? Just how sure can we be about how an animal has been treated from the plethora of legal definitions out there?
Still, living in Poland the decision of whether to buy expensive cared for meat or not is not a problem. There is no cared for meat in the shops.