Advocates of eating animal flesh often ask me, "Well, what if the animal is raised and slaughtered humanely?" Besides that fact that the notion of "humane slaughter" is at odds with the physiological reality of concussing, electrocuting, slashing open the veins of, and/or decapitating an animal, the idea that one can be "humane" while killing for profit is self-contradictory.
I stumbled across a perfect illustration of this today in an article about Joel Salatin, an advocate for local production of flesh foods who's gotten somewhat famous after being featured in Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh:
“If we continue to look at these beautiful turkeys the way we do, just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product,” he says, “it won’t be long until we look at people, and especially people from other cultures, the same way.”
Walking away from the turkeys, a reporter and the film crew in tow, he says, almost casually, “This is the first time in human history where people can have no real connection, or relationship, with their natural ecology.”
It’s an observation that hits like a thunderbolt. The reason a trip to a real farm can be so jarring is that it challenges the way we are used to confronting our food, which typically involves walking past rows of brightly packaged jars and boxes— often featuring faces of cartoon characters— or hovering over displays of neatly packaged meats, without ever thinking about how they got there.
“It must be sad when it comes time to slaughter them,” says Boston-based film producer Paul Dewey, who was clearly moved by Salatin’s speech about his beautiful turkeys.
“Nooooo, that’s payday,” says Salatin. “Are you sad when you get a bonus?”
It is sad indeed if we look at sentient beings as "just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product". But it is no less sad if we look at them as a "payday"!
Salatin mentions the influence that how we think about animals has on how we think about people, but doesn't follow through. If killing turkeys isn't sad but "payday", what does this prepare us to do about exploiting humans when profit is involved?
Consider the words of Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, who became a vegetarian while imprisoned in Dachau: "I think that men will be killed and tortured as long as animals are killed and tortured. So long there will be wars too. Because killing must be trained and perfected on smaller objects, morally and technically."
It makes no difference to the turkeys whether their dead bodies are roasted whole or processed into paste, even less than it matters to me whether my corpse will be buried or cremated. Respect for the corpse is a very poor substitute for respect for the being. Both I and the turkeys would rather live out our natural lives -- nothing that fails to respect that, regardless of how we might be killed or what happens to the corpse afterward, is humane.