Tag Archives: meat

Mini-Game Explores Meat Production from New Point of View

Alexey Botkov, a game creator who is part of the Frogshark game studio in Auckland, New Zealand, recently participated in a Ludum Dare competition (a “game jam”) in which game designers, working alone, had only 48 hours to create a video game.  The theme: “You are the monster.

Many competitors took a literal view of the theme, creating games wherein the player controls a traditional, Godzilla-like monster.  Botkov took a different tack: “I wanted the theme to carry a self-reflective quality for the player instead of a literal representation in the game.”

In That Cow Game (downloadable for free for Windows and OSX here), the player plays a pixelated cow, who wanders among the whirring, clanking machines of an equally pixelated slaughterhouse.  The difference here is that the cow is the factory foreman, and the infinite line of processed carcasses are all human.

Created in just 48 hours, the game is, by necessity, minimalist: the graphics are simple and blocky, and there isn’t any actual goal.  This arguably makes the game experience even more haunting and thought-provoking.  A reviewer from Popular Science noted, “As the cow (the main character), you’re really only tasked with walking back and forth along the assembly line for as long as it takes you to realize there’s nothing you can do to affect the process. Whether that moment was intentional or not, it left an unsettling feeling hanging in the air. I kept wondering: Was there something I can do? Am I missing something to stop this?”

Image source: nomand

Image source: nomand

The player’s only source of interaction with unfolding events is an ability to headbutt the human corpses as they roll by.  The carcasses are the only “squishy” looking items in the game, created with a deliberate, visually unique feel to separate them from the rest of the space.  They feel out of place in the huge, industrial factory.  “If I was to add anything it would be sound and a variety of voices coming from the humans as you bump into them,” Botkov says.

The game has only minimal, pixelated gore, and it won’t necessarily turn you vegan — Botkov himself is an omnivore — but it invites thought about the nature of our food production processes.

“I eat meat and I am a monster, really,” he says. “More so because I’m aware of the issues, yet I’m still complicit. I guess [with the game] I’m questioning my own relationship with the whole thing and trying to figure out what my values are.”

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An Unusually Bird-Brained Marketing Strategy

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Burger King has a new promotion going: a live chicken, named “Gloria”, will travel to “select” Burger King locations across the U.S. and, by pecking at one of two food bowls marked “yes” or “no”, will determine whether or not that location will serve “chicken fries“, which are strips of chicken made up to look like french fries.

Since Gloria is a chicken, she has no grasp of the metaphysics of what she is doing: “deciding” whether or not, say, 500 of her fellow chickens will be turned into “fries” rather than chicken sandwiches on that day, based on her (possibly) random actions.  All she knows is that she pecks the bowls, and gets food.  I am not a chicken, and I find the image of a chicken deciding the fates of its fellows obscene.  It’s a little like the happy painted pigs you see on the signs at barbeque restaurants, merrily encouraging guests to eat them and their friends. (What would Burger King do if Gloria pecked “no” at every stop?  Held up a little sign that said “GO VEG”?)

I am also interested in that, as a being with a name, Gloria is Not Food, and is afforded the status due a named chicken: an “expert handler”, a “plush coop” and a “custom decision-making stage” from which to issue her decrees.  Note also that Gloria is very unlike the chicken hoi polloi which are used in the fries: according to her web site, she is a “three-year-old Rhode Island Red chicken”.  She has already lived nearly twenty times longer than the five-to-nine-week-old hybrid, white-feathered “broiler” chickens Burger King (likely) uses in their nuggets and sandwiches.  She is from “Starlight Ranch, in Lake Elsinore, CA”, a facility so small even Google can’t find it.  Why not choose a representative factory farm chicken from one of the big broiler producers?  (Oh, yeah, they’re crippled, have no feathers, and die early of respiratory diseases.  Not a good mascot.)

What message are we supposed to take from this?  “Watch as the random actions of a factory farm chicken’s privileged cousin determine what shape your meat will be”?  I have been led to understand that Burger King is at the forefront of what we must, alas, call the fast food revolution toward eventually, someday, provided it is financially feasible, possibly being slightly nicer to the animals we eat.  I am not certain this advertising campaign fully supports that theory.  (On the other hand, I certainly noticed it, so, in that regard, it worked perfectly.)

(From the primordial television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

Why Don’t We Ship Meat Animals Comfortably?

Cages of living cats smuggled from China are loaded off a truck in Hanoi on January 27, 2015. Photo credit: Kien Thuc

Cages of living cats smuggled from China are loaded off a truck in Hanoi on January 27, 2015. Photo credit: Kien Thuc

On January 27, 2015, Police in Hanoi seized a truck carrying more than three tons of live cats, shipped from China to restaurants in Vietnam.  For those of you counting, that’s approximately 600-700 cats, at 8-10 pounds apiece.  In one truck.

The trade in dog meat pops up on my dash from time to time, along with photos of similarly crammed cages, but the concept of cat meat has generally appeared primarily in “humorous” references to Asian restaurants in America.  I am not surprised, but am saddened, to find the issue is quite real.

Deciding if there is some fundamental difference (hint: there isn’t) between the animals we keep as pets and the ones we keep as food is a long and hairy road.  Walking along it for a little ways: I think it is interesting (terrifying) that I usually see pet animals transported humanely if not luxuriously, but I never see meat animals shipped in reasonably-sized containers.  A million years ago I noticed an article which casually mentioned that a truck transporting sheep had fallen over, and 400 sheep were lost.  It occurred to me to wonder how crammed into the truck the animals were, if the truck was carrying 400 of them, and ended up figuring the sheep each had slightly less than three square feet in which to stand (provided they were standing at all).

There’s just something about how, once we have taken the mental step which allows us to think, “This animal is to be used for human consumption,” we lose all concept of “We should respect this animal as a living being in need of food, water, shelter, and personal space.”  Maybe it’s only for a “short time”, from the farm to the slaughterhouse; maybe “they don’t mind”, because you either cannot read, or deliberately misread, their behavior; but we never seem to ship food animals in comfortable crates.

Pet animals go in style; United Airlines, for example, requires that “each kennel should contain no more than one adult dog or cat, or no more than two puppies or kittens younger than size months, of comparable size, and under 20 pounds (9kg) each”, and “The kennel must be large enough for your pet to freely sit and stand with its head erect, turn around and lie down in a normal position.”  Delta requires that “[t]he kennel must provide enough room for your pet to stand and sit erect — without the head touching the top of the container — and to turn around and lie down in a natural position.”  Here is how meat dogs travel.  (Terrible, awful, graphic photo, accompanying terrible, awful, graphic article.)

Here’s how show chickens travel; here’s how meat chickens travel (from a page advertising this poultry/rabbit transport cage, which allows you to load “10-12 of live chicken” in a space 91.5cm x 51cm x 30.5cm, or about 36″ x 20″ x 12″ high).  (As an aside, here’s a frankly horrifying notice about how hatcheries use unwanted male chicks as packing material for female chicks.)

Show cattle; meat cattleShow pigs; meat pigsShow horses; meat horses.  (Please note that I tried to look for “neutral” photos here instead of “shocking”, we-don’t-normally-do-things-that-way photos.)

What switch flips in our brains that makes us make that shift?  How can we stop it flipping?  How can we unflip it?

Use of Alternative Sources Does Not Solve My Problems with Meat

As an omnivore who has chosen to live without meat because no animal should have to go through our factory farming process just so I can have a sausage, I am constantly on the lookout for alternative options.  Unfortunately, I find tofu about as appealing as Kleenex under most circumstances, and the vegan “replacements” for my formerly favorite foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips) don’t so much mimic those foods as taste so completely unlike them as to reinforce how much I miss them.

For example, I can try adding “tofu crumbles” to my spaghetti sauce to remind me of the ground hamburger I used to put in there, but there are three problems: 1) the tofu crumbles cost twice as much as the rest of the ingredients put together; 2) they take time and effort to cook properly; and 3) they do not actually taste like ground beef (or like anything).  I do not need the texture of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce so badly that I must go out and buy tofu crumbles for it.  (Bring on the mushrooms and fresh peppers instead!)

There is a new movement wandering around which is trying to encourage people to eat less beef, poultry and pork by using replacement meat sources instead of removing meat entirely from the diet.  This is supposed to appeal to carnivores because you don’t have to declare yourself a granola-eating vegan (I do not like granola, myself) in order to reduce the amount of beef in your diet: you can remain a dedicated carnivore, and even say you’re doing it for the environment, rather than for the animals, further reducing any appearance of sympathy you might have had.

Perfectly edible even without the "scraps" of mouse meat.  (Source: Vice.com)

Perfectly edible even without the “scraps” of mouse meat. (Source: Vice.com)

Along these lines, a journalist from Vice decided to eat live food from a pet store for a week, one meal a day, to see what replacing traditional meat sources with something less environmentally intensive to raise might do to her diet.  Her actions, including grinding crickets into a replacement pancake flour and the creation of what is essentially a mashed potato casserole with mice in it, remind me strongly of my trying to find alternative meat sources for my spaghetti sauce.  The recipes take additional work and time; the unusual additives don’t add much pleasure to the meal; and in every case there’s a cheaper, faster, vegetarian option available — simply don’t add the alternative meat source.  Hey, look, it’s a perfectly serviceable potato casserole with no mice in it!

….those little guys were raised in a sterile lab, which is more than you can say for your average chicken nugget.”

Plus, well, the mice are often being raised in the same kind of factory farming conditions to which I object with beef, poultry and pigs.  It doesn’t have the same impact on the environment, because mice don’t need the same kind of space or materials that the larger animals do, but it certainly has a similar impact on the mice, which was kind of my problem with meat in the first place.

toilet-fish-tankThe author’s problems with killing the live minnows (You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water!)reminds me that even — and especially — these tiny animals are “slaughtered” for consumption in terrible ways, mostly because they’re too tiny to scream audibly and therefore any method is “painless”.  Mice are generally gassed with CO2, which can be a terrible way to go if performed badly (which it usually is).  This also fails to solve the issues with factory farming that led me to give up carnivory.

Whether they have a smaller impact on the environment or not (they probably do), and whether their handling of them is in some way “better” than our treatment of pigs, cows and chickens (it probably isn’t), I don’t need crickets (or minnows, or mice!) so badly as a source of protein (peanuts! almonds! peas! quinoa! spinach! sunflower seeds! beans!) that I need to kill 50 of them to add texture (and, apparently, an almond or shrimp flavor) to my plate of spaghetti.  I had enough problems using 1/50 of a cow to get the flavor I actually wanted!

How about an option that’s plentiful, cheap, lives naturally in crowded conditions and is easy to obtain?

From Pet to Plate: Guinea Pigs

Recent news articles have brought my attention to the farming of the guinea pig as an alternative meat animal.  Apparently it’s popular in South America, where it’s known as cuyes or cuy.  People eat them whole roasted, rather like tiny chickens, and the author of the NPR piece goes into entirely too much detail about eating the “fingery little hands”.  I am aware that humans will eat just about anything, so it’s not too much of a surprise that someone, somewhere, is eating guinea pig.

The guinea pig is supposed to be more “eco-friendly” than, say, beef — it’s more efficient at turning food into meat and it certainly takes up a lot less space.  Heifer International provides guinea pigs (amongst many other species) to people in developing countries to provide meat and income.  So there might be benefits to farming guinea pigs instead of cattle or pigs.

My immediate concern with the idea is this: it doesn’t really matter what animal you’re talking about — if you’re producing enough of them, they’re going to get factory farmed.  When you picture “guinea pig housing” right now, you’ve probably got a mental picture of something like this:

These are, of course, pet guinea pigs.  They’re in a pretty big space, with a couple of square feet per guinea pig.  Here, according to Google Images, anyway, is what “farmed” guinea pig housing looks like these days:

This is what it looks like when you move from “pet” to “farm” — much less space per animal, more animals in one room.  If guinea pig meat becomes popular, these little farms will want to — will need to, to keep up with demand — become even more “efficient”, cramming more animals in the same area.  What will an “efficient” guinea pig farming operation — capable of feeding several hundred thousand humans — look like?

Real Chicken, with Artificial Chicken Flavor

Another reason (as though we needed another) not to eat factory farmed meat — we’ve “streamlined” the process so thoroughly that the poor chickens who go through it never have time to develop anything that would provide flavor.  They shoot out the other side as essentially large blocks of tofu — thus, a factory farmed chicken must be chemically treated in order to taste like chicken.

Take three different whole chickens, [Marie Wright, chief flavorist at German flavoring company Wild] said — an average, low-priced frozen one from the supermarket; a mass-produced organic version like Bell and Evans; and what she termed a “happy chicken.” This was a bird that had spent its life outside running around and eating an evolutionary diet of grass, seeds, bugs and worms. Roast them in your kitchen and note the taste. The cheap chicken, she said, will have minimal flavor, thanks to its short life span, lack of sunlight and monotonous diet of corn and soy. The Bell and Evans will have a few “roast notes and fatty notes,” and the happy chicken will be “incomparable,” with a deep, succulent, nutty taste.

While I am slowly weaning myself off of eggs and dairy — mostly because of the byproducts of these industries — I have in the meantime at least switched to the eggs of “happy chickens” — not just “free range” but “pasture raised” — from small local farmers (the egg cartons have hand-written expiration dates, and one farm even includes newsletters from their chickens).  I note that the eggs are immediately identifiable as such.  They are huge, and they taste wonderful.  There is really no comparison.

It’s kind of frightening how many chemicals need to be poured over (and fed to) factory-farmed products so they are recognizable to the consumer.  Even if you aren’t particularly interested in how the animals who produce your food are treated, you might be interested in what you could be missing (or adding!) when you consume factory farmed meat.

Bonus link: a look behind the scenes at American flavoring company Givaudan, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Horse Slaughter in the US May Have Hidden Up Side

from morguefile.comThis past holiday weekend, I listened to someone announce that they had “euthanized” their problem horse (who really did need to be put down — it had a vet-diagnosed neurological condition and was aggressively dangerous).  I was thinking of commending them for taking responsibility for the animal and not just selling the problem along to an unsuspecting buyer when they said they had “euthanized” the horse by selling him for slaughter.  (“Bam!” they said.  “Bolt to the head.”)

Clearly they missed out on the part where horse slaughter was not, at that time, legal in the US — before their horse was “euthanized”, it rode many hours in an open air cargo van — perhaps one designed for horses, perhaps one designed for pigs or cattle — with no food or water, to reach a slaughter plant in Canada.  The horse may not have even reached the killing box and its captive bolt gun — it may have died along the way, kicked at the feedlot, crushed or trampled in the truck, or suffering from exposure or dehydration.

There is hope that things may be changing.  Recently, Congress has, without fanfare, quietly lifted a five-year-old ban on funding for inspection of horse meat, which indirectly paves the way for re-opening of domestic horse slaughter plants by providing for the inspection of meat produced at those plants.  There isn’t currently a budget for horse meat inspection, so the process might be slow, but people who have been witness to the issues surrounding the lack of appropriate facilities in the US are scrambling to get one going, to prevent trips like the one my acquaintance’s horse took.

The closure of domestic slaughter plants in 2007 has not resulted in a reduction of the amount of US horses being slaughtered.  They are simply being trucked over the border to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, doing nothing but adding a 24 to 72 hour trip in a packed cargo truck — here’s animal behaviorist and slaughter reformist Temple Grandin describing one version of that experience — to the doomed horses’ woes.

We certainly do need to alter a lot of things about the process that is allowing companion horses to be slaughtered for food — including providing education for horse owners, finding help for families who, through no fault of their own, can no longer support their animals, and initiating improvements in slaughter practices and how all slaughter plants (not just ones for horses) are run.  There are a lot of problems with this industry, in all countries (graphic link).  However, sending horses off to Mexico and Canada is not the answer.  Providing a good support network for distressed owners, increasing public education, and bringing the slaughter plants under USDA control won’t fix the problem, but would be a huge step in the right direction.

Why I Ate A Thanksgiving Turkey

I am not technically vegetarian; I consider myself a compassionate carnivore.  Alas, in this day and age, this results in essential vegetarianism unless I have personally bought the meat/eggs/milk involved.  It’s kind of nice, actually.  I don’t miss meat a lot, and it’s really helping on my diet.  However, this Thanksgiving I did help to dismember and consume a whole turkey as part of some quasi-traditional ritual much of the country seems to go through around this time.

First — since my mother-in-law is lucky enough to live in an area where she can essentially walk out of her house and meet the pasture-raised, humanely-treated turkey in question, she got a bird which had the kindest life anyone could have given it, and whose death was about as humane as it gets.  This qualifies, in my book, as humanely-raised meat.  The bird was appropriately “paid” for its efforts to the household — with food, water, shelter, medical care, and, in the case of this particular bird, even access to the outdoors and conspecifics.  We (via the farmer) gave the turkey a good life in return for several excellent dinners.

Second — we used the whole turkey.  Every little bit of meat, including giblets, bones, neck, bits, and pieces, got thrown into the stock pot and will be used to flavor soups, make noodles, etc., for the next several weeks.  Three families were fed by that bird.  Nothing was wasted, which is only appropriate when you are consuming something so important as another animal.  That turkey was not wasted.

Third — Thanksgiving, or, rather, a family get-together and overall bonding occasion, is not the point to stand up and grind it into people’s faces that their lifestyle choices disagree with yours.  I once had to put down a “vegetarianism for beginners” book which recommended that, when “thoughtlessly” offered meat at a restaurant, I essentially stand up, throw down my napkin, and rip the innocent waitperson a new orifice for daring to offer me animal flesh.  We are all imperfect, and shouting at people is a great way to guarantee they won’t be listening.  There are better times for these delicate, paradigm-rocking conversations.

During the holiday, I also consumed two pieces of not-at-all-humanely-raised sausage, because some poor pig (or, likely, between two and twenty pigs) died for that sausage, and it was going to be thrown away if someone did not eat it.  While I would prefer that humans in general not purchase or eat factory-farmed meat, if someone has purchased it, I would prefer that it not go to waste.  I consider it a crowning injustice to torment, damage, and otherwise torture a living animal only to toss the meat away at the end.  There’s probably another way to look at all this, but that’s how I’m looking at it right now.

Some meat I did not eat this holiday: The path to and from the mother-in-law’s passed a favorite restaurant of mine, at which I have not eaten in years, since long before my switch away from factory-farmed meat.  Despite a distinct fondness for their burgers, the great time which had passed since my last such experience, and the general inaccessibility of the restaurant to me these days, I could not justify the purchase or consumption of meat from that restaurant.  It would not be wasted if I did not eat it, and purchasing it would directly contribute to factory farming; so fries it was.  It wasn’t quite the same without a burger on the side, but I’d rather miss out on a meat patty than contribute to what usually happens to make a commercial, fast-food burger.

Vegetarian Vegetable Soup

Various health- and ethics-related events have combined to make me extremely interested in obtaining much of my nutrition from vegetable-based sources.  Finding foods which have no meat in them can be, as previously described, a frustrating endeavor.  Meat really is unbelievably pervasive.  Until you’re looking for it, you really don’t see how “everywhere” it is.

Recently I became aware of the existence of “vegetarian vegetable soup“.  It occurred to me, much belatedly as it turns out, to wonder why the manufacturer felt they had to make such a distinction.  Wouldn’t vegetable soup that has meat in it be labeled?  “Vegetable beef soup“, for instance?  Well, no.  Apparently, a lot of vegetable soup is made, at least partly, with chicken stock.  Or beef stock.  Or, as in my (previously) favorite soup, “beef stock”, “beef fat”, and “chicken fat”.

Apparently I am just late to the party and this is, and has always been, very common.  Here’s Martha Stewart doing it.  Some guy from the Food Network.  Emeril.  Here’s Wolfgang Puck at least suggesting you use (his) free-range chicken stock when you make your “vegetable” soup with meat.

I am trying to avoid eating factory-farmed animals.  Soup manufacturers are hiding them in my vegetable soup!  It’s not just Campbell’s, either — I don’t mean to pick on them.  I spent several minutes in my grocery store’s soup aisle turning over cans, and only the “vegetarian vegetable” soups, and one “vegetable” soup, did not feature animals or their derivatives in their ingredients.

I once ate at a steakhouse where meat was so pervasive it appeared in the salads and the vegetable side dishes as well.  The other day I ordered a “tomato and basil” soup which the waiter and the menu both forgot to mention contained large chunks of chicken.  Meat is everywhere!  I keep expecting to find meat in my toothpaste or my toilet paper.

Fortunately, I am not the only one who has noticed meat “hiding” in my food products.  The Carnivore’s Dilemma offers a hint for vegetarians and others looking for animal-free foods: look for the word “pareve” on the label, assuring those keeping kosher that the food contains neither dairy nor meat.  Cyberparent offers a handy list of euphemisms for meat-related products which may be appearing on an ingredients list near you.  And the Vegetarian Society works on “outing” badly-labeled products as well as offering a list of officially approved products which have been determined to be 100% animal-free.  They also have suggestions if you find a badly-labeled product and you’d like to do something about it.

A Meaty Amusement

image by Sarah Illenberger

Having gone to a slightly less meat-infused lifestyle, I find it more difficult than it used to be to order in restaurants.  I never realized how pervasive meat was until I tried to find a dish without any in it.

Not that any one restaurant seems to be worse than any other, here’s the lunch and dinner menu from Cracker Barrel.  Even just looking at the photos, everything has meat in it, even the salads (and, yes, the baked beans are made the old-fashioned way, with ham).  Only the desserts come without meat!

And here’s the menu from IHOP, one of my other favorites.  They’re a little better because of the preponderance of (generally meat-free) pancakes, but still — sausage, ham, bacon, eggs, steak, and the “Bacon-N-Beef Burger”, burger with bacon mixed in.

Also, when you order an entree without meat from most of my favorite restaurants, the waitress will ask you, as though you may have forgotten, “Did you want any meat with that?”  I know it’s a required upsell — meat is profitable for them — but sometimes it just sounds macabre!

Other times, the menus remind me strongly of the “Spam” Sketch from Monty Python.  “Meat, meat, meat, meat with beans, meat with rice, meat with potatoes, roasted meat, baked meat, boiled meat, sliced meat, curried meat, raw meat, burnt meat, meat salad, meat pie, meat omelet, meat stir fry, meat sandwich, meat fried rice, meat with more meat, meat with eggs, meat with bread, meat with sauce, meat with pasta…or Lobster Thermidor á Crevétte with a mornay sauce served in a Provençale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle paté, brandy and with a fried egg on top and meat.”