Tag Archives: musings

From Pasture To Plate In 0.06 Seconds

Popeye Explodes a Bull

I found this little gif interesting.  Is this humane slaughter?  It’s certainly extremely efficient.

Research to find the cartoon’s title tells me that this animation comes from an episode called “I Eats My Spinach”, which involves Popeye briefly engaging in a bullfight, with the ending pictured above.  However, the same research also leads to a synopsis of an episode called “Bulldozing the Bull” where Popeye refuses to attend a bullfight on ethical grounds — “It’s cruelty to aminals” — and later befriends the bull.

Nothing profound here, just a little glimpse of something.  Also, the one cut of kosher meat intrigues me.

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Sometimes I Know Too Much

Today, on my Facebook feed, amongst the photos of kittens with yarn and puppies adorably chewing their own feet, this photo of a pile of euthanized dogs wandered past:

source unknown

source unknown

It was accompanied by a bland but well-meaning glurge poem in which a dog wonders why it had to die despite solvable behavior problems.  Now, I completely agree that solvable behavior problems are no reason to drop your dog off at the shelter (I believe firmly in Not Shooting The Dog), but the poem, alas, misses the point: the horror of this photo does not lie solely in that there are dead dogs in it.  It lies at least partly in how they died: these poor things are in a gas chamber, and have just been gassed to death, likely with CO2.  This is the view the shelter technician saw upon opening the door afterwards.  (When this image is fed into Google image search, it turns up dozens of articles on gas chambers, and how horrible they are.)

That animals are euthanized at all, because people still view them as property, as a commodity, as something to be “dumped” when they become obnoxious or ill or old or inconvenient, is a terrible thing.  That animals are still “euthanized” by CO2 is an even more terrible thing.  The people spreading this photo are missing a huge opportunity to note that not only did these dogs die because people are occasionally irresponsible morons, they died in a terrible, awful, unbelievably frightening and ugly way.  (Click on that link, which contains video, at your peril.)  They were twice the victims of human carelessness: the first time by the actions of those who landed them in the shelter, and the second by the actions of those who thought “lowest cost” was the primary requirement when choosing a method of humane euthanasia.

This is one of those sad points where I have to give up and flail helplessly at the screen.  The words all mush together into one big AUGH.  I applaud the people trying to spread the word about what we are doing to our companion animals, and can’t fault them for their choice of photo.  I wish that the Machine wasn’t so huge that thinking about one part of it (“convenience dumping” of “excess” animals) didn’t lead to the discovery of another, equally awful part (“euthanasia” of dogs by CO2).  I think what is scaring me the most, right now, though, is that I know enough about the world to glance at this photo and immediately recognize it as a gas chamber rather than a freezer.  I’m glad I know about it — I’d rather know than not — but sometimes I miss the quiet-in-the-head of not knowing this is happening.  It was rather peaceful.

Charlie and the OMG Factory

I once heard it said that you would never eat a hot dog if you knew how it was made.

From Perry Bible Fellowship

From Perry Bible Fellowship

It’s interesting to me how little we talk about meat production.  You can’t find a lot of detail, honestly — and what detail you do find is not generally produced by “real” journalists, but by animal rights organizations, so there’s this tendency to dismiss it.  Mainstream journalism does not show you the killing floor.  We show World War II and the evening news but we just don’t mention to each other how sausage is made.

Isn’t this the kind of thing you’d want to know?  Don’t we want our kids to be informed consumers?  I ate hot dogs for *ahem* years before I found out — not what they’re made of, but how they kill the animals that go into them — I’m not sure at what age it would have been appropriate to explain the concept to me, but I strongly suspect I would have stopped eating hot dogs a lot earlier if someone had shown me what was going on.  All I saw growing up were watered-down, polite news stories, which had very little detail.  I got the vague feeling I wouldn’t like what I saw in there, but I never had the chance to see it, and I didn’t look into it in detail.  I grew up pre-internet — there wasn’t a lot of media available on the topic at the time.

It might also be argued that, when my grandparents bought sausage, the pig involved was personally slaughtered, as humanely as possible, in a low-volume slaughterhouse, and had likely spent a reasonably happy life in a grassy field, doing nothing much.  When my parents asked my grandparents how sausage was made, they got that story.  That’s the story that got passed on to me.  Meanwhile, out of everyone’s sight, technology was changing….

Maybe there ought to be school field trips, or contests — although I’d probably pass on having to yank a soggy “Bacon Ticket” from the inside of a sausage.  Clearly this needs to be a reality TV show.

There’s a lot more to this, of course, and I’m interested in whacking around the idea that constant exposure to this kind of thing renders it “normal”, and that’s why, say, cattle ranchers don’t understand why vegetarians are so squeamish about eating meat.  Moving past that idea…if exposure to it renders it “normal” — do we then want to tell people about it?  How do we tell people about it?  If we hear about it, in graphic detail, every day, will we still be as horrified, as motivated to act?

A Penny Arcade For Your Thoughts

I find that, in trying to make every post valuable, rational, and deep, I am not posting at all.  So, in the interest of keeping my brain cells active and ideas flowing, I will briefly digress and touch on some less intense topics.

In that vein, recently I was amused, and sobered, by a recent Penny Arcade comic:

Penny Arcade 1-14-13

It reminds me that, whatever else is going on and whatever might be confusing me at the moment, I should not lose sight of my goal.  I can’t be everywhere, do everything, or help everyone, or even know a fraction of what the hell is going on, but I can do at least my little part in helping individual pets at the shelter where I work, and educating people about what I’m able to know.

For those who did not know (like me), “Animal Cops” is a show (or possibly several shows) that follows people enforcing animal cruelty laws.

Shelter Stories

The man is clearly very sad to be leaving his dog at the shelter.  He is also clearly deaf.  His hearing friend and companion is comforting him with hand signs and hugs as he says goodbye to the little female long-haired Chihuahua, whose big, frightened eyes never leave his face.

His companion is filling out paperwork, explaining to the shelter personnel that they are moving, somewhere the dog is not welcome.  The dog is terrified, trying to hide behind the legs of both men, enclosed in an eerie circle of caged, staring shelter cats and their flat, yellow-eyed welcome.  The leash encloses legs like a hungry snake.

The deaf man catches the dog’s attention, leans down, and carefully makes a very clear signal several times with his hands.  The dog stares at him uncomprehendingly, but with every line of her body desperate to know what he wants.  Signal.  Signal.  Signal.  The dog vibrates with urgency.  What does he want??!?

She can’t obey him.  She doesn’t understand him.  He stops signaling — her desperation to understand him has at least stopped her getting underfoot.

His companion finishes the paperwork.  They lift the dog and hand her to a shelter worker, who gives her a sympathetic squeeze as she trembles.  The men start for the door, then the deaf man abruptly turns and gesticulates, mixed gesture-and-speech.  “She doesn’t….”

The shelter worker tries, but her look mirrors the dog’s.  “I’m sorry?”

Paper, a pen, a practiced search.  In big, careful letters, he writes: SHE DOESNT LIKE BISKTS on a post-it note.  He draws a little cartoon bone beneath: she does not like dog biscuits.  The shelter worker nods solemnly, points at the bone and shakes her head.  No biscuits.

Art: Humans as Meat

Today I encountered for the first time the work of artist Cang Xin.  According to his biography on the Saatchi Gallery, Xin “approaches his work as a means to promote harmonious communication with nature. His works have included bathing with lizards, adorning the clothing of strangers, and prostrating himself on icy glaciers: each act representing a ritual of becoming the other.”

Shamanism series, variation one, by Cang Xin, detail

On the topic of becoming the other I found interesting a small pencil triptych of his entitled the Shamanism Series.  The three images each feature dangling animal carcasses above lovingly rendered, disembodied, animal heads; the carcasses are interspersed with hanging, headless, male human torsos, strung up by one leg as if presented, along with the carcasses of the animals, for sale and consumption.  As you move through the triptych the carcasses do not significantly change in detail, but the heads do.  In the first image the heads are all animal (although there is one human foot present); in the second, there are two adult male heads with eyes closed; and in the third, three infantile human heads stare wide-eyed directly at the viewer.  Over the course of the viewing one is more and more directly confronted with the idea of humans as carcasses, humans as meat, humans as nothing more (or less) than the animals pictured around them.

What interests me most about this series of images is that, in endeavoring to transmit to the viewer the idea of humans as meat, the artist cannot bring himself to actually picture the humans as meat.  The animal carcasses are skinned, gutted, dismembered; the humans are missing only their heads, and occasionally their off legs.  They have not had their internal organs or skin removed; they have not had their hands and feet cut off; they are certainly not shredded like some of the animal parts.  They are not strung up by a hook under the Achilles tendon as are real meat animal carcasses, but instead suspended via ropes around the ankle.  The animals are as meat as it is possible to get; the humans are still very human-shaped.

I’m probably missing some deep symbolism here, and perhaps the art is about something entirely other (try as I might, I cannot find an artist commentary for the images).  Maybe it was just very, very difficult to find artist’s models for gutted human torsos (and that is a good thing).  Maybe properly dressed human carcasses did not look human enough to be identifiable, and did not completely make the artist’s point.  However, it really does interest me that in a series of images seemingly devoted to humans becoming the other, becoming the meat animals we consume, the artist could not quite bring himself to completely depict humans as meat.

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.

How It’s Made (Well, Partially Anyway)

From the “tactful omission of information” department:

The other day I was on Netflix, eagerly absorbing episodes of a show called How It’s Made, which is like little pieces of mind-candy — bite-sized nuggets of How They Make cast iron cookware, ketchup, swiss army knives, contact lenses…fascinating stuff.

In amongst these mostly neutral items are individual episodes which mention how they make things like pet food, hot dogs, deli sausage, fur coats, smoked ham, black pudding, and bacon.  To watch this show, none of these things seem to involve living animals in production — fur coats, for example, begin with a stack of tanned beaver pelts which apparently grow on trees or simply appear out of some other dimension.  Hot dogs begin with “trimmings”, the origin of which is not discussed in detail.  Hams “come from the hind leg of a pig”, but how they get them off the pig is not mentioned.  In the “pet food” episode, no meat is mentioned, until the very end where they mention that “animal fat” is sprayed on the (up til then) apparently completely vegetarian, wheat- and corn-based food “to make it palatable”.

I know the show isn’t about animal rights or animal welfare, and adding the bit about how they kill the pig/beaver/etc is extraneous to their message.  I just find it interesting (not bad, just interesting) how they gloss over the, er, “sticky” bits of information in their pursuit of a neutral-as-possible sound bite.

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.”

Cow Enters Rescue Group’s Monkeysphere

A little while ago I posted about the Monkeysphere, and how there is a maximum number (Dunbar’s number) of social relationships that social animals (including humans) can simultaneously maintain.  If a person (or animal) is outside your monkeysphere, you do not view him/her/it as a social companion, and may find it difficult to generate empathy for him/her/it.

Here’s an example of that happening now.  Bavaria (like other countries) sends, probably, hundreds of thousands of cows to the slaughterhouse annually, but here’s a group frantically trying to save one loose, wandering cow.

It’s not that I disagree with the idea — and, from a fundraising point of view, it makes a lot of sense.  Having a name and a face on your campaign will definitely help raise money.  “We’re trying to save Yvonne!” will get more people interested in your cause than “We’re trying to save 100,000 anonymous cows!”  It’s just a fascinating example of the Monkeysphere in action.  Yvonne entered these people’s monkeysphere, and suddenly they can see her as a social companion, and suddenly it becomes worth purchasing not only her, but a former “stall mate” of hers, as well as mobilizing search and rescue units on all-terrain vehicles, to rescue her.

The other cows in Yvonne’s herd?  Too many faces — won’t fit in the monkeysphere.  Off they go.

(Not saying anything bad or good here.  We all do our best with what we have.  The rescue certainly cannot take in 100,000 cows every year, and Yvonne will definitely help them with their mission, benefiting the other cows indirectly by being their “ambassador”.  There’s no right or wrong here.  Just…pausing to look at the world as it goes by.)

(On  a similar note, this article “introducing you to the truck driver you just flipped off” is trying to get you to add truck drivers, in general, to your monkeysphere in order to get you to empathize with them and reduce incidents of road rage.  Did it work?)