The tragedy of happy meat

Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

If you’re familiar with the Onion, you know it’s the print and online precursor to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Fake news, heavy on satire. That’s not to say that people, including high-profile people–heck, including entire governments–haven’t been taken in by Onion “reporting.” More on that in a moment, when we end up back at the Onion by way of a pig named Eddie, now deceased.

Our local, alternative weekly paper recently carried a personal essay on “Responsible Meat: A lesson from a pig called Eddie.” In it, the author told of her epiphany upon learning about factory farms when she thumbed through a book called “CAFO: The tragedy of industrial animal factories” (check out its fantastic website).   

That put the kibosh on industrially-produced meat, where the greatest amount of suffering and pollution are crammed into the least amount of space for cost efficiency, and where the circumstances of an animal’s slaughter really don’t matter for the same reason. The author opted not to forego eating meat, but to instead purchase a piglet she named Eddie. A piglet who was sweet, who liked belly scratches, treats, and affection. An intelligent pig. Eddie would provide happy meat, because Eddie would live a happy life. Eddie’s meat would be socially responsible meat, because it circumvented the suffering and pollution.

Long story short, Eddie’s “job on earth was nearly complete” when he reached 250 pounds.  Sadly, these words simply reflect the speciesist attitude that defines the status quo bottom line: treated well or treated badly, animals are nothing more than commodities for human use and consumption. Their “job”–even those with whom we develop personal relationships–is to fulfill our desires and appetites. You can read the maudlin part for yourself, wherein Eddie is thanked and shown respect and gets whacked. Some tears are shed and, one assumes, some responsible bacon is eventually fried.

The author seems earnest enough when she proudly takes responsibility for the meat on her table and credits the dead pig for helping her in her “journey as both a meat eater and an animal lover.”  In the end, it really is all about us, isn’t it. But what might Eddie have preferred? Thanks, respect, and a bullet of betrayal–or to continue living his life? Why is it so hard to understand that sentient animals–all of us–value our lives? That you’ve been thanked and never saw it coming just doesn’t seem like a square deal.

So imagine my glee at subsequently finding an article about humane meat in the Onion! The glee wasn’t long-lived, however, as I soon realized that this article was really just telling the truth. See, it’s just that the truth about so-called food animals–hidden from view as it is–is so freakin’ outrageous that it appears ironic and exaggerated when dispassionately revealed. Entitled “We Raise All Our Beef Humanely On Open Pasture And Then We Hang Them Upside Down And Slash Their Throats,” it comprises paragraph after paragraph in this, uh, vein:

As owner and president of Nature’s Acres and a lifelong rancher myself, let me assure you that our animals are treated with exceptional care using only traditional methods from the very second the calf is born on our farm, to the moment a cascade of blood showers from its gaping, half-severed neck, to the day our award-winning beef reaches the grocer’s case in the organic section.

Ha ha! I’m fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up” when discussing the forehead-slapping excesses of Homo sapiens’ normalized malevolence toward animals. The Onion merely shows that you don’t have to make stuff up–just tell it like it is. Do it on a satire site and it’ll even be funny!

Question is, will anyone fall for it?
Coming to bookstores in June: The Ultimate Betrayal: Is there happy meat? 
Also: What’s wrong with happy meat? at Animal Blawg; and Further thoughts on happy meat

11 Responses

  1. “. . . Homo sapiens’ normalized malevolence toward animals.”

    Yes. Of course, the “humane” animal-killer/-eater regards the malevolence as benevolence — and the betrayal as respect — when he slices a sweet friend’s throat with one hand while patting himself on the back with the other.

    Blawg readers may not have seen James McWilliams’ Eating Plants post — and the comments underneath it — on the Onion’s Nature’s Acres satire:

  2. I’m not quite convinced that the “book called “CAFO: The tragedy of industrial animal factories” (check out its fantastic website).” is all that great. One of the statements on that website says: “This does not mean we have to embrace a vegan society or renounce animal food products of all kinds.” While the information there can be useful…the conclusions reached are less than compassionate.

  3. […] Full story […]

  4. I was glad to see the Onion pick this up…however the Onion has been poking fun at domestic abuse and violence against women lately, which is horrendous and they completely lost my support.

  5. Throughout the years I’ve come to understand that people jump to the happy-meat conclusion because they haven’t the ability to think independently beyond the indoctrination of flesh, blood and bone that MUST be included on their plates. They are just stuck in their childhood homes, at their mom’s table and the notion of “doing without” is totally alien to them. I don’t even think it crosses their minds that there is a third choice beyond sad/happy meat.

    No wonder why books like CAFO offer that easy out solution for them. Make the lives prettier and then the killings become rationalized as a fair exchange so they don’t have to challenge themselves… They need not ever pry themselves from the habits that generations before burdened them with. No matter how ugly – Happy meat means they never have to face the fact that it is. Ahhhh…. Rose-colored bliss! And poor Eddie’s of the world that suffer because of it. 😦

  6. I’m a vegetarian but realize this…….there is no way on gods green earth we are going to turn more then a small fraction of people into non meat eaters. If you love animals think deeply about this because this is a much better life then CAFO. Get real and support the next best thing. Cause honey….when we aren’t supporting better farming practices the pain and torture is on our hands.

  7. Hi Amanda – I understand why you’d think that only a small portion of people would be willing to treat other animals justly. I’m assuming that since you call yourself a vegetarian you yourself aren’t quite willing thus far to give (some) cows and (some) hens a place of higher consideration. Not doing so might make it easier for you to think that other people wouldn’t make the effort either. And perhaps you are right… But following are the reasons I fight for an end to all animal use and oppression.

    I don’t believe there are “better” farming practices to be had. Not for the majority of life treated as a commodity. It’s just not economically practical that such a system (free range, grazing, access to fresh air, ability to experience natural desires, etc.) would ever be more than a very small niche market. Because of financial interests there will always be a race to the bottom. So still, the majority of beings would exist and perish in absolute misery. There is no “better” way to “use” and take another’s life there are only ways that make (some) people feel better about the harms inflicted.

    And without getting into a long debate about sustainability growing animals for food is simply not sustainable. Because meat is so environmentally damaging we will have to find alternative diets just to manage feeding the world. As it is the small bit of water/land on Earth is already being fought over. Raising animals for food is just one of the most wasteful future scenarios there is. We will run out of the “excess” it takes to “grow others” simply to nourish ourselves. Then there’s also the damage to the environment via the methane/greenhouse gasses due to billions of “extra” belching/farting/pooping creatures. That’s not a future that points to our survival but our own self destruction.

    I’m also going to point out an even briefer mention of the human health implications and improvements in a plant based diet… There simply is no argument here – We can, do and will thrive without the consumption of animal flesh.

    I also don’t agree with you that only a “small fraction of people” are ever going to change. Honestly I have much more confidence in our species to know that indeed we can rise to meet the challenges that a vegan world presents us with. I don’t think a smart culture would want to condemn itself forever to the conflicts that killing animals presents. It’s nasty businesses and the more we progress the more we understand how ugly it really is. In a very selfish sense I think man likes his world trouble free. There’s simply NO WAY the killing of sentient others will ever fit our desires for an easy conscience. Eventually as a civilized species we WILL run out of rationalizations.

    I know that from your POV a future where a majority of people don’t eat other animals isn’t feasible. I totally disagree. I believe that in time these ideas and many more will encourage people to opt out of the old (dead and destructive) ways. I see a future where our society and evolved culture will not tolerate the burdens that growing/killing/eating animals present. There are people who on the way will drag their feet and point out all the other “better” things we can do to continue stuck in the past… I can’t change their stubborn reluctance – I probably can’t raise enough of their enthusiasm to insist on fairness to all living beings — But I’d betray everything I know I owe them if I fought for anything less than their total, uncompromised liberation. And I plan to do that in spite of all the nay-sayers in the world. Just because a goal is difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and isn’t worthy of dedicated pursuit. Others may shuffle and bend the virtues of extending fairness to all. But in the meantime there is a growing number who refuse to take their eyes off the prize… And I’m forever grateful and inspired by them… Because that’s exactly what I intend to do as well – Till it’s done.

  8. You are very optimistic considering the state of the world but I hope you are right. In the meantime I will promote what many would consider the next best thing to not eating meat. Certified Humane labeled products only. Of course it will be harder for low income people to buy when they can feed an entire family for $10. In poverty people think about feeding there family not the suffering of animals but I’m sure you are aware of this. Lets hope for the best.

  9. IMO we will have too many people on this earth to sustain any kind of food system….and we are running out of time to evolve

  10. Hi Amanda – As far as families on a limited budget – You are talking to me and mine! I live on a fixed (low) income. It’s a challenge but not impossible to make food-dollars stretch while eschewing animal products. There’s no reason why a plant based diet has to be expensive. Whole foods, vegetables and beans are not pricey! The most “expensive” thing I purchase are nuts and I get them on sale when I can… Other than that it actually is MORE THRIFTY to eat plant based foods than not.

    There’s a lot of problems with “Certified Humane”. First off most of these systems aren’t even regulated by any one other than the farmer/rancher themselves.

    Take for instance the case of “free range” eggs. Sure hens “may” have access to the outdoors — IF they manage to negotiate their way through thousands of other birds in the same warehouse. And IF the farmer has the door(s) open that day. It’s up to his discretion and he can keep the outside closed for a hundred different reasons.

    The other point I’d like to make about “humane” begins with what the meaning of the word is. From Webster’s New World Dictionary
    Hu·mane / hyoomáyn / adj. 1. having what are considered the best qualities of human beings; kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, compassionate.

    Does the orchestrated, for-profit-killing of sentient beings fit what is kind or merciful? Of course not! This is most importantly why “Certified Humane” is a myth. Again… These are labels that twist and warp the truth to make consumers feel falsely good about their choices. I’m not joining in on their cover-up of reality.

    Lastly, I believe there IS enough for everyone many times over. I do see an abundant world that can sustain us all in peace, health and harmony — I just don’t think it’s possible while we remain in the trappings of using others for our own ends. I don’t mean to over-quote Einstein but I firmly believe in what he had to say regarding man’s survival:

    “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

  11. One person’s self-sufficency is another person’s sin.

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