On eating meat and how it gets to our plates.

I wanted to write a bit about the slaughter and butchery stuff we’ve been doing at this host. I won’t get too graphic as I know plenty of readers are either not wanting to read this stuff because they are already vegan or vegetarian because they are not okay with eating animals or because they are meat eaters who are squeamish about the finer details. Personally I find it fascinating in just the same way as I want to see the tiny seeds that grow into carrots and understand just what happens to them inbetween being in a seed packet and cooked on my plate.

There is the argument that if you eat meat you should be perfectly prepared to kill it yourself. I know that some of my vegan friends feel that as they are not prepared to do that they don’t have the right to eat meat or indeed any animal products. I have a vegan friend who says that in a survival situation she would be prepared to do just that and eat an animal but as she doesn’t need to go to such extreme measures given the availability of alternative foods she’s not up for someone else doing it for her either. I have a lot of respect for that view even if I am as horrified by soya milk and cheezley as my vegan mate is by pork chops and lard!

My personal take on meat is that I really enjoy eating it. I like the taste and the texture and I am not grossed out by the idea of where it came from. I am grossed out by the dreadful conditions some animals are kept in and the way they are treated during their brief lives which are only brought into existance so that we humans can eat them, their children, or the produce we can take from though. I think meat, fish, dairy, eggs etc should be viewed as luxury food items; a true price paid for them and a far greater degree of responsibility taken for that by us, the people who are consuming them. I do have a conscience about how my meat is farmed, my fish is caught, my eggs are laid and my cows are milked. I want to know how it got to my plate, what happened to it on the way there and that if I have it’s blood on my hands I am fully educated on that and able to justify it to myself.

Animal rearing, killing and butchery was high on the list of things we all wanted to learn more about this year. We wanted to know more about our food generally and as big meat and animal produce consumers this was an important part of that. We are all keen to keep animals for produce and meat so we wanted to get educated in how to do that to the standards and ethics we are comfortable with and we wanted to know what process animals go through from birth to plate. So far we’ve not had much experience this year of the birth side of animal rearing but this current host is giving us plenty on the death and oven-ready end of things.

We have helped to select and transport animals for slaughter – sheep, pigs and calves; checking sex and whether they are lactating ewes, learning about the paperwork involved in moving animals about, what happens at the slaughterhouse, been involved in catching, killing and plucking chickens and turkeys here at the farm, helped with mincing meat, mixing sausage meat, soaking and preparing sausage skins, watched pigs and sheep and veal calves cut into joints and enjoyed eating all of the results.

We’ve talked around the topic with Dragon and Star before, after and during each step. I think it’s really important they witness all aspects but I don’t want to traumatise them or create a disturbing or haunting memory for them as a result. Below, in everyone’s own words is how each of us is feeling about what we have seen and done so far.

As a confirmed carnivore I was both keen to witness all of the above but also apprehensive about how it would make me feel. I don’t want to be hardened and uncaring about animals, neither do I want to put myself off food I really enjoy. In recent years I have become passionate about free range chicken and eggs, freedom food certification on meat, pole and line caught fish and other welfare related reassurances, paying more and reducing my consumption and placing a far greater value on the quality of the animals’ lives. I can justify value loo roll and baked beans, not value chicken breasts.

My overwhelming emotion on what we have experienced so far is relief I think. Relief that I am able to deal with the slaughter and butchering and therefore feel I have met my own personal code of conduct of feeling I can look my potential dinner in the eye. Relief that the slaughterhouse didn’t feel to me like some medieval torture chamber with terrified animals being put to their deaths in cruel and inhumane ways by bloodthirsty knife weilding types. Relief that free range poultry really do spend their days happily pecking around a yard behaving just like our rather indulged pet chickens at home until they are snatched from their night time roosts, stunned before they know what is happening and are oven ready in minutes with minimal fuss. Relief that the sausages I have been involved in making are using top quality meat rather than dodgy sweepings off a barn floor somewhere.

It would be really easy to be judgemental about people’s meat and animal produce consumption choices but I’m not going to be. I think everyone has their own personal level of what they can and can’t justify to themselves. For me, my standpoint is that eating meat is an active choice rather than a default and to justify that active choice I need to have certain checkpoints met. Quite apart from learning more about being able to make my consumption of animal produce even more in line with my ideals by doing as much of it ourselves as possible using the skills we are learning here I have been pleased to see that the checkpoints I was looking at theoretically sit well with me know they are more in my face.

I’ve been in slaughterhouses before and I think that working in an environment where your job is killing animals means you get de-sensitised to it (just like a soldier or a nurse) but I feel really passionate that animals should be respected and treated with compassion right to the end. I’ve not learnt or seen anything I had not seen before but it has further fired my desire to work in this sector and do things differently and my own way.

I was expecting animals being slaughtered to be a bit like when our cat was put to sleep and how zoo animals and animals on vet programs on TV are put down, with it being all calm but it wasn’t like that. The animals were herded into a pen and then zapped on the head by a stunner then hung up by their foot on a hang-y thing and lifted up, put into the place where they get killed and their neck gets cut, then they go to the next area where they are cut up for meat.
I didn’t think there would be an actual place to kill chickens and turkeys. We have killed our own chickens by snapping their necks but here they stunned them then slit their necks. I didn’t know you could get all special equipment just for killing chickens and turkeys (stunner, plucker etc.). The plucker is amazing. I knew that birds go from being alive to being dead and plucked really quickly.
I still like to eat meat but I feel much more respectful to it but I am happy about eating meat knowing all the processes it goes through.
I enjoyed doing the work in the butchery room, mincing meat, packing sausages and cuts of meat. I like handling meat, I know it is dead animal flesh and that is okay.

I found the abbatoir fine because I didn’t feel like I had seen an animal being killed as they were stunned before they were killed and I liked that they went from being walking around to being stunned and then were killed before they came round. Watching the chickens and turkeys was fine too. We have chickens at home and I know how much fuss they make just when people walk past them so the squwarking didn’t worry me as I know they make that sort of noise anyway. I didn’t think they were scared before they were killed and it was only a few seconds between being picked up and being stunned. I quite liked the process of getting them killed and then plucked and stuff so quickly.

When we were working in the cutting room with the meat although I knew it was a dead animal I was dealing with it felt like meat or food rather than animal then so I was fine handling the meat. I already knew that meat I eat was a dead animal and I really enjoy eating meat so it hasn’t changed how I feel about being a meat eater.