As I write, two animals are eagerly looking at me, fully aware that, the moment I get up, a delectable dinner of rice and beef will be served. I know for a fact these two spoiled scoundrels have desires, expectations, feelings of love, disappointment, jealousy – in brief, they possess a consciousness of sort. Even under the direst of circumstances, I can’t imagine ever being able to eat them, mainly because, in my mind, I humanized them enough to consider them part of my family.
And yet, I merrily eat cows, chickens, all manners of fowl, occasionally calf and even rabbit that, let me assure you, when roasted whole in a pan still looks like the cuddly pet that it can be, minus the ears and fur but with legs still poised for sprinting.
For fifteen years of my life, I chose to be a vegetarian, partly because of an innate aversion to meat and partly because I was having a hard time reconciling with the idea of animals killed for my sustenance. Then, one night, sitting at the counter of Lucques in Hollywood, I saw a fellow diner eating prosciutto and my taste buds, lacking sight but fully equipped with memories of childhood sandwiches of soft bread and prosciutto, demanded to be titillated. Under the incredulous gaze of the girlfriends I was dining with, I ordered and meticulously devoured an entire plate of jamon serrano, thus ending a chronic battle with anemia and opening my body to meat proteins once again.
Older and wiser (and still an ambivalent carnivore), and, above all, a savvier shopper, my relationship with meat was still fraught with unresolved issues. Antibiotics became my pet peeve, convinced as I am that worldwide resistance to antibiotics is caused by our ingesting meat pumped with them (medical research supports such a conviction). This, in turn, led to questioning why antibiotics are needed in such large amounts to begin with – could it be that animals, pigs especially, are kept in such tight quarters, leading to unsanitary conditions? The probing can become the untangling of a Russian doll but, to this day, if the server in a reputable restaurant cannot tell me where the meat on my plate comes from, I will not order it (much to the dismay and embarrassment of friends and family who, in a futile effort to distance themselves from me, stick their noses deep in the menus and avoid eye contact).
Widespread reportage of inhumane conditions in poultry coops made the demand for cage free eggs spike, forcing companies such as McDonald’s to purchase cage free eggs and chickens, creating a cascading effect on other chains.
What troubles me, these days, is how the animals that are raised for no other reason than to satisfy the carnivorous gluttony of the Western world, are killed.
We descend from a species that hunted the animals that would keep them alive. The process evolved into farm animals being raised to till the land and eventually slaughtered for a myriad of purposes, including cooking – no part of an animal was ever wasted and the farmer had too much respect for the animals he raised to condemn them to a painful death. Until, that is, industrial farming became the norm and disproportionate numbers of cattle, pigs and chickens are now processed on a daily basis in merciless slaughterhouses, so that you and I can reach for cutlets, steaks and drumsticks neatly packaged, with not a drop of blood in sight.
Every meat consumer should be aware of how animals are killed, how they are forced into mazes or on conveyor belts that lead to electrocution (for chickens) or a metal spear in their heads (cows). The process is mechanized and far from accurate, often leaving the animals alive and in indescribable pain. Different choices can be made – for instance, there is a painless gassing process for chickens, but large plants will not consider it until enough awareness is created and consumers start demanding humanely killed steaks.
As pet owners, collectively we spend billions of dollars to feed, care for and even accessorize our dogs and cats and iguanas but then we treat pork chops as if they were a box of cereal. Animals raised for the enjoyment of Sunday barbecues should be treated with more thoughtfulness and respect.