Last year, in November of 2016, I was part of a campaign to oppose and protest a “humane slaughter” workshop in my town of Asheville, NC. The class, held annually at Wild Abundance, a local “primitive skills” and “sustainability” learning center, is called The Cycles of Life: Humane Slaughtering and Butchery, and is described as teaching students “how to kill a sheep… in a sacred way… honoring the life of animals who feed us.”
The class is led by two local slaughter instructors, Natalie Bogwalker, founder of Wild Abundance, and Meredith Leigh, a.k.a. the #EthicalButcher, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook.
“Humane.” “Ethical.” “Sacred.” “Honoring.” By the language, you could almost be fooled into thinking that this is some sort of life-saving animal rescue workshop. But all of these benevolent— heroic, even— descriptors are just so much self-congratulatory rhetoric trotted out to obfuscate the true nature of a class in which individuals are pinned to the ground and have their throats slit open while still fully conscious, and a “sacred circle” of paying participants watch as the helpless animal bleeds to death. In her Ethical Meat Handbook, Meredith Leigh even goes so far as to compare slitting the throat of an unconsenting animal to the imagined rhapsodies of having her own throat “lovingly cut” by a dear friend or family member, who, you know, may one day decide they would just like to kill and eat her, too:
“If, when my time comes, someone lays me down in green grass and soothes my body, and someone I love then lovingly cuts my throat, and my blood runs into the grass and fertilizes the soil, and my body is used for food and necessity, I could handle that.”
Both last year and this year, I watched as the actual victims of this class were completely erased from the conversation by the performative martyrdom of both slaughter instructors in response to vegan opposition: with Natalie Bogwalker ceaselessly plying the media with photos of herself and her new baby “under attack” by militant vegans, and Meredith Leigh, whose public instagram and facebook are filled with celebratory photos of the body parts of animals she and others have literally bullied to death, launching a #stopveganbullying hashtag campaign to defy all logic.
It is very difficult for me to write about this stuff. It is profoundly demoralizing and despair-inducing, on a level I have seldom, if ever, experienced elsewhere. But I mean to write more soon, when I can find the right words. In the meantime: the next “humane” sheep slaughter class happens on Saturday, November 4th. For anyone who may have lost sight of the actual victims of this class, and of “humane slaughter” and “ethical meat” messaging generally, I believe these photos from a “humane” sheep slaughter demonstration, and this video by a “humane slaughter” expert, speak for themselves. They are followed by an explanation of the ways I believe “humane farming and slaughter” actually entrench and perpetuate the system of industrial farming and killing that “humane” proponents claim to oppose.
“Humane Slaughter” Expert Demonstrates Killing a Sheep
Photos from Another “Humane” Sheep Slaughter Demonstration
Why Don’t You Go After Factory Farming? That’s the Real Enemy!
In our campaign to oppose this “humane slaughter” workshop last year, “ethical meat” supporters regularly made claims like, “Why don’t you go after factory farms? These folks are on your side!” But that is incorrect: firstly, because we are on the “side” of the actual individual victims. Secondly, although proponents like to position “humane farming/slaughter” as an ethical alternative to factory farming and the horrors of industrial killing, the truth is that small-scale and so-called humane farming and slaughter operations actually entrench and perpetuate the worst commercial practices.
The main reason that abuse and torture of animals happens on commercial farms is not because factory farming is corrupt (which it is). It is not because Big Ag execs are greedy (which they are), or because factory farm workers are often desensitized (they are), though all of these are factors. But the most important reason that abuse and torture of farmed animals happens is that consumers, including “humane meat” customers, are sending the message that it is morally acceptable to exploit and kill animals for profit and palate pleasure. (The human species has no biological requirement for animal products.)
You cannot inflict, or pay people to inflict, unnecessary violence on animals, and then make the case that those animals should not experience unnecessary suffering. It is a morally inconsistent, and therefore ignorable, position, one that is easy for producers and most consumers to dismiss. Because if animals’ lives don’t even matter enough for us to spare them when we have access to plentiful food alternatives, then on what grounds could their suffering possibly be said to matter?
As long as we’re willing to treat sentient individuals as units of production, and numb ourselves to the fact that we are inflicting gratuitous violence and death, then we’re doing nothing more than reifying the basic precepts of factory farming: that animals’ lives have no intrinsic worth, and that it is okay to exploit and kill them even when doing so is completely unnecessary to our survival.
As historian James McWilliams has written:
“Supporting alternatives to the industrial production of animal products serves the ultimate interest of industrial producers. The decision to eat animal products sourced from small, local, and sustainable farms might seem like a fundamental rejection of big business as usual. It is, however, an implicit but powerful confirmation of the single most critical behavior necessary to the perpetuation of factory farming: eating animals. So long as consumers continue to eat meat, eggs, and dairy — even if they are sourced from small farms practicing the highest welfare and safety standards — they’re providing, however implicitly, an endorsement of the products that big agriculture will always be able to produce more efficiently and cheaply. And thus dominate.”
And again, elsewhere:
“In all my thinking and writing about meat production, there’s no point I believe more strongly than this one: As long as we eat meat, factory farms will be the dominant mode of production. In other words, as long as humans deem it culturally acceptable to consume animal flesh — that is, as long as eating meat is an act that’s not considered taboo — factory farms will continue to proliferate. The reason for this strikes me as intuitive: An unfettered demand for meat, in conjunction with basic human choice, provides political, technological, and scientific incentives to produce meat as efficiently as possible. Unless you have a plan to displace capitalism, density of production will rule, [and] billions of animals will suffer…”
Finally, as my friend and fellow protester of last year’s class, Justin Van Kleeck, has written: “Just as we should not stroll past our neighbor kicking his dog on our way to a puppy mill protest, we should not overlook the terrible violence happening on small (“humane” “family” “sustainable”) farms for the sake of fighting “factory farming”. We have just as much moral obligation to that one sheep or those few hens in the yard next door as we do to the billions of individuals crammed into cages, crates, and sheds.”
In the near future I will expand this post to reflect on my experience opposing this “humane slaughter” class last year, and will then address the myriad manipulations, misinformation, and dishonest deflections that largely derailed our campaign. Until then, to the true victims of this class— to the gentle animal or animals who will bleed to death on Saturday under the banner of being “honored” and “ethically” assaulted and obliterated— I am sorry. I am sorrier than I can say.