Animal Liberation Victoria has released powerful new footage from their Animals Are Not Ours memorial, a public demonstration in Melbourne in which 200 activists cradled the bodies of dead animals obtained from slaughterhouses, shelters, and other sources. As activists held the animals, they stood facing a tombstone which read: “In Memory of the Unknown Animal” and which commemorated the 64 billion land animals and 1 trillion marine animals killed for food globally each year. The tribute has an emotional effect on passersby, to whom it seems to pose the question: which lives are grievable, and why? How do we decide that only some lives possess inherent worth?
I am reminded of an essay I recently read which also powerfully explores these questions. Here is an excerpt:
“You end up at the back of the grocery store, near the meat counter. Displayed before you are all the wares of the butcher’s trade, all the prime cuts of meat. On the left are the T-bone steaks; to the right is all the ground beef. In front of you are some ribs; next to them are some chicken breasts. On the corner of the display is the lobster tank, where, out of the dozens in it, you can pick out your own lobster to take home. You look at this sight, with people picking their way through all these products, figuring out which will make the best dinner. And suddenly, the scene in front of you shifts. No longer are you seeing normal products of everyday existence. In front of you is the violent reality of animal flesh on display: the bones, fat, muscles, and tissue of beings who were once alive but who have been slaughtered for the parts of their body. This scene overtakes you, and suddenly you tear up. Grief, sadness, and shock overwhelm you, perhaps only for a second. And for a moment you mourn, you mourn for all the nameless animals in front of you.
Those of us who value the lives of other animals live in a strange, parallel world to that of other people. Every day we are reminded of the fact that we care for the existence of beings whom other people manage to ignore, to unsee and unhear as if the only traces of the beings’ lives are the parts of their bodies rendered into food: flesh transformed into meat. To tear up, or to have trouble functioning, to feel that moment of utter suffocation of being in a hall of death is something rendered completely socially unintelligible. Most people’s response is that we need therapy, or that we can’t be sincere. So most of us work hard not to mourn. We refuse mourning in order to function, to get by. But that means most of us, even those of us who are absolutely committed to fighting for animals, regularly have to engage in disavowal.
… However, disavowing the life of another (and being unable to mourn always disavows the life as such) does not just cede the one whom you care for into social unintelligibility, but also cedes part of yourself into social unintelligibility. A part of you becomes unreal and ghostly. The connections we make with others are what give us livable lives; denying those connections renders our lives less livable. Mourning is a way of making connections, of establishing kinship, and of recognizing the vulnerability and finitude of the other. The protocols that refuse to recognize our mourning refuse all sorts of tangible, social intelligibility. Mourning is stitched to questions of what and who gets to count…”
— James Stanescu, from “Species Trouble: Judith Butler, Mourning, and the Precarious Lives of Animals”
2016 UPDATE: The National Animal Rights Day is working to bring these animal memorial demonstrations to 15 new cities in North America in 2016. These demonstrations, in which peaceful activists publicly mourn the lives of the billions of animals needlessly killed for humans each year, have touched so many people and planted so many seeds. Please consider giving to their fundraiser if you can in any amount at: https://www.givinggrid.com/NARD/ Fundraiser ends Friday, April 15.
Learn more about animals used for food.