“MEAT IS MURDER...!”
AND HOW TO BE ONE
Andrew Darlington gave up eating meat five years ago.
(This feature originally published in 1999, and appears
here in its original form). Are YOU still a Meathead?
Why are Veggies on a demographic roll? Who says
by the middle of the next century we could all be Veggie?
Who are the radical outer fringes of the Paramilitary
Provisional Wing of the Vegetarian Society?
And what is the hideous secret behind... Jelly Babies????
“Believe me. Sooner or later all pigs get eaten.
That’s the way the world works...”
Fly the Sheepdog to Babe the Sheep-pig (‘BABE’)
MEAT IS MURDER.
The ad on the hoarding shows a cutely loveable little calf. And the cutely loveable little calf is saying ‘WHEN I’M A BURGER, I WANT TO BE WASHED DOWN WITH IRN-BRU’. Is that sick in the Benetton shock-outrage strategy of sick? Or is that inspired copywriting? Calves grow up to be cows. Cows become burgers. We know that. But we don’t want to be shown. We don’t want to be faced with the reality of it. Well – not quite so graphically anyway.
“To me, to eat meat would be like eating the flesh of a new-born baby” explains editor-publisher Michael Butterworth, forking Veggie tagliatelle in an alcove of the ‘Pig And Drum’ off Deansgate, Manchester. A friend, a lifetime veggie – and vegan too, we talk it over before I too quit my carnivore habits. “As soon as people find out you’re veggie they seem to feel the need to explain themselves. They go ‘Well – I don’t eat MUCH meat, to be honest. Only at weekends.’ Or ‘I only eat WHITE meat.’ Or ‘Sometimes I get a Margherita pizza instead of Meat-Feast’. I mean – hey, I don’t care. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. Don’t dump your guilt on ME. It’s as though deep deep down inside there’s something that’s telling them that YOU have the moral high-ground. That deep deep down inside they know that there’s something faintly obscene about meat. They know it. And they feel the need to apologise for it...”
I’d been tempted before by the idea. But then, why the hell? there’s no real reason, is there? I enjoy food. I love eating. And what do Veggie’s get? Go to most restaurants and that option with the Green Tick comes down to a meat-free Lasagne hidden away at the bottom of the menu, and that’s it! And even morally – everything on the planet eats something else. The world is an orgy of mutual cannibalism and always has been. Life is no respecter of life. Was it William Burroughs, Philip K Dick or Mick Farren who said ‘Life don’t give a rat’s arse who lives it’? Whoever it was, I second that emotion. And just how far down the food-chain can you go anyway? No-one talks about rights for slugs, woodworms and bacteria – do they? It’s not even as though the major religious belief systems condemn meat eating, except perhaps those that subscribe to the idea of some kind of reincarnation, in which case you have a certain vested interest in not eating something that you might later be incarnated as. There might be six million Veggie adherents of the Jain sect in India who refuse to eat anything after nightfall for fear of accidentally swallowing some living thing. But to most everyone else ‘god’ gave the animals of the field to us as a kind of four-legged larder. Cut here. Chew on this bit. It’s convenience food at its most convenient.
Then my daughter, Susan, quit eating meat. And a gesture of solidarity was called for. No, not that either. It was more a put up or shut up to myself. So – from New Year 1994, no more meat.
“The problem is, most people have never even seen a chicken that’s not plucked, frozen, and lying in the freezer with its legs in the air. When you buy your meat you steer that trolley with the misaligned front wheel to the Supermarket chiller cabinet where what you’re buying is just another item from a range of hygienic shrink-wrapped consumables. It’s just another product. It’s in no obvious way different to buying a packet of Honey-Nut Cornflakes or a Toilet Duck. It’s a Silverside or it’s a Sirloin, it’s not a bit of a dead animal. It’s not something that’s been cut from the corpse of a living being. I suppose way down you know. But on the surface it’s not something that’s immediately obvious”, a reflective pause. Ritchie is a musician, keyboardist with some bands you’ve probably heard of, and some you haven’t. He quit meat long before I did. It was Hey, a life-style thing! Know-what-I-mean?
“As a kid growing up through the late-1950s in Hull I remember there was a butchers on the corner of Whitefriargate where as a part of the display outside they’d festoon beheaded pheasants, unplucked with their feathers and everything intact. But where the heads had been they’d fix little cups on wires to catch the steady drip of blood. Except the cups were never quite big enough. They’d overflow and they’d drip down onto the pavement below where they’d form little rivulets of blood that ran down across the pavement and into the gutter. This is true. As a kid, hanging onto me Mam’s hand, I’d walk along that stretch of pavement carefully jumping over those little forking streams of pheasant-blood. And no-one thought twice about it then. I’d hazard a guess that opinion has changed slightly across the years since, people wouldn’t like that now, something like that would no longer be quite so acceptable. People eat meat. People enjoy eating pheasant in exactly the same way they did then. But they’d prefer not to know the precise details of how exactly it arrived on their plate...”
Performance Poet Nick Toczek does a routine about how he gave up eating meat. About the withdrawal symptoms that followed his decision. About walking through the precinct past McDonalds and being assailed by the seductive aroma of flame-grilled burgers. About almost giving in. ‘Hey, just one won’t hurt, will it? If no-one’s watching and I sneak in for just one Quarter Pounder McWhopper? Where’s the damage?’
It’s five years since I gave up eating meat. Five years since I made that decision. And I can honestly say I’ve never had any retrograde tendencies. Yet. Never had the slightest back-sliding ‘Hey – no-one’s looking, just one burger won’t hurt’ lapse back into carnivorism. Yet.
“The day may come when the rest of animal creation may
acquire those rights which could never have been withholden
from them but by the hand of tyranny... the question is not
‘Can they reason?’ Nor ‘Can they talk?’ But ‘Can they suffer?’”
(Jeremy Bentham, 19th Century philosopher)
“There’s a very good argument for saying that eating other animals has been beneficial for people in the evolutionary sense.” Ritchie again, owl-eye glasses, and his long straggling hair slightly receding at the front. He’s getting a little more philosophical now, to a background of pre-release studio electronics. “Go back some millions of years. Watch the herbivores out on the great African savannahs. They spend every available moment of every day just eating. They have to do that. Only by eating continually do they get enough of the vital nutrition they need to stay alive. Then look at the predators. It’s the lions and tigers and stuff which lie around basking in the sun, frolicking and grooming themselves. Then once in a while they go out and kill something – a gazelle or a wildebeest, and they eat it. They get in that one neat package all the nutrients it’s taken that gazelle all day to eat! It’s energy-efficient. It’s a bit messy, all that blood and intestines and shit, but it’s convenient.”
“On that far-distant day in pre-prehistory when Fred Flintstone quit eating nuts and berries and went out trapping mastodons and sabre-tooth tigers or whatever it was, it was an important step forward. Between meals of concentrated dead-animal nutrition they could use all that extra spare time to sit around inventing things. Useful things like art, mathematics, nationalism, warfare, cities, religion, CD’s, genocide – stuff like that. And you have to consider that, at that time, the world was one vast wilderness of wildlife, a global safari-park, with tiny pockets of humans competing as just one minority species against continent-wide masses of other and often better-survival-equipped species. In a way, it was OK. It was Tarzan. It was one-on-one. And it continued that way, basically, through much of recorded history. Human expansion was slight, population expansion got regularly pruned back by wars, disease and famine. The graph of human proliferation stayed pretty much horizontal. That didn’t change significantly until the introduction of things like industrialisation, hygiene, medicine, sanitation, inoculation – and suddenly that population graph goes from the horizontal to the near-vertical.”
“It’s different now. It really is. Today we’ve got a situation where the world is one vast city with tiny safari-park pockets of wildlife surviving because we allow them to survive. Wildlife now survives on human whim. And it’s surviving precariously. It’s not Tarzan anymore. The old traditions of murderous manliness no longer add up. It’s not a macho-hunter thing to eat a steak cut from the body of a cow that’s been force-reared and shot full of growth hormones in some huge ‘Animal Belsen’ meat-factory. Killing animals is no longer a big-shot thing. At the start of this century William F ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody was a big hero figure because he killed something like eight-hundred buffaloes in a single day. That was seen as admirable. In popular fiction – like Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Lost World’ (1912), the Big-Game Hunter Lord John Roxton is seen as being heroic because of all the elephants and tigers he’s shot. But now, people no longer see it that way. Nowadays, people like Buffalo Bill would be seen as walking eco-disaster areas. They’d be the villains, the bad guys pitted against the conservationist good guys. Killing animals is no big deal.”
“You can argue that the creatures which will be allowed to survive into the next century and beyond will be only those creatures that we need to survive because we consume them, as human world-population – now tipping seven-billion, reaches crisis-point. You can argue that the survival of pigs, cows, sheep and chickens will be assured because they’re useful. We eat them. If you can get badgers, stoats and weasels shrink-wrapped and into the hypermarket chiller cabinets then you could cross them off the endangered-species lists and get them into the food-factories instead. You can argue it that way. You really can... or you can say instead that sure, meat-eating was an important and justifiable part of human evolution. But we know better now. We’ve grown beyond that. We know all about nutrition. We know all about alternative sources of protein which are just as nourishing and just as good to eat. Unlike cutely loveable little calves, soya-based Veggie-Burgers don’t mind being fried, or washed down with or without Irn-Bru. And they don’t involve the mass wide-scale suffering and holocaust-slaughter of millions of animals. Of other sentient beings.”
But now, at century’s end, and a step beyond simply going or promoting Veggie, Animal Rights is a big deal. Following the large-scale fragmentation of Left-Wing politics a loose network of radical single-issue action groups – usually Green or Eco-Friendly, has taken its place. Anti-Road Protesters. Anti-Nukes. Anti-Animal-Testing. The Animal Rights Militia. The Animals Betrayed Coalition (ABC). And the twenty-thousand-strong National Anti-Vivisection Society. The Animal Liberation Front (ALF), founded in 1967, can be seen as the Provisional Wing of the Vegetarian Society, and its achievements are impressive. Direct Action through press campaigns, assaults, Molotov Cocktails, arson and bomb-hoaxes amplified by the public sympathy their propaganda-by-deed generates has forced the Fur Trade from the High Street stores, letter-bombs and threats have terrorised scientists involved in animal experiments, while they’ve burned down abattoirs and virtually destroyed the live-export industry. Thousands of butchers shops have been sabotaged, and all non-medical animal experimentation has ceased in University Labs through fear of ALF ‘retaliatory action’. Current flashpoints include the introduction of genetically-modified food through biotechnology companies such as Monsanto (interestingly, the same company responsible for the horrific Agent Orange defoliant used in Vietnam!).
A sprawling anarchic confederation, the ALF ‘organisation’ is decentralised, operating on a system of semi-autonomous cells, so ‘official spokesperson’ is something of a nonsense. But we talk anyway. “People tend not to think about these issues, they usually have neither the time, nor the inclination to do that – until they are directly confronted with them on a personal level.” No dark paramilitary balaclava with slit eye-holes. No flack-jacket either. Just some degree of reasonable intensity. He continues, “that state of mind tends to continue until people are forced by circumstances to sit down and think about it.
Consider this. 780-million chickens are slaughtered for food in the UK every year. They are largely caged and selectively bred to reach maturity in six, rather than twelve weeks. This means that although their muscles grow faster, their hearts and lungs do not, causing painful deformities and heart disease. Their lives are nasty, brutish, and above all – short. People might not like that, but they accept it. Yet BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) ‘Mad Cow’ disease in dairy and beef herds started out pretty much like that. First identified in September 1985, it resulted in the slaughter of 3.85 million cattle. Then it was transmitted to humans in the form of CJD (Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease). Nineteen-year old Stephen Churchill, who died in May 1995, is now accepted as its first victim. And there have been twenty-seven confirmed human CJD deaths, so far. The whole thing is a direct and inevitable consequence of intensive livestock production techniques, specifically – infection passed on from diseased sheep fed as ruminant-bone-meal to cows. There can be no real disagreement with that finding…
“Oh for the wings of
…any bird, other than a battery hen”
(“Spirit Of The Age” by Hawkwind)
The process began after World War 2 when Governments realised just how dependant Britain was on food imports. So successive administrations of all political guises subsequently encouraged the intensivisation of agriculture to achieve self-sufficiency in food supplies – including the obscenity of factory-farming techniques. And it was successful, successful to the extent that Europe, the most densely populated and heavily industrialised region in the world is now also a net exporter of food, with the absurdity of EU milk lakes and beef mountains of excess produce. While the downside of all that is the price that has been paid, first through the horrific suffering inflicted on the creatures caught up in it, and finally down the food-chain to the infected human consumers. It was only then that public opinion accelerated radically away from the whole idea of battery-produced food, and switched to buzz-words like ‘organic’ which they’d previously ridiculed as faddy or eccentric. It’s the same with genetically-modified food. That is the current battle-ground on which the issues are being fought out. Agri-Business versus Compassion In World Farming.
But in a sense that’s also just a culmination of what’s been going on since the very origins of farming and what we call ‘animal husbandry’. People have been selectively breeding, cross-breeding, splicing and grafting plants and animals ever since the beginning of recorded history. The pigs we know and love through pop-Movies like ‘Babe’ (1995), are all descended from the wild boar, although they’re now virtually unrecognisable as even the same species. All the vast diversity of dog breeds are derived originally from packs of wolves. A Babylonian or an Egyptian from whatever-the-hell thousand BC would be confused by the wealth of apples, grain, and fruit that we take for granted. Because they’ve all been developed through generations of selective breeding. We live in a hugely artificial environment created by human interference in, and manipulation of, natural processes. Genetic modification of food takes that process into new realms of possibility. And people are understandably shit-scared of what the hell will come out of such drastic tinkering.
But ‘words are cheap. Only actions really count’ asserts ALF’s Barry Horne. He’s the guy who almost fasted to death in the final months of 1998 in an attempt to pressure New Labour into honouring its manifesto pledges concerning abuse of animals, protesting “this is not for me, it is for every animal in every torture lab. The souls of the tortured dead cry out for justice...” The pre-election document ‘New Labour: New Life For Animals’ claims ‘Labour is the only party to trust on animal welfare...’ It came to the attention of Barry, a Category A prisoner held at York’s Full Sutton Prison, serving eighteen-years for £3-million fire-bomb attacks on animal-abusing Boots and Halfords branches. He decided to bring media attention to what he describes (in a letter to ‘Arkangel’ magazine) as the ‘arrogant and indifferent attitude of the Labour Government’ by beginning his death-fast at midnight 6 October – and survived for sixty-eight days during which his weight dropped from 14 to 8st. IRA hunger-striker Bobby Sands, by contrast, died after just sixty-six days of starvation in the Maze in 1981.
“It’s less than a century since women were being imprisoned, and died, to establish their right to vote. In the coming century, with an accelerating species-extinction and loss of natural wildlife habitats, the rights of non-human lives will inevitably become more highly valued. Scarcity alone will dictate that. This is not Science Fiction. This is already happening. It’s happening now. It will continue. By the middle decades of the next century people will look back on our intensive-farming and industrial abuse of animals with the same kind of gut-revulsion and horrified incomprehension that we feel about Nazi Concentration Camps. Perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll all be Veggie then... of course, right here, right now, it’s not always easy, and it’s not always obvious.”
“Non-Veggies delight in pointing out that ‘Na-na-ne-naw-naw, you’re wearing leather shoes and a leather belt!’ Stuff like that. Also, even with reasonably accurate food labelling it’s not necessarily easy to avoid certain animal-based elements used in food. I always enjoyed suet puddings, imagining suet to be some kind of a plant, until it was helpfully pointed out to me that suet is – according to the dictionary, ‘a hard waxy fat around the kidneys and loins of sheep and cattle.’ Suddenly it don’t seem quite so appetising any more. And Jelly Babies. What could be more innocent that Jelly Babies? But they contain gelatine which is a ‘water-soluble protein prepared by boiling animal hides and bones.’ Think about it. And just because the restaurant has Veggie-Burgers on its menu don’t always mean that they fry it in vegetable oils. It’s often difficult to define where the lines actually occur. Sometimes you just gotta be pragmatic. While at the same time you can never actually forget that ultimately, all meat IS murder. It is. Don’t be a meat-head all you life...!”
“do you know how animals die?/ ...the flesh you so fancifully fry/
the meat in your mouth/ as you savour the flavour/
...it’s sizzling blood and the unholy stench/ of MURDER, /
...who hears when animals cry?”
The Smiths (“Meat Is Murder”)
‘HOT PRESS’ Vol.23 No.1
(Eire – February 1999)