Monday, January 19, 2009

Moo... I think

Lacking anything much better to do, The Horse Doctor and I stumbled upon a mildly interesting programme on BBC 3 last night called Kill it, Cook it, Eat it. One of those cheap programmes, it was a follow-up to a series I must have missed when it aired a couple of years ago, with footage from the original series cut with interviews with the participants. The central thrust of the programme was to show a randomly chosen group of people how animals were slaughtered and butchered, then cook the meat and see if any of them would eat it.


I'm generally in favour of this sort of thing. It's one of my great bugbears that people care so little about where their food comes from and how it is made. OK, so making a telly show out of it is unnecessary sensationalisation, but that's telly for you. I'm slightly narked that nobody asked me to appear on the show - several characters were shipped off to a stately home in Scotland somewhere and taken grouse shooting and deer stalking - and presumably didn't have to pay the thousands it can cost anyone else for that sort of entertainment. Since I don't know any television researchers, it's unlikely I'll ever be invited to any of these things.

It was of passing interest to watch the predictable squeamishness, the hardening of vegetarian views and the occasional conversion to veganism. Better yet was the vegetarian who decided that maybe she could eat meat after all. And I was impressed at the section on veal, where those who objected to young calves being slaughtered made (or had explained to them) the link between the practice and the plastic jug of milk in your fridge. Many decided to give up all animal products there and then, although I couldn't quite see the logic in eschewing eggs - as long as they come from happy hens, what's the problem?

And therein lies the main fault with the programme, and the reason I felt moved to write this post. All of the focus seemed to be on the killing and butchery. We got to see captive bolts into heads, throats neatly cut with razor-sharp knives, a cow bleeding out like a waterfall in spate, and lots of close-ups of horrified expressions, or mouths covered in attempts to prevent vomitage. At one point, a cuddly-looking Dorset lamb, with mutton-chop whiskers and a seventies mop hairstyle failed entirely to be rendered unconscious by the application of a large voltage to the brain. Quick as a flash, the very professional slaughterman whipped out his captive bolt gun and shot it in the head. Cue much teary eyes and distress among the audience, but at least it wasn't allowed to escape into the abattoir, bringing everything to a halt until it could be caught again.

The slaughtermen and other abattoir workers were all as clean as I've ever seen the trade, and we were constantly shown pieces of meat being stamped with the veterinary seal of approval.* Everything was shiny, slick, organised and efficient, which is how it should be, of course. But by focussing solely on the instant of the kill, the show managed to miss the most fundamentally important thing about meat production - the quality of life of the animal prior to its slaughter.

If you're going to eat meat, then you have to accept that something has to die in order for you to stuff your face. I accept that, and if you can't, then vegetarianism is the only option. Making sure that animals don't suffer in their deaths is obviously very important, but all this programme showed was that, yes, we've pretty much got that down pat now. Been killing animals for millennia; know how to do it best, quickest, most cleanly. In a country as well-regulated (some might say over-regulated) as the UK, you really don't need to worry about abattoir cruelty. It does happen, but it's very rare, and it gets stamped on very quickly. What you should worry about is what happens to your meat from the moment it's born until the moment that 20,000 volt current surges through its bewildered brain. How it's raised, how it's fed, whether it's allowed to express its natural behaviours or driven insane by a monotonous, hideous, factory-farm existence.**

So well done BBC 3 - a good effort I suppose. But next time can we have Raise It, Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, please? That would be a programme worth watching.

* I still don't understand why the meat hygiene service has to use fully qualified vets to certify meat safety in abattoirs. Vets spend years in college, at vast expense, learning how to heal sick animals. The skills needed to inspect meat and test for various parasites could be taught to half-intelligent people in six months, probably less. And they would be a lot cheaper to employ than vets. That's how it's done in pretty much every other EU country - only in the UK do we have to take the regulations to the extreme, and then a little further.
** and another thing I've almost certainly moaned about here before. Why is it that most people when they become self-conscious about meat give up beef and lamb first, then pork, and only chicken last? Factory farmed chicken production is the most inhumane of all our farming systems, whereas our pig industry is crippled by the extra legislation heaped on it by the government that other EU countries don't have to follow. And beef and lamb are generally raised extensively in this country - that's to say outdoors, eating grass, with the sun on their backs (or the snow). You should give up chicken first if you're uncomfortable with meat production methods; give up all meats if you can't stomach the idea of an animal dying to feed you.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Ellen said...

Amen! What it is fed to the wretched beasts affects us far more than the actual slaughter! Beef cattle in the US of A consume more grain than the populations of some third world countries. I find THAT far more disturbing than how our meat is slaughtered!

January 20, 2009 1:45 am  
Blogger Moses said...

Here is a video on factory farming if you are interested: http://meat.org

January 20, 2009 7:14 am  
Blogger Stuart MacBride said...

Quite right - if you can't stand the thought of an animal's blood on your hands, don't eat it.

Our pig industry might be more heavily regulated than the other EU countries, but I believe the standard of life they get here because of that (or some of it anyway) is higher. The crap they can get away with on the continent is staggering.

And I still don't see why we can't all eat free range lawyers. It'd make the world a better place, and they'd probably be tasty too... If you cook them for long enough.

January 20, 2009 8:56 am  
Blogger JamesO said...

Eww, no. Free Range Lawyers wouldn't be good at all. Stringy and acerbic, surely. You'd have to slow cook them in very fine claret (if they haven't already been marinated in brandy), and even then you'd probably end up with indigestion.

That said, we could always organise Lawyer hunts, with dogs and shotguns and hip-flasks of cherry brandy to warm up those cold February mornings.

January 20, 2009 12:58 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Ah, Moses. I'm all for the ethical treatment of animals, but I'm afraid I can't agree with much that PETA have to say for themselves. Like rebranding fish as 'Sea Kittens', for instance - even if that was with tongue firmly in cheek. Or suggesting that feeding your children meat is a form of child abuse. Having suffered abuse as a child, I find that suggestion just a little flippant.

But everyone's entitled to their opinion, so I'll leave the link.

January 20, 2009 1:04 pm  
Blogger Trace said...

Hi James! Just wanted to drop by and wave. *wave*

January 20, 2009 8:24 pm  

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