On the recent holiday Monday we had a rare family outing. To the abattoir with two very fat pigs. As a recent convert to the joys of bacon fat after over 20 years as either vegetarian or vegan, I knew that I needed to see the full journey of my meat from paddock to plate.
I didn’t want to go. But we were combining the pig delivery with a pick up of new bees, and hoping for some fun time in between the two. Of course the pigs were impossible to load on the trailer (all animals know where they are going when the day comes) so we were late and then when we finally found the abattoir (no signs) a semi trailer of pink pigs had just arrived before us and so we sat and watched them being unloaded, squealing at the cattle prod and blinking at the light in the bright spring sunshine. They didn’t look as if they had ever seen daylight before.
I stood by the trailer and looked my pigs in the eye, crying softly and whispering, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry . . .’
Needless to say, the promised fun time, didn’t eventuate!
I had been warned by a neighbouring newbie pig farmer not to go to the abattoir and for my husband to go alone, so I was terrified of what I might find. It was clean and quiet, but then it wasn’t a working day. Behind us in the queue were farmers with cattle and sheep.
I went around the corner of a building to do a wee and there saw the slurry pit and that did smell, and no matter how brave I am getting, I wouldn’t want to go on a slaughtering day. When it came to our turn the men were patient and kind to us, the pigs were unloaded into a concrete stall, awaiting branding by the local LHPA inspector the next morning before they could be ‘processed’.
Needless to say, I was the only emotional female there on the day and I am sure there were a few smirks about my blubbering, but the farmer unloading his sheep looked at me with empathy, no one likes this part of the job. I was asking him about the skins and where they went. The abattoir worker told me they put them out for tender and were processed in China, no one is Australia tans hides any more.
As it turns out, there was a bit of confusion about my pigs and they had a slight stay of execution until the afternoon on the following day. I don’t like to think of them in that concrete cell listening to the dying of their fellow animals and knowing that inevitably their turn would come. Like a short term death row.
Pigs are the most delightful animals. Funny, naughty, friendly and affectionate. Actually, all our animals are like that. Each with their own unique personalities, very few without a name. Every soul on earth deserves a name. The animals are not lesser than us (on the contrary, they don’t have to work for a living, and are peaceful, joyous, living in the moment highly evolved beings). And yet we kill them and eat them.
I have long held a theory that there is a scary dichotomy in the fact that the holocaust is seared into our memories (and rightly so) as the most horrific atrocity ever committed on earth, and yet we cram animals into cattle trucks every day, all over the world, without telling them where they are going, and execute them en masse.
My only consolation is that I know that my animals have lived a good, healthy, fun life on pasture. They have been loved and well cared for. And I see nature’s brutality and arbitrary cutting down of animals – the perceived waste when an animal dies of natural causes and is left to decompose and just feed the wild dogs, goannas, eagles and other scavengers.
Still, I wrestle with my conscience when I eat meat even though I do feel it is good for my physical body. I wrestle with my soul beliefs often, and especially when I have to look an animal in the eye as I load it for its final journey. No one wants to die – human or animal. We all buck at the very idea, and fight to the bitter end. Animals are no different. They deserve a lot more respect, dignity and thanks for what they sacrifice for us.
Every meat eater needs to visit the abattoir once, and farms many times, to force themselves to become acquainted with the animals they feast on. We have become so divorced from our food sources and as a result have become gluttons for artificially coloured, pre-packaged meats from supermarkets, with no thought for the lives they have lived or how they died. Animals offer us such love and joy in their lifetimes and the ultimate sacrifice to fuel us. My five year old is such a little carnivore and he knows he is eating ‘Harry’ (steer) or his pigs ‘Lilli Pilli’ and ‘Blackie’ and tells lovely stories about their lives.
Next time you tuck it into meat on your plate, spare a thought for the animal it came from, and please start asking where it lived, how it died, what it ate, where it roamed, or if it was able to roam at all. Get to know a farmer, familiarise yourself with the animals, bring some consciousness to what you eat . . . please.