Looking at online menus for a restaurant to take a visiting friend, I read “humane meat” and had to do a double-take. This bizarre concept, already seen on labels in upscale grocery stores, is invading eateries so that anyone who wishes to order the chicken can feel sort of OK or even really good about it. What are we thinking? That the animals were blown away in the middle of the night while dreaming sweet dreams after a life of comfy straw and the sun on their backs in lush green meadows, like in the fantasy cheese commercials that PETA sued to have removed from the airways, the ones that failed to show the real misery and muck in which California’s dairy cows languish until the truck comes to take them to you-know-where? Or maybe you don’t know where.
One hates to be absolute, but in my view, there is no such thing as humane meat. Perhaps if we were being asked to consider roadkill, which at least would not be cruelly raised or even killed by us (someone else’s non-commissioned vehicle doesn’t count) if we scraped it up off the tarmac and ate it, but that’s not what we are being asked to consider. Rather, it is being suggested that we actually find it acceptable to eat the flesh of animals who were very much alive, had friends and family — or, more likely, were deprived of them — and went through enormous trauma despite some small courtesies, such as perhaps 2 inches of additional space in their jam-packed prison cells. Yes, kicking the dog six times a week instead of seven is marginally better, but that doesn’t mean that we should go around suggesting that people kick the dog, just not as often, does it?
Calling this sad flesh “humane” is like calling Britney Spears an opera singer. Yes, “Baby One More Time” may be easier on the ear than fingers on a blackboard, but it’s hardly Wagner’s “Ring Cycle,” is it? I could go along with SLCBSU, or “slightly less cruel but still unacceptable,” meat, but it’s definitely still not humane by a long shot.
There’s nothing humane about the flesh of animals who have had one or two or even three improvements made in their singularly rotten lives on today’s factory farms. Perhaps they are allowed outside into a patch of mud if they can fight their way out through the 10,000 other hens competing to get through the hatchway. Perhaps they are allowed to share a box in which to lay their eggs. Perhaps they are not kept in iron maidens or sow stalls in which they can never turn around. But the rest of their lot in life and the manner in which they are otherwise treated outside these reductions in abysmal treatment are still an abomination.
By being asked to support meat from living beings who are marginally less cruelly treated, we are being encouraged to support animal breeders, the people who bring our fellow animals into this world for the sole purpose of putting them through the wringer — causing them stress, trauma and pain — and then, because we’ll pay for those body parts, pronouncing, “Off with their heads!” In asking us to endorse humane meat, we are also being asked to endorse artificial insemination (a hideously terrifying procedure carried out on what farmers themselves call “rape racks”) and to support mutilations such as castration, dewattling, decombing, and ear-punching — all without painkillers. Being asked to support humane meat means being asked to support the suffering of animals in transport, to approve of treatment that causes them palpable fear, their bodies shaking and their eyes wide as saucers, as they are slung by their legs into crates that are slammed onto the back of a truck. And we are being asked to find acceptable and humane their experience of barreling down the highway in the freezing cold and sweltering heat. How can we accept any of that if we are against cruelty to animals? It’s simple — we can’t.
By being asked to endorse this grossly misnamed “humane meat,” we are being asked to endorse the ways in which the animals are killed, the final moments that culminate in the fear and the stench of the slaughterhouse. For most meat is obtained from the slaughterhouse, a place of blood and offal and struggles and screams. If that is so humane, why don’t we take the kids and make a day of it? Because it isn’t humane, that’s why.
All of us in society are supposed to believe that cruelty to animals is wrong and that it is a good thing to prevent needless suffering. So if that is true, how can meat be acceptable under any but the most extraordinary circumstances, such as perhaps roasting the bird who died flying into a window? The pig or hen’s misery