May 1, 2005

Meat in style

The New York Times published their Spring "Style" Magazine today, featuring plenty of animal corpses as de rigueur entertainment fare. Amanda Hesser goes to market to buy a dead chicken, as "young chickens are at their best this time of year." She says, "It is time to stop being squeamish," that bringing the "cycle of life" (meaning raising animals to kill them for your enjoyment) out of the shadows is "healthier" and a challenge to the industry. That's like saying it was better when the Nazis shot people individually rather than killing them en masse in gas chambers. It's still an industry of death. It's also rather creepy that the dead chicken in one of the photos for Hesser's piece is tied with the same fabric adorning the drugged-looking (human, female) model. Sex, food, death, beautiful victim. Spring chickens trussed up to fulfill the human appetite.

And Todd Purdum writes about Joel Salatin, an inspiring organic farmer in Virginia. He describes the farm as a "peaceable kingdom." But those animals, allowed to do what is natural to them, are raised for a very unnatural end, when Purdum must distance the reader from fostering the lives of cows, pigs, and chickens to write about "raising beef, pork and poultry." He quotes mid-20th-century novelist and farmer Louis Bromfield to describe Salatin as "the happiest of men, for he inhabits a world that is full of wonder and excitement over which he rules as a small god." This evil little god "harvests" over 10,000 chickens, 100 cows, 250 pigs, 800 turkeys, and 600 rabbits every year. What wonder and excitement must he see in so much slaughter?

The Salatins sell much of their "inventory" directly from a walk-in freezer on the farm, in which Purdum spots a "perfect six-pound chicken" among other parts and pieces of the various animals once tended "with such care." In what moral universe is an animal that has been deliberately killed in its prime "perfect"? Is an animal's worth, its "perfection," determined only by someone's desire to eat it? Only then -- killed and presented as "food," is its value fulfilled?

Again, the "cycle of life" is evoked to suppress the "occasional pang when it comes time to kill an especially kindly old cow." Sorry, bucko -- you are not God. Maybe your imagined god has a bottomless hunger for willfully spilled blood. But betrayal of the love and trust nurtured in these animals, cutting short the joyful lives you have given them, is not only a violent mockery of the cycle of life but also reveals all that "care" as a cruel charade.

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