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Should We Watch the Animals We Eat Being Slaughtered?

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In Omaha, Nebraska, there is a proposal on the table for people buying meat to choose an animal and watch it being slaughtered. But many are saying this encourages insensitivity and lack of empathy for suffering, whether human or animal. Many anthropologists say there is a strong cultural link between barbaric treatment of animals and barbaric treatment of humans - agony and terror no longer disturb people because they have become used to it.

Since the United States and other countries moved from an agrarian society to an urban one, many complain that kids think chicken nuggets grow on trees and that they have no awareness or respect for the fact than an animal died to make lunch. Because meat is daintily wrapped in cellophane at the grocery store, it is easy to pretend no violence, sacrifice or pain was involved-not even the pain experienced by the slaughterhouse workers who also suffer from a shockingly unregulated industry.

Many people realize that even though they may eat meat all day and every day, they would not be able to kill an animal themselves. This guilt and awareness of how cushy their dietary situations are can produce a perverse respect for hunters who are not in denial. But of course not all hunters eat what they kill or allow an animal "fair chase."

slaughterhouse
In the slaughterhouse
Cartoon: Martha Rosenberg

For example, Madonna told BBC Radio One in 2001, "You have more respect for things you eat when you go through, or see, the process of killing them." But the pop star was allowing "canned hunts" at her historic Wiltshire mansion, Ashcombe House, stocked with battery cage-raised baby pheasants from France and allowing rich guests like bankers, brokers and celebs Vinnie Jones and Brad Pitt to "pay up to 10,000 a day" to kill the tame and defenseless birds, reported the Sunday Times.

Chefs and foodies are also experimenting with slaughter transparency and self-slaughter. College student Jake Lahne enrolled in a meat production course at the University of Illinois, a strong agricultural school, to achieve "a real understanding of where meat comes from." But during his do-your-own slaughtering, he found that "animals do not want to die. They can feel pain and fear, and, just like us, will struggle to breathe for even one single more second." He even warns other self-slaughterers, "If you're about to run 250 volts through a pig, do not look it in the eyes. It is not going to absolve you."

Christine Muhlke, a New York Times food writer, planned to report on one of the first uses of a van-like "mobile slaughterhouse," which serves customers who live far away from slaughterhouses or who have a hard time transporting animals. But even though she describes herself as a "meat hipster who serves pickled pigs' tongues," the frenetic "wild thrashing" of the animal in the box which did not want to die horrified her.

New York Times city critic Ariel Kaminer also tried her hand at witnessing slaughter. She decided to take the life of a Bourbon Red turkey with rich brown feathers "flecked with white" at an Islamic slaughterhouse in Queens. But, "Stepping out of the slaughterhouse and squinting at the light, I didn't feel brave. I didn't feel idealistic. I felt crummy," she wrote.

Many who eat meat say they feel "squeamish" about the animal's death. But squeamish implies something unpleasant but necessary like giving blood or treating bedsores. Animal flesh is not necessary for a healthy diet and is actually the opposite of a healthy diet when you consider heart disease, stroke and obesity. Do we really want to get over such "squeamishness?"

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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