ZOMBIE CATTLE HELL:
An Argument for Sentient Food & a More Sentient Life
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anima Lifeways & Herbal School
It seems terrible to me, to think of ingesting any creature or plant that wasn’t in its own natural way enlivened: vital, alert and responsive. And for centuries among many indigenous, land based societies the belief has been that we take on the energy of whatever we consume, gaining some of the strength of the bear by partaking of its flesh, or the litheness of the deer, the courage of the lion, the awakeness of the wide eyed hare. Such people may likewise insist on avoiding eating much beef, in order to keep from becoming either slowed or borderline oblivious like a majority of domestic cattle.
To the contrary, a growing number of food industry researchers and managers hope to assuage the guilt feelings of empathetic consumers by developing and promoting meat sources that are increasingly dulled, denatured and deadened. These “knockout livestock” as they are sometimes called, would potentially be unaffected by the worst that was ever done to them, normal looking in every way yet clearly somehow not quite right. They’ll be just a little too accepting of indignities, and a little too much like the glib, easily appeased, conformist, unaware, barely feeling and unnaturally obedient human populations, stumbling from their own metaphoric feedlot to slaughter house under the influence of calming drugs and the “helpful” control of Big Brother regimes.
Welcome to the world of Frankenburgers, from Zombie Cattle Hell!
Throughout most of my lifetime the line seemed more clearly drawn, with the bulk of conservationists and ecologists, spiritual types, liberals and those into alternative culture have all tended to be vegetarians, and with meat eaters largely either stereotyped or self-stereotyped as redneck right-wingers with no regard for their own cardiovascular health let alone the health of the planet and the suffering of their fellow creatures. While there were always exceptions, today the dietary divide is more blurred than ever. For decades I’ve asserted that strict vegetarianism – while well intentioned – is both unnatural and unhealthy, with our ancestral, low carb omnivore diet actually being the closest to an optimum diet for us even today, but these days I am joined by thousands of adherents of high protein and so called primal diets. The result is an increasing number of consumers of meat who insist on healthy grass-fed animals, raised under cruelty free conditions, cleanly dispatched, and the rise of small farms devoted to compassionate husbandry.
Meanwhile, the few multi-national corporate conglomerates controlling the entire food production of the United States, were seriously stung by criticism that has followed the public exposure of the horrific conditions of corporate farms and factory slaughterhouses, mostly clandestine video shot and released by animal rights activists. Most anyone who views this sort footage is turned off at least temporarily to eating anything but free range creatures, after the seeing the disregard with which our sources of pork chops and beef steaks are treated, and after witnessing the degree of sheer terror and sometimes acute agony of livestock as they are automatically but clumsily terminated. Management’s solution, needless to say, has not been to improve the conditions the animals are raised in or to improve the methods and means of the slaughter, but to assign their industry funded laboratory researchers the goal of genetically lowering the animals’ threshold of pain! Why go to the expense and trouble of increasing the size of enclosures, they reason – reducing the incidences of illness, or improving the methods of killing – if the livestock has been altered to no longer feeling any discomfort or anguish?
To these industry heads, what matters is not vitality but product viability, including the perception of potential buyers. They recognize that image and marketability are the main impediments to future consumers purchasing muscle tissue grown in cell cultures, providing them with animal protein that has bizarrely never thirsted for water and gone into heat, never known the feel of sunshine, pranced in the grass or even stood up on four feet. This would satisfy the desires of the industry to produce quantities of a product with as little effort and cleanup as possible, while simultaneously meeting the animal rights groups’ goal of ending the suffering of other lifeforms… at least those which have been engineered to be something less than alive.
It’s been known for some time that the brain has two different pathways for perceiving pain, a sensory avenue that registers the location, kind and intensity, and another “affective” pathway that translates the same impulses as unpleasant. The reason why people under the influence of opium poppies and their chemical derivatives don’t suffer this unpleasantness, even when being operated on by a physician while awake, is that the opiates chemically disable this second route, resulting in little or none of the normal arousing of what is called the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex.
Neuroscientists from the universities of Washington and Toronto have more recently discovered how to genetically manipulate animals without the peptide proteins necessary for the operation of this cortex. Livestock engineered in this way would still be able to sense a cut or heat, but it would no longer be experienced as something to be avoided. Industry heads remarking on this developing technology, have already gone to some length to assure the public that the steaks and chops from such animals would be plenty safe to eat.
Anyone partaking of even burgers and hot dogs, should rightfully have at one time or another killed their own food with their own hands, and have experienced what it’s like to take another creature’s precious life. Even if the vast majority of someone’s meat intake continues to come the form of disembodied, furless and largely formless factory cuts sold in styrofoam and cellophane packages, we would still do well to have on at least one occasion held the fried chicken prior to its being dispatched and plucked, dismembered and fried, and to have personally stared into its ancient dinosauric eyes, extending its neck over a block of firewood and chopping its head off with the wings continuing to madly flap as it fitfully dies. Or else we need to have been at one point or another anointed with the spattered blood of a wild animal, a beautiful beast more noble than many people that we nonetheless dropped with a rifle shot, filled with equal measures of awe and sadness, profound gratitude, alliance, and something closely akin to love.
Only in this way can we possibly know deep in our hunter-gatherer souls what it feels like to give the pain of death, the way that mothers give the gift of life… or to empathize in the moment while taking full responsibility for the act, the result, and our inherent place in the food chain. Only then can those of us who are practicing omnivores begin to grasp at a gut, bodily level the price that is paid by other beings in order that we might survive. And I believe it is only through a deep awareness and sense of connection, responsibility and gratitude, that we’re made worthy of the decades of nourishing meat that makes it on to our plates.
When it comes to this taking and remaking of life, it’s certainly incumbent upon us to do all we can to lessen the suffering of those sensitive creatures we eat. I’ve watched as a coyote showed neither mercy nor concern for a crying young elk calf it had wounded and dogged, one example in nature that I’d rather not follow. Instead, I’ve always went out of my way whenever I hunted to make quick, one-shot kills, stalking stealthily until in close range, or leaning on a branch to consider and steady my aim. That aim was always to pierce a skull or bust a backbone, immediately disconnecting the wires connecting wound to brain, saving the meat from the bitter hormones released by fear, but mainly going to such extremes out of an intuitive awareness that animals can hurt every bit as poignantly as people. And when I partake of vegetables, it is with respect and gratitude grounded in the certainty that they, too, suffered in the process of taking its life into mine.
For all of us non-engineered beings, plant and animal alike, painless simply isn’t an option. Nor would it necessarily be a benefit to either us or our foods. After all, the intermittent experience of pain stretches and expands our capacity to feel and to intensely take note of what we are feeling, just as do occasions of extreme ecstasy and moments of inescapable bliss, serving as measures of our sentience and hence as indicators of just how truly alive we each are. Pain can awaken our ability to empathize. It informs our compassion, adds weight to our mistakes and importance to our decisions. And it helps us to identify and then either resist or move away from those things that are harmful to us. In the case of us humans, without struggle and distress it becomes all too easy for us to take things for granted, whereas we can be sure that whatever we do at the risk of suffering is something that we must feel very strongly about, taking more certain satisfaction from whatever we accomplish in the face of – and regardless of – any pain.
The spirit of the child, at home in its body, not yet suppressing pain or denying the causes of deprivation, mishap or suffering, thoroughly celebrating the pleasures of sensation in every non-traumatic moment between. This is the spirit of wildlife, acutely aware of their surroundings as if their lives depended on it, because indeed they do. The spirit of plants that have been proven to flinch from trauma like cuts and burns, but that by their very nature remain committed to fulsome growing, expanding, fruiting and bearing seed in spite of of any painful fires, drought, flood, mowing, fires, grazing and pruning.
It is this spirit that we might better look for in the foods that we draw nourishment from, but also in the fabric and experience of our day to day existence… the evidence of, condition of, and intensity of life wholly and sentiently lived.
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