Meat, slaughter, and death

My abbu (father) loves meat and absolutely hates the slaughter on Eid-al-Adha. In Pakistan, we would buy a goat a few days in advance of Eid, care for it and feed it until that day, and hear it bleating the day before slaughter. My father loved those goats. I remember his face, darkened into a miserable scowl, on the day the butcher came by to slaughter the goat. My mother insisted that fondness for the goat was a good thing; after all, you sacrificed what you loved, not what you didn’t care tuppence about. She demanded that my father pat the goat’s head before it was slaughtered, and he stalked around the house trying to hunker down someplace while the ghastly deed was being done.

I never had the stomach to watch the slaughter. I still like my meat packaged and washed clean, food, but not animal, entirely dead. Back in 1995, when I was cooking some meat in a shared London house – our landlord was Yusuf Islam – I shivered in disgust when I saw blood in the cooking pot. “Why is there so much blood in this meat? Isn’t there something wrong with it?” My saucy roommate, Sanella, a Bosnian refugee, sneered at my hypersensitivity and countered, “It’s made of blood!”

It is, I know. I just don’t want to know. I don’t want to know, in the front of my mind, about death, killing, cutting, knives, terrified bleating, blood spurting, and a cow that was calmly grazing now lying dead upon a blood-drenched floor. I’d like to keep the grazing cattle image separate from the image of meat, sort of like a fast forward.

We scream in excitement when we watch slasher movies, we wage our wars like video games, and we buy our meat packaged and plastic and covered in transparent wrap. We shudder and squirm when we speak of cutting an animal’s throat and letting the blood flow, as if the animal was any less dead when a hammer is used, or the animal is stunned by a machine rather than held and cut by a fellow living being. If the animal must die, surely we owe the courtesy of contact to the animal whose life is to flow into ours.

Lives must not be taken lightly. Like Ned Stark in ‘Game of Thrones,’ if we kill, surely we must experience a shudder in our souls for the lives we take. There should be some realization of the horror of death. Maybe the butcher should cry, as in this report of an organic halal slaughterhouse.


Years ago, Riaz picked him up from college and asked what he wanted for dinner. “Chicken curry,” Imran replied, without a second thought. Father and son went to the poultry market where Riaz nudged him to choose a chicken. At home, in the kitchen, he handed him a sharp knife. “Here son,” he said, “if you want to eat chicken tonight, you have to take its life.” “I was very young, just seventeen or eighteen,” Imran swallowed hard. “I still get really emotional talking about that. I didn’t eat the chicken that day but the memory’s always stuck in my head.” –
Humera Afridi, “When the Butcher Cries”

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Griping about the ‘One Billion Rising’ video

I have tears in my eyes after watching the One Billion Rising video by Eve Ensler and Tony Stroebel. Like most women, I am viscerally aware of the physical violence that girls and women are subjected to worldwide.

Yet this video rubs me the wrong way.

Why is the black woman being raped, the olive-skinned woman being beaten bloody, the Middle Eastern woman a victim of an acid attack while the White woman suffers a gentle caress from a White colleague/boss in the workplace?

This is wrong on so many levels: European and American women are being beaten, raped, and killed, mostly by significant others. To erase the violence in White people’s lives while playing up the Scary Black/Brown/Asian Man image is irresponsible.

We have come too far in our analytical awareness of the power of images to be clueless about this construction. I would expect better of Eve Ensler.

For a more fundamental critique of Ensler’s approach, see this. And this is Rafia Zakaria’s critique of “happy feminism.”

Working mom

This weekend, after some conversations with my daughter’s schoolteachers, I felt the need to sit her down and tell her that she was the most important thing in my life. She looked at me earnestly, a little surprised. “Even more than work?”

Those four words have me reeling. My 6-year old girl believes that I am more attached to my work than to her. Meantime, in the academic recession more than ever, higher education is under the impression that it should be in full possession of its employees’ lives, and that to be a scholar is to be naught else.

As a still-untenured faculty member, I find myself struggling with the promise I have just made to my daughter: “I promise I will try harder to spend more time with you” (note the lengthy sentence construction). I find myself planning ahead, contemplating the international teaching trip in the summer, scheming for new publications once the book is finished, and filling up boxes in my planner.

Those are the boxes which also say, “Sorry, honey, I have to finish this;” “honey, please can you go and play in your room?” and “Raihana, I need to focus.”