death, emotional, social science, spiritual

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”

2 thoughts on “Meat, slaughter, and death”

  1. This is in part why I am practically vegetarian – I rarely eat meat. We don’t need nearly as much as most people consume, and the way animals are treated today to feed that blood/meat lust is deplorable, and conditions for both animals and humans and planet earth’s future are horrific. I have absolutely no problem with someone taking meat for his family’s survival, but what goes on today is way beyond that. Enough is enough. It stops with me.

  2. That is why the prophet SAWS left clear instructions of how to do the slaughtering and how to respect the animal’s feelings.

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