I was fortunate enough to find my goat’s milk guy cleaning out some pigs for Father’s day, when I visited him for the Catch and Release project. I visited the day afterward, and he had slaughtered a lamb. In both cases I got great shots of animals being butchered. This keeps many animals, and once owned a butchery here on the island. There is no doubt in my mind that small-scale humane animal slaughter and butchery are art forms. I would happily describe this process as artisanal, and I would be happy to buy meat that was labeled as artisan meat.
I agree with Siegfried Giedion, when he states that “only the knife, guided by the human hand, can perform the transition from the life to death in the desired manner. For this operation craftsmen are needed to combine the precision and skill of a surgeon with the speed of a piece worker.” (Giedion, 243) If the slaughter and butchery are not performed with such precision and speed, animals are likely to suffer unnecessarily before death. Meat may also be damaged if the slaughter is not done in just the right way.
But there is also the element of connection between us and our animals even when they are meant to be slaughtered and eaten. There is respect for life and death, and there is a desire to cause the least amount of suffering. “The greater the degree of mechanization, the further does contact with death become banished from life.” (Giedion, 243) As we become disconnected from the death of the animals we eat, we become desensitized and unconcerned with the realities of the life they lead. Not only is their quality of life affected, but so is the quality of our food.
I’m a great fan of small-scale abattoirs that permit artisanal meat processing and packaging. The idea of establishing small-scale municipally run abattoirs like those that were established in the XVIIth Century by Napoleon is still a great one today. Livestock farmers should have the opportunity to produce and process artisanal meats, but there should also be some oversight.
The French abattoirs provided just that, a place where farmers could process their meat while maintaining the quality and sanitation of these processes under direct supervision of government agents. The best part about the French abattoirs was that they provided their services at a very low cost for the farmer, the idea was to promote artisanal meat production and processing that resulted in a safe end product for the consumer. This type of system implemented today is still probably the most sustainable and humane way of processing meat, not to mention it’s cleaner and artisan butchers are less likely to create a massive e-coli outbreak because they are in no rush to process many animals at the same time like mechanized operations do.
Giedion, Siegfried. 1948. “Mechanization and Death: Meat” Mechanization Takes Command NY: Oxford University Press.