“Working in an abattoir made me decide that I’m OK with eating meat,” Michael tells me over a purple smoothie at the café. He has none of the traits I would have associated with a professional slaughterer; friendly and at ease, he is wearing a loose tee and a pirate hat.
I am impressed with his confidence: had I gone and conducted a survey in the freezer section at Coles and asked customers why they thought it was OK to eat animals, I dare say many of them wouldn’t have been able to answer.
But Michael can justify his attitude.
He’s not squeamish – and the details that perturb others do not faze him: “There’s a lot of blood,” he admits. He comes from a farming background and has been involved in hand-rearing lambs for slaughter before: the reality of inflicting death on living creatures for human consumption is just not something that seems unnatural or cruel to him.
Michael is the first of three people I spoke to working in the meat industry. Awareness of animal welfare and livestock conditions are on the rise, and I wanted to know how such attention is influencing the industry.
I put to Michael that livestock animals such as pigs have been known to demonstrate human behaviours – does that influence his opinion of using such animals for meat? “Capacity is there,” he acknowledges, “but that’s not their life. That’s not what they were bred for.”
Ian, a butcher and manager at Glenmore Meat Company, gives a similar response. ‘They’ve been bred to be eaten,” he says, “and you can use their coats for clothing. They’ve been doing that for centuries.”
Loel is a chef at an upmarket café in Waterloo. As a vegetarian in the meat industry, his opinions differ from the others. “It’s always a matter of conflict in my mind” he says, “because whilst me personally I’m not buying meat to support that side of the industry, I am then preparing meat in a way that is promoting people to continually eat meat.”
Is there something wrong with this? “I feel that we don’t have to produce and consume as much meat as we already do,” he says. I ask whether he views livestock in a different way to domestic animals and he responds with conviction: “No form of animal is different from the next, whether it be wild or domesticated – they’re still all a species, they’re still all alive and they still all feel pain.”
“Animals should definitely be respected. We definitely use and abuse them too much.”
Michael isn’t so sure. “Animals are lesser beings and that means we take advantage of them and there will be a bit of suffering and a bit of unhappiness but I don’t think it’s a big deal.” Yet for different reasons, Michael looks forward to a slaughter-free future.
This reason is VAT meat, otherwise known as ‘in vitro meat’, made by culturing single muscle cells to yield thousands of tonnes of meat. Michael believes that in the future, VAT meat will be readily available to replace farmed meat. He sees it as the ideal solution – no unnecessary suffering, but also no wastage.
Michael also believes in a future with “robots and conscious entities” – are his projections realistic? Ian reckons “things aren’t going to change”. but such innovations as genetic modification in agriculture prove that change is rife in the food industry. In the meantime, are we justified in eating animals?
Rational conscience would dictate that it is our responsibility to avoid chickens who spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with tens of thousands of other birds; cows kept in the dark and tied up to prevent movement so as to keep their flesh tender. But kept in the dark – much like the veal – you may well be perpetuating the cycle without knowing it. Now there’s something to chew on.