Warning: This post and the accompanying pictures are graphic. If you’re a vegetarian or someone who doesn’t like the sight of meat, you might like to look away now…
BY MADELEINE PARRY
A mixture of hot fat, flesh and guts mixed with that clean, sanitised smell of a butchershop. That’s what I noticed first. Second, that this slaughterhouse was small – nothing like the super-abattoirs that dominate the Australian industry and operate 24 hours creating meat. On that first morning, as I pulled up to start work at a country abattoir I thought, ‘how did I get here?’
I was raised on meat. But food has done more than turn me into a woman. I’m half-Greek, and in my family a lamb roast is a sign of love.
Two years ago I calculated roughly how many animals had died to feed me. Averaging 3 meat meals a week for 21 years, I’d eaten a part of 3,276 creatures.
But I’d never killed anything bigger than a spider.
In primary school I was quite possibly a pacifist. At recess I was professing non-violent philosophy and mediating disputes between friends. I went through that stage, probably in Year 3, of protecting ants from the feet of careless school kids (likely whilst eating a ham sandwich) and in Year 12 was awarded ‘Most Likely To Win A Nobel Peace Prize’ at the Formal.
I’ve always thought of myself as compassionate. But the more I ruminated on my lunch, the less sure I was about what eating meat meant. So I decided if I couldn’t kill it, I wouldn’t eat it. I worked my way up the food chain; picking broccoli, fishing, making chicken soup with my Grandma and slaughtering a lamb for dinner.
It was a conflicting experience. On a basic level, it was violent – there is no non- violent way to break a chicken’s neck – and that flew in the face of my identity. I didn’t eat meat for weeks.
But, although it wasn’t nice, killing didn’t feel wrong.
I felt… humbled. Ironically, shooting a gun and slitting the throat of a lamb led me to a fairly hippy conclusion; I am reliant on the world around me – be it plant or animal. The notion of humans as superior to the rest of the world is nonsense. We are our environment – it’s in our bones, our brains, our muscles, our heart.
So when my grandmother offered me her love in the form of chicken soup, I ate it. But. I wanted to know how that animal died. Now, it was about respect.
Unlike Mark Zuckerberg, I couldn’t personally kill every animal I ate. The meat we bought from the supermarket came from an abattoir.
I could have read books, watched clandestinely filmed footage or taken the industry’s word that animals are slaughtered humanely in Australia.
But this was personal, is personal. And after my experience killing the lamb, I wanted to know how the meatworkers deal with what they do, and what exactly humane meant.
Getting access to an abattoir wasn’t easy. After eight months of country driving and suspicious butchers, a small facility agreed to take me on. Whether it was pride, bravery or foolishness I don’t know, but unlike the rest of the industry, the owner trusted me, and the public, to handle what we would see.
I and my crew woke for work at 5:30am every work day for five weeks.
At first it was shocking, there was blood on the floor, animals in their death throes and piles of hearts and guts. But it was an ordered environment, and it’s amazing how quickly we adapted.