Slicing and Dicing Animal Ethics Into Insignificance

» March 24th, 2014

There’s an non-waste ethic infusing foodie culture these days. Emerging from an earnest 1970s-emphasis on “reuse, reduce, recycle,” this ethic is used like a “get out of jail free” card.  In order to justify the unnecessary suffering and death of sentient animals, you just use the whole animal. You’ve thereby done right by the environment, animal ethics, and, of course, your precious palate. Win-win. And win!

It’s due to this freshly dusted and repackaged ethic that the adventurous diner has heretofore unprecedented options. He can skip the traditional pork chop and eat Wilbur’s testicles. Bad-ass chefs–and, really, have anyone else noticed how utterly badass celebrity chefs look these days?–pride themselves on carnivorously-inclined menus littered with entrees that incorporate the strange viscera of dismemberment. You get a sense that the animal you are eating was not only killed, but sliced and diced and vivisected as if he were a medical school cadaver.

Which, of course, he was. And that brings us to the rub. When an animal enters an industrial, USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, his corpse emerges 19 minutes later as not only as chops destined for domestic meat counters, but as pelts bound for Turkey, lungs sent to dog-treat manufacturers, bile for the pharmaceutical industry, caul fat (the lining of organs) for Native American communities and liver destined for Saudi Arabia (which, go figure, distributes cow liver globally). Oh–and as a hog testicle sampler for a clean $11.99 at a savvy little Austin spot teeming with culinary virtue.

Point being: those seeking to use the whole carcass as a measure of their ethical status as meat-eaters are trapped in yet another contradiction. To eat low on the hog they must rely on the very institution that epitomizes the complexity of industrial agriculture: a slaughterhouse. Naturally, some backyard warrior could hack his own primal path to self-sufficiency, but to make the by-products of slaughter commercially available–and what else is animal agriculture ultimately about?–all cravings for “pig face” (not making that one up) must cede to the industrialized abattoir equipped to undertake the requisite dismemberment. The only alternative–mobile slaughterhouses–lack such capabilities.

This might seem to be a peripheral message. But it’s in fact a symptom of the larger contradiction that’s at the core of the push to produce “humane” animal products. Repeatedly, the rhetoric of this movement exceeds the reality. It’s as if everyone interested in reforming the food system jumped on a bandwagon–one that promised having and eating cake–before noticing that it was careening downhill and the road was about to end. How many more crashes will we have to witness before this movement comes to its senses and takes a more thoughtful toe-path to reform?


16 Responses to Slicing and Dicing Animal Ethics Into Insignificance

  1. I’ve heard this “excuse” from others and I find it absurd. Along with the one from spiritually oriented folks who tell me, “Well I give thanks to the animal who gave itself for me to eat”. . . like that somehow explains the suffering. I always ask them if anyone talked with that animal and heard them say “Take me.” Of course, no one did. It’s a fairy tale made up to assuage guilt.

  2. Dian Hardy says:

    And there are the popup restaurants that offer a more complete dining experience: the whole animal is brought in and butchered there. White tablecloths, yet. That’s Sonoma County, foodie heaven. And here in Sonoma County, for over twenty years, SPAR – Sonoma County People for Animal Rights – campaigned for the rights of the other animals, in the streets and in the suites. Now Compassionate Living sponsors vegan potlucks, speakers, vegan transition support. In my 8th decade, I have seen change for the other animals explode as people begin to slowly slowly open their hearts. Is it enough? Is it too late? The glaciers melt, the animals continue to suffer. Push harder.

  3. Rhys Southan says:

    In general it’s true that industrial slaughterhouses are better at making sure all parts of the animal are used in some way. But there are some small slaughterhouses that can do this too. White Oak Pastures — which kills 30 cows a day and 500 chickens a day — claims that this is the case for them (

    “Both of our plants are zero-waste operations. All blood is digested to make liquid organic fertilizer, all bones are ground to make bone meal, and all eviscerate is composted. All of these organic fertilizers are used as soil amendments for our Certified Organic pastures.

    “All of our hides are salted and shipped to a tannery to become leather. We have our own water treatment plant to turn the wash down water into irrigation water for our pastures. In nature there is no waste. We endeavor to operate our abattoirs the same way.

    “The plants are powered by our 50,000 watt solar voltaic array. This will be expanded to 100,000 watts in 2012. We also use solar thermal technology to heat our wash down water.”

    This of course doesn’t address the ethics of killing an animal, but it does seem to show that using every part of the animal doesn’t necessarily require industrial slaughterhouses. (Unless you think it’s a waste to use some animal parts as compost rather than for food, but that would happen in veganic farming as well.)

  4. John T. Maher says:

    All the comments are on point today. I add that no organic matter is ever wasted as the bacteria always benefit in the end in order to decenter this post from an anthropocentric frame of reference. Attenuated symbols of sex and death and symbolic killing of adolescence in hipster Brooklyn are all about home butchery at the moment. The whole hog argument is really about human utility which excludes, in Ricardo/Mills/Hare terms, all the disutilities which are inherent in the consumption of animal flesh such as pollution, sclerotic and cardiac diseases, zoonoses, pollution, economic injustice, etc.

    So, even though plants also have affect, agency and politics, I say, in agreement with Rhys above, that the better course of action is John Barleycorn must die.

  5. Mountain says:

    Every bite is an ethical transgression. Eating plants causes “the unnecessary suffering and death of sentient animals” just as surely as eating animal products does. By minimizing waste, by using the whole animal, you lessen the amount of unnecessary suffering and death needed to produce a given number of calories.

    And there’s nothing strange about eating viscera (or organs, or blood, or bone marrow). Up until very recent times, all humans did it. And all non-human omnivores still do. Every calorie we consume, whether in plant or animal form, comes at the cost of animal suffering. Any calories we waste– be they hog testicles or potatoes– will be replaced at the cost of more animal suffering.

    • Laura says:

      If I went back to eating animal products it would certainly be a shameful setback. Over-thinking and rationalization lead one to think eating hog testicles is the same as eating potatoes. It’s not.

      • Mountain says:

        Really? No animals are killed to produce potatoes? You sure about that?

        • Mountain says:

          In fact, if the hog was raised on cultivated grain (as the vast, vast majority are), it’s far worse to waste the calories in his testicles, since so much more animal suffering went into producing those calories (primarily the field animals harmed and killed to produce the grain he was fed).

          • Mountain says:

            My point isn’t that vegans should eat hog testicles. They shouldn’t. My point is that foodies and hipsters who do eat them shouldn’t be criticized for it, since it reduces the animal suffering.

            It’s a small step. They could do a lot more by going vegan, or only eating animals who have not been raised with animal feed, or simply by giving up chicken. But it is a step in the right direction. And criticizing it puts team (being vegan) ahead of cause (reducing animal suffering).

          • Laura says:

            Why did you misquote me with, “No animals are killed to produce potatoes”? Please take a look at this chart, especially the vegetables (as in potatoes) part: …then pick it apart, mangle the information and rationalize the sociopathy required for animal farming if that somehow makes you feel better about humanity.

            I also may step on tiny insects walking in the park, so I should also partake in slaughterhouses fare, or commit suicide to avoid killing any more? But what if I’m born again and have to start all over in a meat-eating household; then what have I accomplished by ending my hard-fought, beneficially evolved life?

            Being vegan is definitely far more beneficial than you like to portray… it’s the right way to deal with the slaughter farming problem. “Team vegan” is not the problem; everyone needs to join it. Continuing to make excuses for supporting slaughter farms (and all the other human abuses of animals) is in fact THE problem, as in your saying, “People eating hog testicles reduces the animal suffering.”

            Hey, I’m for reducing human suffering too, so I guess human testicles on a plate would accomplish that. As long as every last bit of the farmed, slaughtered carcass is used, everything’s great. Right?

          • Mountain says:

            Laura, I didn’t quote you (notice the absence of quotation marks), therefore I didn’t misquote. I commented that hog testicles and potatoes have in common that, if you waste either one, you increase the amount of animal suffering. You responded that they weren’t the same.

            Well, no kidding. They’re different in all kinds of ways, but they are the same in that it takes animal suffering to produce either one. Therefore, if you waste either one, you are wasting the animal suffering that went into it, AND you are creating more animal suffering because whatever food you replace the wasted calories with will come at the cost of animal suffering.

            As for the chart you linked to, I am extremely familiar with it, and it supports my point. While different foods cause wildly different levels of animal suffering, you’ll notice that all foods cause some animal. Therefore, any food that goes to waste causes more animal suffering. Your own source confirms it.

          • Laura says:

            @Mountain: You obviously quoted me without using quote marks.
            Animal suffering seems to be something cherished; you don’t want to “waste” it by not having it go through people’s digestive tracts.
            The animals should not be in those farms and slaughterhouses, at all.
            Vegan diet creates zero deliberate animal suffering and minimal accidental, and accidental suffering/killing can be nearly eliminated by innovative human beings. As opposed to omnivorous diets which inherently cause extreme animal suffering and oceans of innocent blood to flow at human hands. You say both lifestyles are the same or at least similar because all life dies, all eating causes some form of harm. Way back in the 1970s, I’d used that excuse to go back to meat after being vegetarian for awhile…if comforted me…extremely falsely. As vegan I’ve cut through all that nonsense and lies and now know one does not prevent suffering by eating hog testicles, among other gems.
            Those foodies can handle some criticism, or is their skin THAT thin? Vegans get angrily criticized every day… somehow we can still function and remain strong.

          • Mountain says:

            “You obviously quoted me without using quote marks.”

            That’s quite a sentence you’ve constructed there. You come up with that yourself, or does that come from the Ministry of Truth?

            “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
            –George Orwell

  6. Laura says:

    Me: “…lead one to think eating hog testicles is the same as eating potatoes…”

    You: “Really? No animals are killed to produce potatoes? You sure about that?”

    Me: “Why did you misquote me…?”

    You: “I didn’t quote you (notice the absence of quotation marks)…”

    More of the same nonsense.
    A distinction without a difference. Sad semantic game.

    Meanwhile slaughterhouses continue churning out “product”; industry overlords convincing the “conscious” that everything’s lovely as long as they’ll pay top dollar for even that mound of sinew, hair, blood, tumors, and various multicolored blobs you definitely don’t want to examine over in the corner, as long as it’s said to come from happy animals…
    Some from a truck accident:
    “Hallelujah, nothing’s wasted; take that, you lettuce-malnourished-nonetheless-animal-killing vegans who waste animals by not eating them! We’re hearty omnivores with a conscience, and don’t you dare say anything…we’re sensitive!”

    Whole lot to love there. Pollan-Grandin and Company must be so proud.

    Depressing. Thank goodness my vegan diet keeps me from sinking too far.

    I do realize this may be deleted for being too (whatever). Sorry about that.

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