Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed behind the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”
Truth be told, the context of this quotation is something the internet has failed to provide. And, unfortunately, I own no literature by Emerson.
My purpose in approaching a post about this quotation is merely to express why I like it. And it might not be why you think…
It is true that in order to buy that 8 ounce steak, somewhere a cow had to be slaughtered. That is an immovable fact. But though the slaughterhouse plays a part in my liking Emerson’s words, it is just that: a part.
The real reason I love his words is this: they shock the reader into remembrance of what it takes to be fed.
In our modern society, most of us are completely removed from the production of our food. If thinking of the earth and all species inhabiting it as interconnected systems, all playing an instinctual game of give and take, it makes sense for humans to consume meat. In fact, from an evolutionary perspective, if the relatives of man had not adapted to eat meat, our brains would not be what they are. And what is one of the key traits that makes us unique among species? Our brain.
If it is true that it makes a lot of sense to eat healthy amounts of high quality protein, why is the image of a slaughterhouse so disturbing?
For two reasons that I can think of: one, most of us have never killed an animal. Most of us have never even seen an animal being killed. Many of us probably haven’t even seen a dead animal that hadn’t already been cut into a markedly non-animal shape.
Two, most meat companies raise animals for slaughter in a way that was absolutely not designed by God: animals are fed what can’t be digested properly so are shot up with antibiotics. The image of death and the reminder of how far from nature our meat industry has come disturbs us. So, we avoid the reminder of what it took to bring that hamburger to our table.
Keep in mind that this isn’t about meat. The purpose is to inspire responsibility for our food.
When it comes to eating meat, beef that has been grass fed and allowed to graze and is happy during life is going to be healthier for the eater, healthier for the earth, and healthier for the spirit.
In addition, eggs that were hatched by a hen that was fed properly, given plenty of land to roam and graze from birth will have the same effect.
Finally, even spinach that is grown with respect to the earth and our bodies instead of a focus on that ever present god, the dollar sign, will be richer in iron and vitamins, will lift your Spirit, and leave the earth happy.
Responsibility for our food is vital.
I would that people researched, and saw where exactly there food is coming from. The conditions in which it is produced, how it balances with nature (if it does at all), what impact it has on the workers, the earth, our own bodies.
Humans are not above nature. We are a part of it, from the sun that feeds the grass that feeds the cow that feeds us. Remember this when choosing what to eat for dinner.
*For a more in depth and eloquent look at food production, read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.