On Honest Meat and Absent Referents
Angus directed me to Honest Meat (did I lose half of you? Does your head hurt?), and I couldn’t stop thinking about Carol Adams‘ The Sexual Politics of Meat (and other texts by her). It’s just a blog, like Animal Person is just a blog, but it nevertheless raises important concerns for us as it gives us yet another small window into the lives and thoughts of people who probably think that they care a lot about nonhuman animals, and that their actions demonstrate how much they care.
I will use only one passage: a mere two sentences from the July 9 entry at Honest Meat, and then quote Adams. Referring to a gorgeous cow (there’s a photo), the Honest Meat author writes:
"Yes, she will be sitting on my dinner plate eventually, a fact of life
for most farm animals. We are not operating a farm sanctuary- we have
to make a living from what we raise, and thus, those animals have to
produce something for human consumption."
Without rereading Adams, I flip through the text to what I have already underlined, and here’s a smattering:
- "One does not eat meat without the death of an animal. Live animals are thus the absent referents in the concept of meat. The absent referent permits us to forget about the animal as an independent entity; it also enables us to resist efforts to make animals present (51)." The animals are "what" the author of the blog raises and they "have to produce something." The animals are mere commodities whom we have decided must "produce" so we may take from them, by force of course, whatever (and whenever) we wish.
- "Without its referent point of the slaughtered, bleeding,
butchered animal, meat becomes a free-floating image. Meat is seen as a
vehicle of meaning and not as inherently meaningful; the referent
‘animal’ has been consumed (59)."
- "Language can make animals absent from a discussion of meat because
the acts of slaughtering and butchering have already rendered the
animal as absent through death and dismemberment (79)."
- "The use of adjectives in the phrases ‘humane slaughter’ and
‘forcible rape’ promotes a conceptual misfocusing that relativizes
these acts of violence. . . . Just as all rapes are forcible, all
slaughter of animals for food is inhumane regardless of what it is
- "Children, fresh observers of the dominant culture, raise issues
about meat eating using a literal viewpoint. One part of the
socialization process to the dominant culture is the encouragement of
children to view the death of animals for food as acceptable; to do so
they must think symbolically rather than literally . . . . One
three-year old vegetarian demanded that he and his mother confront the
local marketpersons with the literal truth that they were selling ‘poor
dead mommie and baby animals’ (86)."
- "Without cooking, meat would not be palatable [and] cooking also
masks the horrors of a corpse and makes meat eating psychologically and
aesthetically acceptable (126)."
Honest Meat includes a list of "Honest Producers." Producers. The people
produce animals whom they will slaughter and sell to other people who do not
need to eat them. The "producers" have Orwellian names like "Nature’s Harmony
Farm." What’s "honest" about that moniker?
There is also a list of "Honest Books," including all the usual
suspects, with very little honesty among them (Gail Eisnitz is on the
list, but surely only to justify the oxymoronic, absent-referent
concept of honest meat).
Finally, what concerns me the most about this site, as with the
authors claiming it’s possible to be compassionate carnivores, is that
a woman is the creator, and I expect more from women. I expect women to see the parallels between the treatment of women and the treatment of nonhuman animals, and be more likely to stand in solidarity with nonhuman animals and demonstrate their rejection of the dominance and violence of the male culture rather than substituting their own version.
There is no honesty in claiming animals must produce something
for human consumption. It is a choice to breed sentient nonhumans so
you may take milk from their children, take their menstrual excretions,
take their choices away from them, take their freedom, and take their
lives. There is no "must" in that equation. And as for the honesty of
"meat," we’d be in the ballpark of honesty if we said honest
slaughtered sentient beings or nonhuman animals. "Meat" is just a word
we use when we’re trying not to tell the truth.
If you haven’t visited HumaneMyth.org and read the stories by people who used to breed and kill nonhuman animals for a living, entirely convinced that they were doing nothing wrong, now might be a good time.