“So, who wants to work on the slaughter floor?” You could hear a pin drop. Quietly we hoped for ‘normal’ chores: preparing pallets, supplying machines, packing boxes or something alike. Please, anything but this. Scenes of horror movies came up: yelling animal abusers, flashing sirens, beeping alarms, screaming animals, blood-stained walls and other gross stuff. Our reluctance was undoubtedly due to such imagination. The finest man kicked up a notch by stating that “they don’t feel any pain”. Goosebumps came up. Ha, listen to that. Easy talking on behalf of dead animals. Over my dead body, go find someone else for your shit job. Simultaneously with that thought, Charles Bukowski echoed through my head: “If you go, go all the way!” You know… he’s right. Fuck it, let’s do it. Just let go. My perspective flipped 180 degrees. Wishful thinking doesn’t make this place disappear. Head dive into it, observe, learn and move on. Suddenly it seemed to be a logical part of the (un)chosen path: ‘running away’ from life, ‘decent’ housing and the dropped ‘mask of normality’. Bukowski urged me again: “Do it! Do it! Do it!” The manager’s patience had run out in the meanwhile. He started pointing out people before I could raise my hand. I was one of the lucky ones to fulfill this (un)grateful function. Either he felt my change of heart, or he saw someone made out of the right stuff, or both. What a fantastic compliment.
We got our equipment after the required instructions and scribbles. Fit, try and move on. We were taken to the crime scene immediately, time is money. Just let me clean my boots and put on a clean apron for a stunning first impression. We opened the door and walked into the supreme moment. So, this is where it happens. What struck us as newbies was how smooth and structured everything went on. Everyone had an assigned task at a specific place. It looked very robotic, which it is. Still, certain tricks and skills were needed for some chores. Some are clearly unsuitable for beginners like us. It’s a puzzle that kept the supervisor busy. We exchanged our impressions while he was occupied. All of us expected a bigger shock. It all went really ‘neatly’, sadistic abuses were (luckily) absent. Yet we were still quite flabbergasted. We saw men pulling skins of carcasses with all their strength. Packed-up creatures were grabbing intestines out of rib cages. Someone’s family member that’s walking around with cut off heads or chasing escaped sheep. Humans who’re cutting their fellow mammals to shreds. Silhouettes that were slicing off udders or balls (and get sprayed by milk or cum). Big apes that are splitting stomachs from the testiness (and get covered by acid, shit and other disgusting crap by doing so). All of this happened with minimal interaction, enormous noise and lightning speed. The indifferent reception couldn’t have been more striking.
The supervisor gestured to follow him. He placed me next to the feet cutter for a demanding job: removing cut off feet from the hooks. This obedient worker carried out the assignment. I laughed like The Joker after a while. What a typical moment. The path towards a ‘normal’ life was wide open, but I ended up here instead. It was a place of mechanical monotony. A place where there’s no room for fatigue, pains or amateurism. Even the break was a matter of rushing and force-feeding while keeping a constant eye to the clock. I had to cut away remnants of udders, balls or chunks of fat once the ‘relaxing’ lunch was over. The pace was challenging for a beginner, especially when disinfecting and sharpening the knives was included. It took my best efforts to keep up. This didn’t go unnoticed by another (grumpy) supervisor. I stoically carried on while he barked all sorts of commands. He went on relentlessly until he found another ‘victim’ to pester. Practice makes perfect, so I got the hang of it. The butcher of Holland would be proud. Visions of a promising future popped up. This dream job is the stepping stone for a brilliant career, the addition to a truly engaging LinkedIn profile. No, wait. These delusions came up and disappeared. Perhaps this will be the kiss of death for this fallen behind ‘runaway’. Maybe this is the tipping point of sanity or ‘professional’ incompetence. Time will tell whether ‘the’ (moral-ethical) line has been crossed. One thing’s certain though: the hands of this beer lover are completely haram.
We stopped at a supermarket on our way home. This fresh meat worker lacked the appetite for flesh after a workday packed with disturbing touches, smells and sights. I overheard a conversation as I walked past the plasticized broilers, steaks, sausages and T-bones. With a smile, I heard complaints about high prices and a limited range. ‘Modern’ people are so blinded by a clinical fake-reality, I thought. Even though I instantly realized that I’m no better. There are so many other outsourced or concealed morally-uncomfortable matters that I (deliberately) don’t know about. Disillusioned I bought some vegetarian pasta. My embarrassment of consecutive meat consumption was numbed with the quick bleep of a self-checkout. Against my better judgment, I convinced myself that all non-animal food doesn’t disturb the natural equilibrium. Pesticides, artificial growing methods or a (overly) industrial scale don’t destroy anything at all. Inconceivable amounts of land, biodiversity or creatures remain unaffected. Humans ‘simply’ have free rein as long as animals don’t show too much consciousness and intelligence; what else is their purpose. Yes, nature is equal. I wiped the sweat from my face. Relaxed I walked to the parking lot with my (un)ethical fellow-consumers. One by one they left in their individual bubble, some with screeching tires. Maybe they went to the McDrive. Why not. The customer is a sensible king, the voter always knows better and more choice is more happiness.
I called someone to thank him for his golden tip. He congratulated and warned me that ‘this isn’t good for your mental health’. “Well, you know… it’s already fucked up. I’m circling the drain” I said dryly. I hung up with semi-maniacal laughter. But karma is a bitch. He who laughs last, laughs longest. His prophetic words came true. Messing around with half a million carcasses had certain side effects. I thought I could get rid of them rationally. Well, I didn’t. This kind of work can only be sustained if you have certain beliefs, flip ‘a switch’ within yourself and (to put it bluntly) don’t think too much. That was the ‘problem’ when ‘animal-friendly halal slaughter’ was my daily routine. No matter how often the place is cleaned, the aura of death and decay lingers. Even a ‘neat’ abattoir with strict compliance with all protocols and legislation is and remains a slaughterhouse. My conscience was troubled by the dark nature and unreal scale of the (livestock) industry. One abattoir of one animal species in one country is no more than a drop in the ocean. Daily they use a staggering amount of water, energy, animals, transport, plastic and other resources. Later on I didn’t just see a conveyor belt, but one that has gone apewire. I saw a conveyer belt that’s driven by highly calculated profit maximization, financial incentives and ‘collateral’ damage. Feeding billions of omnivores isn’t enough. It’s more like careless killing than attentive and respectful slaughter. This on its turn is the result of pumping out as much ‘production’ as possible for the almighty and all-powerful Euro/Dollar. I had seen enough after a few months. Disillusioned I turned my back on this socially-tolerated massacre.
Nothing is as profound as personal experiences. That’s why places packed with conflicting forces somehow attract me. Dilemmas and opposing interests are as old as the road to Rome. They have something natural, and looking away doesn’t make them disappear. Give me the ragged edges of society, show me what people are capable of. I wanted to face the raw truth of industrial meat. Speak to involved immigrants from underprivileged areas. Trying to understand why we do what we do. To see how almost any situation can be normalized. Despite my growing aversion, I wasn’t led by simplistic value judgments or emotions. An opinion is (too) quickly expressed. It’s easy talking for me as a Dutchman. Not everyone has a politically/economically stable base, subsidized education, all kinds of government programs or a ‘strong’ passport. Make the best of what you’ve got. Fact remains that food has to be put on the table. Everyone pursues specific goals and wants to eat properly (for a reasonable price). Yet I say: know what you eat. Who pays, decides. The consumer is much more powerful than the voter. Inform yourself and make well-considered purchases or investments. More equality and openness, that’s my silent hope. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.
We can’t make it any nicer, but we can make it clearer.