Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You Little Meat

I recently saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time. It is a masterpiece of the horror genre that I recommend to anyone who can appreciate it. This blog post contains some spoilers, so I'm giving you fair warning right now. I'm not going to describe the whole plot or anything, but I will be revealing some key points. The movie will still be worth your time to watch despite these revelations of mine, though, believe me. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (spoiler alert) is about a family of cannibals who live out in Bumfuck Nowhere, Texas. They exist on the fringe of society, and enjoy harvesting and eating human beings. The whole movie was a commentary on meat-eating in general, which was obvious right from the beginning, when they describe the grisly goings-on in the local slaughterhouse in one of the very first scenes. This is where it occurred to me that this film was going to be much easier to take as a vegan. 

A lot of the horror in the movie comes from the fact that these backwoods psychotic hicks are capturing, killing, cooking and eating people, the same way we kill and eat cows, pigs and chickens. There are shots of human meat being roasted in the stove, stuff like that. The thing is, the stuff I've been reading about that goes on in slaughterhouses was just the same as, and many times even worse than, the shit that went on in the movie. If, in a horror film, we showed a human being being skinned alive or having their legs cut off while they're still kicking, it would be gory and disturbing as hell. But when it happens to cows and pigs in slaughterhouses every day, it's just a normal part of what goes into our dinner. For some, this reality is easier to ignore than for others. I respect The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for pointing out the crazy irony of eating meat, and in particular, the irony of eating some kinds of meat but not others. It highlights the twisted, roundabout logic we have to take in our own minds in order to make eating meat okay for ourselves.

There's a part in the movie where the killer, Leatherface, impales a girl on a meathook, fully alive and conscious, to wait her turn for slaughter, while he chops up her friend right in front of her. It's definitely horrifying, but Jesus, this is what they do to pigs and cows every day. Animals know what's going on, when they're in the slaughterhouse. They can hear the squeals, they can smell the carnage. They know what it means when the man in the bloody apron comes into the pen and removes them one by one, never to return. It fucking freaks them out, just as it would freak you out if it happened to you. In all the footage I've ever seen of animals being slaughtered, you can see the sheer panic and terror in their eyes. It's the same terror that was in the eyes of the girl Leatherface impaled. Animals are not humans, but they still know what's up. Don't kid yourself. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre points out the fact that, essentially, there really is no difference between slaughtering humans for meat and slaughtering other animals for meat. I know animals don’t have the same type of intelligence as us humans do, but I truly believe that that in no way diminishes the value of the intelligence that they do have. To think otherwise is what is called anthropocentrism:

-Anthropocentrism describes the tendency for human beings to regard themselves as the central and most significant entities in the universe, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.-

This is the view most of society takes nowadays, most notably when it comes to eating meat, and it is a dangerous one. Ironically, a human-centered view of reality ultimately leads to a loss of our humanity. Animals are still sentient beings. They still understand and feel pain. They are still deserving of fair and respectful treatment, just like any other intelligent, living, conscious beings in this world. Anthropocentrism is all about denying this fact.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that eating animals makes you a cannibal, but in a way, to me, on a personal level, it kind of does. I've written before about the fellowship I feel with all living beings now that I am not eating any of them, which may sound like a lot of hippie bullshit to some, but I am completely sincere. Abstaining from flesh, eggs, and cheese makes it easier for me to relate animals to myself. This is the problem most people have, in that they don't think of animals this way. They don't give them the respect they deserve.

It feels unnatural to me to eat meat now, which is weird, because at first, it feels so unnatural to give it up. But it is possible to "kick the meat habit," as PETA says. That's all it really is, is a habit. At least nowadays it is. I don't pretend to know any of the evolutionary or biological science that goes into whether or not human beings are wired to be carnivores. It doesn't really matter to me. All I know is that if it is not necessary for one to eat meat to survive, then I'm not going to do it. 

I am reminded of the vegetarian rancher’s wife I read about in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. She and her husband raise cows and pigs for slaughter. Their farm is healthily and humanely run, and she believes wholeheartedly in the work she's doing, but still, she can not bring herself to eat meat. I can’t remember her exact quote, and I don’t have the book next to me right now to verify it, but basically, she said she doesn’t eat meat because she knows that it’s not necessary. That’s what I'm talking about. It truly is not necessary, and the modern age of factory farming has highlighted the wasteful and surreal nature of eating animals more than ever.

The texture of a hamburger in my mouth has always felt wrong to me. I first meditated on this when I was thirteen. I still remember the specific journal entry, scrawled in my silvery journal, where I first articulated my feelings about eating meat. I wrote about how it made me feel sick, weighted down, heavy, and how it just didn't seem right. I remember going downstairs and announcing to my mom that I wanted to be a vegetarian. One of the first things she asked me was if I planned to remain a vegetarian my whole life. Kind of a funny question to ask a thirteen-year-old who didn't even know how to begin to consider the rest of her life, but I understand where she was coming from. That question was impossible to answer at the time, however. As strong as my vegetarian convictions were at the time, giving up meat is really rough at first, especially when you're young and the only one in your house who's doing it. As I've said before, I eventually went back to eating meat for a while, but the seed had been planted. I had discovered that I don't like eating corpses.

That's really what it boils down to: when we eat animals, we're eating corpses, just like the family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yeah, it was disturbing to see it happening to humans in the film, but since the question of eating meat has been on my mind lately, it wasn’t as bothersome as it would have been during other times in my life, when I was still participating in our nationwide tradition of eating corpses. Not participating in what I perceive as this twisted cycle frees up my mind, makes me more clear. I no longer struggle with tremendous guilt at every meal, now that I am not eating once living beings. At times, now, such a notion seems beyond strange to me. The world is brutal and gory enough. If you have the chance to not cause or contribute to anyone's or any thing's pain in this world, you should take it. That's how I feel, anyway.

It's interesting to me that often, in art, the consuming of flesh is often associated with evil. This isn't surprising; eating flesh is pretty barbaric by nature. There's just no way to get around that. There's a part in another one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Rosemary's Baby, where Rosemary, who is sickly pregnant with a demon child, finds herself compelled by the evil inside her to eat a raw chicken liver (or maybe it was a heart. I think it was the liver though.). Mia Farrow, who played Rosemary, was a committed vegetarian at the time, but she ate the liver for Roman (Polanski, the director of the film). It's one of the most horrifying instances in the film--one of the moments where the Devil is truly overtaking her--and it is horrifying for no other reason than she is eating another animal's raw liver. Of course, that's fucking gross, but really, what is the difference between eating a chicken's liver and eating its breast meat or drumsticks, other than the fact that we are used to that scenario and not the other?

The bizarre juxtaposition of acceptable edible and non-edible animals and animal parts is just so obvious to me now. I was looking at dog treats with my mom yesterday in the grocery store, and she got grossed out by the pig ears and such. So did I, but again, I have to ask: what is the difference between eating the ears and eating the rump, which us humans do all the time, with joy? We eat pork chops, and give other parts of the pig to our dogs to chew, but there is really no difference between our and our dog's consumption of the animal's parts. It's just a matter of what you're used to. After all, they eat raw, still quivering cow flesh over in Ethopia, and drink raw cow's blood all the time. We don't do that, but we do grill up hamburgers and steaks daily. I'm not trying to sound preachy about this at all. To each their own. It's just that the longer I stay away from eating meat, the weirder it seems to me.

I've taken to affectionately referring to my pets as meat, as in "You little meat!" This is because Master Shake says this to Meatwad in the episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force where he sells him to the circus. Shake tries to entice Meatwad to jump into a paper bag by telling him he's taking him to computer camp. "Come on, you little meat!" he says. I think it's hilarious, which is really why I say it, but it's also a good way to keep the eating of animals in perspective, I think. My dogs and cats are meat. So are you. So am I. I'm not being "gross" by referring to them as such. That is what they are. That fact is easier for me to deal with now that I'm not consuming meat anymore.

Meat is one of those words that just sounds like what it is. Meat. It sounds red, squirmy, wet and weighty. I always get an image of entrails. The fact is that some people eat cows, some people eat dogs, and sometimes, as depicted in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, people eat people. I choose not to eat any of it, and I feel really good about that decision. 

The back of the dvd case for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre said, "It does for eating meat what Psycho did for taking showers!" I definitely would say that this is so. Regardless of your stance on eating meat, I think it's something everyone needs to at least be aware of and truly consider for themselves, responsibly. People should carefully consider their decisions in life, especially ones that make such a big, irreparable impact on ourselves and the world, like eating meat. The goal is not to just blindly go through life like sheep, or like cows being led to the slaughter. Really assess the circumstances for yourself, and think about the consequences. Try to discover for yourself how you actually feel about it. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre will help you to consider this. I've personally found that I prefer not to sustain myself on dead flesh, especially when it's not necessary to survive. And make no mistake, it's not.