“The art of butchery,” in Aeon Magazine


In the past several decades, the world’s meat consumption has risen, reaching a new peak in 2002 at 219 lbs (just over 99 kg) per person, Fitzgerald says. Slaughtering methods have become even more efficient and prices for meat have actually dropped, reaching the lowest in 50 years. The number of meat-processing facilities has decreased, but the number of animals being processed has increased, meaning more animals in concentrated numbers – both living and dead – and more environmental health issues, such as manure levels becoming toxically high. In today’s most efficient factories, at least in the US, 400 cattle can be processed per hour. In the time it took me to skin, butcher and cook my squirrel, nearly 10,000 cattle had been killed and processed in just one factory.

We live in what Richard Bulliet, a historian at Columbia University, calls a new era of ‘postdomesticity’ – people live far away, both physically and psychologically, from the animals that produce the food, fibre and hides they depend on. Yet they maintain very close relationships with companion animals – pets – often relating to them as if they were human. In Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relations (2005), Bulliet comments that people continue ‘to consume animal products in abundance, but psychologically, its members experience feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust when they think (as seldom as possible) about the industrial processes by which domestic animals are rendered into products and about how those products come to market’.

We all know, or are, these people – the ones who’d rather buy our meat frozen, indiscernible from the animal it was, who brush off the family vegetarian at holidays with a Don’t ruin it for everybody else! The same people who might cry when running over a squirrel on the way home from the grocery store. …

This essay can be read in its entirety here:


1 Comment

  1. A beautiful, provocative essay– plainly provocative enough to provoke bursts of furious comment on the Aeon site. Personally, I’m impressed by the way you balance a host of ethical concerns with what is either a learned or an instinctual drive to kill and consume. Even more impressed by the deft way you lead the reader from a single, sinewy squirrel carcass into the labyrinthine meat factories of Texas and the industrial Midwest, with sidetrips into porn and slasher films. Big up!


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