I’ve spent this semester – what is to be my last semester taking classes ever – studying the slaughter of animals. It’s not for the fainthearted.
Prior to these past few months, you could think of me like the actors in Portlandia: very concerned about the life their chicken (named “Collin”) had before ending up on their plate. I try to buy organic, free range, blah blah blah. But come to find out that industry is industry. Caring for 10 chickens in your backyard looks a heck of a lot different than 10,000 chickens – but all could be labeled organic.
Today I was scrolling through my instagram feed and saw very thoughtful posts of quotes and scripture, pictures and photos inspiring us to stop and think about what today means… “Good” Friday. A day of slaughter. That might seem graphic, but Jesus’ death was wrought with calculated precision to cause immense pain.
It’s such a privilege to think about this – to think about killing – in the abstract, in words. It’s easy to think headlines don’t apply to me. Even worse, that traumatic actions are done every day on my behalf… I can turn a blind eye. But ignorance is not the answer.
Everyday in large industrial slaughterhouses 2,500 to 5,000 cows are killed… at each site. (Lest we not forget, this is just one type of animal.) People lose limbs, fingers, and their souls doing this work. But they go back to work because they are “borrowing” social security numbers from people, this is the only job they can find, and people in mass quantities are needed. Better to show up to work missing a finger or with chronic pain from doing the same motion every day than be deported.
(Dear Lord, forgive us.
We want to make these claims and theories about immigration and GMOs and organics, but the system is set up for profit, for gain, for exploitation. Few really want to have a deep conversation about science and theology around food. Fewer want to engage the work. Instead I spend my time scapegoating Monsanto and carrying on eating my Trader Joe’s organic freerange chicken. Sure, there might be some issues to explore there – I am trying in a small way to do things different – but beyond the labels and the social media campaigns, there are stories and faces and so.much.death. in the name of me being able to eat meat three times a day.
If it seems like I am angry – maybe I am. I can’t forget what I have read and seen. I cannot only worry about Collin-the-chicken’s life as now I am concerned with what we do in death… Death happens behind concrete walls. Death happens in grotesque, awful ways, and I don’t have to know about it.
Jesus knew this. He asked for something different. “Take this cup from me.”
But we don’t. We keep our eyes closed and our cups held tightly. Or in the case of many people, upon hearing “I am studying slaughterhouses,” they reply, “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to change.” Oh the privilege in that statement. This is not a conversation about becoming a vegetarian or that I have signed up for animal advocacy – it’s an issue of awareness and that by segregating issues (food justice, immigration, healthcare, etc.) we are missing the whole picture.
Isn’t that what Good Friday requires of us though? To move from denial to awareness? To embrace death, but to not ignore when death is done in ways that are morally and fundamentally wrong? Where no one is treated well – human or animal. Where adrenaline, fear and, stress are served alongside our rack of lambs and roast beasts. Even if it’s organic. Can we find other ways if we choose to eat meat? I think we can. Actually, I know we can because I have spent the past two weeks in conversation with small-time processors who spend all day with one animal thanking it, killing it, and harvesting it (that is the proper term). Instead of just seeing hooves or livers… 2,500 livers in one day… you go numb.
Wouldn’t it be a miracle to live a society where emotions were okay? Where we truly cared about hearing the stories of the people and animals exploited for my benefit? Where concrete was replaced with glass. Where we could see how death leads to life and not just hiding it away. I am pretty sure that is the invitation of Good Friday.
So may we not hide behind words this weekend. May we not be thankless for our Easter meals – feasts rather – where people labored in fields and with chainsaws with blood at their feet so we could eat. May we realize the last supper was about hard conversations and truth telling at a table where the marginalized were welcomed. May we not use ignorance as an excuse but a reason to learn. May Easter open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds to the woundedness around us so that we may move into healing alongside the work of the Spirit. Amen.