Less and Better? Episode 7: Not a Small Act

Less and Better? Episode 7: Not a Small Act 150 150 Farmerama Radio

What do we do about meat? With this urgent question as its starting point, this series seeks to move beyond polarised debate and identify key questions and shared values to help us build a better meat future for all.

In this episode, co-hosts Olivia Oldham and Katie Revell look into the question: can it ever be morally right to farm animals? They speak to farmers, researchers, meat eaters and abstainers, to discuss various cultural and personal ways of relating to animals, and explore if and how it’s possible to square caring for animals with eating them.

This episode featured the voices of Colin and Jill Russell, Jo Pepper, Hibba Mazhary, Kumar and Molly Vasanthakumar, Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder, Samson Hart, Sara Moon, Andrew and Seonag Barbour, Nikki Yoxall, and Alex Heffron.

Less and Better? was created thanks to the generous support of The Roddick Foundation and The A Team Foundation. Our series music is made by Alex Bachelor, with artwork by Jagoda Sadowska. The series was researched and produced by Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham, with support from executive producer Jo Barrat. Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Abby Rose, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

If you are interested in the ideas and questions raised in the seventh episode, we’ve linked some further resources below:

  1. Moral Boundaries: A political argument for an ethic of care
  1. A Good Animal Life: Bringing awareness of animal sentience into farming practice
  1. Qualitative behaviour assessment as an indicator of animal emotional welfare in farm assurance
  1. Evaluation of Animal-Based Indicators to Be Used in a Welfare Assessment Protocol for Sheep
  1. Interview: Professor Francoise Wemelsfelder
  1. Distancing animal death: Geographies of killing and making killable
  1. A good life and a good death: Re-localising farm animal slaughter

Episode Transcript:

Jo Pepper 0:00
I want to just be able to eat what I want without feeling bad. I’ve watched a few shows on Netflix in the past about veganism and it’s horrific, and it makes you want to be vegan, but then I don’t want to stop eating meat, so I try not to think about it.

Olivia Oldham 0:19
Less and better. Episode Seven, not a small act. I’m Olivia Oldham.

Katie Revell 0:26
I’m Katie Revell.

Olivia Oldham 0:29
In this episode, we’re going to dig into a question that arguably we should have started with. After all, the way you choose to answer it could negate every other conversation we’ve had so far.

Katie Revell 0:42
Lurking in the background of all the discussions we’ve had about less and better meat, there is a pretty fundamental question. Can it ever be morally right to farm animals? Not because of the consequences for ecosystems for the climate for people, but just in and of itself?

Olivia Oldham 1:03
Is it okay to keep and control animals for human needs? Or human wants? And to kill them for humans to eat? Is it possible to square respect? Care, even love for animals with killing and eating them? Could you kill an animal?

Sivalingam Vasanthakumar 1:24
When you go to the slaughterhouse they can feel it. They won’t come out of the trailer.

Katie Revell 1:29
Back when he used to raise goats, farmer Sivalingam Vasanthakumar, who also goes by Kumar, he’d bring the goats to the abatoir himself.

Sivalingam Vasanthakumar 1:37
And I started questioning, am I doing the right thing? Why am I inflicting pain? And do we really need animal protein? And is there a better way to farm? I originally come from Sri Lanka from a dairy farm. I was born into a farming community and my parents farmed. As a Hindu we don’t eat beef. It’s a sacred animal. Dad was a total vegetarian, and I was a meat eater. We ate meat once a month. It was a luxury. I loved meat. I came to England after the Civil War broke out in 1985. I did a master’s in sustainable agriculture here. And I worked on farms, mainly dairy and educational projects in agriculture. And then I have my own goat farm and the sheep farm.

Molly Vasanthakumar 2:28
My name is Molly and I am Kumar’s daughter, I kind of grew up on farms and like closely followed the work that my dad was doing. I then graduated as a vet in 2019, and went into equine practice, and then into small animal practice.

Sivalingam Vasanthakumar 2:44
When I worked in a dairy farm, I was a stock person. And I used to do relate milking and separating calves. I started questioning the whole the system, the way the system was working wasn’t right. To me, personally, separating calves and the stress on the on the cows. When I started my goat farm, we had 70 Goats. And the male kids were taken for slaughter. And I always had a trailer on the field. And I used to select the male kids, and put them in the field and I’d park the trailer so that they get used to getting in and out. So I come in the morning, I booked them for the slaughter. And I come into the field, they’re sitting in the trailer, and I shut the trailer door. And then I drive. It’s very hard, and I couldn’t make a living. And then I’m sitting in my pickup truck. I’m driving and I’m thinking I cheated these goat kids. They were sitting in the trailer literally. So questions came. But again, I didn’t want to give up because that’s my pride farming. And also there was a little bit of macho image as well, you know, farming, I had that. And I think a lot of farmers do.

Katie Revell 3:54
In 2014 Kumar moved to a new farm in Devon. He was planning to raise sheep and use their meat for his street food business.

Sivalingam Vasanthakumar 4:02
But I struggled again, when I booked the first batch of lambs struggled to take them for slaughter. So what I did, I sold it to a middleman. And Molly question me at that point. Why are you doing this? The whole point was for me to slaughter them and then use that meat. If I’m selling in the middle man, the old concept is wrong. I kept quiet and the second batch of lambs and I decided that say, I’m going to give up but I didn’t have the guts to tell anybody. And it was 2019. Molly was in a final year veterinary medicine and she called in the middle of the day. She said that you’ve got 20 lambs there. What are you going to do? And I told her, Molly that’s is, you’re going to send all the 20 lambs and the 70 ewes to a sanctuary, we need to find a sanctuary. I’m giving up on livestock farming, and I’m changing to a vegetarian. We found a sanctuary and Malia and I, we loaded them and then the lorries came. We took them there and when they open the trailer gate, they they all ran into the field, and that was the best moment, that freedom to live naturally and then say no more of killing, it was the best feeling.

Molly Vasanthakumar 5:09
I still remember dad calling me and saying, you know, I have so much enjoyment now when I go to check the sheep, you know, he would always say I, you know, when I go to check them, I always used to turn away, I’d turn away from the ewes and in the lambs, because I feel so bad of what I’m going to be doing to, you know, to the lambs. And then now when I go to them, I just feel proud of, of all these lives that we’ve managed to find a home for. It just felt really lovely.

Sivalingam Vasanthakumar 5:39
Personally, to me, I think every life has got the freedom to live and for protein sake for human consumption, I don’t think we should be killing animals.

Katie Revell 5:55
After a lifetime of farming animals, Kumar now has a smallholding in Somerset, where he’s growing vegetables without using any animal inputs at all. He uses the vegetables to make traditional South Indian dasas which he serves at local street food markets.

Olivia Oldham 6:13
So for Molly and Kumar, doing right by animals means not killing them, and not eating their meat. But what about those of us who do still choose to eat meat?

Katie Revell 6:27
Should I let this heat up?

Olivia Oldham 6:29
Yeah and I’ll put some butter in there.

Katie Revell 6:32
When we were visiting Nicky and James Yoxall, on their farm in Aberdeen, sure, I happened to mention that I’d never actually eaten a steak. I didn’t grow up eating a lot of meat. And it’s just never occurred to me to order it at a restaurant, probably because it’s pretty much always the most expensive thing on the menu. And I guess for the same reason, it’s just not the kind of thing i’d really cook for myself at home.

Olivia Oldham 6:57
So Nikki, and James very kindly gave us a couple of steaks to take home with us. And we decided to cook and eat them together.

Katie Revell 7:05
So should I pat them? I’m trying to think what am I seeing people doing? I don’t mean just like,

Olivia Oldham 7:11
Pat? Well, we should put maybe some salt and pepper on them. Right?

And that you could like massage, or we could you know, I’ve done it before. Turn them over… Yeah. And then then this pan’s probably ready for one of them soon. I’m ust testing if it’s..

Nikki, and James told us that the steaks came from Dougie. Or maybe Dennis. They’re two of the cattle Nicki and James had raised and taken to slaughter in the past year.We

Katie Revell 7:50
We sat down to eat and we reflected on how we felt about knowing the names of the animals we were now eating.

Olivia Oldham 7:56
I was just thinking that it would be nice. While we’re sitting here, looking at this beautiful, amazing smelling plate of food, that it will be really nice to do what Nikki said she and James do, which is just to give thanks to Dougie, or Dennis. Whichever one of you it might have been who gave your life for us to eat this meal. We really appreciate that. And we’re really looking forward to eating you. Bon apetite. Obviously, some people aren’t going to eat meat because they simply don’t believe that it can ever be justified no matter what the circumstances are, or how good the lives of the animals were like, at the end of the day. People kill the animals and and that’s wrong. And I have a lot of respect for that. But I also recognise that other people don’t have that view and don’t make that choice. Whether that’s because they just don’t think about it. Because they do think it’s justifiable and given contexts to kill any animals or simply because they don’t believe it’s wrong. And I think well, certainly up until this point in my life, I fall somewhere in that second camp. Yeah, so I guess, yeah, I guess my question there. It’s like, well, you know, what do we do? What do I do? What do we do if we are not just going to totally write off the idea of ever killing an animal? Then what?

Katie Revell 9:42
Yeah, which I think takes us to the whole question of what does it look like to do that better or to do that in the best way possible? And not just for the people involved, but fundamentally for the animals as well?

Olivia Oldham 9:57
Do we have to look away to some extent, to be able to eat meat? Or is it actually a case of looking closer of learning to live with death? And to accept that it’s a necessary part of life? I mean, I don’t know, both of those I think seem true in different ways to me.

Katie Revell 10:21
Yeah, I think for me personally, and obviously, having grown up in a specific context, a specific society, a specific culture, given all that, for me, I think there is an element of cognitive dissonance that is unavoidable. Yeah. I have thought about this specific question a lot. And I cannot resolve it. Absolutely.

Olivia Oldham 10:53
I think, in a lot of ways, like, if anything was going to stop me from eating meat, it would be this. I think, I think all of the other topics we’ve touched on and all the other episodes, I think, they somehow they don’t feel so absolute. Yeah. And I know that this isn’t either, in some ways, but it also kind of feels that way. I’m definitely like reaching the end of the process of making this series with more questions than I had before about this, and whether it really is right, at the very least in, in what very limited set of circumstances it can be right? For me.

Katie Revell 11:44
When I started eating meat having been vegetarian, I sort of dressed it up as this very Yeah, level headed, rational, sensible decision to do with much broader environmental considerations. And I still think those considerations are really relevant. But I think I also used that as a reason not to think about some of the kind of gnarly or more emotional stuff because it’s Yeah, because it’s really, really difficult. I think being aware of that contradiction feels really important to me, and not denying it and not trying to explain it away in a way that feels more important to me than trying to get to a point where there is no contradiction, and there is no awkwardness.

Olivia Oldham 12:42
So, if at least some of us are gonna continue farming and killing animals for meat, at least at some scale, how can we do that, better? How can we do it in the best way possible not just for the people involved, but for the animals too.

Nikki Yoxall 13:00
know, that’s a big deal kind of killing an animal and eating that meat is not a small act.

Katie Revell 13:08
That’s Nikki

Nikki Yoxall 13:09
And so there needs to be a level of respect in my mind for the animal. If we’re going to raise animals, and we’re going to be meat and beef producers, then one of the ways that we can demonstrate that respect is by caring for them as well as we possibly can.

Katie Revell 13:24
Care can mean a lot of different things in different contexts. And care has sometimes been criticised for the way it can disempower the recipients of that care, the way it can turn them into passive objects, and grant the caregivers all the power to decide which of their needs are important, and which aren’t.

Olivia Oldham 13:45
Animals communicate and experience the world in different ways than we do. So how can we as humans, as the ones holding all the power? How can we practice care in ways that don’t get caught up in this kind of disempowering logic?

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 14:02
I wanted to do biology because I wanted to go and study and live with wild animals of course, who doesn’t?

Olivia Oldham 14:08
Professor Francois Wemelsfleder is a biologist and a of Animal Behaviour and welfare at SIUC, Scotland’s rural college.

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 14:17
As a first year student, I became really concerned and this is quite a while ago, times have changed. How I was told by my professors that my interest in what animals were thinking and feeling was too anthropomorphic, it was too subjective. It couldn’t be part of science. And so I couldn’t get past that it I almost decided to leave science, because I thought it was so strange that questions about sentience and what what animals are thinking and feeling that that couldn’t be part of science. We were taught in a completely mechanistic language, anything there is to know any question about behaviour or how they live or what they do is framed And in terms of complex, functional mechanistic systems, and that for me, right away, didn’t really wash. Because my experience as a child, you know, with our dogs and our cats was these are not machines. They’re not complex machines, they are sentient beings. So I decided I changed my direction. And my goal has always been to try and help bring the sentient animal into biological science and find ways to practically help study and understand it. So it doesn’t seem much look at integrating consciousness as another causal factor in a causal mechanistic system. But really, it’s a matter of philosophically of trying to develop an introduce another language another perspective, that you then also need to test of course, if that’s usable in science, you know, the question, of course, you can ask is, when you look at your, your animals that you have at home, what makes you convinced they’re not machines? In that respect, I think what I’ve done is not rocket science, you know, it’s not based on complex technology or brain scans, there is a fundamental precedence of animals as sentient beings, and they are expressive in how they move.

Olivia Oldham 16:23
For a lot of people, the idea of sentience is really central to understanding what is and isn’t morally justifiable when it comes to animals. But when we say animals are sentient, what do we actually mean?

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 16:38
Well, there’s two ways you can approach that, the traditional mechanistic approach is where you would ask, How does sentience and the animal’s feelings fit with the animals functional organisation? That’s valid, and is I think it would be useful to have more understanding of that. But my colleagues often say, you know, we can only indirectly know what animals feel. I don’t think that’s true. That was a really important driver for me is like, when you realise that feelings aren’t just things floating around in the brain, you know, without anybody having those feelings. But philosophically speaking, talking about feelings is per definition related to the whole animal. To give an example, even if we know that, for example, certain brain parts like the amygdala are very closely associated with anxiety. That doesn’t mean we’re going to say Oh, poor amygdala, they’re full of anxiety. dissenting being is the whole animal who has the feelings and whose feelings they are.

Katie Revell 17:47
Professor Wemelsfelder has applied her ideas about animal sentience by developing a tool called qualitative behaviour assessment or QBA. The idea with QBA is that it gives farmers a framework that helps them draw on their existing knowledge of animal behaviour to assess and track how animals are feeling. And that that can help them do a better job of respecting and caring for them as sentient individuals.

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 18:13
The way in which animals move isn’t just physical there is a continuous psychological expressivity. You know, qualitative expressivity. There’s what they do, they sit, they walk they eat. Those are the physical elements that we are taught as scientists to measure. But there’s also how they do those behaviours. So does a continuous stream of expressiveness, all these expressive qualities that your animals can be calm and relaxed, and a little bit fearful and a little bit tense or very frightened. And we see that and we interpret it, we have another being and you enter a more relational paradigm, you enter in a way a moral domain, as well as so the essence of that domain is communication, inviting the other being to express itself and then learning developing the skill to properly understand the way the other being expresses itself. I like these sorts of things, it means that you can get it wrong. But the interesting thing philosophically is that the fact that you can get it wrong doesn’t mean it’s invisible. It’s like with people, if you know somebody really well, you can see right away sometimes, you know, even better than they do themselves. You know, I never have any problem with farmers explaining this because they they often understand right away, you know, they relate. You know, when you work with animals a long time you develop a sense and understanding of how these animals express themselves. But it’s important to acknowledge that even then, you never really necessarily fully know the other animals because it’s not an object.

Olivia Oldham 19:58
What might the implication of this be? Of truly recognising farmed animals as sentient thinking, feeling individuals as subjects rather than objects, what could it mean for the way we keep and raised them? Thinking back to some of the accounts, we’ve heard of more industrial methods of farming animals, can these be compatible with this understanding of animals as sentient beings? How might it affect the way we approach animal welfare in farming contexts?

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 20:30
It becomes important that welfare is something that not just redefine the animal as if it’s a passive recipient that the animal can create for itself. At a very early stage of my studies, I was very interested in boredom. Because boredom isn’t so much a matter of pain or stress or not being fed well, is really a way of suffering that only arises if you understand it is crucially important for animals to be creative, to have a creative, proactive relationship with their environment where they, instead of being fed well, they can go and feed themselves well. It’s very well established scientifically that animals will go and look for food, even if they have food ready made available, they will go and build their own nest, even if they have ready build nest available. So happiness and positive excitement and playfulness, and good relationships are all as vitally important as the other more physical needs of an animal. And so it can also suffer when it doesn’t get this positive qualities. And so, to me, this is the essence of what it means to give animals a good life.

Katie Revell 21:59
What might it look like to give animals that good life, a life that includes happiness, playfulness, and good relationships? chthonic and Andrew barber raised cows and sheep, that means a Fincastle. In pasture Scotland, you

Seonag Barber 22:16
have to give them as close as possible, their natural way of living.

Andrew Barber 22:23
It’s also socially they’ve got to be able to interact in their environment, they need to be able to choose the environment that suits them. And that’s where the trees come in. Because trees give animal shelter, they give them a different type of feed as well. We think animals need to be able to make some sort of choice as to where they spend that time. We work on a rotational grazing system. So it’s a compromise. And it’s a balance because you’re also moving them in groups around the farm to give that rest period, which is good for wildlife. And every farm would be different in finding that balance. According to the soil type of the vegetation that’s there, the type of animals that they have.

Olivia Oldham 23:06
Chickens and cows are, of course very different animals. But what’s true for the cows on Andrew and Tronix farm and Perthshire is also true for the chickens on Jill and Colin Russell’s farm and Ayrshire.

Jill Russell 23:24
This is the kind of older coop design, so this is the polytunnel that colin designed. And the girls obviously have access to all of the ground and within a day or two days to go into new fresh ground. And they have access to both coops alternative for 24 hours a day. So this is the thing that’s quite nice when they’re obviously out in the natural environment. They love making dust baths. Oh, this is a kind of sleepy part of the day, you can see they’re all in for the afternoon naps are all laying in the grass, just having having a chill.

Colin Russell 24:04
We just wanted to give chickens as good a life as they can have whilst they’re here here on the farm. So I wanted them to have to do as much natural behaviours as what they would do anyway. So you know that way to this, you know the term you call pastured poultry. It’s this method where you’re constantly moving the chickens. So you know, we’re just using electric nets and we’re just moving them like every day, on and on and on. And that just means that they’re getting on a bit of land. They’re getting to go and scratch and forage for what they need, and then the moving off before they cause any damage.

Katie Revell 24:41
What about the other element of welfare that Francois mentioned good relationships? After all, just like us human animals, many farmed animals are simultaneously unique individuals, as well as being deeply social beings who can only be fully understood in the con texts have their social ties.

Seonag Barber 25:01
They have their friend groups, they have cows that they’re actively like being next to. And they’ll stand the lick one another, you know, greeting one another and be very happy in that company, and uncomfortable if they’re separated, you know.

Katie Revell 25:16
So how might we do a better job of respecting and facilitating the need, these animals have to build and maintain relationships with each other.

Nikki Yoxall 25:25
We watch their relationships develop, we keep the calves and the moms together, and we do natural weaning. So they stay together, but so do all the other ages and stock classes. So everyone’s in one herd apart from a bull who lived separately with some pals. And we can see that in the intergenerational relationships. And we can see that particular family groups and anyone who keeps animals who kind of, you know, watches them in this way will tell you this, you see those kinds of very individual relationships develop.

Olivia Oldham 25:56
And, of course, another important element in the social lives of farm animals is the relationships they have with the humans who keep them. What might good welfare, welfare that recognises the sentience of farmed animals. What might that mean for the way farmers relate to the animals they’re raising?

Speaker 1 26:16
My experience is that farmers who work in a system where they have time and space to care for individual animals, they have the skill already, and they really do care, farmers care. But now I think is not just for animal welfare. I think also for human welfare, it matters.

Nikki Yoxall 26:38
And you know, that’s where the kind of naming comes. And we named the animals for ease, but also because it’s a way of sort of signalling our respect for them. And so it’s kind of recognising the character as well as the animal. And I recognise that for some people, it’s really difficult to square that circle, as it were, of like naming animals and then eating them. And I don’t expect other people, if they don’t like it,to change their mind, or to do it the way we do it. I just think for us, it makes sense. And I would much rather know the animal and know the production system, rather than eat meat kind of blindly, without care for where it’s come from. Like, for me that doesn’t demonstrate respect. And so yeah, it just kind of makes sense within my worldview, I guess.

Seonag Barber 27:25
Passionately, I feel an empathy, especially with the cows, especially at birthing time, and if for example, a cow loses a calf, which sometimes happens, it dies, or there’s a stillborn or whatever, that cow goes through a mourning, period, you know, she is definitely depressed. And I feel for that cow, I really feel for that cow. When you have old cows who have lived their life on the farm, and it comes to the time for them to be moved on. They’re taken off the farm, I cry when these cows leave. I really

Andrew Barber 28:05
You know them we know these and they know you because the idea that an animal doesn’t know people is nonsense, then very much No, you so you’re careful about taking strangers in because that makes them nervous. They want to know who you are.

Olivia Oldham 28:20
Think the the experiences that Nikki and Seonag and Andrew have just been sharing are really, really powerful. And I guess in the broader context of of what we’ve heard from Francois, I have a lot of questions about the implications of this kind of thinking, this understanding of positive welfare. For our idea of less and better.

Katie Revell 28:53
Yeah, definitely. I think if we accept that what we should be trying to achieve is that vision of positive welfare where if we are going to be farming animals, where they do have the opportunity to form relationships with each other, to pursue their interests, to feed themselves in the way that they want to shelter themselves in the way that they want to, to have enough stimulation that they’re not getting bored. All of that feels really important, but it’s a really high bar. And for me, that raises the question of, is it possible to provide that kind of welfare at an industrial scale? And I suspect the answer is probably no, in which case then, you know, that is a constraint on the volume of meat we’re producing and consuming.

Alex Saffron 30:03
I think there’s a lot of focus often on the raising of the animal, but there’s not a lot of focus on the killing of the animal.

Olivia Oldham 30:11
I had referred to Dougie and Dennis as having given their lives. But of course, the more honest way of saying that would be to say you know that they were killed.

Katie Revell 30:25
It’s time to address the elephant we parked in the room at the start of this episode, death, slaughter killing. Again, we have to acknowledge that this entire conversation is premised on the assumption that it is possible to reconcile killing animals with the idea of welfare. We know that for lots of people like Kumar and Molly, it’s impossible to reconcile those things. But if we do think that at least in some instances, killing animals for meat can be okay, then what does that look like?

Olivia Oldham 31:02
And, why don’t we think about this more? For most people in the UK, and in other places, too, killing animals for food is something we don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on. It just is. But why is that? We heard from Hibba Mazhary in the last episode talking about food justice. She’s a PhD researcher at Oxford University School of Geography and the environment, where she focuses on meat consumption, slaughter and identity in the British halal meat industry.

Hibba Mazhary 31:35
Animal death is both physically and figuratively distanced from citizens in modern highly industrialised societies, and legitimacy of animal death is often determined by where it takes place. Who does it and why it’s done. Firstly, it happens in very specific locations. So where are abbatoirs? Or slaughterhouses? Is it easy to to access them?

Olivia Oldham 32:10
Over time slaughterhouses in industrialised countries have been moved out of densely populated urban areas and into more peripheral and often rural locations.

Hibba Mazhary 32:22
We very rarely get to see what goes on inside. And a lot of this is tied up with the formalisation and centralization of slaughter, and also tied up with hygiene and biosecurity regulation. So you could say there are other justifications for having slaughterhouses being isolated and difficult to access. It’s not just, oh, we don’t want consumers to see what’s going on. But it’s definitely all linked. This level of concealment is more often a characteristic of highly industrialised nations. And this this lack of exposure is something that is culturally variable. Who does it also matters in this country, for example, only a small group of people are licenced, to be able to kill animals, and why it’s done is also something that makes a difference to legitimacy. So commonly accepted reasons for killing animals in society are for the sake of science or for the sake of food. But something that’s much more contested and less accepted is, for example, killing animals for sport. So yeah, to sum up, animal death, and legitimacy of animal death is highly shaped by where it takes place, who does it and why it takes place.

Katie Revell 33:45
What about the figurative distancing that Hibba talks about? For example, what role does language play in masking, mystifying, euphemising the reality of animal death? In this series, we’ve already heard a range of different terms used for the act of taking an animal’s life. Terms like dispatching, slaughtering, processing, killing. Does it matter how we talk about this?

Hibba Mazhary 34:11
It’s interesting to see the different language that is used in different contexts. So again, I prefer animal death because it’s quite self explanatory. And then killing, I would say it’s a bit more immediate. In a slaughterhouse things like processed could be used. And this is what I would put under the category of figurative distancing of animal death.

Katie Revell 34:35
Yeah, you were saying about trying to avoid euphemisms, which is is pertinent given that I’m thinking back to what I was saying. And I was saying, bring to slaughter you know, things like that.

Olivia Oldham 34:50
Maybe part of this, like confronting and sort of being clear eyed and looking straight on at the reality of What it means to eat meat, which means effectively to be involved in a system of killing animals, I guess part of that is talking about it honestly. And rather than saying, you know, this animal was taken to slaughter, let me say this animal was killed.

Katie Revell 35:17
Somebody killed, somebody killed this animal. Maybe it’s more that? I don’t know. Yeah. And I’m sure there are people who would argue that, actually, you know, the most accurate phrasing would be, the life was, if we’re gonna put it that way the life was taken rather than life was given.

Alex Saffron 35:40
I think we would eat less meat. If we knew what it was like to kill animals more. I think that’s probably true. I think we’d have more respect.

Olivia Oldham 35:48
That’s Alex here from a farmer and PhD researcher based in southwest Wales.

Alex Saffron 35:53
I don’t have a personal problem with killing animals. I think my issue is around how that death occurs and trying to make sure they have the best death possible, least stress as possible, and with as much respect and gratitude for that and connection to that.

Olivia Oldham 36:09
What is the best death possible in terms of animal welfare? What might it mean to respect and to care for an animal not just during its life, but through the process of death as well. Some people claim that smaller scale, more local abbatoirs can bring major benefits for the animals who are killed in them. Having more abbatoirs that are better distributed across the country would massively reduce the distances animals have to travel before slaughter. And this could reduce the physical and emotional distress that many of them experienced before they’re killed. Plus, smaller abbatoirs generally allow the people who work in them to give the animals much more individual care and attention before and at the point of death.

Katie Revell 36:57
But are these things enough to amount to a good death? If what we want is to better appreciate the gravity of what we’re doing when we kill animals for meat, what role could there be in that for ritual? Hibba’s focus is on Halal.

Hibba Mazhary 37:14
In some ways, the halal ritual has certain inbuilt characteristics or components that force you to have a more open approach to animal death. So at the level of the slaughter in the slaughterhouse, there are some things that really force a reflection on death. So the requirements for hand slaughtering, versus machine slaughtering, I would say the vast majority of British Muslims would say you have to hand slaughter, so that encourages more closeness with the act, the requirement to isolate the moment of death. So in the non Halal method, you have the stunning then the neck incision, and the stun, whatever method it is, whether it’s captive bolt or electric, or gas, that could actually kill the animal before the incision. For the Halal process, you have to be able to prove that the stun didn’t kill the animal and that it was actually the neck incision. So you could argue that there’s more isolation of the moment of death and less of diffusion of responsibility across the assembly line. And also the fact that you got to add to a prayer over each individual animal so you could say, Okay, well, that’s a more open approach to death.

Olivia Oldham 38:38
Samson Hart and Sara Moon had a different experience of ritual around animal death. They are the co founders of diasporas Jewish collective Miknaf Ha’aretz, and they’ve both taken part in the Ademar Jewish food and farming fellowship in the United States. As part of the Adamar fellowship, participants can take part in the ritual slaughter of animals they’ve helped to raise.

Samson Hart 39:03
We were invited depending on the time of year you know, when I was there, it was kind of spring summer so we did a ritual slaughter a shifting of chicken whereas if you’re there in the autumn, the it’s with the goats. So I was there and I had this very visceral experience. I was almost vegan, you know, I was like, I was milking these goats every day and it felt beautiful to connect with them and I also felt like unsure about that process. And then I was like, you know, maybe I’ll just witnessed this ritual of killing this chicken and that’ll be the final straw be full vegan, and had a totally different experience that really shocked me. It felt kind of very beautiful and also painful and terrifying and because of the ritual way in which we did it maybe as well and and then the way in which we ate the animal after we you know, we’ve made a big soup on the fire and it fed a lot of people and it felt like wow, that’s that’s Honouring a life. What happened to me when I was part of the process of slaughtering an animal was that my idea of the sanctity of life increased, you know, we were also so well held emotionally that it was like, come that we really encourage you to come and we’re here to talk about it in any way that needs to be spoken about. And we’re here to process that together. I just remember really viscerally remember kind of the moment in which was the rooster that died, and how quickly it went from life, to us plucking the chicken and still feeling the warm body of this animal to like looking like meat, and how quickly you can just lose that sense of sacredness, if you’re not paying attention. There’s a responsibility for us to kind of hold up that sacredness if we’re going to be killing and eating animals. We have Jewish Shepherd ancestors, you know, that was a big part of at least the stories of our ancestors in the Torah and Hebrew Bible, those stories of being living through a relationship with animals in relationship with land. So for me, Jewishly, like, I’m very interested in bringing forth those rituals that are there to remember a way of relating with land and our place, our human place, which is a rightful place within our ecology, like remembering that. And so I feel like ritual is essential to kind of connect in. And, yeah, ritual is about community. It’s about that collective experience that is also then about beyond your own ego, like beyond your own individual experience, like what is this for? What is this slaughter for? Who is it for? So I think it’s about bringing into community something which can be quite sectioned off and individualised.

Sara Moon 41:43
We spent like a lot of time thinking about Jewish values connected to food, food growing and eating meat. And at the time, I was like, a militant, vegan. And actually, for me, I felt like Judaism was calling me to that as a way of having like, as least harm as possible to, to animals and the environment. I would say now, I’m, I’m a post vegan, and I don’t eat meat. But I’m much more curious about, yeah, regenerative farming practices around me and exploring that, especially within a Jewish context. And yeah, just asking ourselves what is kosher. And for me, Jewish values, like speak to liberation and justice and freedom for all beings, you know, whether that’s workers or animals or ecologies around us and ourselves, or health, life is so much at the centre of Judaism, a big part of it is the intention. I wonder if I could actually share a little story.

Olivia Oldham 42:46
In the story, a young person is pouring water over a sharpening stone as they prepare their knife for slaughter.

Sara Moon 42:54
And so the person looking over who’s over 90 years old, is shaking his head. And this young person thinks that maybe because his age, he’s shaking his head, that he’s disapproving. When this young person said, Why are you shaking your head when I’m working? And he said, You’re not doing good work. The Baal Shem Tov, when he sharpened his knife would wet his stone with tears. I think a lot of religious tradition and ritual came from just more direct and like intimate experience with land and creatures. And we’ve had to, we’ve had to, like, add a lot of ritual in because we’ve not maybe had that closeness. And we’ve had to really, like, work on intention and attention. So we’re more mindful, perhaps, of what we’re, what we’re eating. But I think fundamentally, ritual is there when we’ve like, tended that food in a particular way. So that’s what feels really exciting for me. And I think, you know, ritual with regard, you know, taking an animal’s life that feels so important in whatever way you might do it. It’s not just about you. There’s like an honouring that needs doing. There’s like a seeing of this animal, like, taking a moment, you know, and at its simplest, I think, you know, if we did that, how could we have the mess of like the farming and food system that we have today?

Samson Hart 44:32
For me, like it makes eating meat to be what it should be, which is a very precious thing that happens rarely. And that’s very far from like, most of what farming is. It kind of shifted my longing to be to be closer to that process to take that into my own hands. And then like feel what it really means to to live.

Katie Revell 45:01
And what about as eaters of meat. The way Sampson talks about the significance of ritual and his experience of killing an animal, the way it centres honouring and really seeing the animal. It’s a long way from what we’ve learned about the way that animal death is distanced, and justified, in modern industrial societies. It’s an approach that refuses to look away from the truth of what’s being done – killing.

Olivia Oldham 45:28
Could the same approach be relevant for those of us who aren’t directly involved in killing animals for food? Could this increased awareness be part of the less and better meat picture? Would more awareness of animal death forced us to more carefully consider the ethics of the meat we eat? Hibba thinks there is some potential here. But she does also caution that there’s not a straightforward relationship between more awareness and more ethical decision making.

Hibba Mazhary 46:00
So I’ve grappled with this myself, which is the question of what’s the relationship between exposure to animal death? And on the other hand, ethical consideration, more visibility, or more frequent witnessing is the ethically generative unnecessarily? And what I found is that it’s quite a complex picture. And it’s not necessarily as straightforward as saying, if you just showed everyone a video of slaughter, or if you allowed people to visit slaughterhouses, everyone would reduce or cut out their meat consumption. I think there is transformative potential in the idea that transparency leads to political transformation. But equally, there’s also the flip side, which is too much exposure also leads to desensitisation. So yes, there’s definitely space for saying, Okay, let’s get more people into slaughterhouses. Let’s educate people about what goes on, that may not be exposing abuse necessarily just allow them to see what best practices and that might still be something we’re very uncomfortable with, and may lead to cutting down meat consumption. So that could be what a more open approach looks like. But what’s quite interesting is what I’ve come across is in effort to have a more open approach towards animal death. What actually gets in the way is logistical issues. So it’s not necessarily that there’s no appetite for it, sometimes, practically, it’s difficult to achieve what practically gets in the way of trying to cultivate more open outlooks that animal death is the space of the modern slaughterhouse. So you could say in some ways, it’s antithetical to cultivating this closeness. So maybe the question is, then, if it’s the scale that’s preventing this closeness, then downscaling is the way to go.

Alex Saffron 48:09
Our daughter’s having a totally opposite upbringing to us. So like she has seen us killing chickens from like her being two years of age.

Katie Revell 48:16
Alex also thinks there could be potential for killing to be made more visible, and for people to be closer to the process.

Alex Saffron 48:24
No, to her at the minute, it’s quite matter of fact, but she’s only four years old. And I’m waiting for more. There’s questions that come up as she gets older, as well around mortality and death and what that means, and I wonder what phases she’ll go through with that as well. But like most people don’t have that opportunity to be that involved. So how do we facilitate that? Sometimes I wonder whether we should all really have to visit an abattoir and see the whole process. And if we can be involved, maybe maybe not even necessarily be involved, but actually just at least witnessing and being there through it means that something there like schools could be doing. I don’t see why not myself. But the thing is, I don’t think it can just be to contradict myself earlier, that you just when you’re a kid, you go and visit an abattoir for a day. And that’s all you’ve ever done in your life. Because the more time goes on the more you just disavow that and park it in your, in your psyche in there. So what is that ongoing connection? How do you keep that? That is really hard. And I don’t think the answer is that, you know, we all get to know our farm. I don’t think that’s realistic, like, you know, how do seven million people in London get to know their local farmer? What is that about? Like, it’s not possible, so we’re gonna have to have other ways of doing that.

Olivia Oldham 49:37
So how else might we reduce our detachment and allienation from the reality of what it means to kill animals for meat. Once again, maybe ritual could help us as eaters to appreciate what we’re doing when we eat animals. Maybe it could help us to recenter what some people might refer to as As the sacred nature of eating animals.

Hibba Mazhary 50:04
How does ritual encourage the average Halal consumer to have a more open approach to death? But again, the fact that the message of death actually has implications on the religious permissibility of the meat. So, because of that Halal consumers, at least those who who care about the religious compliance of the meat, they are kind of forced to ask these questions about death. Now, does that necessarily mean that it’s more ethically generative? I would say not necessarily, because a lot of consumers just say, okay, it was it slaughtered correctly. So they, they may be asked one more question about the method of death, but then they’d leave it to that, and it doesn’t necessarily extend to further questions about animal welfare and the life of the animal beyond just the final few seconds of slaughter, but you could say that the concern with the correctness of the ritual, it’s kind of a trigger, it’s a motivation to ask more questions, and maybe just need to be pushed a bit further.

Katie Revell 51:11
How do you feel, given everything that we know about, about this meat?

Olivia Oldham 51:15
Um, yeah, I have been reflecting on what Nikki was saying, yesterday, when I spoke with her about this, about how for her knowing the names of animals is part of her, or naming them and knowing their names as they go to slaughter is part of her way of respecting them. And I think that’s important. And I think I agree with her, at least, at the moment. There is no animal in any ecosystem that exists without causing harm, or at least benefiting from the death of any other animals or organisms. And so I think, maybe, confronting that, and given that we have this consciousness and this awareness.

Katie Revell 52:12
I still really, I struggle with the experience of cooking meat, I find it quite visceral, I guess. You know, literally, I suppose. The texture, the smell, having having not had any kind of early experience of cooking meat and very little experience of eating meat, it’s definitely still something that evokes quite a lot of mixed emotions. And may I suppose there’s definitely still an ambivalence there. But yeah, similarly, I think I find it quite reassuring that we know so much about this, you know, even to the point where we do actually know the names of the animals. There’s something yeah, there’s something quite comforting about that. I suppose that sounds a bit selfish, maybe. But um, it gives us a bit more reason and a bit more opportunity to actually think about those animals than we would if we had just picked this up in an anonymous packaging, I suppose.

Olivia Oldham 53:15
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we’re standing around here staring at them and, and talking about them. And I think that, you know, maybe, yeah, maybe the world would be a better place if we all took the time to sit around and think about the lives of the animals who, who we were going to eat?

Katie Revell 53:38
Absolutely. It’s an interesting thought, like, if all the meat that we buy had a name stamped on it as well. What impact would that have on people’s buying habits? Yeah. Interesting thought because even even the meat that I do buy, I know the farm that it comes from. So that’s something but I do not I really don’t know much about how it’s been produced, or about the individual animal.

Olivia Oldham 54:07
You know, the point of this series isn’t to answer the question, what is less and better? But I wonder if it’s an interesting sort of thought experiment to think about the question of whether whether a world where we know as much as we know about the animals who gave their lives for us to eat this state? Is that what less and better looks like when we know that about every piece of meat we eat? Because probably that it’s not possible for there to be as much meat in the food system, if that’s the sort of criteria for it. And if we’re going to know that much about it, it probably can’t be raised in ways that we find inhumane or distressing So yeah, I don’t know. I wonder if that’s maybe one way of thinking about it. And maybe for me even to think about, well, what does this mean for me?

Jo Pepper 55:15
I’ve always been a massive carnivore. So this is I think where I got to is that I just didn’t want to think about what I was eating and why and where it was coming from.

Katie Revell 55:25
That’s Joe Pepper. We heard from her right at the start of this episode. Joe is a member of Lynchburg community grazing cooperative, aka the cow club. She volunteers as one of the club’s cow lookers, they help to monitor the health and welfare of the herd.

Jo Pepper 55:42
I’ve got no background whatsoever in animals or nature, or the countryside or anything. And then I moved here a few years ago, so I’m going for walks to try and get fit, I just stumbled across the cows, I just got completely obsessed with them just completely fell in love with him. And after, you know, a long, stressful day at work it just to go and hang out with the cows at the end of the day, especially when the weather’s nice. It’s just really, really nice. Six years ago, I was a party animal. And now I’m hanging out with cows.

Katie Revell 56:15
In a way, the relationship that Joe’s developed with the cows seems to embody those feelings of connection and closeness and respect. But we also think Joe’s thoughts sum up the ambivalence that a lot of us feel, or at least that we definitely feel when it comes to raising, killing and eating animals.

Jo Pepper 56:35
Because I only joined fairly recently, I haven’t actually eaten any of the meat. Now, with the prospect of having, you know, my first meat box, that is going to start making me think really about what what meat I eat, and where it has come from. It’s the best type of meat to have, they’ve had a wonderful life. They’ve eaten really healthfully, they’ve had people looking after them and caring for them. It’s not mass produced meat, it’s very ethical, it’s the most ethical meat you could have. I just love them so much. And because I’m sort of in love with the cows, I haven’t worked out yet how I’m going to I can’t think of the word, but just sort of justify it in my head of eating a being that I love. It’s, it’s quite a strange sort of faith.

Olivia Oldham 57:27
There will always be disagreements about what’s fundamentally right or wrong, perhaps more than any others, these kinds of moral and ethical judgments don’t have a clear cut answer. But even so, how might we do the best we can in an area that for us feels like it’s maybe one of the most inescapably uncertain.

Sara Moon 57:55
I think there can be like a paradox here, it can be like beautiful and sacred, and also disturbing and disarming, and I think it was all of those things, it felt so important to like, be close to what it really is to take life, you know, it’s a huge thing. And it’s done. Like, with, with so little awareness,

Andrew Barber 58:19
It is part of the cycle, we give we take and the same is true for us. The idea that somehow you can live life without incurring any death is a lie is a delusion. But you should never take life lightly. It should be respectful.

Samson Hart 58:37
Whoever is living is in relationship with the land in some way. If you eat, you are rural, you’re living on the land. And then we’re all connected in that way that involves choices involves tilling the soil that involves, you know, taking habitat from certain wildlife in some ways, like our involvement with life and death. Is there whether we’re growing plants or animal tending animals? How do we become part of an ecology of a place? What does that mean and involves asking questions and doing things that are hard?

Speaker 1 59:08
I don’t think there will be many people who can say that they have a resolved position. If you live in our society, it’s not possible to do not take a compromise position in some way or other. But for me, the primary thing is to recognise that, that animals need to be honoured as sentient beings in the way they can live their lives. And that has massive implications and we are morally obliged to think through them. And I think one very obvious implication is we need to be willing to consume much, much much less so that if we want to farm animals, the quality of their lives and also by implication of the produce that we get from that is much higher quality, not quantity. I have to say I wouldn’t want to personally do away with farming completely. Basically, I think there is so much value in human and animals living together. I think it probably means that large industrial animal farming systems are not morally feasible. But you know, those are journeys that don’t happen overnight. I think we’re just getting our heads around it.

Prof Françoise Wemelsfelder 1:00:29
Animals aren’t just systems with interest and feelings, you could say they’re, they’re another you, you know, they’re another being in that it’s not just an object, it is really somebody there.

Katie Revell 1:00:47
In the next and final episode, we’ll be thinking about everything we’ve heard, and trying to find some common ground, some shared values to help shape our vision of less and better meat. Thanks for listening. You can find a transcript of this episode and links to relevant resources on the Farmerama website.

Olivia Oldham 1:01:10
If you value what we do at Farmerama, please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Katie Revell 1:01:15
Less and better is researched, produced and edited by me Katie Revell

Olivia Oldham 1:01:20
And me, Olivia Oldham.

Katie Revell 1:01:22
With the support of executive producer Jo Barrett. Our series music is by Alex bachelor, and our artwork is by Yagoda Sadowska.

Olivia Oldham 1:01:31
Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Dora Taylor, Annie landless Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

Katie Revell 1:01:38
Less and better was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Roddick foundation and the A Team Foundation.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai