“We Should All Be So Lucky”
When asked, “If you could choose, how would you die?” no one ever answers, “I want someone who ‘loves’ me to chase me down, push me to the ground, slit my throat, and hold my arms and legs down while I flail in pain and terror and confusion. Oooh, better yet–I wish someone had done it when I was a kid or does it when I’m bursting with life and good health and have years ahead of me.” But some folks at Grist must run in circles different from any I’ve ever encountered because they’re convinced that this is a death to envy.
Yes, it’s that time of year, when most people in the United States pick up the body of a dead turkey at a grocery store with nary a thought to who the animal was and how she lived and died (and get angry when someone tries to discuss the matter); when vegans struggle with whether to attend family gatherings where bizarre thanks will be given for the dead body of a fellow animal whose unimaginable suffering and terrifying death made this “delicious” meal possible; and when people who don’t want to be looked at as one of those indifferent people and who want to label themselves compassionate and be patted on the back, without actually making a meaningful change, create and post self-serving commentaries like that this morning published by Grist writer Daniel Klein in his maddeningly titled “Giving thanks–to turkeys, without flinching.”
Of the loving-slaughter video he has created and shares (embedded at the bottom of this post), itself surreal at moments, Klein says, “It’s very touching, but also graphic.” And an unnamed editor has inserted this note just before the video: “it’s the kind of death we should all be so lucky as to have.” So we should assume that we’re about to see an elderly turkey going in her sleep right? Or a turkey lying peacefully in a field, surrounded by her companions, drifting off quietly?
Well, here’s what we actually get: self-serving rhetoric and emotion-manipulating production from the people doing the killing and a death that is as unnecessary and unjust as the death of any other animal killed for this violently themed holiday. It is not a somehow justifiable death, and it is not peaceful and without fear, not for the victim anyway. The turkey farmer talks the customers and viewers through the process, and how much of her overly romanticized pitch she has convinced herself of and believes, I don’t know, but I had a hard time with most of her remarks. They felt insincere, rehearsed, part of the presentation. First, as she and the customer are picking out a turkey:
“[To die] is their purpose.”
“It’s really important to show great respect to that life.”
“I love these turkeys; they’ve been very enjoyable to have around.”
“They’re good babies; I’ll miss them a lot.”
As everyone knows, when you respect and love fellow beings and feel enough attachment that you expect to miss them when they’re gone, and they’re “good,” “enjoyable” companions, you should, of course, kill them for a profit. That’s what love is all about. And of course, we humans–especially we white privileged humans–get to decide arbitrarily what the “purpose” is of other groups and individuals who differ from us. That’s just how it is, how it’s always been.
During all this, she naturally assures us of how important it is that the animal not be afraid when she dies–and that when the turkey jerks around later, seemingly pained and panicked, after having her throat sliced, it won’t mean she’s feeling anything; it’s just part of the process. Of course, the turkey cries out when they’re first grabbing hold of her and pinning her down, but we’re not supposed to interpret that as fear; she is just exclaiming her excitement at being chosen, perhaps? After she is subdued and being held tightly down, the farmer goes on about how calm she is, about how wonderful this is.
The farmer pets the head of the bird while restraining her and says in the falsely soothing voice she uses throughout, “This is what they’re here for, an amazing feast—you’re a beauty.” And her last words to the bird, at least in the video: “We’re very thankful to you.” As if this means anything to or matters to the bird.
And then the sappy music that’s been playing in the background, meant to manipulate our emotions and tell us this is something sweet and spiritual and only mildly sad, not violent and brutal and unnecessary, gets louder so that we can’t hear quite as well, and our view of the bird’s whole body is restricted, and the farmer conveniently shields us from seeing the bird’s eyes as she jabs the knife in and pulls it across the young bird’s throat. Even with our view obstructed and a bag around her body (you don’t want to get those feathers any bloodier than you have to) and with two people holding her down, we can still see her trying to escape, jerking, panicking.
And as the bird’s fight subsides, as she unwillingly gives into death, the farmer exclaims how “amazing” it was and tells the customer, “That went really well” and, in what may have angered me as much as any other moment in its insincerity and ridiculousness, “What a sweet bird.”
The whole production (and I mean that term in multiple ways), from start to finish, is about the people and how they feel and how they want to be perceived, not the animals, as is the case in all of these (often hipster) so-called humane ventures into killing animals. All the words rang hollow. Every remark about how much the birds are loved, about how sweet they are, or about how supposedly wonderful their deaths are–meaningless to the birds. Meaningless. This is all designed to make humans feel better and to sugarcoat and obfuscate what is actually happening here. That the farmer and customers are “thankful” means absolutely nothing to the birds whom they kill, and rhetoric about painless, fear-free deaths is just that. Is this potentially less traumatic or less terrifying than how most turkeys are transported and slaughtered? Sure. But that doesn’t make killing unnecessarily for pleasure humane or right. And it sure as hell isn’t an act of love.
Killing an animal yourself or watching someone else kill him or her doesn’t make you brave. It doesn’t make you respectful. It doesn’t make the death any less unnecessary, unjust, and unjustifiable. Whether you kill her or someone else kills her means nothing to the bird. Life means something to that animal. You may get your carcass from a small-scale operation, or you may even kill the animal yourself, but that doesn’t make you deserving of praise. You may get pats on the back from yourself and your friends, but the handprints are bloody. You’ve still killed or paid for killing for purely selfish reasons. You’ve still taken a young life and consciously inflicted pain and fear for something as trivial as taste, when there are so many vegan food options (including savory holiday roasts) out there that are not inherently violent.
That animal was an individual, with thoughts and feelings and joys and fears and friends and a wish to live. And there are few things more self-serving, dishonest, and preposterous than thanking someone (“without flinching”!) before, while, or after killing her for pleasure. Thanking your victims in advance means about as much in killing animals for pleasure as it does in raping women for pleasure.
The video ends with this quotation: “Coexistence… what the farmer does with the turkey—until Thanksgiving.”
It’s fitting for Thanksgiving, isn’t it? The same concept applied to the Native Americans, right? This is what we do with all animals, human and non, whom we classify as “other.” We will coexist with you for as long as that coexistence serves a purpose for us–and then we will mass-slaughter you and sugarcoat it and celebrate it. We will sweep the killing under the rug. We will have a holiday in which we dress up our kids in paper feathers and beaks and headdresses. We will pretend that we are compassionate, peaceful folks as we put on plays and create advertisements and send cards and display decorations that depict our very victims as happy to know us, as happy to celebrate this holiday with us.
There was nothing noble or humane or just about killing “others” hundreds of years ago. And there’s nothing noble or humane or just about it today.