George Monbiot and what we close our eyes to


George Monbiot is one smart man. He is also very well informed on a range  of matters, many of them drawing together  economic and ethical threads. Yesterday in The Guardian he was on about meat.

What can you say about a society whose food production must be hidden from public view? In which the factory farms and slaughterhouses supplying much of our diet must be guarded like arsenals to prevent us from seeing what happens there?”

Which is absolutely true. Years ago I tried to persuade the local BBC to do a series on meat production, taking the listener into the slaughter-house as well as the down to the farm, but it got a thumbs-down. Too bleak, I was told. It would depress the listeners and we didn’t want that.

Monbiot backs up his initial assertion about hiding what we do to animals with some figures on the nature of the meat itself. Factory-farmed chickens, he says, now contain almost three times as much fat as chickens did in 1970. Pigs and feedlot cattle have similarly been transformed. Not so much meat production, then,  as fat production.  He gives further details on the percentage of Americans who are vegetarian (2%) and ends with a hammer-blow paragraph:

“All children should be taken by their schools to visit a factory pig or chicken farm, and to an abattoir, where they should be able to witness every stage of slaughter and butchery. Does this suggestion outrage you? If so, ask yourself what you are objecting to: informed choice, or what it reveals? If we cannot bear to see what we eat, it is not the seeing that’s wrong, it’s the eating.”

A typical killer (if that’s the word I want) Monbiot piece of writing, pointing to our eagerness to close our eyes and those of our children to what we don’t like. It smashes conclusively the argument of meat-eaters (myself included). It also (although unintentionally) destroys the argument of those who object to posters displayed by pro-life campaigners, showing what happens to an aborted foetus/unborn child. To paraphrase Monbiot: if we cannot bear to see what we do to the unborn, it is not the seeing that’s wrong, it’s the abortion.

19 Responses to George Monbiot and what we close our eyes to

  1. Am Ghobsmacht December 17, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    A very rational point Dr C.

    You’ve got me pondering.

    (on a related note, I worked in a chicken processing plant in Ballymena for 3 days; put me off poultry for the whole summer (though I stress that the hygiene was impeccable)).

  2. James December 17, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I hope I will not be accused of being on my equality hobby-horse again Jude, but in my opinion society must be judged on how we treat the most vulnerable in society, this includes animals as well as the unborn child. This brings me to a point which I have raised before. Who can be more vulnerable than an unborn child?
    With all respect to those who sincerely hold the view of a ‘woman’s right to choose’, I have to repeat my long-held belief, (surprise, surprise), that there are two people involved in a pregnancy, so the decision to abort can not be just the woman’s alone. Contrary to the pro-choice supporters’ belief, a woman does not have the right to do what she likes with her body when she is pregnant. The bottom line is that if equality and human rights mean anything, the baby in the womb has every right to be born.
    Anyone who cannot accept that does not, in my view, totally subscribe to the full meaning of equality.
    By the way, I too, am a meat-eater. If you pardon the pun, George’s article does give me food for thought!

  3. paddykool December 17, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    Good one Jude …and on the mouth of our annual Christmas Seasonal Slaughterfest too…I’ve said before that we didn’t get to be where we are as dominant species on the planet by being the nice guys. We are the top predator…bar none and we have become efficient at it on an industrial scale….especially in the past century.Well , let’s face it, if we are to feed an ever growing population on protein , it’ll have to come from beans , insects or animals. It’s either that or start eating our dead . That wouldn’t have been too unusual in the past either and it still manifests in extreme situations of starvation.
    The crux is that we all want to deny our animalistic natures .We like to pretend that we are not actually animals at all ..even though the evidence is in our blood , bones , sinews and tissues before our eyes . We have been called” Longpigs” and apparently the physicality of the pig and ourselves is not dissimilar ..all the organs laid out in the same neat harmony .Pigs are said to be very intelligent creatures too.They are also , like us omnivorous.They like a bit of everything and I dare say that left to their own devices would have a wee taste of any one of us if the opportunity arose.
    We have to be protected from the realities of life, of course, or the whole illusion falls flat. One peek into a slaughterhouse should be enough to prove the point.We all know that we could probably get along quite nicely by going vegetarian , but the fact is , most of us can’t really be bothered .There is an industry to consider and all those farming economics.In the end we really do like the taste, texture and the wonderfull smell of our fellow creatures cooking on the stove….It can hardly be denied, can it?

  4. giordanobruno December 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    (Second attempt,so apologies if double post appears.)
    As a vegetarian of many years, I wholeheartedly agree. So will you be taking your argument to its logical conclusion and stop eating the wee animals?
    I don’t think the point about abortion images holds though Certainly all such information should be available and accessible to women, but waving gruesome pictures at young women already in a stressful situation is not the way to do things.
    You would not force children to see animals being killed would you? Educate them about it yes but in a sensible way.

    • Jude Collins December 17, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

      Well gio – my congratulations on your vegetarianism, even if you only do it so you can go on blogsites and boast about it….Nah, I won’t be going vegetarian, even though I know it’s illogical. I’m lazy and selfish and eating habits of a lifetime are hard to change. Mind you, if someone took me through the factory farms and the abbatoir as Monbiot suggests, I’d probably have an instant conversion and then I could join you on the boasting soapbox. Your last two sentences show you don’t understand or haven’t read my quotation from Monbiot – visiting a farm + abbatoir is exactly what he suggests for children, and notes that our recoil from same shows that we are appalled by the wrong things. “In a sensible way” – oh dear, gio. Very middle-of-the-road. I’m sure you’ve seen riots on TV. Ever seen one in real life? If you have, you’ll know there’s a qualitative difference between the two experiences. Ditto for the practice of slaughtering animals – a “sensible manner” (aka keep-them-away-from-the-real-thing) dodges the reality which most of us (but of course not people of finer moral fibre like yourself) need to make us change our ways. Interestingly, people object even to pictures of aborted foetuses which they claim are not human. There’s something missing in the logic there, I think. PS Do you eat fish? Wear leather shoes?

      • giordanobruno December 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm #

        I’m hardly boasting. I’m just better than you guys!
        I don’t know what you are getting at with your talk of riots,but I presume you would not think of bringing a group of schoolchildren to witness one or to witness an execution in Texas, say?
        So are you and George saying expose children to everything then? If not why not?
        By the way I am not a vegan so I do use animal byproducts like leather,but I don’t eat fish.

        • Jude Collins December 17, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

          You are a cruel person, gio – think of all the bullocks that went to their deaths so you could ponce about in your Italian loafers…Texas is too far away and we’re talking about food we eat, not people we execute. Monbiot’s point is a strong one: why don’t we want children to see animals slaughtered? Because we’re afraid the horror we’ve created will damage them. It doesn’t take an Einstein to see where action should lie and it doesn’t lie with keeping kids in the play ground. Monbiot didn’t suggest everything and neither do I. Go back and read the quotation again…Gee gio – you’ll have to move down a class if you’re going to take so much time getting an idea into your skull…

          • giordanobruno December 17, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

            No they went to their death so their testicles and hooves could be ground up, and shoved in a sausage skin for your Sunday fry actually. My loafers are a byproduct of that process.
            As for kids well their place is in the playground. Let them see the full horror of the world when they are a bit older. If you are talking about teenagers well yes maybe then.
            My point is there are lots of things we protect children from until they are old enough to deal with it. So you need to be specific about where you are drawing your line.
            What age group are you for taking to the slaughterhouse?
            What else will you be doing with them on this daytrip?
            A chance to see an abortion take place maybe?

          • Jude Collins December 17, 2014 at 7:46 pm #

            Ah gio – you’re like the little attention-seeker in the back row that keeps asking questions…Would I take the pupils (I always taught high school so I tend to think of teenagers) to see an abortion take place? Probably not, but only for the same reason I wouldn’t take them to see a birth take place – women have this odd wish for a level of privacy at such times, I can’t think why. As to my munching on testicles and hooves (don’t pigs have trotters, not hooves – or is it hoofs in my Sunday fry: I don’t do fries. Heart attack on a plate. Your notion of your Italian loafers (they’d be unlikely to be pigskin, by the way) being a by-product is like the ‘joke’ from my childhood about Paddy the Irishman who drank the whole bottle of booze when he was supposed to take only one third, his justification being ‘My third was at the bottom’. No justification at all, I’m afraid, gio – sounds more like the train-driver to Auschwitz.

          • giordanobruno December 17, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

            Pigs may have trotters, but I’m pretty sure you were talking bullocks!

  5. Iolar December 17, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    Ruminating on ruminants

    The first meeting of the Gaass talks at Stormont has had to be abandoned. A team of scientific creationists, was tasked to address two specific issues.

    1. Rising levels of methane gas on Mars.

    2. The need to establish a Gael Quarter in time for the European Space Age Exo Mars landing in 1919.

    Given the Exo Mars mission will not be heading for the Gale Crater, construction of the Gael Quarter is a priority given the increasing likelihood of establishing contact with alternative life forms on Mars. However, a spokesperson for the group advised reporters that the current budget will only permit expenses for the working group to avail of a one way trip to Mars. Representatives of the Flat Earth Society insist there is evidence of a “round Earth conspiracy” and dispute the evidence concerning the number of animals producing methane gas on the planet. A Treasury spokesperson insisted that there is no more money available and failure to avail of this opportunity will result in the possibility of another annus horribilis in 2015. The spokesperson added that the government is determined to find another buyer for this project.

  6. Perkin Warbeck December 17, 2014 at 2:14 pm #

    Mention of places where one worked in one’s youth reminds Perkie of the summers he spent picking strawberries, raspberries, more strawberries and blackcurrants in the fruitfields of Fruitfield in Rathfarnham, Alabama which is nestled at the toes of the Dublin Mountains and is twinned with Ballybunion.

    Actually, the Dublin Mountains are veritable hills while the Wicklow Hills by comparison are in fact, mountains. But that’s us Free Southern Stateens, sleeveens to a man, woman and the other. Not unlike Greenland and Iceland which deserve, if not each other, then each other’s name. It’s a sort of self-preservation thingy.

    Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the sleeveen culture was not totally marked absent from the underpaid, underage seasonals who slaved in the same Fruitfield fruitfields. One was paid according to the weight of the punnets one filled with the fruit. So? Well, just to say it wasn’t only the fruit which contributed to the avoirdupois of the said punnets.

    In ways the fruit picking was not completely dissimilar from a cricket game, the way urination stopped play and pay, from time to time, now and then. Naturally, many of the sleeveen slaves were put off jam for the foreseeable future, much to the amazement of the Dowager Dame Warbeck.

    It was that formidable female in fact who, in the fastnesses of that miracle of Irish antebellum, Castle Warbeck, insisted that Warbeck Minor would do a stint in the summer fruitfields. It was an integral part of the Warbeckian family tradition.

    It was the best way, she insisted, to familiarise the rising generation with the habits and traits of the lower orders. It would avoid (actually, she used one of her favourite verbs, ‘obviate’) problems later on with that perennial of the chinless classes: the Servant Question. Which she summed up succinctly:

    -Berries now or brouhahas later.

    In her own modest way, the Dowager Dame, although as thin as a knitting needle itself (a domestic implement she never even saw, much less held, in her long and thoughtful life) was that scarce enough commodity, a socio-politico-economic heavyweight.

    Speaking of which: there are socio-political-economic heavyweights, there are socio-political-economic super-heavyweights and then, there is Mary Harney.

    Whose most celebrated contribution to the lexicon of Irish political discourse was the question rhetorical: ‘Boston or Berlin?’

    By which she meant, presumably, whether the electorate of the Free Southern Stateen wanted to look west or to look east. Her framing of the question in B-terms is widely considered in reputable academic cloisters to have been influenced by the Dowager Dame Warbeck, of whose socio-politico-economic theories she was a little known devotee.

    Not an easy question, as one would only expect from such a thinko-profundo as the Tonaiste of the time. And in truth it flummoxed Perkie’s inner non-pseudo highbrow. But then, he was in good company. After all, a celebrated political mindset like that of John F. Fitzgerald couldn’t make his fine mind up either. And which led him to express in broadest Bostonian:

    -Ich bin ein Berliner.

    And then, the more one probed the posed q., the more one became mired in deeper socio-politico-economic sub-questions. Such as, which Boston, which Berlin?

    Was it, Perkie wondered, Ralph Boston, the USA long jumper who was the first to break the record set by Jesse Owens in……..? In Berlin, of course.

    Ralph Boston’s counterpart on the USA Track and Field Team of the 1950s as a highjumper, was one, John Thomas. Yes, that John Thomas. Whom Perkie witnessed on one memorable occason taking off his track suit and hoisting himself over the bar in Santry Stadium in the style known as the Western Roll.

    These were the golden days of the Grey Fifties when the likes of such hare-heeled athletes as Herb Elliot (place of birth: Perth) were breaking world records in Santry with wide-eyed witnesses like Warbeck Minor in attendance. And who travelled to the stadium in a double decker bus, paying their own way. (Elliot, not Warbeck Minor who was chauffeur-driven everywhere, even then, especially then).

    Long before world class athletics became addicted to steroids and moolah, though not necessarily in that order. And Dublin has become a non-venue for Field and Track. And where perceptive critics like Jurry Kiernan, the marathon man from Yerraland now choose to deflect investigation by targetting that old stand-by punchbag, the G Double A.

    But, to return to the unanswered question: Boston or Berlin?

    JFK leads one inexorably on to Boston Corbett, rather than Ralph Boston. As Boston Corbett was the man who shot the man who shot JFK’s predecessor, A. Lincoln. That would have been John Wilkes Booth.

    Essentially now, the question boils down to two B’s: Boston Corbett or Irving Berlin?

    On balance, and not only for the Festive Season that’s in it, Perkie plumps for ole Irv.

    The reason for this lies in the topic for today’s blog: meat, abattoirs, slaughterhouses. Boston Corbett, the man who shot the man who shot Ole Abe, was into a related pursuit: DIY self-mutilation.

    (If discerning reader is of a particularly sensitive nature, best avert one.s eyes now).

    A devout Methodist he showed there was much that could be construed as madness in his devotion. During the Civil War, stateside, he was once tempted by, and perhaps succumbed to, a ‘Naughty Lady from Shady Lane’. So disgusted was Boston C that he immediately headed back to barracks, rummaged for the sharpest pair of scissors he could find, and Did a Number on himself.

    Didn’t affect his aim, though, as that incident at Garret’s Barn later proved.

  7. Mary Jo December 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    When did teachers stop taking children to see animals being slaughtered? It was an annual treat, in 1956, when the 11+ was past and done, for 5th class to explore subjects other that the 3Rs we had swotted over up till then.
    One such topic was the study of the pig, from pigsty to slaughterhouse, and the many uses of its body parts. According to our teacher, the only part of a pig that doesn’t get used is its squeal.
    To complete our study of pigs we visited the local pigmeat factory where we watched pigs being humanely slaughtered (a blow to the head with a hammer), then hung by the back legs to be slit open and have those useful guts removed. We saw bacon being salted and sausages being extruded from a sausage machine. We shivered among hung carcases in the freezer rooms. Nobody fainted. Nobody was traumatised. It was easily the best day of our primary schooldays. The experience is with me still as I relish my morning rasher and sausage and fried eggs.
    Incidentally, my mother reared cock pullets in our back shed and whichever of them crowed loudest was salughtered, bloodily, in our backyard on Saturday, in readiness for the Sunday dinner.
    The fragility of children is greatly overrated in these child centred times.

    • Jude Collins December 17, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

      What a brilliant piece of writing, Mary Jo! Splendid. And being an almost exact contemporary, I remember the same kind of thing, only we didn’t do the conducted tour, we had a pig slaughtered in the shed beside the house. As to hens – we always wrung their necks. There was an art to it – you got the head between the second and third finger, twisted the neck, then pulled. Hard. If you did it properly it felt as if the head had come off in your hand (which it hadn’t, just the neck broken). I agree that children are sturdier than we think and that’s supported by the original form of many fairy tales, which were quite bloody. But I’d still say that this is a different age and that if adults were led round the slaughterhouse, they’d be fairly open to vegetarian conversion. Besides, between cows and methane gas, plus the amount of grain they need, they’re very inefficient as a source of food.

      • Mary Jo December 18, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

        My mother preferred to bleed the hens to death, hung upsidedown with a nick to a neck artery. She believed it made the meat whiter. Today we’d call it Halal, maybe.

        • Jude Collins December 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

          We hung hens too, but only after necks had been pulled and they’d been plucked…I am so glad I’m not a hen. Or pig. Despite rumour to the contrary…

  8. Sherdy December 17, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    Kids who lived in the Markets area of Belfast years ago had plenty of opportunities to see where their meat came from, as the old slaughter houses always had their yard doors open.
    Of course that was to allow some of the smell out of the yard, and boy, did it come out. When you got to Cromac Square, where the famous Geordie Stone had his bicycle shop, you had to take your last intake of (reasonably) fresh air and hold your breath for as long as humanly possible.
    This was never enough to get you through the area, as there was a slaughter house on every side street – but I suppose that was part of your biology lessons in those days.

  9. Surveyor December 17, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    One thing that George Monbiot don’t address in his argument is what’s going to happen to these animals if we all suddenly turned vegetarian. Farmers won’t keep them if they don’t turn a profit and the land they graze on will be needed to grow crops and vegetables for the burgeoning vegetarian population. Either way it’s a lose lose situation for the poor cows, pigs, chickens etc.

    • Jude Collins December 18, 2014 at 8:25 am #

      Non-existence tends not to hurt