“Meat is murder”
“Bacon makes everything taste better.”
“I don’t eat my friends.”
“Cows and chickens are stupid. That’s why we eat them.”
“I don’t eat anything with a face.”
“We humans are top of the food chain.”
Many people cite animal cruelty as a reason to go vegetarian/vegan. This week’s Meatless Monday offers some food for thought on the subject while giving a brief overview of the documentary The Ghosts in Our Machine.
I got up early on a Sunday morning to take in the screening of The Ghosts in Our Machine, one of the features at the recent Planet in Focus film festival in Toronto. This film by Liz Marshall won best Canadian feature. The film follows Jo-Anne McArthur, an animal photographer of note, as she builds her portfolio for a book project exploring the relationship humans have with animals.
“…Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights?”
Retrieved on December 2, 2013 from the following page: http://www.theghostsinourmachine.com/about/
In the film, McArthur visits a fox farm, an animal sanctuary and a couple who have adopted teaching/research dogs. She touches upon other ways in which humans interact with animals. As examples, though not all explicitly stated in the film are:
- companionship – e.g. pets, (therapy)
- entertainment – e.g. aquariums, zoos
- food – e.g. veal, milk
- clothing – e.g. fur coats, (leather shoes)
- education – e.g. vet schools, science labs
- (sport – e.g. trophy hunting)
- (employment – e.g. poaching)
*Brackets indicate my extrapolations.
I remember as a kid eating meat, going on regular trips to the zoo with family/school and feeling a rush of excitement every time I passed through the gates of Marineland Niagara Falls. I am older now, hopefully wiser and also vegetarian. I don’t think I could ever consider myself truly vegan as I appreciate my down coat (especially at -30°C), infrequently eat ‘ethically obtained’ eggs, dairy and honey and abhor cockroaches. (I would not be sad if they were annihilated from this planet. Interestingly enough, there are no campaigns that I’m aware of that advocate on behalf of cockroaches though having said that, I’m sure PETA has a cockroach compassionate campaign.)
Most people will agree that animal cruelty to some degree on some species is deplorable (eating dog, making glue from horses, clubbing baby harp seals as examples). However, some people are willing to condone the use of certain animals for human consumption be it food, clothing or shelter. The emcee for the screening stated that these were her last pair of leather boots since viewing the film while some people even revere Indigenous cultures for their spiritual connection to nature and limited waste of animals. Even in the film some potential editors were reluctant to publish McArthur’s work because it wasn’t ‘newsworthy’ enough.
Poignant moments from the film include:
- The couple interacting with their adopted beagles. I found this heartwarming and touching – an example of a positive relationship between human and non-human animals.
- The piglets clamouring for milk after mom was severely beaten and unable to suckle them. A lighter side follows with one piglet who is so drunk on milk, passes out in the shallow feeding tray and then stumbles outside to cuddle with its siblings. It’s pigs personified. Who doesn’t know a human who has done the same thing?
- The bludgeoning of cows. This serial kill takes place near the end of the film whereby these animals are sent 1 by 1 on a conveyor belt contraption and then shot between the forehead and/or slashed at the throat resulting in instant death. Gasps of horror were uttered in the theatre during this part (including my own).
These moments allow for a more personal connection to animals and inspires empathy for them. Though humans are part of the animal kingdom, people often consider them separate. There is often a disconnect between the animals and how they get onto our plate.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
If you knew where your meat really came from would you still eat it?
It can be overwhelming to wrap your head around the many forms of animal cruelty and daunting to try to ban every single product created in some way by the use of animals. After all, “how do you change something that is so culturally ingrained?” as was stated in the film. As is also stated in the film by McArthur herself “…a picture speaks 1000 words…”
Herein lies one of the intrinsic values of a documentary like Ghosts in Our Machine. It challenges us to reflect on these issues and our part in them. It has prompted me to reflect on my choice of a plant-based diet and occasional consumption of animal products (both as food and clothing). By being better informed hopefully we are encouraged to make more ethical choices that are based on more than just tradition and habit.
Link with related content:
Weal World Travel – The Vagabonding Vegetarian (a.k.a. me) Presents…
*warning: graphic photo!