Killing What You Eat: The Dark Side of Compassionate Carnivorism

There’s a relatively new category of conscientious consumer on the rise known as the “compassionate carnivore.”  These are meat eaters who have chosen, with good reason, to remove themselves from the horrific practices of factory farming. In her thoughtful book, The Compassionate Carnivore, Catherine Friend puts it this way:

I believe it’s possible to show compassion for animals and still eat them. For me, this means paying attention. It means learning more about the animals I eat and taking some responsibility for their quality of life.

An urban chicken farm in Long Island City, New York.Photo: xmascarol

A significant number of meat consumers have taken this message seriously enough to become meat producers. Indeed, the urban homestead movement in particular has inspired untold numbers of urbanites to take compassion to the extreme and become part-time animal farmers themselves.

The rationale for this transition is multifaceted, and often quite convincing. “Those of us that raise our own animals,” one of my critics concisely points out, “are doing so because we don’t want to be part of the industrialized agricultural machine that routinely abuses animals for the sake of the almighty dollar.” An urban homesteader from Oakland went one further: “the level of appreciation for nature and life when you slaughter your own meat creates a kind of ethic that I think is what we need to save the world.”

Saving the world notwithstanding, the idea that decentralizing animal agriculture leads to greater animal welfare seems sensible enough. But does that mean serious animal suffering will be avoided? Hardly.  An animal can be raised with care, fed a healthy diet, lavished with human affection, and kept relatively safe from external threats. However, more often than not, that animal is still going to be slaughtered. Putting aside for now the ethical implications of killing a sentient being in order to eat well, I want to ask a more tangible question: will the animal be slaughtered with compassion?

Please note: the point here is not to embarrass or castigate urban homesteaders who have boldly sought to take control of their own meat supply. Although I personally find the prospect of raising and killing an animal with my own hands to be deeply saddening, I admire these farmers for being deliberate with their lives and bucking the industrial meat system. My point, instead, is to draw on the published blogs of these (mostly urban) pioneers to highlight the rarely publicized fact that when amateurs take charge of the slaughter, the consequences can be anything but compassionate. Nobody can accurately say how representative the following accounts are, but their popularity suggests that, at the least, they’re not exceptional.

Consider the handiwork of “Poor Girl Gourmet,” upon the slaughter of her first chicken:

We researched humane slaughter practices, including chicken hypnosis, however, the practice round of hypnosis failed miserably, and we came to believe that piercing the chicken’s brain would be the least traumatic for all involved. Not so. On that fateful day, JR [her husband] placed the chicken into the cone, where it promptly attempted to somersault its way out of The Guillotine, clawing furiously at the sloping plastic walls, pushing its head up as though it might get to see the sun again. JR took a pair of sharp scissors – this is a judgment call we lived to regret; despite having an ice pick given to us for this very purpose, we went with the alternative sharp scissor implement. As it turns out, the chicken brain is a very small target, and one that is easily missed. I went from enthusiastic documentary photographer to gagging wife in the span of approximately a half a second. With camera now useless, and my retching instinct fully intact, JR grabbed his sharpened hedge trimmers. Oh, if only they were truly sharp, those sharpened hedge trimmers. The trimmers did not succeed in lopping off the head of the poor, tortured chicken. Instead, they folded its neck over itself in a zig-zag crease, which did, at least, succeed in breaking its neck, and therefore killing it. 

Later in the post she recalled that the botched slaughter “was less horrible than what I could conjure up in my crazy little head.”

Responding to a post seeking advice about backyard duck slaughtering on the blog High Desert Chronicles (“sometimes you need to look back to move forwards”), “Heather” forthrightly recounts the difficulties of self-slaughtering quail:

And I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. I was shaking so badly on the first one I was afraid I’d cut myself with the knife I was using to skin them. It’s a little gruesome if you think too hard about it–there are details I wasn’t emotionally prepared for, which I’m about to talk about so if you’re reading this comment and feeling squeamish you may want to skip to the next one…Some of the difficult details: the way it moves around after the head is gone, and the times when the head doesn’t come off cleanly, and the time when I picked one up to skin it and it started jumping around again after I stuck the knife in it (it was headless). And, when you’re first getting started, the fact that you are likely to make mistakes and one or two may not go as smoothly as you would like, and there may be suffering involved. It’s easy to feel really awful and guilty about it too, because you know if you had only been more skillful or quicker or stronger that the death would have been quick and painless…

On the website, “Cathy” left another sad account of botched butchery:

I processed my very first cockerel, the other day, and even though I had spent quite a bit of time studying the jugular method (all of the videos make it looks so simple) it wasn’t so simple finding that vein after all . I cut under the earlobe but now I think that I was supposed to be under the jaw, close to the earlobe. Anyway, I’m still feeling depressed about how I botched the job when all I wanted was to make it as quick and painless as possible for the poor guy.I was also wondering if I was cutting on the wrong side of the head. Does it make a difference? I know there are veins on either side but not sure if they are the same and if one will bleed them out faster than the other. I still have over 20 more cockerels to process this coming week and I’m having bad dreams about it.

Whereas Heather’s and Cathy’s accounts are clearly emotionally-laden recollections intended to help others avoid similar mistakes, others are disturbingly cold in tone. Take this account of killing ducks in the backyard:

Here’s how we did it: Each duck was placed upside down in a cone, held securely by quiet helpers and humanely slaughtered with a sharp razor blade to the artery and vein in the neck. Two passed quickly, two held out for almost 10 minutes with some thrashing and splattering of duck blood.

Her reaction to the two ducks who were not “humanely” slaughtered: “Good thing I wore old pants and sneakers.”


Which brings me to my final point. Botched slaughters might very well be relatively rare. Who knows? But, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that compassionate carnivores eventually, after a lot of trial and error, do in fact become universally competent, or “humane,” slaughterers. Even if this happens, I would contend, the emotional distance required to consistently kill animals—often one that you’ve raised–would eventually mitigate the compassion that so many carnivores claim to seek in the first place. Again, to the blogs:

Writing in “Hunt. Gather. Love.,” the blogger Melissa describes the experience of slaughtering her first chicken. The bird she killed was a common industrial breed raised on a small farm.  Admitting that there was no science to back up her claim, Melissa explained: “I think there is something wrong with eating food from an animal that is so far away from actually being an animal. As my chicken struggled weakly to escape, I thought about how it never ever would survive in the wild. It was more machine than animal.”

She then took solace in one of the more bizarre rationalizations of unneccessary death I’ve ever heard. For “animals that lived with dignity . . . death is only one day.” I’m not sure how to characterize such a remark, but compassion doesn’t really jump to mind.

A vet in Florida named Patty recounted having to kill her Rooster, named Elvio, because of “his four AM vocal expressions.” She recalled how “he would sit next to you in the evenings and have his waddle stroked.” The author noted that she’d become an experienced chicken killer in vet school. And then she turned her attention to Elvio the Rooster. Here’s how the lights went out for Elvio:

I made it fast, surprising myself with a long repressed chicken-killing efficiency. From a quiet, roosting bird to a dead bird in under three seconds. Some flapping. Then nothing. And that’s when the dirty work really began. But, by then, it wasn’t Elvio anymore. It was just another chicken headed to the pot.

As one reader reacted: “Dead is dead.”

What strikes me most about Melissa and Patty’s respective accounts is how easily the slaughter is rationalized. Melissa reduces her bird to a machine-like creature. Patty effectively erases all memory of her pseudo-pet rooster in three seconds (“it wasn’t Elvio anymore”). Is this the kind of compassion concerned carnivores are seeking?

I doubt it. These examples thus suggest a possible paradox at the core of compassionate carnivorism. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to think that compassion would be maximized when the consumer turns his own animal into his own meat. On paper, this sounds great. But the logistics and quiet psychological impact of this process—factors that the examples in this post point to– are such that genuine compassion is (perhaps necessarily) going to be compromised.

Of the scores of urban homesteading blogs that I’ve been reading, only one cuts to the core of this concern. It comes from Original Country Girl, who writes:

The best advice is to always maintain a distance between you, and those intended for your dinner plate. This makes the butchering much easier if the animal is nothing more than “the black chicken” or “the grey and white goose.” You can care for your critters in a humane and respectful way without allowing attachments to form. Rule number one is to never give it a name. Some people can get by with ironic names like the afore-mentioned ”Christmas dinner” moniker, but for others even this can cause trouble later on. If you know you’re soft-hearted don’t do it. Clean the pen, feed good feed, and tend any wounds but don’t get too close. No names, no handfed treats, and no special treatment for any one individual animal.

Perhaps the only true compassion a carnivore can experience, in the end, is compassion at a distance. And what sort of compassion is that?

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  1. iniQuity says:

    You could also just by-pass compassion and see feed animals for what they are: food.

    Us too, are food, for the organisms that clean up after we kick the bucket.

    The world is built upon this cycle of life and death. I hate to make generalizations, but most (ouch!) organisms on our planet operate in this fashion, big fish eats the little fish, etc.

    When it comes to the topic of home-grown food, my only concern is that it’s of a better quality than that available from huge operations. I’m really just not concerned with how “humane” death can be made. Death is death, doesn’t matter if your cow was the happiest cow ever to graze on grass (as it should) it’s going to die and it’s not going to enjoy the experience one single bit. There’s very little to be done about this. No organism wants to die, but only some among them are able to express this discomfort, or try to fight against it.

    I’m not loving the bias of this article. Plants feel pain too, and they don’t want to die for your dietary needs either, but as animals, humans have specific dietary needs, thankfully, the world is designed accordingly by making plant and animal life fully edible.

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    • Tristan says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • iniQuity says:

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      • Vulpyne says:

        You are misinformed that humans require meat to be healthy. There are many humans who do not and have not consumed meat or other animal products for long periods of time (I haven’t eaten meat for 21 years, and dairy for about 11 – certainly there are plenty of people who have gone far longer).

        From this Wikipedia link:

        The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada regard the vegan diet as appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle, though they caution that poorly planned vegan diets can be deficient in Vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, iron and omega-3 fatty acids.

        As I said previously, consuming animal-based products is not necessary for health and well-being.

        You mentioned evolution: Obviously humans can eat meat and derive nutritional benefit from it. Being able to do so was a survival advantage during our race’s infancy. Such is no longer true, though, and getting enough calories and nutrition is almost trivial these days. In fact, getting too many calories is more of an issue in first world countries is the danger.

        As for genetic expression, you will have to back up that assertion with fact before I am convinced. Fulfilling our body’s nutritional requirements is a given, but whether it occurs through plant-based food sources or animal-based once should not matter as far as genetic expression is concerned.

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      • iniQuity says:

        Whether one individual does something doesn’t mean we all should.

        The guy that lived on twinkies (this wasn’t long ago) for a month or so and even lost weight isn’t proof or evidence that it’s honky-dory for everyone to do the same. It doesn’t change the fact that a twinkie is nothing but a sugary treat with no redeeming nutrition whatsoever, but a guy lived on nothing but for a month! didn’t die, didn’t get diabetes… etc etc… I won’t be following his footsteps anytime soon.

        Remember the people on Ripley’s that ate glass or car parts or whatever for years on end? along with regular food, etc, should we all be eating inedible things since apparently it doesn’t kill us? No, we should not.

        The human body (hell, all organism really) are built for survival, they’re built to deal with your stupid decisions and keep you alive so that you can spread your malnourished seed and create more souls for the vegan army. You can survive on ANYTHING but can you thrive? I say not unless you are meeting all nutritional requirements, which a vegan diet lacks.

        Review my point about how animals have certain defenses that stop once the animal is dead, animals aren’t toxic like plants are (since a plant can’t defend or run away, it develops toxins to discourage consumption, some more severe than others, we’ve only kept the ones around that didn’t kill us back in the day) with that in mind let’s look at the sources of protein you and I enjoy…

        I eat meat, the meat I eat is grass fed, happy cow yadda yadda, not the point, the point is, if I was trying to eat this cow and kill it myself it would do everything its power to stop it. It would run, if cornered, it would charge, kick, trample over me, etc. However, since I’m a big tough human with a better developed brain and plenty of hungry meat-eating friends we can take this animal down and get the nutrition we require. The animal has no “built-in” defenses in its meat, once the fighting and kicking stops and the animal dies that’s it. Properly raised animal meat is a superior choice for protein, fat, amino acids, vital vitamins and nutrients.

        Now, you probably eat… uh… beans… and soy? I guess? let’s go with both those incomplete sources of protein. Amazes me that vegans know nothing about soy and eat it like its manna from the heavens. Kindly read up on phytoestrogens and phytic acid, yes this requires research on your part, it’s your dietary lifestyle you should know about it. And please, wikipedia? why not just link me directly to a blog post on a vegan website? (sidebar: what about the couple that was recently jailed after feeding their baby nothing but soy milk to raise him a good vegan soldier since the beginning? poor child died, un-fermented soy is bad, very bad) Onto beans, again, phytic acid, a compound that doesn’t allow proper nutrient absorption, not to mention the overload of carbohydrate that beans present, providing all sorts of blood sugar issues, not to mention inflammation.

        “Poorly planned vegan diets lack b12″ … well of course! you can only get b12 from animal sources! or “fortified cereals” which means man-made food, which in and of itself is typically bad for you (cereals… hahahaha, there’s more nutrition in a sweet potato than any breakfast cereal out there) You probably (or should) know this, but a lot of fore-front vegans take b12 shots. Why not just re-join the human race and eat an egg? you people are in stark contrast to human nature, it’s annoying.

        Actually, I just realized this is just a waste of my time, vegans are pretty religious in their approach to diet and they’re too wrapped up in saving animals to care about themselves. Forgetting that they themselves are animals, forgetting that animals reside in their bodies, forgetting that everytime they clean themselves they kill life-forms, forgetting that when they die, they too will be eaten and the maggots won’t stop to think that the precious vegan was too righteous to eat other animals.

        But never mind all those silly facts, never mind nature, you have a moral code to upkeep.

        (seriously, all vegans that are not feeling that great, just join the grass-fed movement, you’ll feel infinitely better and for the love of god, realize that your not-eating-meat does fuck-all for the food industry’s bottom line, it won’t make any less animals die, and these animals are only around because we wanted them, if not the wolves would have rid them long ago, fucking cows are unable to do jack shit in the wild, they’re nothing but easy prey. Grow up)

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      • Tristan says:

        Wow, citation needed!

        What about the huge number of people who choose to be vegans or vegetarian? Are they not having “full genetic expression” or good health? What about all the people the world over that can’t afford to eat meat, and yet have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes?

        If we’re going to look at this issue from the standpoint of opportunity cost (what do I gain by giving up eating meat) we can’t include an unfounded assumption that “meat eating is healther.” We could certainly debate whether “meat eating is easier” or “meat is tastier” but “healthier” would require someone to refute quite a bit of research first.

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      • Tristan says:

        “If you remove our emotions and feelings, you’re left with what we are: an animal.”

        You don’t have to remove emotions and feelings, those characteristics aren’t exclusive with being an animal. In fact, it would be very hard to argue that no other animals have emotions or feelings. And why would we want to remove those in the first place? The whole point of this post was to show the ways that people were trying to maximize positive emotions and feeling, while minimizing the negative. Of course, it might not work out that way, but that would seem to be people’s goal, even if it was misguided.

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      • John says:

        It is simply not true that “we require animal consumption to have full genetic expression and good health.” Americans’ diet-related health is atrocious. We are the most obese country on earth. What percent of the obese population would you guess are vegetarians? What percent of the cohort who have diet-related diabetes, occluded arteries, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and/or triglycerides would you say are vegetarians? My guess would be somewhere close to zero. I haven’t eaten meat since 1993 and my health is markedly better for it.

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      • Harpoontang says:

        I’m an obese vegetarian who was vegan for 5 years until I added eggs for the sake of my children’s health. Children often do not fare well on vegan diets. Fat is not something to fear, or shame others about. I eat better than anyone I know but have a hard time being active due to previous injuries. I don’t agree with killing animals for food (unless survival requires it) but nor do I support the idealistic vegan rhetoric which is often, as your point illustrates fat shaming and body-policing and in other cases (see one of the above posts) dangerous to the lives of children who do not get to have informed consent. Vitamin K2 is another vitamin that children cannot absorb in its synthesized form.

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      • BC says:

        Can we really attribute meat as the source of our horrible diet or is it more in our cooking methods? If we all ate deep fried pickels (in canola oil) and no meat I would wager we would still have all of the above mentioned health issues in this country.

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      • iniQuity says:

        Google “adventures in diet” and read the whole document, it’s not long.

        Americans do have a terrible diet, but this is NOT due to meat consumption. If you were to eat nothing but animals for a while (as the anthropologist did in “adventures in diet”) you would experience great health. I’ve done so myself for many stretches and felt amazing.

        The issue with the American diet is refined processed foods. It’s refined carbohydrates, it’s the obsession with UNHEALTHY whole-grains (you read right), it’s the overload of sugar (though all carbs are essentially sugar even if they don’t taste sweet, the body treats it all the same) it’s the presence of poly-unstaurated fatty acids, it’s the abundance of omega 6 oils (soybean, vegetable oils) it’s the LACK of good saturated fat (yes, good saturated fat) from sources such as animal fat or coconuts (there’s a tip for you vegans, eat more coconuts, you need fat to absorb the vitamins that you’re not even getting) it is NOT meat.

        If meat was so bad for you, how do you explain the perfect health of the inuit? (also discussed in the document I am imploring you to seek out)

        Go find me ONE, just ONE single indigenous culture that eats or ate a vegan diet. Don’t worry I’ll wait.

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      • Vulpyne says:

        “Now, you probably eat… uh… beans… and soy? I guess?”

        I don’t understand why I can’t reply to your other post, but there are a lot of inaccuracies in what you assert. To start with, you have some sort of preconception that a vegan diet is unhealthy however you don’t even know what I eat! If I ate just beans and soy (beans? what?) that would obviously be unhealthy. I eat breads and pastas and beans of various types (included products made from fermented beans like tempeh). I eat seitan and tofu and vegetables of all sorts. I eat peanut butter, and fruits and rice and grains (quinoa is a complete protein, by the way.) I eat tree nuts and peanuts. And just to be sure I take a (vegan) multivitamin.

        “Review my point about how animals have certain defenses that stop once the animal is dead […]”

        So the point you are making is that all plants are poisonous but meat and other animal products are since animals have active defenses? I don’t really even know what to say. There is *no* reputable dietary association which recommends avoiding plants in the diet. Not to mention that you don’t get meat without an animal eating plants. So whatever poisons or defenses the plant has only affect humans? So silly.

        “And please, wikipedia? why not just link me directly to a blog post on a vegan website?”

        I made a specific assertion: “The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada regard the vegan diet as appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle.”

        I linked to Wikipedia, true, but are you saying that the American Dietetic Associate and Dietitians of Canada never said what I quoted there? If I produce a link to their specific sites will you be reasonable and concede the point?

        “what about the couple that was recently jailed after feeding their baby nothing but soy milk to raise him a good vegan soldier since the beginning? poor child died, un-fermented soy is bad, very bad”

        They were extremely ignorant people who starved their baby by feeding it apply juice and soy milk, even though it was continually losing weight. They ignored all the signs of ill-health and just let the child die. It has nothing to do with being a vegan, they were just plain bad parents. There are essentially *zero* vegans who would say you shouldn’t feed an infant breast milk. The driving motivation of being a vegan is to reduce suffering and exploitation, it is quite obvious that a woman feeding her child breast milk does not run counter to those goals.

        “well of course! you can only get b12 from animal sources!”

        Actually, you only get B12 from bacterial sources. Those bacteria typically grow very well in meat. Bacteria are also used to synthesize pure B12 which is used for fortifying not just cereals but pretty much any food you’d want to. Soy (and other imitation “milks”) are pretty much always fortified with B12. There also exists B12 tablets and multivitamins that are vegan-suitable. I get many times the US RDA of B12 daily, and I’ve also tested my blood out of curiosity. As far as nutrient deficiencies go, I have none. Thanks for your concern, though.

        “Actually, I just realized this is just a waste of my time, vegans are pretty religious in their approach to diet and they’re too wrapped up in saving animals to care about themselves.”

        I’ve actually backed up my assertions with fact. It’s interesting that you are accusing me of being religious when your views are both misinformed (and you do not seem to have an interest in changing that) and emotional.

        “Forgetting that they themselves are animals, forgetting that animals reside in their bodies, forgetting that everytime they clean themselves they kill life-forms, forgetting that when they die, they too will be eaten and the maggots won’t stop to think that the precious vegan was too righteous to eat other animals.”

        You do not even understand the motivation for being a vegan. As I’ve said previously, the goal is to prevent suffering and deprivation of life and exploitation. If a living creature doesn’t have the ability to suffer or be deprived of the enjoyment of its life – for example plants, bacteria, viruses – then applying vegan ideals to it is a non sequitur.

        Also, why should I care if maggots eat my body once I’m dead? Personally I would consider that to be preferable to being pumped full of chemicals and placed in a sealed box.

        “But never mind all those silly facts, never mind nature, you have a moral code to upkeep. ”

        So now you’re going to argue that natural=better? With a computer? From a climate controlled living space? Really?

        “realize that your not-eating-meat does fuck-all for the food industry’s bottom line, it won’t make any less animals die”

        The meat industry is… an industry. They raise as many animals as they expect to sell. If less people are buying their products, they will produce less meat. It’s pretty obvious that producing more meat than they could sell would be a poor business strategy.

        “and these animals are only around because we wanted them, if not the wolves would have rid them long ago, fucking cows are unable to do jack shit in the wild, they’re nothing but easy prey”

        How many vegans do you hear arguing that the domestic cow’s species should be preserved? I am not one of them, for sure. I would be quite happy if they were no longer bred and the species disappeared.

        “Grow up”

        You are misinformed, emotional, and you sink to ad hominem attacks. I am the one that should grow up?

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      • iniQuity says:

        I apologize and retract the attacks, it was immature of me.

        The comment regarding beans and soy were meant to exemplify vegetable protein sources only, not the entirety of your diet.

        It’s not so much that I’m not interested in educating myself as researching ancestral nutrition has been a big hobby of mine for about two years now. In my research I’ve never once come across a vegan culture. In my opinion, this notion of wanting to limit suffering, etc, is pretty new and simply doesn’t happen on a larger scale.

        I don’t want to argue mostly because we are simply not going to agree. You hold animal life in higher regard than I do, and I’m going to assume you look down upon somebody such as myself who would rather eat animals than simply live beside them.

        I strongly hold on to the idea that this world is built on the symbiotic relationship of life and death, and I don’t want to remove myself from that cycle for two reasons: 1) I know my health will suffer and 2) My quality of life would suffer as well. I simply enjoy the taste of animals far too much to give them up. This is why I take steps to seek out animals that are properly raised (ie not from CAFO operations, so like you, I’m also not supporting those industries) but again, though I like the fact that the animal lived a better life, my primary concern is on getting a better product because it’s better for my body.

        I don’t trust organizations like the FDA, USDA or other governing bodies. I actually hold them responsible for the problems with obesity we face today. All their recommendations are wrong “eat more whole grains” being perhaps the worst of all of them, “eat lower in fat” being a closer second. If you dutifully engage in whole grains or grains in general I urge you to learn about the following: phytic acid, lectins and gluten just to start. Grains are bad bad bad for you.

        My approach to food is a “least harm” approach (least harm for me, obviously, not animals) by this I mean: if I had the option of getting $50 from two people, but one of them wanted to punch me in the nose while the other one simply would give me the money, the choice is clear right? That’s how I eat. If somebody says to me “well, you can get x,y and z from grains!” I’d say to them “sure, but I can also get those from meat and vegetables and it would be of a better quality and more abundant, oh and also meat and veg don’t have any anti-nutrients in them (phytic acid, lectin, gluten)” not to mention I don’t have to put all that sugar inside my body. Grains are nothing but sugar in a different form. No breads or pastas for me, I’ll save all that space for actually nutritious food like offal.

        Regarding the point you made about plants, you misunderstood, my point wasn’t to say “don’t eat plants, they’re toxic” but rather to say “meat is less harmful than plants” because of their defense capabilities. Also, the animals I eat aren’t eating all types of vegetation, they’re actually mostly limited to grass (which actually gets digested and broken down by bacteria in their rumen, so all the nasties are sorted out before I cut that steak)

        That’s all I have for now, and I think in general this debate has run its course and we’ve gotten nowhere. I am never going to stop eating meat, and I won’t ever start to feel bad about it because there’s nothing to feel bad about. Animals (including humans) are on earth to serve a purpose, some animals are meant to be food for humans and other animals, this is just how nature works, vegans want to not be a part of it, fine, my issue is with them saying a vegan diet is healthy (at all) or at worse healthier than a meat-eating diet DEVOID of processed food. I fully agree that a vegan diet is better than a mac & cheese, pizza and diet coke diet, that doesn’t make it better than all other approaches.

        My diet is pretty clean, good meats, good vegetables, good fruits and that’s about it. If it wasn’t born or grows from the earth naturally, it doesn’t get consumed by me. I eat more vegetables than most vegans, and don’t dabble in their processed frozen burritos. Oops, there I go with the attacks again.

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      • iniQuity says:

        Lastly, read this:

        and, what do you make of all the ex-vegans going back to meat? where they not hardcore enough? did they not love animals enough?

        Have you read The Vegetarian Myth? written by a vegan of over 20 years? amazing read, truly eye-opening and informative. I understand the title has to be a put-off but this is YOUR life and you’ve decided to forego a major source of nutrients that for MILLIONS OF YEARS we’ve been consuming, shouldn’t you take some time to read counter-arguments?

        For instance, I don’t eat any grains at all, but you can bet that I’ve read a lot of “pro-grain” articles/books/etc along with other anti-grain literature (which ultimately was more convincing) and I also have experienced personally what difference it makes to cut out these grains that do you no good.

        If you’ve taken this major choice not to consume animals you owe it to yourself to go forward but to be fully informed, not read just pro-vegan lit but also anti-vegan lit and also you should experiment and see how you do. At least bring oysters into the mix, and kindly eat more fat in the form of avocados and coconuts, these are essential for someone that won’t eat animal fat. I truly believe your health could improve just making the following changes: get rid of grains (no more bread, pastas, but you can have some white rice as here it’s actually the processing that makes it a pretty safe starch to eat) eat a ton more vegetables, eat more avocado, coconuts and coconut oil, eat oysters (no central nervous system! no pain or suffering or awareness or whatever, plus highly nutritious, vegan loophole ftw!) and find out about any other sea life-forms that might fight into that. Eat more fermented foods such as the tempeh you mentioned, kefir, kombucha, etc and yeah I think that could be a pretty well-balanced yet still vegan diet. I don’t think it’s ideal, but I’m trying to help you stay in that no-harm bubble… that doesn’t exist.

        Oh yeah, how do you feel about the fact that many animals die so that more crops can be planted? so that more soy and corn (two of the biggest cash crops) can be planted? entire habitats destroyed to make more space for stupid grain. Seriously, read the Vegetarian Myth, take it from the library so you don’t have to pay for it, if anything, you would only have lost whatever time it takes you to read it. You only get one crack at life, take care of your body.

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      • Rusty says:

        Save your compassion for humans and eat the plants and animals you (and/or the industrial food complex) have raised. In agriculture, plants and animals are born, cared for, and ultimately killed for the purpose of eating. Spending your compassion (which is ultimately a finite resource) caring for things that are created to be consumed is a waste when that compassion could be spent on something that might benefit society, like helping _people_.

        Feeling for your food, plant/animal/or otherwise, is no way to live. Facing the truth that life is perpetuated by consumption, is simply being honest with yourself about your own human nature. By coming to terms with your human-ness, maybe you can feel compassion for your species.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 22 Thumb down 25
      • Harpoontang says:

        I’m willing to bet a hungry shark somewhere thinks you were ‘created to be consumed. I will still be sad for you and your family if you get eaten by a shark.

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      • iniQuity says:

        You can be sad that someone died, but you can’t fault the shark for doing what is in its nature to do. It’s the same thing for humans!

        Wait…. do vegans think other animals are wrong for eating animals? please tell me that’s not the case. I’m not even talking humans here, but if there’s any vegan out there that thinks it’s wrong for a lion to eat an antelope or some thing like that then please do whatever is in your power to remove yourself from the gene pool.

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      • Vulpyne says:

        So if I started breeding humans for consumption, you would argue that no one should care about them and try to help them because they were created to be consumed? Your argument is not internally consistent.

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      • iniQuity says:

        Humans and animals are not equal. Yes, we are all technically animals, but kindly stop putting us on the exact same plane. I would absolutely eat you, though.

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    • Garrett Moon says:

      Plants feel pain? Reference please.

      Also, your argument would suggest you don’t feel the need to create humane situations for death row inmates?

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      • iniQuity says:

        Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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      • Sam says:

        You are completely ignoring the fact that plants experience no consciousness. With the (quite reasonable, given current data) assumption that consciousness arises from the brain, it is reasonable to conclude that being a non-human animal is a lot more like being a human than being a carrot.

        It’s not that plants don’t *want* to be eaten. They don’t *want* or *do* anything. They just are. Animals, from fish to humans to elephants, *do* things.

        I’ll admit this does put things like worms in a really weird grey area.

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      • iniQuity says:

        It’s still a living organism, and it’s life plan is still not to end up in your salad.

        Regarding worms and the like, I read that some vegans are now eating oysters since they too lack a central nervous system or in your words they don’t “do” anything. I would call them, smart-ass vegans. I love the loophole. Oysters are not only delicious, they’re highly nutritious.

        If I were to device a vegan diet that is actually healthy…

        – oysters (and any other loop-holy non-animals that may pop up)
        – coconuts (excellent source of fat)
        – avocados
        – all other veg/fruit
        – some sort of o3 source, like I believe there’s some type of algae, but I also know you can get it in pill form.
        – some way to get b12, I guess through shots.

        NOTHING else. If we’re in the interest of good health, a vegan diet should look like the above only. Vegans eating excessive amounts of soy, or “fake meat” are screwing themselves.

        Or, you could join us and eat a piece of liver, or brains, highly nutritious.

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      • BC says:

        I say this mostly out of jest, but iniQuity’s fruit comment has me thinking. If there is one way for an animal to ensure survival of it speicies, it would be to become a major food source to humans and easy to farm. According to Wikipedia, there are 23 billion chickens in the world (the most abundant bird) and 1.3 billion cattle. I would say it is in their best interest as a species to be a renewable food source to humans.

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      • Vosil says:

        Individual animals care nothing for “their species” any more than we did not that long ago. They care about themselves and their offspring. I’m pretty certain “our species” is a completely human concept, and a very very recent one. Also, to me, a flawed one.

        Basically you won’t see a cow happily sacrificing itself “for the good of all cows!!!!” 😛

        I fundamentally disagree with the whole concept of “for the species” anyway. To me an individual matters, not the survival of their genetics. To me that realisation is almost the very basis of any morality I, and I would argue most people, now have.

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      • iniQuity says:

        You’re not off the mark at all, humans alone ensured the continuance of all these species and only because we wanted to eat them.

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      • Cyberia says:

        “Perhaps as another commenter said it’s not pain the same sense as humans or animals, so if we step away from the pain argument we still have the “plants don’t want to die for consumption” argument I put forth.”

        LMAO, you just contradicted your own argument with this: “Fruit for instance, especially sweet fruit, exists so that critters (or us) eat it, then shit the seeds out somewhere else so that the tree can grow since it can’t physically move and plant its seed somewhere.”

        It’s entirely possible to eat plants without killing them. Apple trees don’t die when you pluck and apple from it, nor does eggplant die either when you harvest it, etc. With this considered, plants have EVOLVED for the sole purpose of creating parts of it that can be eaten. Those bright red berries are made for birds and other animals to EAT them. Grass allow their leaves to be eaten so cows can fertilize their pastures. Plants WANT to be eaten. On the other hand, I did hear about this one farmer that kept a pig with a wooden leg because, while they had been eating it, they loved it too much. I’m wondering how content breastless chickens and disemboweled fish are, however.

        “We have to remember this: Organisms all share a similar path in life, we’re born, we grow, we reproduce and we die. Those are our only “requirements” in life.”

        Explain how this helps your argument at all? We all die. Congratulations on your astute observation. I don’t see how the fact that animals die gives me a moral OBLIGATION to kill animals for food, especially since I don’t HAVE to eat meat to be healthy.

        “most plants can’t fight or run away, so they have developed other means of protection, most of which can be neutralized by cooking, or are not as harmful to us big humans as they may be to smaller critters, but plants can and often are quite toxic without proper preparation…”

        It’s FAR more dangerous to eat raw meat than raw vegetables. MOST (if not all) of the conventional vegetables can be eaten without preparation. Can’t say the same about meats, however. Your point?

        “the truth is grains left to their own devices and un-processed are very toxic and almost indigestible and even after the processing we’re left with something that offers very little when it comes to nutrition.”

        1. No they’re not. Brown rice still has the nutrients. I’m supposing that you don’t advocate eating rice husk… right? 2. you’re deluding yourself if you think that the “meat” you find in supermarkets is anything like meat that you hunt in nature.

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      • iniQuity says:

        Sorry, didn’t see your death row comment.

        Uh, well, that’s taking it a bit far I think. For starters I don’t really like the concept of jail (though it fascinates me, I watch and read a lot about it) and I don’t know where I stand on capital punishment.

        Assuming, somebody killed my sister in a brutal fashion, you can trust that I’d wish nothing more for that person to experience 10 times the pain and suffering they imposed on my loved one before they themselves perished. I would have absolutely no remorse about this.

        In the case of others currently in death row, well, I have no personal attachment to any of them and so I can’t readily say how they should be treated prior to dying. It’s just too bizarre a concept though to create a “nice, humane” environment for somebody you’re just going to kill isn’t it? As I said in my original post, when it comes to factory farmed meat vs free range “happy cow” operations my main concern is not whether Poopy the Cow lived a great full-filling life, but the simple fact that an animal eating its proper diet (in this case, grass) is a better source of nourishment for another animal eating its proper diet (me)

        Meat from factory operations is not just bad tasting, it’s bad for you as the cows are eating something they weren’t meant to eat (grains).

        Of course, I do “feel better” eating grass fed meat from good farms that give its animal better living conditions, but that’s only because something as horrible as factory farming exists.

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 12
      • Cyberia says:

        “It’s just too bizarre a concept though to create a “nice, humane” environment for somebody you’re just going to kill isn’t it?”

        Yes. Truly mindblowing.

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    • Des says:

      *sigh* Plant do not feel pain. They have no central nervous system, which is required to experience “pain” as we know it. They have no evolutionary need to experience physical pain. Pain tells an animal that something is bad and they should remove themselves from the situation. Plants cannot move, and thus have no use for the physical pain experience. I don’t know whether or what plants “feel”, but it is biologically not the same as animals.

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    • KALSINA says:

      Since when do plants feel pain?

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    • Mike C says:

      Yeah I’d love to see the science that plants feel or think anything. Any links to non-crackpots from legitimate science insititutions would be appreciated?

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    • Adam Black says:

      I write the following as an animal lover and a meat eater. I do not claim my actions are superior…

      I have a few issues either with what the article FAILs to say, or the author. While I do not generally respect ad-hominem attacks, I am uncertain if the author is missing the point or is being deceptive…
      This Article makes the following categorical error: It fails to differentiate from compassion as just a feeling inside oneself, and actual realized compassion as a PRACTICE, ie its fruit, the results of Compassion…which, however misguided , still result in a superior world. Compassion materialized, however difficult its birth, is light-years ahead in superiority to a whimsical feeling in oneself that —while it may stop one from creating to much harm—may Never ever even result in a single good ACT…
      Two , the article does a disgraceful job of Collapsing a very large series of Compassionate Acts into seeming meaninglessness. It offers a seeming hidden bias of Veganism, while never stating it.
      The articles conclusions are then meaningless, because it proves its hidden assumption. It starts out with the Bias that Carnivores Kill or eat killed animals which is uncompassionate. It is fine if you believe that, Just state so… Then it goes on to “prove” its bias, and restates it…. Of course carnivores Kill animals, Thats the definition of the word!! What I find disgusting is the making to nothing of kindness to animals….
      The Compassion ISNT in the Killing. But I think the author knows this. In the Modern factory food system KILLING for most creatures in it is the ONLY compassionate moment. Compassionate Carnivores recognize that there is something far worse the Killing and eating an animal. It is being responsible by eating it, for a creature that lived a terrible, evil pain-filled existence, for every day for its existence, may have been a torturous Ill nightmare…

      If you are ignorant of this just google: “factory farms” or “Peta”…” John Robbins”

      “For “animals that lived with dignity . . . death is only one day.” I’m not sure how to characterize such a remark, but compassion doesn’t really jump to mind.” ….This reads NOT to me as a rationalization AT ALL. But a restatement of PURPOSE of why a compassionate person would choose to paradoxically kill , rather than doom a creature that you will eat to a living horror Before one needs to kill to eat it… The obvious psychological benefits of such a mantra is glaring in the example you mentioned. Such a person has removed an evil from the world, and also replaced it with something better, even if it is not a perfect good…
      I have to wonder about the compassion of the author to the People that he talks about. The author employs some of the exact same pychological-distancing techniques towards ACTUAL human beings, that he correctly recognizes they employ towards animals they kill.I have often thought that an adult who would never kill his own food, should not eat meat. Perhaps if the author had a little compassion for the Carnivores he writes about, he could appreciate the good they added to the world, the evil they removed, and appreciate the personal sacrifice of their innocence to put their beliefs in practice

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    • Adam Black says:

      I write the following as an animal lover and a meat eater. I do not claim my actions are superior…

      “You could also just by-pass compassion and see feed animals for what they are: food.”

      There is no special subset of non-food animals…”feed animals” is redundant or deceptive.

      This is more accurately phrased , “When you bypass compassion, or are unable to experience empathy you will see animals ( and human animals ) as a commodity to consume… Like any normal person ….who is a psychopath

      “Plants feel pain too”
      Plants may be aware of damage, but there is not a shred of scientific evidence that plants, or any organism without a nervous system feels pain… Pretending based on…myths…(or pop sci articles ) that eating plants is morally equivalence to consuming higher animals or animals at all is frankly ridiculous… it reads as the moral reasoning of a murderer…. And again, i say this as a meat-eater

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    • Christopher says:

      “The world is built on this cycle of life and death.” Right on!

      I believe in compassion. But that is more from the fact that humans are compassionate by nature and not that compassion is a major part of the Universe.

      The fact is, compassion has little place in the part of the universe that we can view. There is some, but not much. So, to me, it is almost to the point of ridiculous that people worry so much about compassion and eating what we have EVOLVED to eat. There is very little scientific argument to suggest that we have been anything but meat-eating omnivores for the whole of our 2.5 million years as something described as “human”. I know very few healthy vegetarians or vegans who have not gone through periods of “cheating” on their diets! So much so that it pisses me off when they try to show off how healthy they are, knowing that they either had to jump through hoops eating very industrially contrived foods OR they cheated by eating the occasionally non-vegetarian/non-vegan foods!

      I’m reminded of how I was raised and taught by elementary school teachers and TV shows like “Wild Kingdom”. They somehow wished for us to get this idea that when an lion kills a gazelle or when a wolves kill and eat deer that it is a compassionate process and that the prey die a quick and relatively painless death. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. They would show us the photo of the lion with its mouth over the prey’s mouth, quickly suffocating it while avoiding the photos of an animal being ripped to shreds while desperately trying to get away! In fact, when you look at MOST deaths on the planet, RARELY is it quick and painless!

      Life is about living and dying and most of dying is just plain hard and painful. It is the time DURING life that we can afford a little compassion and give an animal some reasonable “quality of life”.

      We do NOT have to, by any means, be MORE compassionate than that lion or wolf.

      Lastly… the article mentions “Putting aside for now the ethical implications of killing a sentient being in order to eat well…” I’d be very careful about how you use the word “sentient”!!!

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  2. Skip says:

    The whole movement seems a bit silly to me. Yes, I agree that there is need to avoid needless cruelty. But a do-it-yourself approach is far from the best option in this case. Regulate the industry, pay a little more in the store for “humane” meat, those I can see. But setting loose a bunch of amateurs? Seems likely to result in more suffering, not less.

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  3. Steve says:

    You argue that there is some humanity lost (in the Melissa and Patty examples) after having to kill these creatures, but the humanity focus certainly should not be the people in these instances but the animals. Even in the first botched kills (which hopefully are rare), the animal suffers for 10 minutes. You can find videos of factory farm animals in Iowa that suffer their whole lives at the hands of rednecks that get pissed at them for being hurt and uncomfortable. The true humanity is minimizing the suffering of the animals.

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  4. YX says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  5. Dan Santo says:

    The economic aspect of this is pretty sketchy. I can see areas where economic aspects could come in, but this article is pretty much completely devoid of anything relating to economics.

    The closest that I can come to an “economic” aspect is that economics is much better than most disciplines in looking at the large picture – the unintended consequences – than most areas of study. This article looks at the unintended moral effects of humane slaughtering.

    But, that is the closest I can come to some sort of economics, or even Freakonomics, tie-in for this article. Junk this sort of article.

    If someone on the Freakonomics team wants to allow friends and colleagues to post whatever sort of drivel they want, how about setting up a separate blog just for them. The barrier costs are minimal, and the benefit to we readers who don’t want to have random-topic posts tossed at us when we read Freakonomics will be much happier. Not only that, but those people who read this blog and do like that sort of stuff can go subscribe to that other blog and enjoy themselves over there.

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    • Rusty says:

      Economics is about incentives and behavior. Freakonomics tends to find situations where incentives are out of line with our behavior.

      For instance, some people may want to be nice to animals, but their attempt to be compassionate killers may leave them emotionally calloused. In other cases, their amateur skills inflict more pain than a professional might.

      I liked the article, and I appreciate the author’s looking for conflicting incentives outside of typical situations.

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  6. Shane says:

    Well it takes guts to do what they do, anyway.

    Moving away a little from this subject, I’ve lived most of my life surrounded by beef farms. I was walking around one day recently and seeing the usual view around here – a herd of cows accompanied by their calves, lounging about in a field, enjoying the sunlight – and it occurred to me that I never see these images from animal rights campaigners.

    True, I don’t know much about the conditions cows experience when they are stabled in winter, or when in transit. But their summer lives seem pretty amazing. Lie about in grass. Eat grass. Never risk starvation, or predation. If they get sick the farmer brings a vet. Herd animals in the wild don’t have this kind of life! They get lions and disease and famine. So perhaps conventional farming isn’t necessarily cruel if it gives animals a life safer than the one they’d endure in the wild. (Up to the point of slaughter of course.)

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    • David says:

      Those aren’t the images from animal rights campaigners because that isn’t the problematic farm that they disapprove of (at least to the compassionate carnivore movement, all meat farming is wrong for many vegan movements).

      What you describe is the goal not the problem. Unfortunately this is not the case for the vast majority of farms, especially for poultry. Even in very humane and organic farms the scene which you described is not the norm.

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      • Shane says:

        Fair enough Robert. I’m writing from Ireland. I gather the EU has some regulations on farming, though I’ve no idea how far they go. We do hear occasional stories about poor conditions on farms. It may simply be coincidental that I’ve lived near sensible farmers who took their animals’ welfare into account.

        It just occurred to me that a life in the wild is also not free of suffering. I don’t know if cows crave freedom the way an enslaved human would, but they seem pretty content lying about in the fields, chewing the cud and staring lazily at me as I walk by!

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  7. Robert says:

    This guy totally missed the mark. The compassion isn’t about coddling critters and cooing at them, and then somehow reconciling that with killing them. It’s about not having these animals exposed to the disgusting meat industry we have in this country. I’m yet to take it up, but I hope to some day.
    I think that learning what it is to kill what you eat is important. I don’t think that makes me less human, but more. Is it really better that we should all eat what the industry supplies, and never understand where that chicken breast or drumstick came from? That we see meat as something wrapped in plastic that comes from coolers in the supermarket?

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    • pt says:

      I agree with Robert. Shouldn’t we have to face the moral question of how much killing we can handle in order to sate our appetites? I believe that dealing with the pain of taking a life for food is a rather efficient way to ensure that we consume less meat overall and thereby diminish the demand for factory farming, which is overall quite bad. I don’t believe we are all predisposed to say, “Ah, the hell with it, I’m like Dexter now.” And really, some folks faced with the image of slaughter will opt to avoid meat altogether or still count on others to produce it for them, but might demand that it be under more humane terms. Therefore, we will see an absolute rise in compassion.

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  8. Mike says:

    Wow, this was a wonderful example of stupid people doing stupid stuff. I worked on a small chicken farm as a kid. You grab them up, one person holds the feet and head while the other person chops off the head with a sharp machete. Length of time for the death to happen – a hundredth of a second. The pain didn’t even have time to register in the brain before the head was separated completely.

    The chickens were “happy” I guess, since they had an open field to use during the day along with safety and food at night. We killed them with a tiny fraction of the stress and pain of the idiots in these stories.

    What’s so hard about that? Instead aparently there is tons of people making up stories about humanely killing them by slicing just the jugular veins or whatever. Idiots.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      I think the whole thing can be summed up in two words: “City slickers!” (You know the appropriate tone of voice.)

      These urban “dude ranch” people might benefit from organizing an in-person, hands-on chicken slaughtering class. Or maybe they should outsource the slaughter to an experienced butcher until they have a more practical notion of how to do it.

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      • Rachel says:

        I was one of the people that was quoted in this article (though McWilliams fails to give me credit). What he failed to include in that quote was that we’re urban farmers that teach people how to humanely slaughter chickens and rabbits (yes, with a hatchet and stump). Not all of us “city slickers” are idiots and we do teach people (for free) how to do it.

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