“Killing IT”: “It’s a Deeply Personal Thing,” Guest Tells NPR’s Fresh Air

By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

Beth Clifton collage: crying hen, human hand holding a bloddy knife and cage / prison bars
(Beth Clifton collage) Animals 24-7

Camas Davis, the founder of a “meat collective” that’s part of the so-called Ethical Meat Movement, was a guest on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air on National Public Radio July 24, where she described her “hands-on relationship with food” from her book Killing It: An Education.

She told how farmers and butchers “revere” and “respect” the animals they kill and cut up and how calling an animal IT comports with “respect” for the animal, which means, merely, “using every part of it.”

According to her, “We each have our own narrative.” If you want to be a “righteous” vegetarian or vegan, that’s cool, and so is shocking animals with electricity and assuming that those electrified phones they clamp on the pigs’ heads to “stun” them are “humane.” She admitted that the electricity in the “head phones” doesn’t always work, judged by the pigs’ reaction. Terry Gross piped up that the electric chair has been shown to torture human victims, but the point was not pursued.

Nothing this woman said suggested she kills and eats animals because she considers meat necessary for health. It is simply about being “delicious” couched in the amorality of “you have your narrative, I have mine.” There is no chicken or pig “I” in her experience; the animals are just grist for her “personal thing.”

Every hesitation in her voice sounded like a well-scripted consciousness that some listeners might be offended by her violence, not that she felt anything for the animals. She seemed proud to convey getting over whatever squeamishness initially interfered with harming a fellow creature gratuitously without pity or guilt.

Scrambling “the Reptilian Brain” to Calm It Down

Terry Gross asked Camas what was the first animal she killed with her own hands and she said a chicken. She mumbled something about how chickens have a “reptilian brain” that causes them to “calm down” before you scramble their brains by sticking a knife through the roof of their mouth. As described in Farm Poultry: A Popular Sketch of Domestic Fowls for the Farmer and Amateur, published in 1901:

In braining, the beak is pried open and a cut is made through the roof of the mouth through a carotid artery or jugular vein to the base of the brain with a knife, which can also be inserted through the bird’s lower eyelid to the brain. The knife is then twisted in the brain to paralyze the bird to facilitate immobilization and feather release: “It is necessary that the brain be pierced with a knife so that the muscles of the feather follicles are paralyzed, allowing the feathers to come out more easily.”

Inducing pre-slaughter paralysis with a knife the old-fashioned way is now done with electricity in modern poultry slaughter plants following the introduction of the electric shock-water method in the 1930s.

Like traditional as well as industrial slaughterers, Camas Davis falsely equates muscular paralysis with “calmness.” In reality, the electrified animal is in agony but cannot express it due to the effect of the electricity or the knife-braining. As Virgil Butler, who worked many years for Tyson in Arkansas, said of the chickens: “They have been ‘stunned,’ so their muscles don’t work, but their eyes do, and you can tell by them looking at you that they’re scared to death.”

What Can I Do?
  • NPR is normally no friend of animals. NPR sentimentalizes rodeo riders and cattle ranchers, and the host of its political talk show, 1A, smirked in a recent episode that if he had to live vegetarian on “cauliflower shakes,” he couldn’t survive and called on meateaters to unite. When you hear such talk, please inform NPR that you do not appreciate their irresponsible promotion of animal cruelty and consumption, and that you expect a network claiming to rise above run-of-the-mill radio to promote compassion for our fellow species and to heed the warning by WorldWatch Institute and other experts that:
    “The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind every category of environmental damage now threatening the human future -- deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.”