“Killing IT”: “It’s a Deeply Personal Thing,” Slaughter Practitioner Tells NPR’s Fresh Air July 24
By Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns
Camas Davis is the founder of the Portland Meat Collective which is part of the “Ethical Meat Movement.” She was a guest yesterday on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air where she described going from “righteous” vegetarianism to a “hands-on relationship with food.” Her book is called Killing It: An Education.
Her interview consisted of clichés including how farmers and butchers are not “sentimental” but have “reverence” and “respect” for the animals they kill and cut up. A dominant cliché of the ethical meat movement is how considering an animal an IT fits with “respect” for the animal; and “respect” for the animal means “using every part of it.”
Camas presents herself as a cultivated person for whom “we each have our own narrative.” If you want to be a “righteous” vegetarian or vegan, that’s cool, and so is shocking pigs with electricity and assuming that those electrified things they clamp on the pigs’ heads to “stun” them are “humane.” If not, well, “shit happens” is what her tone conveyed about her attitude. She admitted that the electricity in those “head phones” doesn’t always work, judged by the reaction of pigs whose behavior suggests that they are, uh, suffering or stressed or something . . . Terry Gross piped up with a reminder that the electric chair has been shown to torture human victims, but that point was not pursued.
While Camas said that the “meat” one kills and consumes should be “nutritious,” there was nothing that I can recall suggesting that she slaughters and eats animals because she believes meat is necessary for health or wellbeing. It is simply about food being “delicious” couched in the relativity of “you have your narrative, I have mine.” There is no chicken or pig “I” in her narrative; the animals are just grist for her “personal thing.”
Every hesitation in her voice as she touched on aspects of her violence sounded like an awareness that some listeners might be offended, rather than that she felt any concern for the animals. Like many, in fact, she seemed proud to narrate getting over whatever squeamishness (whether moral, aesthetic, or both wasn’t clear) interfered initially with harming another gratuitously without pity or guilt.
Scrambling the Reptilian Brain to Calm It Down
Toward the end of the interview, 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” (she obviously knows nothing about chicken cognition) before you scramble their brains by sticking a knife through the roof of their mouth.
To understand this procedure within the traditional slaughter process more precisely, here is a summary from my book More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, pp. 64-65, based on the description in Farm Poultry: A Popular Sketch of Domestic Fowls for the Farmer and Amateur, published in 1901:
It is first necessary to suspend the birds in such a way that they will not strike against each other or other hard object with their wings while flopping and flapping, which can cause bruising and broken bones and interfere with the killing. A common method of restraint and bleeding is to suspend the bird in a metal funnel, or “killing cone,” with the head protruding at the bottom, weighed down by a four-pound blood cup hooked to the bird’s lower beak. The purpose of the blood cup is to “prevent the bird from bending its neck and swallowing blood during the involuntary convulsions subsequent to slaughter.”
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 [not to stun, i.e., anesthetize] 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.”
This paralysis-inducing procedure with the knife is now done with electricity in modern poultry slaughter plants following the introduction of the electric shock method in the 1930s.
Like traditional as well as industrial slaughterers, Camas Davis falsely and with willful ignorance or outright lying equates muscular paralysis of fully conscious animals with “calmness.” In reality, the animal is in agony but cannot express it due to the paralytic effect of the electricity or the knife-braining which is done solely for the convenience of the killer and the consumer and has nothing to do with rendering the animal unconscious or pain-free or with showing compassion or being “humane.” As Virgil Butler, who worked many years for Tyson in Arkansas, said of the chickens he killed: “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?
- Listen to the podcast and read a summary of the show here: Food Writer Becomes A Butcher To Better Understand The Value Of Meat
- Comment on the show here: NPR’s Fresh Air
- Comment on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air Facebook page here: Fresh Air with Terry Gross
- Share this post widely and encourage others to join you in washing their hands forever of Killing IT.
Thank you for taking action.
—United Poultry Concerns