When I was 19 years old I spent a period in the far South West of Ireland, County Cork. Utterly beautiful summer of 1975. This was before Ireland joined the EU, it was like going back to England before the Industrial revolution. You really did see people riding along the roads in carts pulled by donkeys, not as a hliday hobby or jaunt, that’s what they used.
One day I spoke to the farmer who lived opposite where I was staying, he was walking along the road with a cow. He had a rope around its neck, just strolling along the lane. I walked with him, my scruffy Lurcher dog trotting along beside us.
After about half an hour he stopped outside a pub, he asked me to hold the cow while he went inside, so I held the rope and patted the cow, it was a very placid beast. 10 minutes later the farmer re-emerged with a hearty looking fellow and we all walked to the far end of the village.
There was a small red brick building standing off the road, the ruddy faced chap went inside and opened a large door, he beckoned me, I walked forward, leading the still placid cow. The man popped a nose bag on the animal, it started munching hay, standing chewing away quite happily. He gestured me to stand back and then with a speed of movement which was as surprising as it was sudden, he swung a 10 pound lump hammer in a large arc and brought it down on the cows forehead. The animal slumped down almost without a sound and the ruddy faced man then put two big hooks through the tendons in the cows back legs and with the use of some hefty looking pulleys, hung the beast up from the stout rafters.
I will spare you a detailed description of the rest of the process, save to say it was very bloody, very gutsy but very economical. Nothing was wasted and the ruddy faced man worked fast, within 30 minutes the animal was butchered into manageable hunks of meat. At the rear of the building was a cold store room, by far the most modern thing in the village. Here he stored big chunks of beef. He gave the farmer a carrier bag full, he offered me the head of the cow, ‘for the dog.’ It was in a hessian sack. I thought it would be rude to say no, so I carried it back to where I was staying. I just want to say here, a cows head, even one that has been skillfully butchered, is a bloody heavy thing. Walking over 5 miles on a hot day with a cows head which is dripping copious amounts of blood though the hessian sack is not something you forget quickly. When I offered it to the dog, and this dog was used to the rough side of life, she caught and ate rabbits regularly, when she was confronted with a whole cows head, she gave me a look. A special dog look which communicated the following. ‘You are fucking joking.’
The following day I buried the cows head in the garden.
So, that experience is not something that you forget quickly. I had worked on farms as a young person and knew where meat came from. I had caught and skinned rabbits for my dog, but they are small, this was the first time I’d witnessed the slaughter of a large beast. I was quite shocked, it was quite brutal even though from the point of view of this cow, it was very quick with very little time for the creature to become alarmed.
So I got to thinking, I ate meat but I was disturbed by witnessing the slaughter, how hypocritical of me.
But I had also been at dinner parties and summer barbeques where the meat eaters made fun of the vegetarians, teasing them about the “ickle wickle moo cow” that had been killed to make their burgers. Belittling the vegetarians for being sentimental about animals.
Meat eaters like to try and poke holes in vegetarian’s viewpoints by asking them about the leather in their shoes. But there is in my mind nothing more hypocritical than your average, urban meat eater. So far removed from the source of their high protein diet it’s not true.
Meat in supermarkets, we all know it’s hypocritical but we just carry on buying it. I do, I’m as bad as anyone.
I’m fairly confident that about 70% of the meat eaters I’ve met would freak out if they actually saw a cow being killed, and 90% of them would not be able to do it themselves.
Then I thought, what about a carnivore license?
Okay, it’s a daft idea, but seeing as we live in a world with diminishing food resources and a massive human population, a carnivore license is making more and more sense.
To get your carnivore license you have to pass a simple test. You’d have to go t theory night classes for a couple of months, learn about the basics, nothing that complicated. Then the test is carried out in controlled conditions with professionals on hand at all times. You enter a special room, it will be white tiled, well lit and kitted out with state of the art tools. It’s all very hygienic and controlled. An living animal is then brought in, it might be a pig, a sheep or a cow, you then have to kill it humanely, butcher it correctly and store the meat safely.
If you pass the test, you get a license and you can buy and eat meat.
The percentage of the population who would eat meat after the introduction of this unlikely piece of legislation had been made law? 10%, maybe 15, at the most. A huge proportion of the population would not even consider taking the exam, they would happily remain vegetarians for life.
A massive amount of money and resources would be saved by not breeding the millions of animals we eat each year, a huge amount of land currently devoted to growing food for these animals to eat could be used to feed us, and could be used less intensively.
Basically, although I am a meat eater, I don’t think it’s a truly sustainable part of our lives. I can kill animals, I have done it many times. I don’t’ enjoy it, but I have done it. Only chickens, rabbits, a duck once, a couple of turkeys. Never anything as big as a cow. It’s a messy business, it makes you very aware of what you’re eating and I think, if you love eating meat, get out there and kill something. In a controlled and humane way of course.
I now wait with relish to hear from hunters, shooters, fishers about how they are happy as Larry to top the odd rabbit, carp or deer. Like I said, 10 to 15% max.
A kind fellow called James sent me the link in the comments to this wonderful Ted talks video which I thought was worth including.