Slaughterhouses and the Sacred

I was pondering the notion of killing animals as a sacred ritual when I started getting some thoughts.... (I'm not talking about animal sacrifice, but about slaughtering animals for food, like hamburgers. I mean, most of us eat animals, and their flesh feeds us....)

I thought about the religious rules set up to minimize the animal's suffering. I thought about how many families still pray over their food and ask for God's blessing. I thought about how hunters used to blow horns to honor dying game animals. I thought about the spirits of animals (yes, I firmly believe that animals have souls, even if not necessarily quite like ours). I thought about an autistic woman who helped design ramps into slaughterhouses that greatly reduced animal panicking. I thought about the way I can pick up emotions and "vibes" from people and places. I thought about the interconnectedness of all things.

From what I know of spirituality, respect is good. Compassion is good. Understanding is good. Reverence is good. And all these things should be applied in all directions: respect everyone around you. Have compassion on everyone around you. Honor everyone around you. Have respect for your surroundings. And so on. It is a well-known spiritual rule that, where these principles fail to be applied, there is darkness and suffering -- prime conditions for corruption.

Now think about slaughterhouses.

Few people think about slaughterhouses! Why not? We get almost all our meat -- the stuff that makes hamburgers, steaks, stews, roast chicken, chicken soup, pork chops, hams, pepperoni -- from slaughterhouses. (And let's not forget fishing boats that provide our seafood.) They are vital for the lifestyle we know. They keep us fed. They are an intrinsic part of our lives. And real live people work at these places -- people with kids, families, hopes and dreams.

So, why do people hate thinking about slaughterhouses? The blood? The suffering? The mess? The reports of bacteria, fecal soups? The accidents? The low wages? The safety violations? So why are we turning a blind eye? What is it we don't like seeing?

Think about hamburgers. When was the last time you or someone you knew threw away a half-eaten hamburger? Have you seen meat rotting in your fridge? Have you seen food mistreated and wasted? Laughed at? Made into tasteless jokes? Thrown around in foodfights? And the animals? Are they treated like living, breathing, feeling beings? Or are they treated like automatons that don't feel pain and are only worth their weight in money?

Is food so plentiful here that we can afford to mock it and waste it? Do the lives of the animals mean so little to us? Does God's generosity mean so little? I'm not saying we shouldn't throw out meat that goes bad, or that we shouldn't stop eating when we're full, but might a little conscientiousness go a long way toward reducing food waste? Might reducing food waste help feed starving people? Might a little effort on our part help reduce animal suffering? And might reducing the human and animal suffering reduce some of the nasty spiritual pollution on this planet?

Now that I've read a bit about the beef industry, other obvious questions arise. Currently, the way most beef (and poultry, and now even fish) are raised encourages deadly bacteria, unhealthy low-omega-3 and high-omega-6 meat, the possible spread of deadly prions (mad cow disease), the use of hormones that affect nature and people's health, the maturation of cows many times faster than nature intended, the reduction of cattle prices, the use of oil to make fertilizer, and a host of negative environmental consequences. Couldn't we change -- expect, demand, shop for -- meat that doesn't just reward our craving for meat, but which also imparts health to us and the world, instead of the opposite?

If we are to live better, holier, happier lives, then we should not neglect to apply awareness, compassion, and respect to the process that brings food to us. Farmers. Plants. Pollinators. Organisms in the dirt. Water. And so long as we decline to become vegetarian, this must include slaughterhouses. And fishing boats. The workers. The animals. The facilities. The management. The products.... And don't forget: The fast-food workers. The wait staff. Whoever cooks your food. The stuff on your plate itself. (And how about God?)

We should know and see first hand the process and places that give us our food. Young people should see what goes into their hamburgers, rather than live in a fantasy land of denial or derision. Abuses and mismanagement should be exposed. Designs and layouts reviewed. Safety proceedures revised and updated. Environmental impact assessed. Workers treated with respect and honor. Animals treated with respect and honor. Food products of all types treated with respect and honor. Our own bodies, health, and nutritional needs treated with respect and honor. And, incidentally, God's providence respected and honored all the way through the process.

Would perhaps putting respect, honor, and graciousness into the food processing chain help make the world a little bit holier? And might (just maybe) an increase in the spiritual holiness of the food that we eat help us? And might this perhaps bring us all a little closer to God?

...and it all starts with a little awareness. That's easy enough to do, isn't it? Stop a moment and think about slaughterhouses.

And, of course, thanking God for one's supper probably doesn't hurt either.

Some links to ponder:

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