Slaughter Truck in the Morning Commute: A Haunting Encounter
This morning, I was late for work. Later, even, than usual. As I drove down the highway, I was distracted and feeling rushed. So I'm not sure how long I had been following it, but it was just as I was about to pass it that I finally saw the huge, dirty, gray truck. I recognized it as soon as I focused on it - the tiny slats in the sides, the shit spattered beneath those slats. The shape and feel and finality of it. Even if I had not seen the "Cattle Drive" logo near the top of the box, I would have recognized the looming sense of loss about it. It was a slaughter truck.
Suddenly, my employer's schedule seemed trivial to me. The cars rushing past in the morning commute melted away. All I could see, suddenly, were the glimpsed shadows of lives within that cold, dirty, metal truck. I slowed down and peered inside. I owed them that, at least. I owed them a thought, a glance, a witness.
Through the meager air slots I saw, dimly at first, a tangled puzzle of lives and oppression: legs and hooves, the dangling tufts of tails. The bits and pieces of animals, already turned from subjects of their own lives into pieces of machinery, cogs in the grinding wheel, the unwaged slaves on whom our way of life is built. Commodities. Crammed from end to end, this cattle car was haunted inside with shadows. No, not mere shadows, but living beings. Beings with thoughts, dreams, desires, lives of their very own. Not mere means to our ends, but being used so just the same.
I slowed again. No longer in a hurry. I could not bear to leave them there, helplessly alone on that journey. I did not think there would be anything I could do for them, but it is not the mind ticking off options that one hears at times like these. It is the heart. And my heart wanted to stay with them, wanted to see where they were going. Wanted to do whatever I could do to save them.
It was then that I saw the soft, shiny black nose push out through the hole in the side of the truck. Desperately, I drove beside that truck, looking at the face that was looking back at me through that hole. Young, and curious, and thoughtful, with questing eyes, that calf looked right at me, held me locked in that tender gaze for as long as I could bear it. And suddenly, like ghosts in the fog, all the other faces faded into view. Soft, young faces, some were so stressed out that their eyes were rimmed with white and their noses ran, others peered calmly out through the slats. All had the familiar, savage yellow plastic tags jammed through their ears, marked with numbers. This is what they are, to the people who profit from their bones and blood and flesh. They are numbers. Things. Marks on a page. I don't think the people who live off their flesh like parasites have ever even seen their faces. They keep track of them only through the numbers on these tags.
Two pigs whom I recently met, who now live in sanctuary, had come to me with tags like these. Slave collars. A bit of plastic laying claim to the flesh beneath. A mark meant to alienate a living soul from her own body, her sense of being in the world, to turn her into a thing, something "meant for this," for us, for slaughter. Those of us who rescued those two pigs spent days trying to figure out how to get those damned tags out of their ears. When we finally learned to cut them free, we found the ear beneath pierced through with holes big enough to push a finger through, and that hole was red and pussy and inflamed. The body rejected that label, that degradation. And so I know about those tags. And I pictured, now, the soft ears of these calves, marred beneath the incongruous "safety yellow" plastic, with festering wounds. The wounds born of trying to convert a body into a piece of meat. Would anyone save these cows? Would there be compassionate hands to cut free the tags and let the wounds heal? Or would these cows be dangling upside down in a few hours, blinking helplessly while abusive men jabbed their throats and cut away their skin in the last, desperate moments of their lives? Would they be "disassembled" by men spitting tobacco on bloody floors, and then packed, piece by piece into celophane, robbed of the very context of their lives, offered up for sale in pieces at the local Fred Meyers? Would distracted people be dropping their packaged flesh into shopping carts behind their diapered children?
I wanted there to be some way to save them.
At the very least, I wanted to stay with them. In some strange way, I felt like they could feel the tenderness I wanted so much to give them, and I didn't want to leave them. And so I fell in behind that truck. And to my horror, I finally noticed on the back of the truck, the bumper sticker. It read, "Beef. It's what's for dinner."
And this, my friend, is the point. It was a disgusting, inexcusable laugh at the expense of beings who have already been stripped of everything. Gallows humor. Slaughter house fun. But there is a dark and sinister truth behind those words, one that we are not supposed to think about: If you eat meat, then this IS "what's for dinner." These living, thinking, feeling, breathing beings, made to stand here in a swill of shit, made to feel pain, deprived of compassion, made to feel fear. THEY are what - and who - you are forking into your face. This is suffering and cruelty and waste and death. And it is your fault. That square packet of flesh you so casually picked out of the freezer came with a history like this one. It came with a face, like this one, like the one pushing as much of itself as it can get out of the dark, dismal, death truck and into the light and air of day. It lived once, and felt hope, and felt fear, and felt what it is like to be stripped of dignity and meaning and of life itself - for the most frivolous of reasons. If you eat meat, animals like this one are suffering and dying for you: for your table treats... for nothing. There is no reason for it, and no excuse for it. Slaughter houses are not just theoretically dark places we can just turn away from and pretend into non-existence. They are real places, where real lives are torn away from the flesh they were born into, with all the violence and hatred and disregard that humans are capable of meting out upon non-human animals. Stop trying to look away, and SEE it. See it for what it is.
I did not know how to save them. Maybe someone else did - maybe someone stronger than I am. I hope to God it's so. Otherwise, some of you will be eating them tomorrow, and rationalizing it all away as if it did not matter.
But it does.
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