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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.

vegan? 11.Sep.2009 21:13


are you vegan? this was a wonderfully written piece.

Chicken truck 11.Sep.2009 21:17

another witness

I think I noticed the smell first, it was one of those sickening stenches that elicits an almost primeval urge to flee. I was stuck in rush hour traffic, about an hour and 10 minutes into what should have been a 45 minute drive, the cars were inching along through a part of the freeway comprised of multiple curves. As I rounded one such curve, I saw it: a broken down, double long tractor trailer full of chicken cages. As I got closer the smell increased, I rolled up my windows and turned off the external air flow. And I looked. Hundreds, maybe thousands of chickens crammed into little filthy cages stuck on the side of the freeway in mid 80 degrees temperatures. The heat and stench combined to create a hellish scene. I zeroed in on one chicken, she tried to stand up and fell down again, over and over, her weak and atrophied wings fluttering and spasming as I watched in horror. I am not naive, I am no new vegan, I haven't eaten animals in over 20 years but the sight of this kind of abuse still breaks my heart, over and over. Where, I wondered, did this chicken want to go? Then I understand, she wanted to get away from - not to - something.

I had to look away as tears were coming to my eyes and I knew it would be dangerous to start crying while driving. As I wiped my eyes, I looked at the other cars and saw one woman look over quickly at the truck and then look away. I scanned the other cars and no one else was looking, no one, not one. They stared straight ahead, although any other disabled vehicle would typically fascinate them. I fought the urge to jump from my car and start pounding on their windows screaming "LOOK, you stupid fucks, LOOK at what you do". I wondered how many of these people will eat chicken tonight? Surely, these poor creatures deserve at least a glance from their industrial predators but they didn't, wouldn't look. I zeroed back in the chicken that wanted to get up, she kept trying. As long as I could see, I kept looking. I had to witness her struggle and her plight. It reminds me of why I am who I am.

But it also reminded me of a cat, dearly loved, who recently died. In his last days, as he weakened, he would try to get up and would fall down but he kept trying, over and over, just like this chicken. I assume he wanted to escape his pain and the betrayal of his damaged and diseased body. We finally brought him to the vet, who gently ended his pain as we held and caressed him, as we wept for the loss of his company and out of relief that his suffering had ended. But no one knew, let alone loved, this chicken, so apparently it was okay to let her suffer, to let this bird live out her short and tortured life in a factory farm, for her to be denied any semblance of a normal bird's life and any dignity in death. It was okay, even normal, as my fellow commuters showed me, not to look. How many of them had "hot wings" that night? How many of them thought of that chicken, stranded in the heat and stench on the side of the road, trying to get up and falling down, over and over?

Back at home, I told my partner about the chicken truck, the tears came, burning hot with anger and impotence. After I stopped ranting and crying, he showed me that the vet bill had come, we owed them $68 for euthanizing our dearly beloved cat.

It breaks my heart to see those trucks on the highway... 11.Sep.2009 21:28


It makes me hate all the stinking, selfish humanity who insist on shoving meat, eggs, and dairy into their greedy mouths. A taste sensation at the cost of innocent, lost, tragic lives.

I'm vegan.

Yes 11.Sep.2009 23:26

A friend

"Are you a vegan?"

Yes, Cat is vegan. I can vouch for that. She makes an awesome vegan torte! (Also shoots vegan cooking videos with an animal rights video group, and works with recovering farmed animals at a sanctuary.)

Well written 11.Sep.2009 23:32

Owain wledig

I cried when I read this. Twenty seven years ago I work in a slaughter house in Scranton,PA at Robzens beef. I worked as a packer. The people that killed the cows seemed so sadistic. My friend bill worked there around the same time on the killing floor. He told me he quit when he came to the realization that the sadistic bug was contagious and he felt as if he was catching it. Soon after I became a vegetarian and have been one since. I am going to go vegan as soon as I can force the change on myself. All of this suffering in every country on the planet. It is so dark and cold out there,like a bad dream. People please end the suffering! Bill still eats meat and feeds his dog big chunks of it everyday.

Thanks for the perspective 14.Sep.2009 07:59

Jody Paulson

Hardly anyone thinks about stuff like this, I imagine there'd be a lot more vegans in this country if people just stopped to think about it. I grew up in Montana and I remember when my family, who lived in town, would help with branding time for our rancher friends. It's really pretty nasty, I remember watching little calves shit themselves after they were thrown down on an iron-maiden type thing, tagged, branded, given shots and had their balls cut off and thrown into a pail ("Rocky mountain oysters," which would be served later that night). But I don't remember having much emotion about it, it's just the way things were done. Nowadays I look at how human beings in general are being treated in this country, and it's hard not to make the comparison between us and those unsuspecting calves, herded in the chute to be branded, one by one.

I'm a vegetarian, but I'm often tempted by convenience and my taste-buds to cheat every once in a while -- and I've never been able to give up cheese and eggs. Your article will help me to make that transition sooner. Thanks for writing it.

Help Us! 20.Sep.2009 08:29

The Cows

Please help to stop the carnage. If you have not already done so, stop eating meat. You can also help by donating resources or volunteering at a farm sanctuary, by taking in rescued animals if you have the space, and by speaking out against the cruelty. You can help by never tolerating the needless slaughter of anyone. You can help by NOT TURNING AWAY.

LOOK at what happens in a slaughter house. See the imagery. Don't turn away from it. And then DO something about it.