Dinnertime viewing

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This cartoon by P.S. Mueller from the May 14 New Yorker reminded me of the BBC Three reality show “Kill It, Cook It, Eat It,” which premiered back in March. The premise of the show is for eaters to learn where their meat comes from. Each of the three episodes focused on a single animal — a cow, a lamb, and a pig — following it from the farm to its death at a small working abattoir, one that practices the highest standards of humane slaughter. For the show, a kitchen was constructed adjoining the abattoir, with a glass window onto the kill floor: a group of people were invited to witness the slaughter, watch how the carcass was prepared, see a chef demonstrate what to do with the meat, and then — if they still had an appetite — to eat it.

You recoil at that idea, right? It’s natural. But is it? Think about how until very recently in human history, we all knew those steps intimately, even if we were rich enough to pay others to do them in our stead. I don’t think it’s necessary for us to return to being hunter-gatherers, clubbing baby rabbits or lambs in the morning to have for supper later. But I do wish we all had a better understanding of the toil and skill and, let’s face it, animal suffering that go into that tasty lamb chop or steak. Firsthand would be best, but given that slaughterhouses aren’t exactly offering group tours and even small farmers are wary of inviting “harvesting” viewers, one way to do that would be to watch “Kill it, Cook it, Eat it.” From what I have seen of it, the show presents the process with great respect and a kind of calm, clinical narrative voice that keeps the footage from seeming like a PETA video.

Except, you can’t. The three BBC episodes aired and disappeared. They never made it to BBC America for viewing in the United States, and they have not been released on DVD or on iTunes. The only way one can see them, hypothetically, is illegal, so of course I am not advocating that.

Journalist Tom Rawstorne wrote about being one of the up-close-and-personal eaters on the show in an essay for the Daily Mail:

In the meantime, I reflect on the experience and am surprised how much it has affected me.

I’m very aware that what I’ve seen is top practice — a good farmer producing a welllooked after animal that is killed as humanely as possible in a well-run abattoir. This is not how the majority of meat we eat is produced, and that should be real cause for concern.

In Britain, eating meat is seen as a right, rather than a privilege. Mass production has depressed prices to such an extent that there’s no longer anything “special” about eating a leg of lamb, a chicken or a joint of beef. Instead, we plough through it three meals a day, oblivious to the fact that it is different from a loaf of bread or a bag of spuds, and that it is only cheap because corners are cut that are damaging to the welfare of the animal and the quality of the end product.

The cultural scenario sounds rather familiar. I took a few minutes to write to BBC America to ask them to consider putting “Kill It, Cook It, Eat It” on the schedule for American viewers. I suppose it’s pointless to ask the Food Network.
There are three very brief snippets of the lamb episode on YouTube, if you’re curious. Although they were heavily blogged when they first appeared, they’ve only been viewed a few thousand times each. Maybe America isn’t quite as ready for this show as the New Yorker cartoon would have us think.

One Responseto “Dinnertime viewing”

  1. Mat says:

    While I agree that we should know where every ounce of the meat we eat comes from, to understand the sacrifice made to obtain it, I’m not sure TV is the best medium. The distance from the event of slaughter provided by the TV medium only buffers (or even desensitizes) the viewer from the act of taking an animal’s life. Even your comments and those of Tom Rawstorne create distance by referring to the killing floor as an abattoir, which aside from being a quaint French word is just a euphemism for the more telling term, slaughterhouse. What we need is a firsthand experience of the toll to animals who become our dinner. I grew up in the rural Midwest, killing deer and going to a small family slaughterhouse (which processed local animals before the USDA shut these small operations in favor of the closed-door mega-slaughterhouses) to make sausage and cure hams. When I think about those experiences, I truly value eating meat and remember the price paid, by the animals certainly and by the life-taker as well, to bring that meat to the table.