Los Ojos, 17 June, 2018
Talking with another producer not long ago, I mentioned taking the animals to kill – “harvest,” he corrected me, “we say harvest, not kill or slaughter.” “Ok, then,” I said, “taking them to harvest. But my animals are going to be killed.”
“Harvest” is what I normally say – just automatically, without thinking, because it’s common parlance in the industry – but that exchange prompted me to think a bit. I don’t like euphemisms in general, and this one particularly bothers me; it feels deceptive and a little bit… disrespectful, maybe. “Harvest.” The word carries images of golden autumn light, sheaves of wheat, hardworking peasantry – images and associations collected from a couple hundred years of bucolic poems and paintings. The industry uses it because it distances the product – the meat – from any thought of killing cute animals.
It’s not as though English lacks the precise verbs for the process – kill, slaughter, butcher – they’re just somehow not… polite. We say “harvest” as though we want to make it seem we’re pulling carrots out of the ground, as though we’re somehow afraid that we’ll lose a sale if we admit that we kill animals for meat.
I don’t like it. Not at all, and for a couple of reasons. First, it’s insulting to the consumer. I believe that our customers are adults. They don’t need or want to be protected from the fact that the amazing meat that they are eating comes from an animal; in fact, that’s part of the point – connecting people back more closely to the source of their food, recognizing that we are part of the ecosystem and part of the food chain.
My second reason is a bit more nebulous – an almost ethical consideration. Using the euphemism “harvest” seems to me to be disrespectful and to devalue the meat. I believe that when we eat meat, we need to recognize that doing so means killing an animal. It means that a living, breathing organism died for us. It means that we are part of the environment, part of the food chain. The least we can do is be grateful: to me, that means preparing it to the best of our ability, eating it with attention, and truly appreciating it. Failing to do so turns the meat – and thus the animal – into just a commodity.
I’m not saying that the euphemism “harvest” is the problem with our food system – it’s a symptom of the wider commodification that has had so many ill effects (admittedly many good effects also; in terms of reducing malnutrition and making food widely affordable, the modern food system is an absolute wonder). It’s just one small thing that I’d rather not participate in. We raise wonderful animals, and it’s important to me that we do so honestly and that we not hide from the fact that we raise them for food. We owe the animals – and our customers – at least that much.