Ever since I first took an animal’s life with my own hands with the intention of eating it – a brook trout caught in a barely-big-enough-to-call-a-stream back in high school – I have been at turns fascinated and repulsed by what is involved with getting meat from hoof to dinner plate. This preoccupation predates my interests in science communication (#scicomm and #sciart) and persists to this day.
A lot of science and emotion is tied up in modern assessments of the ecological sustainability, morality, and even human/animal rights issues associated with eating meat. The British publication The Learned Pig recently published a photo essay of mine which explores the hands-on experience of killing, butchering, and eating meat.
Excerpt: In nearly every case, something died for you to go on living. Even a vegan or raw food diet requires suppressing some forms of life. With no exception, the lives of microbes, insects, plants, and indeed, a great many animals, are at stake each time we take a bite. Whether we like it or not, eating is therefore an agricultural, ecological, and political act.
Instinctively at first, and much more deliberately now, I look the issue straight in the eye. For almost a decade I have pointed my camera at fish intestines, chickens’ eyes as they await butchering, and at the hands that carefully transform wild animals’ living flesh into familiar shapes and serving sizes.
The longer I carry on with this project, the more interested I have become in the nuances and, yes, the blood and guts. I began this series thinking to shine a spotlight on the moral high road of knowing where my meat comes from. But, as I took hook, and gun, and knife in hand, and followed these with fire, butter, garlic, and convivial dinner conversation, I came to understand that eating meat isn’t that simple.
I also find few images published which present the hands-on process of transforming life energy from one creature into another in all the blood-spattered reality that accompanies even the most ethically and naturally raised meat production.
Excerpt: There is a lot of manure, mud, blood, and death facing anyone wanting to observe or experience where home-grown meat comes from.
The images in The Learned Pig essay scrape the surface of that colorful multi-faceted process, and my archives and future projects contain more. In the future, I anticipate sharing glimpses of the hands that slit homegrown chickens’ throats; the ranchers that know the cattle they will one day eat by name; and the gray area of larger-scale production that follows most of our ‘naturally-raised’ ideals.