Movie review: Meat, the thinking person’s slaughterhouse documentary »
This is a pretty obscure film, but I’ve LOVED Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries* ever since I saw Welfare in law school. So when I learned he once pointed his camera at the inner workings of a slaughterhouse and meatpacking facility in 1970s Massachusetts, I knew I had to watch it. Not only does Wiseman show cattle and lambs rounded up, fed, slaughtered, and turned into meat products, but we also see footage of animal auctions, the rather mundane administration of the company, labor meetings, and marketing discussions—Meat made me feel like I was a part of every aspect of a meatpacking company.
Wiseman refuses to provide narration, thereby forcing the viewer to take what they will from Meat. Thus, the movie plays like a seemingly unbiased, unemotional exposé of an industry typically unexposed to the vast majority of the country. The veil between animal and meat product is the disconnect animal rights activists fight against on a daily basis—despite what the dairy industry would have you believe, I’m pretty sure none of their cows in California are happy. In lifting the veil, Meat felt to me like a precursor to PETA videos. But while that horrific footage will never find their way into a high school classroom or aired on television due to their overtly politicized message, Wiseman presents Meat so evenhandedly that one could actually imagine such market penetration, much to the meat industry’s dismay.
But oh dear god; watching Meat is no less unsettling. Trust me when I say Wiseman doesn’t pull any punches. I’m stating the obvious, but the slaughterhouse scenes are beyond ghastly. I can’t describe my revulsion at watching a cow’s skin, intestines and head being ripped from its body. I’m bracing myself for the inevitable nightmares; the film’s visceral impact is crushing.
I also have to admit feeling really bad for the employees on the slaughterhouse floor, dismembering cows for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Can you imagine the psychic trauma of that job? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre analogized slaughterhouse workers to a nation besieged by bloody images from Vietnam for very, very good reason. You might think “Well, they should just get another job,” but keep in mind that it’s rarely a seamless process to transfer jobs, particularly in this job market, particularly in certain parts of the country and especially for the undereducated. Anyhow, in addition to screaming “WHY ARE THEY CUTTING UP THAT VERY CUTE LAMB?” Meat also made me ponder the abusive psychological and economic power dynamic involved in the production of every steak.
Put it this way: if PETA videos are the porno of animal abuse videos, designed to grab the viewer’s attention and heighten their emotions, Meat is the calm, investigative PBS special. This is the thinking person’s slaughterhouse documentary—there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write—best for educating your friends and family about the reality of meat production and animal commodification. In this respect, I thought Meat was an utterly engrossing masterpiece. Alternately, in the sense that Meat required me to watch a lot of grisly, gruesome footage of harmless creatures being killed and dismembered like a real-life horror movie, I really hated it.
Damn. Someone owes me some vegan booze for making it through this one! I promise my next installment will be more upbeat! [Ed note: If you would like to watch Meat, Jonas reports having seen a copy at Lost Weekend Video.]
Zach Cincotta is a vegan movie obsessive who, along with his vegan brother, discusses his thoughts on every movie he watches at Le Souvenir d’un avenir. When he’s not slowly burning out his projector bulb, Zach is an entertainment and business attorney representing awesome bands, record labels, and other small businesses. His previous movie reviews for Vegansaurus can be found here, you can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here. Phew.
This is an interesting essay on “a course focused on the slaughtering and processing of meat animals” by a food science grad student. The author was and remains an omnivore.
What do you think, vegans? One of the commenters on The Ethicurean argues that “a short happy life” that ends in “a humane death” is preferable to living in the wild and “dying of starvation or cold in the winter,” or “at the claws and teeth of a [predator].” I would say, That’s a lot of assumptions you make there, commenter “Walter Jeffries,” that 1) we can and do give domesticated animals happier lives and more humane deaths in slaughterhouses than they’d otherwise have; and 2) the only alternatives to slaughterhouse murder are bad-but-natural deaths in the wild. What about sheep and goats kept just for wool? What about horses? There are plenty of farm animals that have long and happy lives that don’t end in terror or pain.
But omnivores—and this is a point that Jake Lahne, the author, makes in his essay—are willfully myopic about such options; their desire to eat meat will trump all other considerations. When hasn’t it? When was the last time your closest animal-eating friends/relations refused to eat meat because the animal was raised on a factory farm? When did they last turn down cheese because it came from dairy cows, producers of veal calves? Anyone?
I thought not.