Ambrose Pierce:"Kill not, abet not those who kill. Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill."

I’m watching – through the glories of the BBC’s new iPlayer – a show that seemed to completely escape me for its first series. It’s called ‘Kill It, Cook It, Eat It’ and unsuprisingly, does exactly what it says on the tin.

An audience, sitting in a studio custom-built on the side of an abattoir, watch through perspex walls as 10-week old veal calves brought in from a holding pen, are stunned, slaughtered, skinned, disemboweled and then brought through into the studio to be hacked up by a butcher. The various bits are all then enumerated and the meat then cooked and served to the audience.

In many ways it’s a sort of mind-bogglingly sensationalist piece of TV. In other ways, it’s brilliantly honest.
Many people eat meat quite happily without the slightest compulsion about how it’s killed. Seeing close up and unedited how the throat is cut and 50% of the body’s blood pours out of the carteroid artery is very sobering.

I was once a vegetarian and four years ago started eating meat again. I think there is something equivocal in my thinking about it. As one of the vegetarians on the show said: even if you can’t change the whole meat industry by your single choice, you can live with calmer conscience.

In Buddhist terms there is also complex thinking around it. The Dalai Lama does eat meat for health reasons. The Karmapa recently asked all his followers to become vegetarian. The abbot of Samye Ling, Lama Yeshe, explained it thus: in Buddhist terms every sentient being has the possibility of becoming a Buddha – be it a blue whale or a gnat. Through reincarnation any animal can move through the levels of rebirth to arrive at Buddhahood. However, almost any form of food production causes the death of sentient beings. Farming a field of wheat leads to the death of thousands of insects and worms (which is why Theravadan monks aren’t allowed to garden) which in Buddhist terms is thousands of potential Buddhas. By this arithmetic, it is worse to kill 10 fish to feed 10 people, than to kill one calf to feed 10 people.

In the end what matters is the respect and loving-kindness paid to life around us. Death is anyway inevitable.

I’m not sure about the logic of all this. For example, if you don’t believe in reincarnation, the whole argument falls apart. Also, Buddhism explicitly categorises certain livelihoods like butchery as unskillful. But if you’re going to eat meat then you must be responsible for the actions of the people who prepare it for you.

This is where ‘Kill It Cook It Eat It’ is so powerful. By opening up people’s eyes to the business of slaughter and butchery it does a great honest service.

I find it doubly powerful because I come from a family of butchers. My great-grandfather built up a small empire of butchery shops in Portsmouth in between the wars. Two years ago I spent a summer interviewing my surviving great-uncles and aunts about their memories of growing up, tied up to the business. Uncle Kent in Ireland had an amazingly vivid accounts of growing up as a lad helping out in the slaughterhouse at the back of the shop on Hyde Park Road. Inflating the animals subcutaneously in order to cut the hide off more easily. Transporting the gallons of blood from the bloodpit up the island to be spread on the fields at Wittering as manure.

Ambivalence upon ambivalence.

“Join us again tomorrow night with baby lamb on the menu as we kill it, cook it, eat it.”


  1. St

    January 11, 2008 at 3:30 am

    As a child my grandparents had a farm and always raised
    animals to butcher for the family to have meat. Looking
    at those pictures reminds me how we use to kill our
    chickens(use the ax and chop their heads off) and seeing
    all the blood squirt every where.
    For me I am use to see this and accept the fact that some
    animals are raised for food. The one rule that I was
    raised on was never to kill what you were not goning to use
    or eat. I still live by that rule, whether it is right
    or not is each persons way of accepting life and death,
    because we all eventually die sooner or later.

  2. Valerie W

    January 12, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    I don’t believe its ambivalence from your uncle as much
    as acceptance in the way of things and how they have to be
    at that time.
    Ambivalence would be doing it without rhyme or reason just
    We’re always quick to criticize the way things were done,
    without looking at the circumstances. Hind sight is forsight.
    Why is it not looked at as the death of those insects and
    animals as the time fate has chosen for them to go to the
    next level.
    who are we to say that in the grand scheme of things that
    those farmers aren’t the arm of fate releasing those beings
    to progress to their next life.

  3. lori

    January 12, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    What a macabre show! And point taken on ambivalence. I don’t think
    I’d stomach meat again after this.

  4. Stefania

    January 22, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I’ve just watched the beginning of tonight’s programme Alistair mentioned, this time with suckling pigs. I totally agree with Alistair that it’s sensationalist TV but also honest. However, I did find it very upsetting. It all seems so cold and clinical. The sight of guts being hauled out was hard to take but even more was the fact that the animals were alive one minute and dead the next. It doesnt seem fair that they’re being killed for humans enjoyment. Do we really need to eat meat? It probably was necessary in the cave man era but surely not today. What type of people make a career working in an abbattoir? Are they cold and clinical in their private life? Who knows, maybe some people get a kick out of killing the animals?

    When I was little my mother used to kill a chicken on a Sunday for our dinner. I used to watch as she carried a bucket of hot water, a knife and the poor animal down to the garden shed to kill it. Of course I did eat my roast chicken but at the time I did think my mother was cruel and a murderer. The strange thing is years later my mum tells me she couldnt kill another chicken. Why?

    Of course life is cruel and we all have to die eventually, but why do we have to inflict an unnecessarily early death on an innocent animal? I will think hard about becoming a vegetarian.

  5. neil mcintyre

    March 1, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    i too watched this programme and from the point of view of a chef i found it remarkable to see the reaction of the studio audience. what did they think they were going to see? i must admit it seems to me a tad hypocritical to eat meat without knowing where it comes from and the process by wich it gets to our plates,( this was covered during my time at catering college and it didn’t put me off. i do not see a problem with eating meat provided it has had a comfortable existence before being slaughtered and has had time to mature though i very rarely eat lamb i mosty eat chicken pork or fish but i am predominately vegetarian and i have not ever cooked or eaten veal. an interesting point was raised regarding the need to eat meat meat contains lots of nutrients essential for health which can be derived from plants but the quantities that have to be eaten are astronomical compared to meat( which can be digested more easily). final thought from what i have read we would not be here in our present form if it were not for our ancestors eating meat which prompted an increase in brain size and intelligence……..though from seeing th way the planet is going you would probably disagree with my last statement!

  6. shantala

    April 29, 2009 at 2:11 am

    Vegetarians kill plants which are also living beings.
    Aren’t vegetarians committing a sin by hurting a
    plant ? Is only blood a sign of grief ?

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