Monday, July 18, 2011

Is meat murder?

Gaita says that some people say that meat is murder, but they don't really believe it. They don't, that is, regard butchers the way they would regard a murderer, or meat-eaters the way they would regard cannibals. (This is one of the ideas in the book that I had thought was mine, but might well come from Cora Diamond. Or maybe it's just obvious.) But what does "meat is murder" mean? Is it something so obviously false? I don't think so.

As far as I know the phrase was coined by Morrissey, who took it from the slogan "meat means murder," which is a song by the punk group Conflict. I don't trust my memory very much, but I believe someone painted "meat means murder" in big letters on a wall in Manchester that I drove by several times. Maybe Morrissey saw the same graffiti. "Meat is murder" is punchier but also more obviously false. How could a substance be an act? I think it's fair to say that we aren't meant to take it literally. How we are supposed to take it ought to be made clear in the words of the song. So here are some of them:
Heifer whines could be human cries
Closer comes the screaming knife
This beautiful creature must die
This beautiful creature must die
A death for no reason
And death for no reason is murder
I'm not sure about the first line: do heifers whine? Nor do I know enough about abattoirs to know whether the "screaming knife" part is accurate. But the idea is clear enough: think of the similarities between animals and humans, think of their beauty, think of the fact that you don't have to eat meat. Now, isn't it terrible that they should be killed for their meat? The word 'murder' is meant to express this (alleged) terribleness. I really don't think that a definition of murder as death for no reason is being seriously proposed. This is propaganda, not conceptual analysis. I'll skip a bit, but the song continues:
Kitchen aromas aren't very homely
It's not comforting, cheery, or kind
It's sizzling blood and the unholy stench of murder.

It's not natural, normal, or kind
The flesh you so fancifully fry
The meat in your mouth
As you savour the flavour of murder
This is a not very subtle attempt at forcing an aspect shift. Kitchen aromas, of course, are homely and normal. The denial of this obvious truth is meant to make us reconsider, to think of them differently. Don't think of them in that way. Think of them as the smell of blood, the smell of flesh. Now, does buying, cooking, and serving meat seem so kind? That's the idea. You can reject it as sentimental, hysterical, or crass (Conflict recorded on Crass Records, so some of these people had a sense of how they were likely to be perceived, I think), but it's a mistake to say simply that it is false, or not really what anyone believes. It isn't meant to be a statement of belief.


  1. Yes, not good. He should certainly not have said anything so insensitive. On the other hand, his point was fairly clearly against murderousness. It was very badly made, but the worst has been made of it by journalists. Not the first time he has been irresponsible though.

  2. This slogan "Meat is Murder" was on bumper stickers in the 80's.I know. I had one.
    The meaning has not changed.Eating meat=engaging in murder.