07/14/2010 02:48 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Slaughter and the City

I've noticed a new trend among urbanites. It goes something like this: city types read Michael Pollan, see Food Inc., or simply get intrigued by words like locavore and decide to get more invested in learning where their food comes from, especially their meat. They research idyllic farms, dedicated to the slow-food, humane-meat movement and plan a visit to the country to watch or engage in slaughter. Or they take a class, as this New York Times piece covered, where they learn how to dismember and carve up animals. All this, so they can feel more conscious of the food that's on their plate. But does participating in killing or carving up animals actually make you more conscious of what you're eating? Or does it just push you further into denial?

In all the articles I've read on the subject, there is a recurring theme. Whenever an animal is killed, there is a deep emotional response from the participants: usually, it's sorrow or remorse, sometimes disgust. Take this reaction to a pig being shot from a piece that appeared on CNN this week, "I was tucked back in the barn, watching from a production monitor, and still overcome, Josh wandered over. He's a quick, funny man who wears his emotions right under the skin. Though the tears were no longer flowing, he was still wiping them away and was slightly choked in tone."

Children brought up on farms know about this all too well. Upset when learning animals have to be killed, they are taught to desensitize from an early age, not to name farm animals as they would dogs or cats, not to form attachments. I have yet to read of an alligator or a lion crying over it's prey. No, humans, unlike true carnivores, make a conscious choice to disconnect from our emotions when we kill. It's just the harsh reality, we tell ourselves. But what if instead of disassociating from our initial emotional response, our humanity, we brought consciousness to it, examined it? What then?

What if we chose to truly see animals for the beings they are, versus projecting on them our tastes for the food we want them to be? Animals are sentient creatures, much like us, with only one basic desire: the desire to live. If we deny this to them -- not for our survival, but to simply satisfy our palates -- what does that say of us?

What's worse, the carefully orchestrated lives and deaths in these pay-for-play slaughter facilities are nothing more than a fantasy. That's because 99% of all the animals killed for food in the United States live on factory farms. They live lives and die deaths so unspeakably ugly and cruel that almost every person in the country is unwilling to even hear about them, let alone contemplate them. If you're ready for just 10 minutes of truth, start here.

I suppose once you've gotten your hands dirty killing a pig, or crying at one dying on a monitor, you feel just a little better about your choices. You feel more honest. You've connected with the truth. Except you haven't. You've just gone further into denial.

Most of us know deep down that killing animals, when we truly have no need to, is just wrong. Seeking some kind of cosmic permission to eat animals by bearing witness to their deaths stinks of selfishness and senselessness. Personally killing animals for food doesn't make you more conscious, or kind, or commendable, it just makes you a person who chooses to kill animals. Connect with that.