This really is a mighty joke …
Given the ubiquity of industrial farming methods around the world—which see animals caged, terrorised and butchered with relentless automaton regularity—the uproar over two men killing a rat, for food, on television, seems to miss the point in a truly mind-bending way. Quite apart from the fact that eating live animals has been a staple of the show in question ever since its inception, this rat’s demise, and the reaction surrounding it, seems to shed some light on humanity’s warped sense of animal welfare.
Dead animals are, of course, advertised, cooked and eaten on television every day, usually alongside pointers on how to prepare your own tasty morsel should the desire take hold. Joints of meat are seasoned and tenderised, sealed and roasted in front of a beaming studio audience wildly clapping their hands at the banality of it all. Anyone who’s seen the quasi-pornographic Marks & Spencer adverts on British TV—where great sides of beef, filmed in slow motion, are generously doused in unctuous gravy—will have noticed that the sheer animal desire to consume meat continues unabated.
So then what’s the difference between these two televised events? Why is one considered to be animal cruelty and the other beyond reproach? The answer I think lies in the tactical and deliberate separation of the words ‘meat’ and ‘production’—a gulf that is to be maintained if the stunning, dehiding and butchering of cows is to remain distinct from a beef steak being griddled with onions and garlic. In trapping, killing and skinning a rat, for food, on television, ‘meat’ and ‘production’ have become uneasy bedfellows. And the word that emanates from this linguistic union? Cruel.
Meatpackers and supermarkets don’t want people to know where their meat comes from, which is handy, because people don’t seem that interested in its provenance either. To most people, meat is a shiny consumer end-product, much like a hand-stitched football, so what’s the need to peer into the shitty feedlots and slaughterhouses to see where this shrink-wrapped, sterilised nourishment began its own short and doomed life?
To begin to answer this question is, of course, to close the gap between ‘meat’ and ‘production’, and in doing so expose the inherent cruelty and barbarism of industrial farming and mechanically raised meat. That the consumption of a rat on a vacuous reality TV show can start to pose these questions only shows how clumsy and misguided our distinction between animal cruelty and animal consumption really is.