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Spiders and Why “Happy Meat” is Nothing but Cold-Blooded Murder

About 20 years ago, I lived on women’s land in Arkansas for a couple of months, and that’s when I intentionally murdered a spider. That event still looms in my mind as one of the worst things I ever did to another animal.

At one point in my stay, the women who lived there permanently had to go to the Bronx for a couple of weeks, leaving me alone with their gardens, their chickens, and their goats.

Arkansas is one of the most fertile places I’ve ever been. When I first arrived on my motorcycle at dusk, the dragonflies thudded in scores on my leather jacket. I’d never in my life seen so many insects, really huge ones — so many armadillos and other enormous mammals hanging around all over the wooded mountain upon which I was living — the trees, vines and bushes so thick they felt impenetrable. One man commented that when he’d been in Colorado the week before, he’d missed the LIFE, the thrum of insects and the hum of other animals, while he went hiking in the relatively sterile under-pine spaces. (Interestingly, this was the man who first showed me how to shoot a gun – a 38 special. I knocked over a tin can.)

I stayed in the womens’ house while they were gone instead of the trailer I otherwise occupied. The first night, I noticed the largest spider I’d ever seen hanging out in the corner of the ceiling above the bathroom tub. Again, not an uncommon sight in Arkansas, an enormous spider, but I felt she had no right to occupy the same space I did.

Now, that corner was at least 20 feet away from the ceiling of the room where my bed was, and the chances of her getting over to my side of the house were minimal at best. However, as I laid on my bed, the full moon streaming through the skylight that had been installed in the slanted adobe wall of the roof, very stoned and very in tune with the sounds of the night, all I could think about was the scary spider making her way over to me. What she would do when she got there was a bit fuzzy, but I knew it wouldn’t be good.

After about an hour, I knew I’d never get to sleep. I got up and rummaged through their cleaning cabinet to find a can of spray foam cleaner. I went over to the spider and sprayed her with the entire contents of the can. She fell from the ceiling when I was about halfway through, and, still spraying, I watched her crawl along the floor, more and more slowly, until she crawled no more. I looked at her and suddenly my fear turned to horror. I’d felt bad before I did the deed, but that wasn’t relevant. I went through with it and murdered her anyway; to have the gall to stand there after the fact and feel bad about my actions made me sick to my stomach.

I had done other horrific things to animals before that time, and did many more before I went vegan. I ate and loved every kind of animal flesh; I bought a leather jacket when I got my first motorcycle; and I went to the zoo every few years or so. But for some reason, that particular incident stuck in my head for years; the memory still haunts me. It makes sense to me now, of course. I murdered her, and for no reason other than my own fear of something that never would have happened. I’d murdered her because she wasn’t furry like a rabbit; she wasn’t four-legged or two-legged like a dog or a human; she belonged to another kingdom altogether. It was stone-cold killing, and that’s what set it apart for me.

Years later, when I was beginning to see the horror of my ways, I was painting a dresser in the back yard of a house I rented with Pattrice, and some of the yellow paint spilled on the ground. I thought nothing of it until I saw a small garden spider walking through the spill, completely coated in toxic yellow paint. I watched in horror as she walked among the tall green (and bright yellow) blades of grass until, finally, she came to an end. I cried for what felt like hours, and felt the (then-fresh) feeling of loathing the human species, myself not exempted, suffuse my entire body.

Active rage and grief were my daily companions then, during that time when I lost so many friends because they couldn’t understand my new awareness of speciesism, let alone the corresponding changes I was making in my own life. It took me many years to learn to bear the burden of being a species-traitor without eroding my ability to find peace of mind, the strength of mind, to keep going.

The point of juxtaposing these stories – one murder, one manslaughter, neither acceptable – is to cast the debate about factory farming versus happy meat and milk in a new light. And by debate, I don’t mean (in this blog post anyway) the endless back and forth about the quality of life animals have when they are factory farmed versus when they are “happily” farmed. I’m talking about the inevitable murders that end all of those lives. The assertion of the happy meat people, of course, is that they murder their animals in a “humane” way, which is of course interesting since they would never apply the same standard to humans; hell, we can’t even agree to have the right to murder ourselves to end terminal illnesses.

In any case, let’s apply this assertion to the two deaths I caused. Was my manslaughter of the second spider any better than my murder of the first because I had no intention to do harm? To me, absolutely. To her, not at all. Both spiders were dead, both smothered by chemicals wielded by my own hand. Their journeys were halted forever, their projects ended, their progeny quashed, for no reason nature would agree upon. Death is death, in that it’s final. Some death is good, like the death of an old, old, raccoon who’s led a long life, and some death is understandable, like the death of a zebra in the claws and mouth of a lion. And some death is inexcusable, like the murder of chickens who have a happy life for years with humans they trust, never knowing that the ultimate goal is having their heads cut off by the same caretakers they had come to trust.

Take a minute and check out the latest blog at Hazel Tree Farm (www.hazeltreefarm.com). The title is “Premeditated chicken murder: Our chickens need to be culled. I’m not looking forward to it.” The gist of the piece is that these people, purportedly loving souls who give their animals the most luxurious and happy of lives, feel the need to murder some of them when they get too old, or too numerous, or too whatever the hell else they think is a problem.

However, that is not the problem. The problem is that these people have decided that killing animals is an indispensable part of human life. They LITERALLY cannot imagine life without exploiting and murdering other animals, I suppose because of some deficiency in their brains, and because of that, they go to patently absurd lengths to justify their own actions.

I mean, come on. If you’re not looking forward to murdering chickens, THEN DON’T DO IT. It’s not brain surgery here, guys. Eating eggs isn’t essential to your life. Eating the flesh of birds isn’t essential to your life (and in fact, the blog writer makes a point to say the chickens, by the time they are murdered, have such tough flesh that they give the corpses to the neighbors so they can feed their cats). So why are they doing it? It’s the particular insanity of the human species; the inability to say gee, THIS ISN’T A GOOD IDEA SO I’LL JUST STOP IT NOW.

But instead, as we know, all sorts of twenty-something neo-hippie hipsters have decided that learning to kill other animals is a good thing. While professing to love the animals they care for (sometimes well and oftentimes not), they participate in activities that are horrifically abusive to those same animals (including MURDERING THEM).

Furthermore, even the chicken situations that seem the most beautific to us might not be how the chickens themselves would prefer to live. How can we know? We look at them through our eyes, not theirs. For all we know, all those fancy breeds humans have created down the years might well wish to die off so their wilder cousins could eventually revert back to their original state. Over our twelve years of living around chickens, we’ve noticed that of the hens who go broody, none of them are so-called broilers, and very few of them are the highly overbred kinds like Buff Orpingtons. Most of the broody ones are either feral or one step away from being feral. Maybe this is their collective way to tell us they know they don’t belong here and they’ll allow the real chickens to come back.

Sounds insane? It might be. Or it might be a sane explanation, but still incorrect. The bottom line is, we just don’t know. So, we have to give our own observations a grain of salt and at least entertain the possibility that they might not be thrilled with the lives we have set forth for them, and might well choose something very different.

And we certainly have to give credit to the possibility that they might not wish to be killed at our whim.

In some ways, death is death. It’s an end. But in other ways, death is not death. Death either comes as a natural part of the cycle of life, or it comes as an unnatural betrayal at the end of an obscenely one-sided deal created by the abuser. If we wish for an equitable life for all species, we need to wish for an equitable death as well. We need to ensure that everyone has a death brought about by a cycle of life that not of our own devising. Spiders need to fall from the ceiling when they’re old and shriveled up, not when they’re sprayed with poison by a scared, twisted city girl. Chickens need to live the lives they choose, dying when they get sick, or caught by an owl, or are old and tired and ready to die — not when their trusted human caretakers have had enough of them, or want another interesting experience to blog about.

We need to do nothing more than stay out of the way. Is there any chance of that, people? Any chance at all?

11 comments to Spiders and Why “Happy Meat” is Nothing but Cold-Blooded Murder

  • Mary
    Thanks for posting this! It rang true for me, as since becoming vegan, I feel the need to leave insects alone when before I would have reacted in fear & probably squished it instead of taking it outside.

    I hope that more people can open up thier minds & hearts to these ideas.

  • The blog entry you reference at Hazletree Farm had a series of comments and responses by the author. One commenter asked the author about vegetarianism. Her response included this passage:

    “Oddly enough, the more I learn about where our food comes from, and having to face slaughtering animals myself – even if it is “only” chickens – the more I DON’T want to eat meat. Vegetarianism might not be for all people, or even a majority, but learning more about the value of animal life actually reinforces its logic.”

    The gaps in her ability to connect the dots are rather obvious and almost painful to see. She seems unable to say: “I will not do this”.

    By the way, one commenter steered the author of the blog post to a chicken rescue network and she said she was going to “try” to get the chickens new homes instead of killing them. Ah, for the sake of the chickens, I hope her “try” is successful.

    Death is easy…too easy. The use of death to “solve” a problem is seemingly ubiquitous insofar as human animal behavior is concerned.

    It is, in some ways, similar to smacking your child to “solve” a behavior problem. Smacking is fast, doesn’t take much thought and quite often appears to “solve” the problem. Because often it causes the problem behavior to stop.

    What is rarely addressed about using violence to solve problems are the side-effects. For instance you cannot avoid teaching the the child that violence is a way to solve a problem. You cannot avoid teaching a child that it is acceptable for stronger beings to cause pain to weaker beings. You cannot avoid teaching a child that violence/force is a positive and valuable behavior and forcing someone else (especially someone smaller and/or weaker than you) to behave in ways you want is desirable…and so on.

    These teachings usually go unacknowledged, hence are rarely openly and directly talked about…not confronted, just there and silently influencing behavior.

    The author of the blog somehow can’t fill in the gaps in her logic and “see” that using other living beings for her own selfish purposes underlies the position at which she has arrived.

    The unspoken logic apparently is: Well, I’ve used the chickens, now their usefulness is over…what do I do with them now? I don’t want to be responsible for them (that would be an expense and inconvenient). I guess I will “kill” them (murder), death means no more expense or inconvenience for me. Death is a solution, relatively easy to do, cheap and fast…voila…no more “problem”.

    You write: “The problem is that these people have decided that killing animals is an indispensable part of human life. They LITERALLY cannot imagine life without exploiting and murdering other animals,…” you go on to write that there must be some deficiency in their brains.

    Maybe it isn’t so much a deficiency in their brains (insofar as a neurological defect is concerned) rather a deficiency in their learning history, a deficiency in what they were/are taught. A deficiency in what the culture/society they live in presents to them, in what is supported, in what is rewarded, in what is seen as desirable.

    We live in cultures (for the most part) that glorify “winning”, “strength”, “success”, “getting what you want”, “competition”, “being the best”, yadda yadda yadda ad nausem.

    Literally there is no (or only minimally extant) platform of cultural support for the sacredness of life, of freedom (if you are weak), of equality of life (if you are different), of looking out for one another (no matter what sort of life form you are), of non-exploitation (except minimal lip service), and on and on and on.

    Maybe the deficiency isn’t in her brain so much as it is in the lies and lunacies most human cultures support and reify. It takes some unordinary qualities to step beyond the parameters of cultural teachings. It is hard, and scary, and painful and often punished. Maybe she isn’t deficient, maybe she is only…ordinary.

    And woe be unto you if you are a chicken (or any other fur, fin, skin or feather being) and end up in a situation where a human animal has power over you and that human animal is…ordinary.

  • becky
    You mentioned about losing friends once you realized how horrible specisism is and all I could think about is how I have compromised day in and day out for a good 8 years of my life to date. I became vegan 8 years ago, 2 years into a relationship and although I haven’t been able to convince him to go vegan, and his food choices make my stomach wrench when he’s not eating the same vegan foods as me, I stay with him. Then my rationalization was I was already with him when I went vegan I couldn’t just all of the sudden say goodbye, with the hopes someday he will change. Sticky situation at best.
    As far as your spider story. Everyone thinks I am nuts because I save every insect, won’t even kill a mosquito because they are, after all, just trying to survive like everyone else. I think my outlook on insects changed however, before I went vegan. I watched the movie Seven Years In Tibet and when they were building a movie theater for the Dalai Lama they had to be careful of the worms, because they were considered to possibly be their family members living their next lives as worms. I thought on that for a while and realized that aside from next lives, every single sentient being on this Earth, including worms and flies, mosquitoes and ticks, are all just trying to live and be and we have no right to kill them. Now, if I even accidentally kill an insect I am wracked with guilt about it for weeks, so I make a point to be as careful as possible.
    I think that we can stay out of the way, just most people choose not to because, after all, to them, we are the top of the food chain and the dominant species so why should we move off the land where they were first? Kind of like when the Europeans landed and met the Native Americans and forced them off their land where they lived first. Most humans who are not enlightened feel as though this is their land because they can control everything and that animals are just dumb beings who don’t deserve their inherent right to life, and it saddens me everyday of mine.
    Thank you for your thoughts. :)
  • Did you tell these people that their craving for flesh is a craving for protein which fresh fried tofu will satisfy? Many people don’t like tofu because they have tasted bad tofu. We can get it factory fresh in WI from Simple Soyman in Milwaukee. I think we can do alot for animals by teaching people either how to make or get fresh tofu. And then how to cook it. Tofu satisfies the daily need for protein and kills cravings of all kinds.
  • What struck me about the proposed chicken murders was the encouraging “go ahead” from so many who commented. It reminded me of what the ancient gladiator stands must have sounded like as they screamed “kill!”, “kill!”. Everyone so in favor of hearing more about the details in the “cull.” No doubt to reinforce some disturbed “food-chain” mentality in their heads.

    I too left a suggestion (or a plea) that she retire these unwanted birds to a good home… Such a betrayal to these lovely beings who have had the rare opportunity to experience man on better terms than most. It’s sickening to know what is being pondered for these hens – Even worse than those billion nameless ones being killed in an “industrial” scale… To kill these hens would be more than murder – it would be treachery.

  • bravebird
    Bea, you’re right, 100% — treachery. Exactly. Even more striking to me is your comment about the gladiator-style thirst for blood that so many folks expressed. That’s why, Greenconsciousness, I wonder if telling folks about tofu would help. Surely these are educated people? They know beans, tofu, and about a million other things contain protein — if their need for protein was all they cared about, they could so easily satisfy that need, and I have to think folks know about these things.

    I fear it’s not about need at all, but other things going on in peoples’ heads — and that, Veganelder, is partly what I meant by a deficiency in the brain. My tone was sarcastic, for sure — while I’ve learned to live with my rage and grief, they are by no means reduced as time goes one, so sarcasm does pop out every now and then. But honestly, I do wonder, more often than not, if our particular evolution is intrinsically flawed. There are just so few people who can wrap their brains around a truly cruelty-free existence — they just DO NOT GET IT. And I mean that literally. And these are not dumb people, and they have been exposed to information, and they still DO NOT GET IT. So that is why, to me, our new name — Veganism is the Next Evolution — is partly so meaningful — we have to evolve to something ELSE, something other than homo sapiens sapiens — because for the vast majority of us, we just can’t seem to get from here to there. Perhaps if the planet can hold on for the next version of the human species, that group will be better.

  • bravebird
    Becky, I hear you. And I think we all make those rationalizations — at least, most of the folks, even the hardest-core vegan activist I’ve ever met, sometimes decide to continue relationships with folks who aren’t vegan, and sometimes love relationships also. We all have to not only be active and struggle for non-human animals, but we also have to find ways to have peace and happiness in this world, if only because without a way to keep going, we tend to burn out…. All that to say, I hope you don’t beat yourself up over this, and perhaps, if you continue to want to be with this person, you can draw lines that feel more comfortable to you (which you might have already), such as when eating together, you eat vegan; vegan food only in the house; etc. Don’t know if that helps…
  • bravebird
    Me too. I’ll tell you another story. Early on in the sanctuary, Pattrice and I would set up fly traps because the flies where we used to be were horrible, and sometimes laid eggs on the chickens, which sometimes led to maggots. Horrible. Well, the traps were horrible also — the flies died in the thousands. We felt horrible but — guess what — we still did it. Sound familiar? Our rationalization, of course, was that it was for the sake of the chickens — and it was, but the flies sure didn’t ask us to plop down a coop in their vicinity.

    One day, Karen Davis from UPC was visiting and asked, very casually, if we were still assassinating flies. WOW. That was IT. Of course that’s what we were doing, and it was unacceptable, regardless of the reason. Especially because things like ditomaceous earth (I can never spell that right) and crushed limestone take care of the problem without murdering anyone. So we stopped immediately and used other methods of controlling flies without killing them.

    Another incident I was told about involved Adam Weisman (perhaps the leading Freeganism advocate) who kicked dirt all over a floodlight at a fancy hotel where one of the big AR conferences was being held, because insects were flying into the light in droves and being killed immediately. I thought that was one of the most heroic things I’d ever heard, not just because of the action itself, but because he was protecting a group of people almost all of us, even animal rights activists, tend to not care about at all.

  • becky
    Thank you for your kind words, they do help. I am becoming increasingly disturbed by his choices to stay omnivorous even though he agrees with me on how animals are intelligent and sensitive creatures who have the ability to feel pain. He does bring meat into the house, but I move it into a drawer instead of keeping it anywhere near my food. Going to have the “why don’t you go vegan” conversation tonight..again..I think. THanks again@
  • bravebird
    Perhaps he might understand if you put it in different terms. Ask him if he’d bring pig flesh into the house if you were a practicing Jew or Muslim, or if he would eat cow flesh in front of you if you were Hindu. Folks who have no trouble accommodating dietary rules for religious people suddenly seem to lose even common courtesy when it comes to people who are vegan for ethical reasons…..
  • In one reply you write: “One day, Karen Davis from UPC was visiting and asked, very casually, if we were still assassinating flies. WOW. That was IT. Of course that’s what we were doing, and it was unacceptable, regardless of the reason. Especially because things like ditomaceous earth (I can never spell that right) and crushed limestone take care of the problem without murdering anyone. So we stopped immediately and used other methods of controlling flies without killing them.”

    Would you mind elaborating (or at least pointing to some resources) for more kindly ways of controlling flies? I have tried finding info re this before and have had little luck. Thanks.

    About evolution, you may be right…it certainly is the case that our ability to impact our planet has outrun our wisdom.

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