Home > Johann Hari, Religion > When Cruelty is Kosher

When Cruelty is Kosher

I always considered a bit of intellectual cowardice from myself to not fully consider and acknowledge the cruelty that one is responsible for when eating meat. I eat meat and I have no strong case for not abstaining from eating meat, but I do hope and expect that our farmers (and their regulators) at least attempt to minimize the suffering of these animals as much as possible. Most people, I imagine, are with me in the belief that we shouldn’t purposefully slaughter animals with methods that needlessly increase pain and terror. Yet, as Johann Hari explains, we allow exactly this to happen if the butcher wants to appease an invisible deity.

There’s a good example of this religious modus operandi playing out on a dinner table near you – and this week, we found out it is becoming more and more common. In Britain, it is a crime to kill a conscious cow or sheep or chicken for meat by slashing its throat without numbing it first. The reasons are obvious. If you don’t numb an animal, it screams as you hack through its skin, muscle, trachea, oesophagus, carotid arteries, jugular veins and major nerve trunks, and then it remains conscious as it slowly drowns in its own blood – a process that can take up to six minutes. So we insist that an animal is stunned before its throat is slashed, to ensure it is deeply unconscious. There isn’t much humanity in our factory farming system, but this is – at least – a tiny sliver of it, at the end.

But there is a loophole in the law. You are allowed to skip all this and slash the throats of un-numbed, screaming animals if you say God told you to. If you are Muslim, you call it “halal”, and if you are Jewish you call it “kosher”. Back in the Bronze Age, or the deserts of sixth-century Arabia, it was sensible to act this way. You needed to know your meat was fresh and the animal was not sick, so you made sure it was alive and alert when you killed it. As Woody Allen once said, it wasn’t so much a commandment as “advice on how to eat out safely in Jerusalem”. But we have much better ways of making sure meat is fresh and healthy now. Yet for many religious people it has hardened into a dogma, to be followed simply because it was laid down in their “holy” texts long ago by “God”.

I get if you want to follow some sort of traditional diet in order to impose discipline on yourself or you just enjoy the sense of connection customs can bring. But there are plenty of customs that can be practiced without torturing animals. Also, what kind of God is it that would continue to mandate such a practice in the 21st century?

Categories: Johann Hari, Religion Tags:
  1. Bill
    November 20, 2010 at 8:19 am


    Watch this and you may never eat meat again.

    Further, looking to religion to set an ethical standard is a popular myth.

  2. zach
    November 20, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    Hallal is huge here in France. A major fast food chain called Quick is testing out hallal only menus and from what I have read it is paying off for them.

  3. zach
    November 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Where is Dave’s sarcastic comment about vegetarians? I’m confused.

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