Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sarah Silverman restores the absent referent*

I'm currently reading "The Bedwetter: Stories of courage, redemption, and pee" by comedian Sarah Silverman. I couldn't resist sharing this excerpt where Sarah finds out that the sumptuous Thanksgiving turkey is the dead flesh of an animal:

"We lived on a farm, but it wasn't operation like our neighbors' farms, which produced stuff; we bought our meat and vegetables from them. When I was six years old, my dad took me there to see the turkeys. The farmer, Vic told me to look at all the birds carefully and choose one that I liked. I saw a cute one with a silly walk and said, "Him!!" Before my pointing finger dropped back down to my side, Vic had grabbed the bird by the neck and slit his throat. Blood sprayed as the turkey's wings flapped back and forth in a futile attempt to unkill itself. Without realizing it, I had sentenced that turkey to death, and while maybe this sort of thing gave fat British monarchs a rush, to me it was horrifying. And though I'm probably projecting, I don't think it was in the turkey's top five favorite moments, either.

"I should mention that this was late November, so what I had witnessed was not random cruelty, but a long-standing American tradition. This wasn't just a random turkey killing, it was a thankful turkey killing. Until that day I didn't even know where meat came from, so if that trip to the farm was Dad's deliberate attempt to teach me about the food chain, I wish he'd used a tad more finesse. My parents taught me about where babies come from, but they didn't exactly force me to watch while my father bent my mother over the kitchen table. I'm not saying that children should be shielded from the facts of life, just that six-year-olds don't need them demonstrated in such visual detail.

"In hindsight, I'm sure my dad feels bad about our little excursion, but I see it as a gift. My father might not have realized or intended it, but that day he gave me the knowledge to make an informed decision for myself at a very early age: I would never eat turkey again. And once I figured out the connection between Happy Meals and cows, I would never eat beef again, either. Or any other meat."

*Through the violent act of butchering, the animal is made absent when its dead body is transformed into food. On top of that, we rename it. Baby cow becomes "veal and baby sheep becomes "lamb."

In her book, "The Sexual Politics of Meat," Carol J. Adams says, "One does not eat meat without the death of an animal, live animals are thus the 'absent referent' in the concept of meat (consumption.)"

The absent referent takes the focus off the real issues -- out of sight, out of mind. It also takes the focus of the heteropatriarchal mindset that legitimizes the domination of other “earthlings” for selfish sustenance and profit.

“Patriarchy sees not the flesh of dead animals, but appetizing food,” says Adams.

“If meat is the symbol of male oppression, its consumption represents the disempowering of women.”

Nuff said.

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