Friday, September 4, 2015

Meat the Animals!

Spoiler alert. Seriously. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but human beings kill animals and eat them. Old news, I know, but at age 7 I didn’t know it. Nope. Hadn’t processed the facts. Hadn’t faced the awful truth. Not that I was stupid. Intellectually …

Stop. Before we get into it, let's set the clock back to the scene of my freaking childhood. 1960s Florida. Astronauts, civil rights movement, Cuban Missile Crisis, Jackie Gleason. Get the picture? Great. Let's get back to how smart I was ...

OK. Intellectually, I resembled the bright, scrawny chicken kid in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. Classic egghead. Bright. But no sense of how the world really worked. Take meat, for example. The meat/animal continuum. There's a connection. Obviously. But what? We kill animals and eat 'em, dumbass. No, no, no. It's gotta be something else ...

So, I mulled this enigma over in my mind. For weeks. Then finally cooked up a clever explanation: The meat they sell at Publix has the same names as animals on farms! But the "chicken" that pecks for corn and the "chicken" in Colonel Sanders' bucket are two different things. Crazy coincidence, huh?

Sure, kid. Makes sense, if you think about it.

So I thought about it.

And one fine day, I shared my solution at the Fugate family dinner table. Just sorta blurted it out. Shouting at the top of my voice like Spock in an early Star Trek episode ...

“Hey! Words are funny! Like homophones!"

Little Sister's look said Shut up and die you stupid showoff. Dad, the angry young Southern novelist who actually resembled Foghorn Leghorn, looked skeptical and on sudden high alert, like a boxer waiting for the next sucker punch. Ah, sweet Christ on a crutch. Marty's got that crazed look in his eyes. This is going to be bad. Where in the hell is he going with this? Mom, the beloved teacher, looked impressed. My 7-year-old kid has a 10th grade vocabulary! Yeah, I did. And I knew damn well that Mom and Dad knew what "homophone" meant. But that wasn't going to stop me from telling 'em what they already knew. Before sharing my brainy bullcrap.

"Homophones? That's like ... you know how like sometimes a word means one thing but it also means something completely different? Like, there’s 'orange' the color and there’s 'orange' the fruit. Or lamb. There’s 'lamb' at the grocery store. And then there’s 'lambs' on the farm.”

Dad, cynical Southern philosopher that he was, just sorta looked at me with half-lidded Robert Mitchum eyes from his throne-like chair at the head of the table. You can't bullshit the bullshitter. No, you can't. Dad knew exactly what I was doing. Yeah. Dad sussed me out. Marty's a sensitive soul. On that basis, he's rationalizing the fact that we kill and eat our animal friends. Dad instantly knew it. And he just kept looking at me with those all-knowing eyes …

Then started going, “Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm.” Just this little understated laugh. “Hmmm-hmmm-hmmm.”

Dad’s thinking: Aw, son. You still think the world’s a happy place. Poor idealistic, naive kid. You’re doomed, you know that?


Up to now, Dad thought this scene was pretty funny.  

Hmmm-hmmm. Marty thinks lambs on farms and lamb with mint jelly are two different things. Damn funny, in a cutesy horseshit kind of way. I should sent in the quote to "Kids Say the Darndest Things." Do they pay for that cornball crap? Can I get him to say it twice?

So Dad's chuckling, and adding up the big check from Art Linkletter. Then he suddenly felt the weighty significance of our discussion. The disillusion he'd have to hand me. The dirty looks from Mom. The big stink hanging in the air.

Dad stopped chuckling. Then finally spoke.

“Well, son. I’m sorry to disillusion you. But the "lamb" we eat from the grocery store and the "lambs" on the farm are exactly the same thing.”

I looked at Dad with bigass saucer eyes. My lower lip started quivering.



"No ..."

“Yes. Listen ... Son, I spent a fair portion of my formative years on the family farm. I can assure you from personal experience that meat doesn’t come from the grocery store."


"No, son. Meat comes from animals.”


Dad doesn't answer right away. Just looked at me again. Sizing me up with those X-Ray eyes. Mom's still looking at him, her eyes flashing like Goldfinger's laser: Back off! Don't destroy his sensitive soul, you jerk! But Dad ignored her. Then suddenly leaned in like a scary father figure in a John Kricfalusi cartoon. Got right in my face with his Kirk Douglas chin. 

“Yes, son. Animals. Chicken comes from chickens, beef comes from cows, lamb comes from lambs.”

“Soylent Green is people”
would’ve had the same effect on me.

Dad figured I was ready for the awful truth. But Dad was wrong.

My saucer eyes got bigger. Tears gushed. I started howling like Sam Kinison.

“Agggghhhh! So … meat is dead animals? No! Agggghhhh! We eat dead animals?”

“Yes, son. That’s one way to put it.”

Kid’s gotta face facts sometime, right?

Yeah, I faced the facts. My response was: “Agghhhh! Agghhhhhhhhh! Agghhhhhhhhh!”

Dad, philosopher king that he was and still is, instantly backpedalled. Mom's look of intense hate probably influenced his decision.

“No, no, no, son. You misunderstand me! Farmers don’t kill animals.”

“Yes they do! Agghhhhh! They do -- you said! Agghhhhh! Farmers kill animals and cut ‘em up … and …” Choke.

Like a character in an EC horror comic, I choked before I could get the words out.

So Dad got his words in.

“No, son. No, no, no. Please believe me, son. Please. Look me in the eyes."

So I looked him in the eyes. 

And Dad said ...

"On my word of honor: Farmers don’t kill animals.”

“They don’t?”

Aw, so damn trusting. This son of mine. He'll believe any damn thing I say.


"W-what do they do then?"

"Well. You know how they shear sheep?”

“Y-yeah, dad. Mrs. Roberts. She showed us a film about Australia." Sob. "These -- these sheepherder guys were cutting off wool and stuff with this big electric razor."

"Did they hurt the sheep?"

I shook my head no. Dad clapped his hands in triumph.

“Well, that’s exactly what they do with meat!”

“They do? You mean the farmers?”

“Of course, son.” Trying not to laugh. "Farmers ..."

"You mean ranchers," says my insanely bright little Sister. Five years old. Reading Little House on the Prairie or Cross Creek or some stupid girly book with ranchers in it.

"Well, farmers, ranchers ... "

Sister rolled her eyes and started sulking. Mom did, too. She looked around the table for a Chianti bottle, a rolling pin, or anything she could hit Dad in the head with but not kill him. Nothing really worked, so Mom got up, went into the kitchen and started clattering stuff around. Then Dad said ...

"The point is, cutting off the meat doesn't kill the animals. It doesn't even hurt."

"Why not?" I asked. 

Dead serious question. Really wanting to believe there's no slaughter behind my sandwiches. Just buying this thing lock, stock and barrel. And Dad's happy to sell me.

"Well, son. You see ... Over centuries and centuries, farm animals have been bred to have special meat pouches on their sides.”

“Their sides? You mean … their flanks?”

“Flanks, sides, yes. Well, as I was saying, the farmers cut the meat from the sides ….”

“Does it hurt?”

“No, no, no. It’s just like shearing, son. It doesn’t hurt one bit. In fact, it hurts if they don’t cut the meat off!”

“Like a cow that has to be milked?”

“Exactly, son. Long story short, the farmer -- or sometimes the rancher -- cuts off the meat pouch, sprays on Mercurochrome, and the animal runs off to play. A few weeks later, the animals grow more meat and the farmer or rancher repeats the process.”

“OK. I guess that makes sense.”

“It makes perfect sense, son. Hmmm-hmmm. Now eat your liver.”

So that was that. Mom came back from the kitchen. Dad spent the rest of the dinner talking about how that snotnose Kennedy punk was taking the country to hell in a handcart. I choked down Mom’s special concoction of liver and onions. Told myself that it wasn’t a segment of some dead animal. Or Prometheus' organ. Yeah. I believed Dad’s happy story.

But not for long.

Smart little bastard that I was, I looked up “meat” in the school library the next day. The text skirted the issue. “Meat production,” blah-blah-blah. But the pictures laid it all out. Guys with cleavers and bloody aprons. Animals, or what was left of former animals, hanging on hooks in assembly line factories. Smart little bastard that I was, I quickly figured out that Dad had lied to me and handed me a bullcrap story because I was screaming my head off and ruining dinner. The harsh realization finally came ...

Real farms didn’t resemble the happy farms in kids’ books. “Lamb” and “lamb” ain’t like “orange” and “orange.” Lamb the meat is lamb the animal, kid. Meat is dead animals. Farmers kill ‘em and cut ‘em up. Then we eat ‘em. Then you eat 'em.

If this was a happy PC story, it’d end with, “After that, I never ate meat again.” The truth is, I did. And enjoyed every bite.

Unless it's liver.

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