Animal service, human gratitude

Dear Reader,

We were recently at the butcher doing some shopping. My five-year-old was taking an interested peek at the counter. She likes salami. Foxi was impatiently wagging his tail outside the door – a ring of bologna was beckoning. We were going to have roulades at the weekend. Then my daughter asked in a loud voice: “How did the butcher kill the pig?” I responded: “That is meat from beef, he slaughtered it with a knife.” My daughter continued undaunted: “Doesn’t that hurt?” The other customers were beginning to look slightly irritated, the saleslady had a tense smile and I was lost for words. The next anxious question followed without a pause: “But Foxi won’t be slaughtered!” “Of course not, darling.” Relief all round.

The closer our relationship with an animal, the more inconceivable it is that we should use it for food. Having grown up in the country, slaughtering day was a firm part of the farming year. I recall that there was something scary yet fascinating about the squealing pigs, the steam from the hot water, the offal and the making of the blood sausage. Yet I ate the hot boiled belly pork with great relish. Today no one would wish the industrialised death in the giant abattoirs on any animal. That alone is reason enough to become a vegetarian. The sausage behind the counter does not, unfortunately, reveal how the animal died.

Our relationship with the animals is so close because they have soul qualities which we also bear within us: they are happy, become angry or stubborn, they are sly, patient, majestic, bubbly, lame, aggressive or poisonous. We can immediately think of the animals which fit. They populate our fairy tales, fables and stories and both in their positive and negative characteristics are part of our everyday language and classic literature. They even represent the gospels, the constellations are named after them. People know the animal within them. They know not only their inner kinship with it, they also know the “transformation” which occurs when they become estranged from their self, as Franz Kafka showed terrifyingly: “When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from restless sleep, he found himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.”

What domesticated animals need and demand are loyalty and leadership. These are abilities which little and big people can learn to rediscover in themselves as a kind of sacrifice of the animals for us. Our gratitude to them can only be to treat them as humanely as possible – like the two brothers in the Grimm’s fairy tale for which they were given the root of life by the loyal animals.

Mathias Maurer