"Shechting a Goat at the Hazon Conference?" No!
I preface this post by saying that I'm a big fan of Hazon. I think Hazon is a wonderful organization, and I think the conference it's planning is sure to be wonderful. My comments should not be taken as criticism of Hazon or the Hazon Food Conference in general.
Hazon founder Nigel Savage posted on The Jew & The Carrot (the wonderful blog sponsored by Hazon) yesterday to say that a demonstration of shechita is being planned for December's Hazon Food Conference. Savage made some very interesting points regarding how meat-eaters should witness the slaughter of an animal rather than blindly eat meat and not think about slaughter and the other issues involved. The current plan is to shecht (kill in accordance with kosher slaughter laws) one goat in advance of the conference (the animal's meat will be served at a conference dinner) and to shecht another at the conference as part of an educational demo.
Savage wrote in his post that "as we started discussing this with the Executive Committee Food Conference, we had at least one member say that he thought the idea was disgusting and didn’t want to go to the conference if we went through with it." It's also worth noting that Savage didn't say with certainty that the shechita demo will occur; he said that the conference organizers are trying to arrange it and are exploring the practical considerations. Furthermore, his post was titled "Shechting a goat at the Hazon Food Conference?" (with a question mark) and concluded, "What do you think?!" In other words, he put this up for discussion (in the blogosphere in particular), and there have been more comments in response to this post than for any other post on The Jew & The Carrot, as far as I'm aware. It's very significant that this matter is being discussed.
Failed Messiah jumped into the conversation with a critical post that suggested Hazon hadn't done its homework (a later post on The Jew & The Carrot clarified some of Failed Messiah's concerns). Failed Messiah noted, "Have a back-up plan in case the animal is ruled non-kosher after slaughter. … [T]here is more to kosher slaughter than the act of slaughter itself. You must be prepared to do all that is necessary to make the animal's meat kosher for use." This is a good point, considering that Savage noted that the last goat shechted from the farm the Hazon conference's goats will come from couldn't be certified kosher to be eaten in the facility's dining hall. (Approximately 4 percent of animals shechted are ruled nonkosher at one major slaughterhouse, I learned in researching this article.) So if the first shechted goat isn't deemed kosher, does that mean his or her life was taken in vain and that this whole plan was for naught? Surely it's not worth walking such a tightrope when what's at stake is an animal's life!
On The Jew & The Carrot's comments page, many good points have been made. Jackie Topol (who wrote a fantastic guest post for heebnvegan last month) suggested showing a video about shechita and having a discussion about vegetarianism in the Jewish tradition. Jewish Vegetarians of North America President Richard Schwartz said he was "appalled" by the idea of the shechita demo.
In my comment yesterday, I noted that my mother (with whom I had originally planned to attend the conference) was appalled by the plans for the shechita demo and felt the need to stay away from the conference because of it. Savage responded that he found the idea of not attending the conference because of objections to the shechita demo "a little strange" and "a little extreme." This really got me thinking. I think what's "a little extreme" is what I was planning to do in order to attend Hazon's conference:
- Not fly to the New York area two weeks beforehand to spend Thanksgiving with my family. (Practically, it just doesn't work to go back and forth to the New York area so much in such a short period of time.)
- Drive or fly about 500 miles each way to get to Connecticut and back.
- Take off at least two days from work.
- Pay hundreds of dollars for admission and lodging.
But, call it a little strange, I was looking forward to doing all that to meet likeminded people, learn more about Jewish food issues, and engage in debates and discussions about those issues. I'm guessing that the conference would be worth such an "extreme" commitment on my part. In no way, however, is it a foregone conclusion at this point that I will go through all that to attend the Hazon conference. Savage's suggestion that it'd be "extreme" for people not to attend a conference that requires them to financially support something they ethically disagree with—especially given the practical obstacles—just doesn’t seem on the mark.
It could be said that animals will die for the conference's food whether or not their slaughter is part of the conference. I acknowledge that there is merit to showing people how meat is produced and that such a demonstration might turn them off to meat. But that doesn't change the fact that shechting animals as part of the conference actively promotes the slaughter of animals. That act is one that I have a problem with on ethical grounds, which is why I'd be uncomfortable having my conference admission fees finance that act.
One thing that's been absent from this whole discussion is the goats' perspective. I don't think the goat who will be shechted as part of the demo would vote to have his or her life cut short. More importantly, is it fair to the goat to have to be brought into a foreign environment full of dozens of tense, squeamish onlookers uncontrollably voicing their disgust at the hideous sight? Surely that would create fear for the animal, as would the knowledge that something bad (i.e., slaughter) was about to happen to him or her. That fear would cause tremendous suffering to an animal who would be fully conscious and aware of his or her surroundings (animals slaughtered for kosher meat cannot be stunned).
The bottom line is that the goat's suffering isn't worth the educational gain of the audience. From a utilitarian perspective, the goat's suffering outweighs any positive educational gain that couldn't instead be derived from viewing a video. (The meat of the goat shechted at the conference wouldn't even be eaten at the conference, so the supposed pleasure of meat consumption cannot even enter the equation.) Therefore, the shechita demo is not justifiable.
I'd like to sum things up with a few points:
- It must be taken into consideration that the meat from the shechted animals might be deemed treif, making all this be for naught and essentially meaning that these animals would have died for nothing.
- The tremendous fear and suffering that a goat would experience by being shechted in front of a large, nervous crowd in a foreign environment must be taken into consideration in evaluating whether the shechita demo should take place.
- Regardless of whether animals are shechted as part of it, the conference should include a discussion about vegetarianism and meat consumption in the Jewish tradition.
- A video should be shown to educate conference attendees about shechita if the organizers are committed to showing what shechita entails.
- It shouldn't be seen as "extreme" if someone, like my mother and even at least one of the conference organizers, does not want to support a conference that actively promotes something that violates their ethical values.