Stunned

Yesterday was a bit of a sad today for me; for a reason that would probably make you laugh.

My local halal butcher shop – which I believe had existed for approximately fifty years – finally closed its doors as its lease ended. The reason this came as a shock was because I had attended this place weekly for many years, and I was never told about their impending closure; thus I never got a chance to say goodbye. I forged basic friendships with the staffers there, as is only possible within little shops.
There is, fortunately, another shop just across the road from it, but the one I went to was exceedingly popular amongst all types of people. Of the three butcher shops in the area, one of which is a traditional English butchers, this one had the gold medal for quality and service.

This post though is a bit more than a eulogy to a shop most of you don’t know or care about, it made me remember the debate of stunned versus slaughtered meat which has strongly polarised opinion. I want to state up front that I’m not particularly militant in my opinion and allowing both to remain is the rational bet.

The slaughter of meat is most obviously associated with Jewish and Muslim observance, but I think one thing that’s omitted from the debate is that slaughtering pre-dates either of these religions, and was likely imported into Judaism from a previous cultural phenomenon, and then into Islam. We know this is true because stunning was not an option until we got a handle on electricity, but the nature of early slaughtering was probably similar to the way other animals hunt animals; so in effect, though slaughtering sounds like a horrible word (and is), it is the order of nature. And if you are going to consume meat you have to understand that death, regrettably, is a factor in any method.

I also think that regardless of cultural practice – which hones the business of slaughter to a quicker swoop and prayer – that slaughter is humane. The most cited scientific paper that proves this, and which to my knowledge has not been refuted, is one from 1986 which found that animals that were stunned and then killed showed more pain than those who received a swift cut to the jugular – as measured by EEG. The conclusion was interesting but a study perhaps wasn’t even necessary. If somebody were to murder you by first hitting you on the head, then cutting you up while you might not be fully unconscious, you will undoubtedly be in a pain you can’t express; if, however, your throat were slit quickly only, you are dead there and then.
Aside from a merciful approach to death, the beauty of kosher/halal produce is that blood drains from it completely due to the body’s convulsions – movements similar to an epileptic fit, and epileptics do not remember their fit as their brain is ‘shut off’ during this time.
Blood drained meat becomes a product and no longer an animal. Because it no longer contains blood, it no longer contains internal microbes which can shorten the longevity of the meat and potentially be a health hazard. Even though people take care to cook meat, dripping blood in preparation can contaminate other things. So, in that respect I feel the primitive logic is sound. One other benefit of slaughtered meat is that many people agree it tastes better; most likely because drainage has elongated the freshness. This is probably also why, secretly, a proportion of British supermarket meat not even explicitly advertised as halal or kosher is non-stunned as it can be kept in factories and shops for a longer period. It has a financial benefit.

Opposition to slaughtering, I think, has a number of variables; there seems to be an ‘us and them’ thing about it, and the image of convulsions seems to irk a lot of people. I think though people need to consider it more carefully than dismiss it as a foreign peculiarity.

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