Thinking ahead a generation or two, in best-case terms: Who will miss the slaughterhouses, with their groan of travail that was never easy to bear in any age? It’s not as if we’ve ever pointed to the abattoirs with pride anyway, or situated them where they were likely to draw attention at all. With old prayers, after meat is set on the table, we still try to sanctify it, acknowledging the stain of violence and conceding, in so many words, that while humans might have to kill for food, we wish things could be otherwise.
With the spread of industrial livestock methods — today the source of 95 percent of meat, eggs, and dairy items — the fate of farm animals went from regrettable to abhorrent, from merely sad to morally untenable.
The historian Yuval Noah Harari, in Sapiens, offers the arresting statistic that in our time “the majority of large animals on planet earth are domesticated farm animals that live and die as cogs in the wheels of industrial agriculture.” That comes to tens of billions of these “uniquely miserable” creatures, their physical and emotional distress utterly disregarded in mass confinement, left to a tortured existence from which any trace of human charity has been expunged, lest it add to cost or slow things down. The approach of death might bring relief if that process, too — with the frenzied pace of industrial slaughter lines — had not itself been designed as if to inflict maximum fear and dread right up to the end.