Under the Gristle-Toe

Under the Gristle-Toe

Anyone who has travelled beyond the confines of an English-speaking country knows that foreign meat markets are a fairly confronting place to shop. And unless you have hematolagnia and your favourite video game is Big Buck Hunter, trawling through a sea of butchered livestock, massacred birds and even the odd filleted monkey is probably not your favourite pastime. Being so squeamish that I couldn’t even stop myself fainting when I got my ear pierced in a tattoo parlour called Death or Glory, I can definitely empathise. But I am so glad that I have seen what I have seen.

On the weekend, a butcher in Suffolk, England, was forced by popular demand to remove the meat that hung in its display window. Prior to the triumphant petition that ended it all, in accordance with a centuries-old tradition, pheasants hung from hooks and a bloodied pig’s head took the pride of place amongst cuts of all types of meat. One of the petition’s leaders, Ben Mowles, claimed he’d had to stop taking his 12-year-old daughter to the neighbouring lolly shop because the pair of them were too traumatised by the “mutilated carcasses”.

It paints a pretty sorry picture: the concerned father whisking his distressed child away from the sordid reality of where her dinner comes from, a reality so bad that it can’t even be calmed with a block of Cadbury’s finest. Let her think that chicken nuggets come in bags from McDonald’s, that fish fingers are sourced from boxes in Tesco and that slabs of Angus beef originate in tightly-sealed packets kept in the fridge. Let her know nothing of the sacrifice of meat, because this is the west and we are civilised.


Awareness of the provenance of meat is one of the most important pillars of a humane society. As much as I hate looking into the milky eyes of a severed piglet, if it lived purely so I could turn its flesh into sausages and crackling, then I have absolutely nothing to complain about. Everyone other than us wrapped-in-cotton-wool westerners understands that by displaying the carcasses of the animals we are going to eat, not only do we know that they are fresh, but we can respectfully honour their sacrifice and acknowledge the greater life cycle we as humans are part of.

Everyone other than us gets it. We slate Indonesia for its blatant and shameless ill-treatment of cattle, yet buy cheap milk by the litre from milk-factory super farms that house hundreds of cows with four-year life spans that will never, ever see the light of day. How can we claim to exhibit animal welfare and a higher standard of living than those countries we scorn on 60 Minutes if we don’t even know what we are eating?

My advice is to get yourself on a plane to Cambodia, Mexico, Peru – basically anywhere where the locals aren’t pathetically hypersensitive – and go straight to the local market first thing in the morning. The air will be pungent with congealed blood and raw animal flesh, but the reminder of that scent of death will be far sweeter than the gutless ignorance you left at home.

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