Food is a big deal in France. This should not be news to anyone – the French are known to be particular and obsessive about what goes into their bodies, and foie gras and red wine are worshiped with much reverence. Last week, I visited the Salon international d’Agriculture, which was truly a shrine, if not a temple that the French pay tribute to each year to honour their favourite God of all – Food.
It was grotesque. As people around me, young and old celebrated and basked in the glory and the pride of French agriculture, I was horrified. I have never seen anything more unappetising in the entirety of my life, however short it may be. There were rows of live cows, pigs, chickens and goats just lined up in a huge convention centre, defecating as animals do, but most of all just sitting there, being touched, surveyed and admired. What was most shocking to me wasn’t that they were all there, but how they looked. I have never seen cows that large in my life, and never in my wildest imagination would I have considered cows, or any animal, to be that large. Granted, I grew up in a city, relatively sheltered from the countryside, but even in the picture books I read as a child, or in the TV shows, consequently movies and news that I’ve seen on TV, animals did not look like that. These were giants cows, with meat literally spilling off of their bones, hanging precariously above their heels. These animals were 90% meat, 10 times my size, and they were bred to be eaten.
Spots or no spots, Dinner all the same
It’s all natural, in a way. There hasn’t been genetic modification done on these animals. It’s all simple selection, through hundreds and thousands of years by farmers, to create the fattest and biggest of them all. Not only that, but these animals are also bred for their temperament. I, and many others would have been frightened stiff to be so close to these giants if not for the gentle look in their eyes – in fact, they looked quite dead. They stand there aimlessly, looking into space, with no sign of aggression or life in their large, vacant eyes. The only way you knew they were alive was because they expand slightly due to the inhale of air, and deflate a little when they exhale. If you can imagine, there were rows and rows of these half dead creatures, all in a line, all rhythmically expanding and deflating as they got ready to die. Cows always seemed to me really lovely, docile and adorable animals – in real life, they resemble in NO WAY what the media or advertisements have made us believe.
Even if you’re not a beefeater like myself, dairy isn’t any less cruel either. Once you cross the hall to the milk cows, it’s an entirely different story. These cows are like supermodels – they have no meat at all, only a bone frame that the skin wraps tightly around, and huge sacs of milk underneath their bellies. Flesh, for milk cows, occupy precious space that could be holding milk, so these cows are bred to be pitifully thin but capable of carrying enormous amounts of milk on their underside. You can see the contours of their bones stick out painfully from underneath the skin – they were basically milk producing machines operating within cow skeletons.
The horror doesn’t end there – the pigs section was next. They try to make it cute by having piglets in the pens along with the mothers, and baby piglets are certainly quite adorable. However, I could not take my eyes off the mother in the corner of the pen, again, grotesquely large, but worst of all, too heavy to even stand. She simply lies there, and the babies crowd around for milk, but her body is too large for her to even look at them.
All of this time that I spent gaping, French children were all around me, touching and petting the animals, saying as they stroked their skin – I am going to have you for dinner tonight! The children, and their parents and grandparents, were very much aware of the fact that these were the animals that they had every day for food, and they were proud of the richesse of their country and the immense strength of its agricultural sector. It is always a hugely political event too – every year, political figures come to demonstrate their agricultural credentials, and express approval and appreciation for France’s grand tradition of agricultural prowess. Because they often need to drink and eat and try the produce from all parts of the land, presidents on these tours often get completely trashed in the process, and Sarkozy got pretty ansy in this video.
Comme si, comme ca?
A lot of other study abroad girls have commented that being in Paris, you see that food is taken seriously, and people care about where the food comes from and where it is produced. That is true – I just didn’t know that they actually get to touch where their dinner comes from, and most shockingly of all, how they continue to love and worship it all despite it being so grotesque and frankly, to me, inhumane. I am fully willing to let pigs and cows live pointless lives if it allows human beings to survive, and yet we waste so much, eat so poorly and so many of us still don’t have enough to eat. Above all, animals are NOT meant to be THIS large. I feel like I cannot emphasise this enough.
Who's eating who?
I felt like I grew up a lot after going to the Salon. Reality is cruel and the real world can be disconcerting. I have looked into the eyeballs of the meat we eat every day and the milk we drink to wash it down. I suppose it is better to know the truth than to be kept in the dark – and more people should know about the sacrifice that other living beings make every day so that we can be well nourished and fueled to further ruin the lives of other living beings. And the worst thing that I have learned about the world is, knowing about the world and all its horrors doesn’t necessarily change behaviours – I am not likely to become vegan because of what I saw, and most of the other people who went will probably keep eating as much meat as they always have.
Life goes on, as it always does. We continue to eat, drink and be as merry as we can, and apart from writing about my experience in this blog, I’m not making a whole lot of changes to my every day life. However, I am going to start lowing the milk to cornflakes ratio when I get breakfast every morning.