When I decided to go back to eating meat, I sought a way to honor my food. I especially hoped to honor the suffering the animal underwent to find its way to my table—one life sacrificed so that another may continue.
In Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, under “On Eating and Drinking,” I came upon just the right words. Over my food I would recite, “By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed.”
I was impressed by the simplicity and precision of these words, and yet the expansive resonance they carry—the way they acknowledge the cycle of matter done and undone, and energy itself transmuted. It’s a cycle that I found comfort in believing myself to be a participant, as if the natural order cleanses itself of all ethical qualms. I felt that in this mode I could eat without guilt, knowing that the power that slowly takes me day by day is akin to the power that has delivered me my food.
But then, uttering this short prayer in the Whole Foods parking lot, “By the power that slays you,” over some beef brisket I had just bought from the hot food bar, something didn’t sit quite right. The words maybe would’ve been suitable to the agrarian community of Gibran’s imagination, but how did they fit my own socioeconomic condition?
I imagined holding pens, feedlots, an unnatural concentration, shit piled on top of shit, and animals raised in shit, a conveyor-belt of slaughter and guts and blood, all purposed to deliver my delectable brisket here in this parking lot. What I had envisioned as the impersonal cycle of life now showed a hand of manipulation I wished not to acknowledge.
What I saw isn’t a power I want to identify with. It is a power I want to resist. It is structural, systematic, oppressive, inorganic. It is a power of a different order. One that slays. One that I willingly take into my body.
It is the power of industrial capitalism. The power of environmental degradation. The power of exploitation, objectification, surveying the world as an “it” to be used rather than a “thou” to be honored.
It is a power that aims to creep into every aspect of my own life in order to use me as an “it” for corporate profit—to use me as a consumer, a number, a statistic, a demographic, something small, empty, and hungry with want. It is a power that will feed me as long as it can use me. Not with nourishment, but with desire, so to keep me coming back to the trough. Until, I too am slain.
The same power that took the life of that cow seeks to take mine as well. As I consume, so too shall I be consumed.