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Big questions

We Asked Meat Industry Workers if Animals Have Souls

"No, they die and it’s just black. I don’t believe they have a consciousness, a soul, or any experience of an afterlife."
All photos by the author

To be clear, this article isn't about vegetarianism. It's not about PETA, or tofu, or fur. It's about how humans think about death. More specifically, it's an examination of how our concept of death differs between ourselves and other species. Because it goes without saying that for most people, the death of a person is far more significant that the death of a pig. But where does this idea come from? As recent studies have unearthed, there are only minor differences between the genetic coding of a pig and that of a human. So much so that pig organs will someday likely be used to extend human lives.


So let's assume that the reason we don't mourn the deaths of animals like we do humans is for some emotional reason. Animals don't talk, or they aren't smart, and therefore their deaths don't attract any of the spiritualism or superstition that we assign to humans. But why is this? To find some answers, I wanted to ask people living the most extreme example of this inconsistency: meat industry workers. They're the people most surrounded by animal mortality but also, probably, the least fazed by their deaths. A good place to start seemed to be the local slaughterhouse, with the question: "Do animals have souls?"

Mario, 28
Slaughterhouse worker (didn't want a photo so here's the car park)

VICE: Hey Mario, can tell me about your job?
Mario: I'll tell you, I'm not the one who shoots ox in the head, but I am the one who cuts up their bodies and sends them out for consumption. I do what I have to do, man. It's my job and also the best way that I can get money to raise my family. I'm from Venezuela and currently my country doesn't offer many opportunities. Here in Australia I have a good job and a great life so I can't complain about it.

Some people think slaughterhouse workers have no feelings. What would you say to that?
My wife usually says I'm the most romantic and adorable guy she ever met. Her first husband asked her for a divorce, so I consider myself a tremendous improvement and a blessed human being.


Do you think animals have souls?
No. Only humans have souls. Animals have feelings, they can be smart, they can demonstrate affection or respect to their owners, but they don't have souls.

If it was somehow proven that animals do have souls, would you continue working in an abattoir?
I don't know. Maybe I would quit. My first month working here was tough, but after a while I got used to do it. When I got home my wife never asks me, "How was your day, honey?" She knows that I like to open a beer, watch TV, and play with my kids to relax. I believe you could ask anyone if they like their jobs, and the answer always would be "no." I was a lawyer back home and it would be hard to raise a family there nowadays. So, I can say that I'm a happy man working here in Australia, even in an abattoir.

I didn't have much luck after this guy, so I went to another abattoir but this time booked an appointment with their general manager.

The back of my head as I interviewed Jason

Jason, 60
Managing director of a Melbourne-based meat company

Hi Jason, thanks for having me here. So, why do you believe human beings eat meat? Because we are carnivorous. We need and also like meat. Moreover, human beings need protein to survive.

Let's jump to something more controversial—how many animals are killed here every day?
We do 1,500 heads per week. Basically, we start by stunning the animal. It's like a punch to its head. It sleeps instantly and then we kill it. The tenderness of the meat is also based on the stress of the animal. If it's stressed, the meat will be tough so we try to keep the animal as relaxed as possible. If vegetarians knew that cattle actually don't suffer during their deaths, they'd probably consume meat too. It's very import that the animal doesn't suffer during the practice, first to ensure the quality of the meat, and also for the animal's welfare.


I understand this company offers some kind of counseling psychology for workers?
If they have a personal or a domestic issue, yes, we offer a counseling service and they don't have to pay for this, it's free. But if they have some kind of issue with meat processing, they shouldn't be in the meat industry.

Have you ever killed an animal?
Yes, I mean, this is part of my job.

And how did you feel the first time that you killed an animal?
I felt that I had to finish the process to do it correctly, as humanly as possible.

But you felt morally OK about it?
Yes, it was not a problem for me.

Do you believe animals have souls?
No, not at all. They die and it's just black. I don't believe they have a consciousness, a soul, or any experience of an afterlife.

What do you imagine death looks like for us, human beings?
I'm Catholic, so I was taught that we have life after death. I believe in hell and in heaven. And if you want to know more you look up the definition of Catholic on the internet.

John, 62
Slaughterhouse veterinary

Hey John, I never knew slaughterhouses employed vets. What do you do there?
Basically, I'm responsible for keeping the cattle healthy and ensuring their execution happens in the way the authorities require. And if you ask me, I'd say the death of an animal in an Australian abattoir is quick and quite humane. One second they're alive and the next they get a bolt to the brain and it's over. Aside from that, meat just tastes better when animals are treated well.

How do cattle behave before they're killed?
Animals are irrationals beings. They can't predict their own deaths and even human beings can't do that. I believe that every human being would be quite lucky for have a death like that, with no pain or suffering. You know, I think you should ask to a doctor how a human being feels seconds before their death.


Have you ever thought the possibility of animals have souls?
Sure, I truly think they have. Why should we believe only humans have souls? Total nonsense! Every living being has a soul, or energy or a consciousness.

What do you believe happens after an animal's death?
I believe in rebirth. I believe their souls will be reborn in other animals.

And can an animal be reborn as a human being or vice versa?
An animal can be reborn as a human, but a human can't be reborn as an animal, because that would be against spiritual evolution.

You what?
Look, I believe in God and he always has a purpose for all of us. God would never wish a son to be reborn as an animal. But if an animal proves to God that it could evolve as a human, why not? As I already said before, I believe in the evolution and humans beings are a reflection of God.

You said that animals do have souls. How do you think a God would justify the killing of an animal?
Look, we need to eat meat. If we don't, we'll became unhealthy and weak. People who are against meat should mind their own business. Everybody has the right to decide if they prefer to eat salad or a steak. I am not a villain because I eat meat. This is just the way the world is. Lions eat all kinds of mammals and I don't consider that as a murder, it's just all about the food chain.

To be clear this is me, speaking to Susan via Skype

Susan, 26
Meat packer

Hey Susan, I'll get to the point. Do you think animals have souls?
Yes, I think so. I have a cat and I am totally sure she has a soul. Everybody who has a pet shares this same feeling.

And all kinds of animals have souls? I mean, cows, giraffes, birds…
Maybe fish and snakes don't. And if you're going to ask me why, I guess it's because of their cold blood. I feel like only animals with warm blood have souls. And please, don't ask me why because I don't know. Anyway, their souls go to some place to rest, just like us humans.

Have you ever killed an animal?
Not with my own hands, but at I used to work as a cleaner in the slaughterhouse and part of my job was to clean all that shit. While the cattle were queued for the knocking box, I could feel their suffering and agony. It was horrifying. Even when I got home the smell of death continued in my clothes and just inside my mind. I spend two months doing that job and then I got a promotion to work as a meat packer. That job was just too gloomy for me, but at least I don't have nightmares anymore.

Yeah, and I hope that I don't have one tonight, and if I do it'll be your fault for making me think about it again. I used to have this nightmare where I'd be in my kitchen cooking, and I'd be surrounded by thousands of cows watching me. Always the same fucking dream. I didn't feel afraid of them, but it was just so bizarre to see these cows and they had that smell about them. That same smell of death. I can't describe the smell, but just remembering it makes me feel sick.

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