As I sat in a back booth at one of our Fruitive restaurants tearing up over Sue Coe’s book Dead Meat, an employee came back to see if I was okay. I just looked at him and sheepishly said, “A pig died.”
I wasn’t joking around, I was heartbroken by the story.
When he walked away, I imagined he was thinking I’m a crybaby. And to tell the truth, I do cry easily. But few animal welfare books I’ve read have moved me as deeply as this one.
Sue Coe’s gifts for writing and drawing make me feel as if I were standing at her side, personally witnessing all the factory-farm atrocities she has seen, heard and so devastatingly described in this book.
Sue grew up in a poor English neighborhood next to a hog farm and slaughterhouse. The farm’s stench “seeped into everything — clothes and hair,” and she would awaken at 4 a.m. every day to the sound of screaming pigs being slaughtered.
She remembers the day when one of them made a break for freedom. The terrified animal “was overwhelmed with dread, jumping over car bonnets in a desperate attempt to escape.”
A crowd gathered, laughing at the three men in bloody coats chasing the escapee down the street. Little Sue asked her mom why they thought it was funny. Her mom responded curtly, “It’s not funny. The pig is going to be slaughtered.”
She writes of this moment, “Maybe this was the first time I saw all was not well with the world.”
Dead Meat chronicles Coe’s journey from her childhood to the six years she spent visiting:
and packing houses in England, Canada and the U.S. Sue sketched her way through every facility, recording her observations in explicit detail. At a Canadian plant, she noted:
“A jobber and I look into a giant vat full of brains, maybe 300 brains. Larger than human brains, they are white with blood clots. We look into another vat and the jobber tells me, ‘That’s all livers.’ They are very large and yellow. He says yellow liquid oozes out of them, which means they have been pumped up with hormones. There is a long line of workers as far as the eye can see. They cut meat off bones and ribs. They work so fast I can’t see their hands moving.”
The Internet is awash in videos and photos of slaughterhouse horrors. But Sue has captured their essence with a pencil. At a Utah slaughterhouse, the security guard snatched her camera — but overlooked her sketchbook.
She wrote of that facility:
“This is Dante’s inferno: steam, noise, blood, smell and speed. Sprinklers wash off meat, giant vacuum-packing machines use heat to seal twenty-two pieces of flesh a minute… a computer scans each package to record its destination. Thirty-five thousand boxes a day. I can’t imagine a human body doing this much labor, day after day.”
The security guard returned her camera when she left. He didn’t realize, however, that her artistic and observational skills would prove far more powerful that any photographs.
With its nightmarish, unforgiving illustrations of helpless, terrified animals and the hopeless, blank-faced workers whose job it is to mutilate or kill them by the thousands every day, Dead Meat has captured Dante’s description of Hell.