My dear friend!
I have heard your arguments. You said things I had almost expected to hear, because everybody thinks and answers the way you have answered me. It made me a bit sad, as I had been hopeful that you might be closer to understanding, closer than “everybody.” And now … But, as everybody asks and talks as you do, I suppose you must have a right to do so, and, to you, it seems perfectly natural to think that way; so I will no longer be sad about your having spoken that way also.
And I will answer and explain: You say animals were created to serve as food for humans. Excuse me — but when I came to that point, I laughed heartily. I do admit that, in the household of Nature, nothing is ever wasted. Even the carcass of one creature will serve as food for another, and yes, very often an animal kills another in order to eat its flesh. I also admit that this is provided in the laws of Nature. Even such a violent death is calculated, this dying to provide food, instead of a later death of old age, which would be of hardly any benefit.
I admit all of that. But your words: “Animals are created to serve as food for humans,” they seem the same to me as thought a lion or some other beast of prey would smack his lips and say: “Man is created to serve as a good meal for us.” Wouldn’t you laugh at such words? — So, you see, I laughed too.
But when you say that the brief, nearly painless moment when the animals are killed does not matter when compared to the benefit and relish their death renders to the killers, I cannot condone that opinion.
Many people think the same as you do, nearly all of them. But have they, have you seen it all clearly, the way it really is? Haven’t you been misled by your desire to go on eating flesh, suppressing the scruples within you? Was it not this, maybe semi-conscious desire that made you glance at it very superficially, with a brief glimpse, with eyes half closed, so you could soothe yourself by saying: “It’s really not so bad!” — Might it not be that way, my dear friend?
Look here, let me tell you how I see it, clearly, in its whole reality. I don’t want to tell you about the big reptiles, the fat Iguanas in South America; natives capture them for their savory flesh, then they cut the sinews from their legs, tie them alive to bunches with their own sinews (imagine that agony, that pain!) and leave them lying for days in gloomy, cellar-like rooms, until their flesh is needed for the table.
You will tell me, that is too far away, too unusual and not applicable to our life and our habits. You are right. And therefore I also don’t want to tell you about the Southern countries, where poultry, chickens, and pigeons, are plucked alive; deprived of their plumage, alive. — I have seen for myself, women, holding such a deplorable bird, tied, on their lap, tearing out all feathers, even the tiniest, completely unmoved by the poor suffering animals’ cries. And why did they do it? Because, as they say, it makes the flesh of the animal, which is slaughtered afterwards, paler.
You will say, with reason, that such medieval cruelties are no longer practiced in our countries, that killing is more “humane” here.
I just happen to remember the young English lady who told me one day that she and her husband were going to accompany the fishermen that night to watch the fishing. I said to her, it might be better not do that; for the fishermen in that area allure the creatures of the water with bright lamps. Attracted by the dazzling light, the fish come to the surface. The fisherman stabs a fish with a harpoon, its tip of iron pierces the animals’ body and holds it with a barbed hook. Then they pull the stabbed fish out of the water, free him of the harpoon — which means, they tear the iron hook out of his body, ripping large holes in his twitching body, and throw him on top of the other captives — leaving him to die of his wounds. For only very few fishermen are kind-hearted enough to instantly kill the suffering animals. I told all of that to the young lady, who had spoken much to me of good books, of progress, and of beautiful ideas. I told her with the intention of warning her of such an experience, which must be a dreadful martyrdom to her tender heart. But she burst out laughing and told me that she had been fishing herself since her childhood days, that she knew all methods and practiced them herself — and that sentiments such as those I was talking about meant nothing to her. And, still smiling, this gentle lady of society told me: “I don’t feel anything when I do it. When I catch fish, I cut them open alive and remove the entrails, as it immensely improves the taste of the flesh if you do that.” I still remember how amused she was at the sight of my shocked amazement.
Now this was a modern, sensitive young English lady, a person of the North.
Here again, you will say that is an exception, an almost incredible one, and has nothing common with normal methods of fishing. I agree — for, if this incident had not happened to me, I would hardly believe it myself.
So, as I know you reject all of these things as being out of the rule — and you are right — I am not going to tell you how I see “the rule” in fishing. Listen to me and consider for yourself, whether that is the plain truth or not.
For instance: you go line-fishing. Many people say: “A beautiful sport, calming to the nerves.” You are sitting in Nature, next to the water, you hold the fishing-rod and observe the floating cork, and you must learn to pull the fish out with a skilful movement at the right moment. If you are successful, there will be great joy for the fisherman as well as the observers. Everybody will admire the handsome, scaly, floundering body o the fish — and the fisherman will proudly lay it amidst his other victims, killing it before that, putting it into a pail of water.
That looks pretty harmless — particularly with eyes half closed — in anticipation of a fragrant meal of fish. But I see it closer, with open eyes, much more clearly. I see a writhing earthworm being mercilessly seized by the angler’s hand (it might be the hand of an artist who paints pastels, or that of a bel-esprit). I see a barbed iron hook. — The angler’s hand takes the worm, pierces him, draws that torture of iron through two thirds of the worm’s body.
The worm is wriggling, curling, writhing in anguish. The angler is smiling in satisfaction and pride, for he has pierced the worm “skillfully.” The hook is concealed, only the little animal is visible, writhing vivaciously in agony and despair. That’s right, it is sure to attract the fish! And the angler casts the fishing-line into the water, very much satisfied with himself and with the art of fishing, waiting and staring at the line, at the floating cork.
Minutes pass by that way, many, many minutes — every minute consists of 60 seconds. What an eternity must every single second be to the little martyr on the hook? I have endured great physical pain myself, pain that turned to anguish — and I know what a second meant to me, a big, strong man; what a vast, horrible desert of time — everyone who ever suffered anguish will know that. Now think how a person would suffer, with such a hook pierced through his body. Can you imagine that?
The angler is still staring at the floating-cork. Didn’t it move just now? He pulls out the line. Sure enough, a fish had taken the bait, but he was a cunning fellow, he had eaten the wriggling worm without touching the hook. The fisher angrily removes the rest, which is still writhing feebly. He looks at his watch. This bait had lasted for ten minutes. Now he opens his can of worms, picks out a new victim, pierces it skillfully — with hands as merciless as ever, when he pierced hundreds of thousands of worms before, in his long fishing career.
The worm is writhing in anguish on the hook. Incomprehensible pain — horrible, dragging death. If he were a human being, he would ask in despair, how can God ever let such things happen. And there is no mercy, no help, nothing but the final deliverance by Nature itself, when a fish takes him and eats him quickly, or when his life slowly fades away.
But the fisherman is sitting close to the water, gazing at the floating cork, regarding and feeling the Sunday’s peace around him. He feels blissful in his admiration of Nature, he is listening to the birds’ songs, and he is happy to know that these little songsters enjoy a safe and protected life in our country nowadays, no longer endangered by man’s hunting, thanks to a society of which he, himself, is a well-respected member: the Humane Society.
There! The floating cork is sinking!
The angler tightens, jerks and swings the line. A silvery fish is hanging on, floundering. The hook has gripped very well, it has pierced the upper jaw and is protruding at the front of the head, above the mouth.
Skillfully the angler frees the fish of the barbed hook. that isn’t easy, a barbed hook like that holds fast — you have to pull it back and forth several times and finally rip out that crosswise iron hook with a skilled, strong jerk. A little hole remains — but that doesn’t matter, as the captive will be eaten anyway in a couple of hours. He weighs his victim in his hands, is delighted and tosses the fish to the other floundering brothers.
And now the angler thinks it might be good to use a different sort of bait. He opens a little box filled with multicolored scrambling bugs and flies, and he grasps a gleaming beetle that happens to get between his fingers. Skillfully he seizes the fishing-hook and pierces the beatles’ body in its very midst. The animal struggles with legs and feelers in frenzy and spreads its wings in a vain attempt to fly. The fisherman smiles: “Well, you can’t do that any more now.” Then he casts the line on the water.
The beetle is floating, gleaming and moving all his limbs. The angler nods in satisfaction. That’s right — that will attract fish. He gets lost in thought, but he keeps watching the beetle. He doesn’t feel anything, doesn’t realize that this little helpless animal is suffering death in agony beyond description — no — he is a lover of Nature, he enjoys the beauty of the gleaming wings and the agility of the movements. And the beetle cannot scream — and anyway, it is only an insect, and a harmful one besides.
While he is lost in thought, he happens to touch a tooth with his tongue — and by mishap, it is the ill one. It instantly begins aching. The angler is suffering — the pain gets worse. He thinks that he must see the dentist tomorrow. And he is terrified at the thought of the dentist touching that tooth with his instruments of hard metal, how dreadful it must be when he touches the nerve. There’s sure to be a medicine that will prevent him from feeling all the pain, and yet … He will certainly feel a little pain — and he is afraid of it. Yes, he is even afraid of the fine needle which will be pricked into his gum — of that little, momentary prick which will relieve him of any further pain.
And the angler stares at the struggling beetle, which has the barbed hook protruding from its body between its wings, and he thinks philosophically how dreadful the word is, ow a peaceful man must endure such cruel pain as, for instance, a toothache. Has he deserved that? He, who never did harm to any fellow-man. And in general, why must people be plagued with illness and all sorts of evil? Why? Is it righteous, that the most gentle of persons have to suffer that way — is that supposed to be justice? And the toothache is growing worse still. So he pulls out the fishing line, rips the book out of the beetles’ body and tosses the struggling animal away — no matter where. Then he winds up the fishing-line, grasping his cheek now and then, collects everything, takes the box with the fish and starts for home.
The toothache ceases as suddenly as it began. And now he is looking forward to the fish, to the fine way his wife will prepare them. Thinking of his wife, he also remembers his little son. The boy has been wanting to join him in fishing for a long time. Next sunday he will take him along, it can do no harm if the child learns to practice that beautiful sport as early as possible.
And next Sunday the angler, the father, will show his son how to pierce a worm on the fishing-hook in a skilled way. –
This is the picture of the angler, as I have seen it often, unable myself to help the victim on the hook. Every time I was horror-struck, when I realized that hundreds of thousands of people throughout Europe are exercising this sport every day — and particularly every Sunday — and considering it a pleasure. I never could consider it a pleasure to torture worms, bugs, and flies to death by crucifixion. And some of the people who do that are persons who show great sensitivity otherwise. But is it deep enough? –
That is what I had to tell you about line-fishing, about this method of capturing fish which you consider a beautiful sport and “not at all cruel.” But you know now that I see it in a different way. Even if I would think that the fishing hook causes no more than a bearable pain to the fish, the worms’ death in anguish would be reason enough for me, why I would never be able to eat a fish caught in this way. As I said before: Even the worm is a brother to me, and I feel with him.
I can see you grinning as you read these lines, your face assumes a superior look, and you would like to reply: “But what about fishing with nets? Where is the stumbling-worm in that? Where is the fishes’ death in anguish? He is merely hauled on land in the net and killed with a blow on the head. Where is the great suffering in that?”
I can hear you talking that way, and I must answer: “Here again, you have glanced at it with your eyes only half opened.”
You are smiling skeptically?
Listen, how I have witnessed fishing with nets, time and again, how I see it, with my eyes that may indeed be a bit more than wide open, because dread and horror made me open them that wide; dread and horror that were born out of compassion.
The fishermen take to the water. Their nets are big and wide. It takes the power of many strong men to haul them out of the water. This power grows in itself, it is increased by the joy of having a great haul. They pull and pull. Hundreds and thousands of floundering fish are taken out of the water, shaken out of the nets, into the hold of the fishing-boats, where the fish are lying one on top of the other, a quivering, silvery, shimmering mountain, huge and heavy, making the boat lie deeper in the water. The fish lying on the bottom have to bear the weight of all of those lying on them, so they can hardly move, or not at all. The topmost fish flap their tails and move their other fins, gathering all their strength for a leap, as their instincts tell them that they might be able to save themselves that way, that they might escape to the safety of their home element, the water.
The fishermen light their pipes, chuckling. It was a good haul! And they resume their work at the oars or wherever their place is. If it is a very large boat, they may wade through the mass of fish with their big seaman’s boots, stepping on the delicate bodies of the fish, crushing them, wounding them, killing them. They are laughing as they do it, joking with each other while they are walking about on their silvery prey. Their boots don’t feel anything, and neither do their hearts, for tradition made a hide of leather grow around their hearts, as hard, as unfeeling, as greasy as the one their boots are made of. It never even comes to their minds that the are walking on the bodies of living creatures, wounding them by the weight of their steps.
But this fate hits only a few of the fish. It is not the rule, so we won’t deal with it any longer. Let us see what becomes of the bulk of them, those thousands and ten thousands of fish.
You heard me say: Thousands, ten thousands.
Every fisherman would laugh at you, if you would demand that he kill those vast numbers of aquatic animals. And how could he? There wouldn’t even be room enough for it, as the boat is filled with the bulk of the haul. So the fisherman does no more than grip one fish or another and kill it by smashing its head. He only does it to those who jump too much, whose floundering is too powerful, and he does this act of mercy only to the ones on top, to those who might otherwise succeed in leaping back into the water with the last bit of strength left in them. Only to prevent the valuable captives from escaping, does the fisherman kill one or another of the prisoners. He does it merely for that practical reason, and not to end the animals’ suffering. Oh, no! Why should he take the trouble? The fish will die by themselves, without causing all that effort.
Gradually the floundering of the fishes’ bodies decreases, it is no longer so wild and powerful, bit by bit there is less strength in it, it grows fainter and fainter. No, nobody needs to care about them, they die by themselves.
That is how the fisherman thinks and acts. He knows what he is doing, for he is experienced in his trade.
And the fish?
The fish was torn out of his life element, water, and thrown into an element which he had known before for seconds at most. If we, who are native to the air, fall into water, if we are surrounded and covered by water, we are drowned within the short time of a few minutes. With many fish, it is that way too; they die within a few minutes, when exposed to the air. But that is true only with a minority of fish. Most of the fish captured in nets, in our areas, will live outside of their native element, will live in the air for a long time — an hour, two hours, four hours, even half a day, and this is especially true of salt-water fish.
I just said they live. But that is not the proper word — the contrary word, die, would be the appropriate one. yes, the fish is dying, not within minutes, no, he is dying for hours, a grim, horrible death, only comparable with our death of suffocation. imagine yourself slowly dying of suffocation — the air around you becoming scarcer and scarcer, yourself lacking it more and ever more. Your whole life merely consisting of gasping for breath, more and ever more, harder and harder, until you can gasp no more.
Imagine the fish — no, you should go to the shore or to the fish-market and see for yourself, how the fish are lying on the ground or in baskets. Then you will witness their dreadful death, and you will see how they gradually grow fainter, how they open their mouth more and more in suffocation, till that mouth is gaping wide, nearly round in the agony of that slow dying.
As you have the power of imagination, imagine you were that fish and would have to die that way, that dreadful way, gasping for breath every second, every minute! And those seconds of agony grow to minutes, to full, heavy minutes, to wide, eternal hours. Imagine that anguish — .
Each time I come across a fish-market, or pass along a beach, where the shimmering bodies of the aquatic creatures are writing, with their mouths gaping in agony, as if uttering a wailing death-shriek — each time then, I am suffering along with them, and I feel as if I were gasping for breath myself and were dying with them. At such moments, I feel myself one with the fish, I feel the life of this brother from the other element within myself.
Maybe you are smiling. Such a smile would not beautify you — .
But I have not told you everything yet. I must yet tell you about the fish who are captured by the millions — the herrings. Nobody kills them. They are shovelled out o the boats alive, they are laid alive into the barrels standing ready for them; they are placed on a layer of salt and covered with another layer of those white crystals — then the next layer of herrings follows, then the next layer of salt. The slender, twitching, scaly-shimmering bodies are covered with biting salt — the living fish. That is his tomb — buried alive in a barrel, bedded in burning, biting salt.
Millions of fish die that way, and millions of people eat them afterwards, most of them without ever becoming aware, without ever even giving it a thought, how that food was produced, what road of suffering and death they are eating with delight.
Must I say still moire about this small, truthful scene?
But I do want to tell you still more. I want to tell you about other inhabitants of the cool water and of the end they are doomed to by man, so that they may please his palate and his stomach — after their death.
I am thinking of the fish whose origin is still a mystery, in spite of all research, the fish who very much resembles a snake. I mean the mysterious eel. How do people prepare him?
He is known to be very hard-lived, just as snakes are. It seems almost impossible to kill him — unless his head were cut off, but that would ruin his decorative appearance.
Only very rarely does anyone decapitate an eel. Generally they try to stun im by blows on the head or by tossing him on the floor. Then — oh, please, it is an old, perfectly customary kitchen method, practiced without any thought — he is skinned alive — and then — they put him alive into the pot or the pan — alive!
You have to tie the lid very securely or lay stones or other heavy weights on it, because the eel in his agonizing pain will rear up with all his might, he writhes, twitches, bounds, presses against his infernal prison, tries to force it open, to escape.
and sometimes it does occur that eels do life the lid off the pot and escape — skinned — half cooked or fried. But a human hand recaptures them at once and puts them right back into the torture-chamber. The hand that does this is usually a gentle woman’s hand, that of a good mother who wants to prepare such a savory meal for her children and her husband. It is the hand of a woman who may be quite kind-hearted otherwise, may be even very tender-hearted, at least towards the ones she loves, and who is very easily moved when she sees other people suffering. But she has no feeling for an eels’ suffering and agony. Indeed, that is possible: sometimes we have two different kinds of heart, one of flesh and emotion, the other of stone and unfeelingness.
“Everyone” prepares eels that way, from time immemorial — this mother’s mother acted the say way, and so did her grandmother. “Everyone” says, an eel doesn’t feel it so much — and besides — how else should you prepare him? No, that good woman is very glad to be able to serve such a delicious meal to her loved ones; she is glad, and never gives a thought to the infernal martyrdom a living being, a fellow-creature must endure for the sake of the treat; no saint ever had to endure a worse martyrdom.
Every year, there are hundreds of thousands of these great martyrs, and hardly anybody ever commemorates them, nobody shed a tear for them. Or am I mistaken? Indeed — I have seen children cry — but they are still foolish, they are only kids. And yet I have seen persons, grownup persons, who had something like a tear when they saw these poor creatures offered for sale at the markets and thought of the fate they were doomed to. Of course: strong people laugh at such things — as long as they don’t have to bear them themselves.
And I recall still another scene: Eels, bunched alive with a string drawn through their gills. This living bunch is hung in the chimney, the writhing bodies are smoked alive. This is the origin of the renowned delicacy — smoked eel.
Speaking of delicacies — don’t crabs and the famous crayfish belong to your favorite dishes? Don’t you think them a feast, whenever they are offered to you?
Let me describe for you the crabs’ and the crayfish’s journey, from the depth of the water to that treat for your palate, which is awaiting you in a large dish on a table beautifully decorated. In the water, deep and cool, the crab or crayfish was captured and hauled out to the light of the sun. Both of these animals are better off in the air than fish are, because they can live outside of their aquatic element without major problems. The air can be life element to them for a long time.
The captured crabs are usually packed in baskets or similar containers. I often saw how the crayfishes’ beautiful long feelers were broken off, as the would take too much room. The feelers are the most sensitive organ they have, highly developed antennae with the very finest sense of touch. I can imagine what a hideous pain it must be, when they are broken off at the roots. Mutilated as they are, the animals are now offered for sale.
The buyer of a crab or crayfish carries it home in joyous anticipation of a treat. Crayfish and crabs are cooked as everybody knows, for not until then do they assume that proverbial red color so often praised. They are cooked alive — and I believe everybody knows that too. And the housewife said to me with a superior smile: “But that doesn’t matter — you put them into boiling water — they die very quickly. And besides, they are lower animals, their nervous system is very primitive and doesn’t feel things like, for instance, a human being would feel them.” And once more, a superior smile. Crabs and crayfish are cooked, that is a fact as old and irrefutable as the multiplication table.
But I know how they die.
Many cookbooks tell you that the best way is to put them in lukewarm water, weight them with a stone, and cook them slowly — as that will make them more tasteful.
But let’s forget about that, let’s suppose such instructions did not exist, and that everybody would put the crabs in boiling water in order to kill them quickly. that ambition is a step towards humanity and might even serve its purpose if — the pot of boiling water had a proper relation to the animals’ size.
And I recall still another scene: Eels, bunched alive with a string drawn through their gills. This living bunch is hung in the chimney, the writing bodies are smoked alive. This is the origin of the renowned delicacy — smoked eel.
Speaking of delicacies — don’t crabs and the famous crayfish belong to your favorite dishes? Don’t you think them a feast, whenever they are offered to you?
Let me describe for you the crabs’ and the crayfishes’ journey, from the depth of the water to that treat for your palate, which is awaiting you in a large dish on a table beautifully decorated. In the water, deep and cool, the crab or crayfish was captured and hauled out to the light of the sun. Both of these animals are better off in the air than fish are, because they can live outside of their aquatic element without major problems. The air can be life element to them for a long time.
The captured crabs are usually packed in baskets or similar containers. I often saw how the crayfishes’ beautiful long feelers were broken off, as they would take too much room. The feelers are the most sensitive organ they have, highly developed antennae with the very finest sense of touch. I can imagine what a hideous pain it must be, when they are broken off at the roots. Mutilated as they are, the animals are now offered for sale.
The buyer of a crab or crayfish carries it home in joyous anticipation of a treat. Crayfish and crabs are cooked, as everybody knows, for not until then do they assume that proverbial red color so often praised. They are cooked alive — and I believe that everyone knows that too. And the housewife said to me with a superior smile: “But that doesn’t matter — you put them into boiling water — they die very quickly. And besides, they are lower animals, their nervous system is very primitive and doesn’t feel things like, for instance, a human being would feel them.” And once more, a superior smile. Crabs and crayfish are cooked, that is a fact as old an irrefutable as the multiplication table.
But I know how they die.
Many cookbooks tell you that the best way is to put them in luke-warm water, weight them with a stone, and cook them slowly — as that will make them more tasteful.
But let’s forget about that, let’s suppose such instructions did not exist, and that everybody would put the crabs in boiling water in order to kill them quickly. That ambition is a step towards humanity and might even serve its purpose if — the pot of boiling water had a proper relation to the animals’ size. In other words: You would have to put the crayfish into a large, a very large pot filled with strongly boiling water, in order to kill it halfway rapidly, instead of in a way that is more than barbaric.
But reality, i. e. the common way of preparing them, is entirely different.
Generally a pot is used which is just big enough for the animal to fit in. However — instead of one crayfish or one crab, several at a time are usually put into the water, for you think: There’s room enough. But these creatures, whose bodies are cold and thick-shelled, instantly cool the amount of water which is too small for the bulk of them, so that the boiling water turns to warm, or at most, hot water.
Now, in this hot water, the terrified animals, used to the coolness, the nearly icy cold of the deep water they came from, begin to scramble. They try to escape, but in vain. The desperate scramblers are pushed back without mercy, the post is covered by a lid, and the lid is tied securely or weighted with stones or other heavy things.
Meanwhile the fire under the pot is glowing and burning, the water is getting hotter and hotter, it begins to steam, gradually approaching the boiling point once more — oh! very slowly. And the animals are confined in this steadily increasing heat, without any chance of escape, helplessly delivered to their constantly increasing pain. Even when the water has come to the boiling point, that is not yet the end; they still have to boil for a while in that boiling water in agony.
“Of course crabs and crayfish must be boiled well” — the head-cook says. He should rather say: “Be boiled well alive.” But I remember the dreadful era of inquisition, and that this era is not yet overcome, as even in our days humans put creatures, quite defenseless in their hands, into boiling water alive. And I am horror-struck at the fact that those who do it are so-called people of education and sensitivity, no rude barbarians, no uncivilized savages and yet — primitive — primitive civilized people, primitive so-called people of culture, Western people who are proud of their noble thoughts and speeches, and who commit atrocities with a smiling face — not because they have to, no, because they want to; not because they are unable to consider and understand how hideous it is what they are doing — no, because they do not want to think about it — it might cast a cloud on their enjoyment.
“You’ll never know how sorry I feel for the crayfish each time I put one into boiling water, and when he tries to climb out and I have to push him back in. But, you see, we like to eat crayfish so much — and how else could you prepare the animals?” — It was a German baroness who said these words to me; she loved to eat crayfish, and she could not bear the sight of a coachman beating his horse or a drover mistreating a donkey. In such cases, she grew very indignant. She shed tears when a little bird had a broken leg.
It is so fine to be sentimental and to be a member of a Humane Society; it commits to very much, except for extending your love for animals to edible animals. What is the value of such a love? Is it truly existent at all? But I know that crayfish, those voiceless creatures, utter sounds of agony while being cooked alive. It is horrible, but the cook and the housewife, they say, professionally and poetically: “The crayfish are singing.” …
Is that enough? — Shall I tell you still more? — No, I think you will understand now why I cannot eat fish or other aquatic creatures. I would betray myself, if I did.