There are plenty of bonkers TV shows on the market, you guys; here in America, TLC alone has titles like My Feet Are Killing Me (about fucked up feet), Dr. Pimple Popper (about pus and lipomas, basically) and 1000 Pound Sisters (self-explanatory). And it’s no different if we cross ye olde pond! In addition to loads of wild premises (example: Naked Attraction, where people stand unclothed inside of tubes and get judged gradually from the feet up, leaving their faces for last), the UK is now the purveyor of a true doozy – Meat the Family on Channel 4.
With rising awareness surrounding animal welfare and the meat industry (specifically the commercial meat industry), somebody decided to capitalize big time with a classic moral conundrum reality TV show. In Meat the Family, families are given a pair of baby barnyard animals to look after for a few weeks. At the end of that period, they are given two choices – 1. agree to become vegetarian and send the animals (which are now like pets) to a wildlife sanctuary to live out their days in peace, or 2. refuse vegetarianism and send the animals to the abattoir (which is a fancy word for slaughterhouse) and then eat them (those exact animals they temporarily raised) after they’ve been killed and processed. (In other words, great options!)
And the animals are fucking cute, you guys. Like, REALLY, REALLY FUCKING CUTE. They have personalities, they show affection…the whole adorable shebang. If that weren’t enough in the realm of sway, the showrunners also arrange for a variety of trips to farms and slaughterhouses so that the families can see the reality of where their meat comes from, and the various conditions the animals have to endure before ending up on a plate.
And it’s not always a “bad” life for the livestock; the family tasked with caring for two piglets, for example, visit a farm where the pigs are free to forage on the property, and seem to live pretty decently prior to slaughter. But it’s still pretty grim to think about, and if you’ve never considered what goes into making your bacon cheeseburger, even the parts of the show meant to paint the meat industry in a softer light will hit pretty hard.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster to say the least. And it was a real big suckerpunch when the aforementioned pork family, who seemed to be teetering towards vegetarianism towards the end, suddenly decided to slaughter their fucking pigs! WHAT THE FUCK, YOU GUYS?! To be fair, they didn’t seem like the biggest geniuses, but JUST LIE AND SAY YOU’LL BECOME A VEGETARIAN FOR THE CAMERAS! NOBODY IS GOING TO HUNT YOU DOWN IF YOU SCARF A HAM SANDWICH NEXT WEEK!
Because they readily admitted to the fact that they weren’t going to be able to go cold turkey (pun intended) on cutting out meat, the piglets (six weeks old at the time) were taken to a nearby farm until they were heavy enough for slaughter, and then, eventually, four big cardboard boxes containing sausages, bacon, tenderloins…all of it…arrived at their doorstep. (See also: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK.) And the family could totally tell which pig was which from the little hairs that were still on the skin; one of the pigs was black, and the other was lighter. Ultimately they decided they wouldn’t be able to eat either of their former pets without crying and/or barfing, and so they invited their family and friends over to enjoy the fruits of a backyard barbecue instead. (Wow, really taking the moral high ground there, guys!)
The stress of the will-they-or-won’t-they vibes aside, I think this show is pretty important, and I wish somebody would make a US version; we have a dismal commercial meat and dairy industry here, and this seems like the type of program that would at least get people to start thinking and talking about our excessive (often unethical) consumption. If we were forced to slaughter our own food, we’d likely be looking at a very different situation with regards to demand. And while no one is asking us to make that choice, taking a look at animal welfare standards is (I think) paramount in terms of correcting some very big wrongs, both in terms of the treatment of the animals and the effects that all of this has had (and continues to have) on our environment. (And on us.)
So while I will scream at the screen anytime someone chooses the let’s-eat-our-pets route (because by the end of the episode I, too, feel attached to the animals // I AM NOT ALONE), it’s still a very worthwhile watch, and definitely something to consider if you identify as omnivorous or carnivorous in 2020. It’s not a condemnation of eating meat, but it does force you to take a hard look at what that choice actually means in the context of mass production.
Think you can tough out a watch? Technically the show is only available in the UK, but episodes can be found via YouTube or Dailymotion searches, or if you’ve got a VPN, now might be a good time to switch your country settings. And in the meantime, fingers crossed for a US adaptation in the near future!