A VEGAN REVISITS HALLOWEEN by V. Foote-Blackman
Each year when Halloween lurches around it does so to the delight: the young, predictably, and to the large majority of adults who remember this holiday with nostalgic glee. But for another subcategory of adults Halloween is a battlefield, both literal and figurative. And by them I mean full-time vegetarians and vegans, that obnoxious group of perennial party poopers. According to the most recent 2015 Harris poll they make up 3.4% of the total U.S. adult population. So in mid-October while tots are busy coloring images of black cats and purple Frankensteins, upward of 8 million American men and women may find themselves in the throes of a domestic form of PTSD: feeling faint and nauseated, with sweaty-palms and flashbacks? Sweaty palms? Possibly. But flashbacks?
Over the past decade or so in the United States the 31st of October has morphed so that adults and children alike no longer just revel in the mysterious, but wallow in the macabre. This fascination with gore gains traction every year. As we move to more visceral, more viscera: Whereas once jack o’ lanterns grinned out cheerfully from front porches, and a sheet sufficed to make a ghost, now the holiday landscape is festooned with severed heads leering from bay windows, and bloodied limbs dangling from trees in manicured front lawns. What once sent a lovely spook of a shiver down spines is now more likely to make a person wretch.
Most of us who grew up in the 50’s 60’s and even 70’s loved Halloween for its pumpkins and scarecrows, for the trick or treat and the apple-bobbing, for the magical rather than the murderous. We’ve snaked forward from the charm and innocence of « It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown » (1966) to continual iterations of John Carpenter’s horror flick « Halloween” (1978).
Yet mere mutterings about what qualifies as tasteful suddenly veer into terrifying terrain once you’ve been initiated into mysteries of ethical veganism. The nameless but inquisitive heroine in the French fairy tale Blue Beard tale cracks open the forbidden door in her husband’s castle, only to discovered hanging from hooks the bloodied corpses of his former wives. From that moment on she can never pretend what she saw wasn’t there. And that famous key with the blood she can’t wash off is the symbolic key vegetarians and vegans carry not in their hand but in their heads. First bug-eyed, and then with tears streaming down our cheeks—we have stumbled on documentaries of factory farms and abattoirs, with images that make the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch’s visions of hell, seem like a fete galante. The walls crumble and the curtains part and we have seen—and felt– the full impact of what we homo-sapiens do to animals the world over.
So like someone who has returned from a battlefield, when vegetarians and vegans see a bloody stump hanging from a portico, we’re just as likely to have flashbacks. Flashbacks to the incessant images we’ve witnessed–due to undercover investigations–of cows hanging by their hocks, the life gushing from their carotid arteries. The camera panning to buckets of sheep heads and their glazed eyes. If you want to imagine what it must have been like for Nazi concentration camp prisoners to be herded into the “showers” of Zyclon B, you have only to see today living pigs packed into a chamber of horrors where they scramble over each other, twist and turn as if pummeled by an
invisible force, squealing desperately as they are gassed and fall into inert piles. And you can never ever “un-see” the soft yellow fluff of baby chicks thrown alive into the vortex of red-spattered grinders.
Surpassing such developments as the fantastical images in 3D and Imax, these are not images from cinema vérité or slasher films, but real-life horror films where real lives are lost, over and over again in slaughterhouses everywhere. For one who has broken through society’s collective denial, the Halloween prop of a bloodied white tile backdrop suddenly jolts you back to images of sheep being walked by holding up his forelegs into a blood-soaked room, or a chicken standing spattered in blood as she awaits her turn. Every year in the U. S. the individuals dispatched number over 10 billion. For all of them the viscera-smeared white-aproned men are their own Freddy Kruegers.
The impact of this real footage is enough to make many heads spin (forget the Exorcist!) and to convert the witness into a vegetarian overnight. So for these sensitive souls, popular culture reveling in blood and guts doesn’t just seem a bit distasteful, it seems sociopathic. They wonder: Is there so little scarlet mayhem behind closed doors hardly miles from where we live in our tranquil neighborhoods that we can make a mockery of chopped off tongues and severed heads?
So shouldn’t these holiday props, available for purchase in stores or online, instead make us all wince with the too familiar reality of what goes on to our dinner plates? To be squeamish is a good thing; this nervous flinch suggests we haven’t wallowed in violence ourselves, either as actors or spectators–whether real or virtual–and isn’t it this very sensibility what may allow us as a species to finally see with raw clarity the violence we inflict daily on the other species with whom we share this planet? Perhaps when the day arrives that a new social conditioning will have pulled back the curtain on our collective denial, and we truly do see the horror for what it is, our kids will also have aligned their ethics. Perhaps they’ll no longer wish to drag out dripping brains to a chorus of nervous laughter. And perhaps instead of nonchalantly brandishing a knife at what were real living beings they will be content instead to enjoy the innocent pleasure instead of just carving pumpkins.
In the meantime, have a heart on Halloween! If a vegetarian or vegan agrees to pop over for a sip of your dry-iced lime green potion, remember they are fighting a war that’s hard on the eyes. So how about just tucking back into the fridge that tray of cherry tomato and olive eyeball appetizers until your embattled guest goes on her way.