Temple Grandin

I have just made the discovery of an amazing American woman by the name of Temple Grandin. I have just ordered the DVD by her name, a film about her life as an autistic. You can find clips from this film and talks by searching on YouTube. I was very struck about her as a little girl when her mother takes her to the psychiatrist. Temple looks at the wallpaper and two pieces that were misaligned by a sloppy decorator, and she visualises the pattern as it should be. I often did this as a child, and loved looking at a world map and how continents would have fitted together before the Continental Drift millions of years ago. Even looking at random forms like knots in a piece of wood, I sometimes catch myself looking for patterns and something logical. It just doesn’t occur to most people!

Another scene is at a Christmas party when some friendly people come to engage Temple in small talk. It ends up with a meltdown in another room, such is the confusion coming from the way most people socialise. An austistic or Aspergers person just can’t handle the contradictions and strategies of manipulation. The little I have seen of the film through the YouTube clips (the full film is only available from streaming merchants – so I ordered the DVD) is impressive. It is full both of intimate familiarity and strangeness.

Apart from being a university professor and an accomplished scientist, Temple Grandin is distinguished for having designed humane animal slaughtering systems. Animals like cattle, sheep and pigs are kept in a state of calmness. When they are shot with a a captive bolt pistol or electrocuted prior to being bled, their death is instantaneous – far better than if they were caught by a lion in Africa. In the short presentation Stairway to Heaven, she outlines her slaughterhouse inventions involving curved and walled pathways and ways to prevent the animals from seeing the plant’s employees doing their job.

As the son of a veterinary surgeon, I have seen plenty of animal blood and gore from post-mortems, euthanised dogs and cats on the floor in the cremation room, and even a view through an open door of the local slaughterhouse in Kendal. A stunned animal hanging by the back leg moves a lot, giving the impression of being still alive, and the impression is quite revolting. I once had to finish off a mortally injured cat on the road, and I have killed fish that I caught and which were good for eating. With the cat, it was an act of euthanasia. It is a terrifying truth, but in order to live, we have to kill. That is true even if you are a vegan, because plants are also living things and they die when you cook and eat them. If we use milk, cheese and eggs, the animals and birds concerned will still be killed and eaten by others. The leather for our shoes and belts also comes from dead cows!

It is very reassuring to relate that many slaughterhouses in the USA have adopted Temple Grandin’s invention. It certainly represents a significant capital investment, but the meat of relaxed animals is of much better quality, and the animal is respected until the instant it is stunned and killed. Not so here in Europe, where business demands the killing of all animals except pigs using Kosher and Halal methods: using a very long and sharp knife to slit the beast’s throat once it is turned upside down in a special revolving pen. The top part is sold for Jewish and Muslim consumption, and the bottom part, considered ritually impure, is sold to “ordinary” butchers. The best steaks come from the rear end, but beef chops are much more expensive because they come from the “pure” part. There is a significant level of protest here in France and other European countries against the bleeding of animals without prior stunning, and conditions are often barbarous.

Here is a video of such a killing – warning, not for the squeamish! It is sickening – so be warned. The animal is reckoned to be dead when its tongue hangs out, but conscious life is likely to continue for the time it takes for the brain to become starved of oxygen – generally three to four minutes. The properly stunned animal (captive bolt pistol, electricity or carbon dioxide) is certainly completely unconsciousness before it is bled. The law in the USA and all European countries requires stunning. I fail to understand the issue with ritual slaughter, because a stunned animal is just as completely bled as a conscious one when the man with his knife does his job. Why refuse modern stunning? Even on traditional farms, for the Saint-Cochon in November, the pig gets a bullet in the head or a hard hammer blow before being hung up and bled (think of those yummy black puddings).

Temple Grandin can be proud of the fact that she has devised ways of respecting the animals whilst they are alive and giving them a painless and instantaneous death.

I eat meat myself, but I increasingly buy it from farms that breed their animals humanely and in good conditions of comfort and health. I eat very little beef or lamb, and tend to eat more pork and chicken. I know that pigs are killed properly and cleanly because they are not eaten by our non-Christian monotheistic brethren. Her view of death has been to a great extent formed by the slaughterhouse but also by accounts of near-death experiences of people whose brains were totally flat lined. As a visual thinker, formal religion makes little sense to her, but she has this original approach to death which is as inevitable for us as for the steer in the slaughterhouse.

She is a fascinating person to listen to, so logical and tidy in her thought processes. I will be watching more videos of her talks and interviews. She can be quite intimidating with her chiselled and gaunt face and her twangy accent. Above all, she makes the point that however much we are held back by disability, we can all succeed by working hard and applying ourselves. Instead of getting addicted to video games, young aspies and ASD people need to learn skills and do something they are really good at. Schools seem to be improving in this respect as I could not know in the 1960’s and 70’s when we were just upbraided and punished for laziness or disobedience to authority. No one gets it served up on a plate. We all have to work hard. The world doesn’t owe us a living! It is said that Mozart didn’t get “inspirations” when composing his music – but worked long and gruelling hours. I know what it’s like to work in a counter-subject in a coherent chordal progression, and produce something that has form – and above all beauty. Good old-fashioned work seems a little out of date these days – but this is the way for us all, whether we are “on the spectrum” or “neurotypical”.

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2 Responses to Temple Grandin

  1. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    My father started a meat manufacturing business which, by the time I was approaching teenage years, in the 1950’s was a successful ‘small business’. To supply the raw material for the work meant buying trips to various local abattoirs, and on occasion, I accompanied my father. At that time, ‘halal’ was unknown, but at the Manchester abattoir, there were facilities for the very similar ‘kosher’ method of slaughter of animals. Indeed, the Rabbi was present on one occasion, with an extremely sharp knife!

    Even then, there had been numerous debates in parliament about the potential for increased suffering caused by the use of the ‘kosher’ method of killing: it is clear that the argument will not go away, until all come to accept the vision of the sheet which was lowered to St. Peter as he prayed on the roof of Simon the Tanner’s house in Joppa.

    • A part of my father’s work as a veterinary surgeon was meat inspection at the local slaughterhouse and others in the region. Even in the 1960’s, all the animals were humanely stunned. My father always said how opposed he was to Kosher and Halal slaughter. Of course it is a part of Judaism and Islam, but this is one area where religious freedom in this domain (on the basis of prevention of cruelty to animals) should not apply in the western world. I don’t find anything in the Old Testament to say that the animal must be conscious when it is bled. A stunned animal is still alive but in a state of medical anaesthesia, therefore cannot feel pain, provided it is bled within about 30 seconds of being stunned. The legal ban on slaughter without stunning should be universal.

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