Letter to the Slaughterhouse


Mr. Jeffrey M. Ettinger

Chairman of the Board, Chief Executive Officer
Hormel Foods

1 Hormel Place
Austin, MN 55912


Dear Mr. Ettinger,

My family used to make a sandwich with spam that we all loved; fried Spam with melted cheddar cheese on white bread with mustard.  My parents put lettuce on theirs. I also have memories of fried bologna, which tasted a lot like a hot dog. Those were the late 1960s, and I daresay the world has changed a lot, but in some ways it is still the same; as the French say, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Although the “Spam Whammie,” as we called it, might not be on the menu for me anymore, you are still making Spam. However, even if that product had vanished, the bigger picture would not have changed at all. It is that continuity that I want to address with all honest curiosity and sincerity. I would appreciate your responding, although you will find it much easier and free of consequence to simply ignore me and any modest dictates of common politeness.

Hormel products are made of animals. I want to understand how you find the endless killing of animals acceptable.  When I was unwittingly chewing on my baloney sandwiches, the object in my hand did not bring to mind the living, breathing animal. However, your business runs on slaughter; when you inspect the “plant” that must mean seeing how the killing is going along; it is undeniably a factory designed to end lives and dismember animals.  That is the stuff of Grimm’s fairy tales, which capture our worst nightmare — being fattened up to be killed and eaten or caught by the ogre at the top of the bean stalk who wants to dash our heads in and “grind our bones” to make his bread.

I would like to understand why the killing does not bother you? I heard a recording the other day of pigs being slaughtered.  I avoid images of farm animal confinement and death because I find them too disturbing. I have enough imagination to have no need of pictures.  The recording was kind of a surprise, played at a gathering of people. We heard the desperate and terror-filled screams of animals and clanging and banging. I was dumbstruck and noticed that the woman next to me was sobbing, that several people were crying. I too felt like weeping at the knowledge that what was taking place was the most wrenching suffering of innocent animals, pushed into a frightening hell with no recourse but to scream in confusion and horror. Why doesn’t that reality bother you?

Am I wrong about the depiction?  Is it not so bad?  Would you want to have the local 4th graders to come for a field trip to the “plant,” like we used to visit the electric plant or the bakery? Would they not cry and have nightmares? Do you bring your own children to the “plant?”

You have a lucrative position in an enterprise that has a life of its own, and until people quit buying your products you will keep selling them, so I am not so quixotic as to think that I am addressing the monolith.  Rather, I just want to know on a personal level how people who might have kind hearts toward other humans and their dogs and cats have no compunction about being an active part of a machine designed to inflict suffering and death on other creatures equally as capable of suffering as we and our companion animals are.

You are highly educated: a law school graduate, as am I (from the University of Texas Law School class of 1983), you from UCLA, where my son is currently a sophomore. With intelligence and education go the ability maybe even the moral responsibility to think beyond the confines of cultural norms and above all to trust your instincts and intellect when you cringe at the sight and sound of the slaughter house.


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