There used to be a Horse Meat Butchery next to the Canberra Cafe – around the corner from our house. I asked my mother why there was a horse meat butchery and she told me that they fed horse meat to dogs. The pavement smelt of blood. We tried to avoid the wet puddles of blood and scabby patches as we walked to the shop. The blood, the flies and the hanging carcasses at the back of the butchery made it unpleasant.

One sultry summer’s day my best friend Craig Ballard and I took a walk to the Canberra Cafe. There was a sheet-metal horse trailer on the kerb filled to a pinnacle with what appeared, from a distance, to be dung. Drawing closer, we could see what the trailer was carrying – decapitated horse heads! Red and sticky with blood. Flies everywhere. I turned around and retched, but nothing came out. I staggered backwards – the way we came – sickened by the horrific spectacle. I wanted to throw up the whole way home.

Some years later my parents sent me and a friend to a farm in the Free State to improve my Afrikaans. The labourers came out one morning in their overalls and gumboots and slaughtered a cow right in front of me. Two men held her down, while a third slit her throat. They also slaughtered a pig, but the pig ran around the farm squeeling before it met a similar fate. I stood and watched, unfazed. Somehow I never connected the killing of these animals to the eating of meat. It was only later that there was a change of heart and I realized, by the grace of God, what exactly it is we are doing when we eat animal flesh.

We only consider harm to human beings as a crime.

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