Consumption of meat in the Czech Republic is part of the old traditions. Around a hundred or so years ago to have a cow, pig and some hens was a part of the food self-sufficiency of families. Typical and traditional Czech meals consist of meat, as for example the ‘beef on the cream’ (“Svíčková na smetaně”), or pork with dumplings and cabbage (“Vepřo, knedlo, zelo”). Now however, the tradition of animal slaughter in the public was recently banned, causing much discussion on the topic.
In the 20th century, especially after the 2nd world war, the trend of having your own pig or cow was slowly disappearing, with cheap meat appearing on the market and with a steady increase in the standard of living. At the same time the consumption of meat actually increased – meat was no more only a part of rich people´s menu as many people began to eat meat more than once in a week. Consumption of meat reached a peak in 1989, in which the average was 97,4 kilos per person.
Despite the fact that the consumption of meat is decreasing nowadays, we Czechs still eat almost two times more meat than the world average, with an average consumption of 78,6 kg per person annually, comparing to world average of 42 kg. What´s more, Czech people especially love meat products such a salami, sausages, etc. Which is, with the consumption of the red meat (beef, pork and mutton), a big contributor to colon cancer (next to the high consumption of fats, alcohol, salt and carbohydrates and lack of exercises). Now the Czech men are the very first in the world most likely to develop colon cancer (Czech women are in the 9th position).
In light of these meat-loving facts it is not surprising, that the recent ban of animal slaughter in public created considerable response. While the private animal slaughter, when a family is raises a pig or cow to then kill and consume, is still legal, the shared public slaughter is not. The main reason for banning this tradition, which you could have seen during seasonal markets or meat feasts, is hygiene.
Some people don´t mind this restriction and say that they were not buying these products anyway, precisely because of the lack of hygiene during the animal slaughter. On the other hand, some people are angry, claiming that Czechs are losing one of their cultural traditions. To sell the meat products on the seasonal markets or to organize meat feasts is still legal of course, but meat has to be bought in the meat shop which meets the hygienic regulations.
One could say that the ban of public slaughter would lead to a decrease of meat consumption. But actually that is not really probable. The truth is, that with the rising awareness of ecological issues, Czech people tends to care more about recycling for example, the number of vegetarians or vegans is increasing and consumption of meat is slightly decreasing. But the banning of public slaughter would probably not significantly improve that. More likely it would be the other way around, as the consumption of cheap, factory-farmed meat increases. It is not just connected with the fact, that thanks to exploitation of the animals and their poor living conditions, the meat from factory farming production is cheaper. Strong stereotypes about consuming meat still prevail in the Czech Republic as well. Most of the Czechs are still convinced that meat is the only source of some minerals, vitamins and other substances needed for our health.
So it is clear, that the reasons for banning the animal slaughter in the public does not have anything to do with efforts of decreasing the meat consumption, which is not only un-healthy but also ecologically demanding. Neither was the ban adopted to ensure better living conditions of farm animals and to restrict the practice of a very cruel meat industry. It seems to be just opposite.
I am convinced that self-production of meat by small farmers and families could be the way for us to treat farm animals better, consume less meat and realize that this steak on my plate was the animal previously and so to truly realize and accept that some other living creature had to die for me to eat. But with this new regulations it just seem to me, that there is big lobby behind it – so the big meat companies of mass production do not lose the money.
As a vegan, none of animal slaughter is acceptable from my point of view. On the other hand, If I were to choose if Czechs consumed meat from pigs who lived in a small farm, had enough space and was fed without hormones and antibiotics, or if they consumed the meat of, in fact, a piglet who was artificially raised up by chemicals and lived in the space just bit bigger than himself, I would for sure choose the first one.
Eva Michálková is volunteer and activist from the Czech Republic who last year graduated with a degree in International Social and Humanitarian Work. She is currently working as an international volunteer at the Women´s Information Centre in Tbilisi.