Farm and Red Moon follows Audrey Kali, a university professor and prior vegan, as she confronts her investigation of farm animal slaughter practices. Americans know little about animal slaughter or the debates waging about how to do it humanely. Often overlooked, or overtly kept from view, slaughter is the final step in meat production, whether part of the local food movement or industrial agriculture.
We follow Kali as she visits farms and slaughterhouses to reveal the ambiguous moral underbelly of humane animal slaughter. The title, inspired by Marc Chagall’s painting, Farm and Red Sun, serves as a visual motif throughout the film. Looming over the farm is a huge red sun, bleeding into the sky. To Audrey, it is a moon with a dark side that cannot be seen, although she knows it must. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun in order to illuminate an otherwise dark night, the film illuminates a topic that for most people remains shrouded in darkness and mystery.
Visiting the meat processing classes at SUNY Cobleskill, Audrey asks students, when does a pig cease to be a pig and become meat? In interviews and classroom footage, Temple Grandin shares views on the signs of suffering and describes best practices for ensuring a quick death.
Georgian cattleman Will Harris developed a farm system with on-farm abattoirs – significant because it eliminates the often inhumane transport of animals to slaughter. Describing his caring relationship to his animals, Harris explains, “I love my animals, just like you love your pet. But I love the herd, not the individual animal in the herd. It’s a river, not a lake.”
Earlier exposes of the abuses of industrial agriculture, and the sensationalized images by animal rights activists, have made farmers reticent to allow filmmakers to capture these images from their sites. As a result, few films have shown images of animal slaughter when people are trying to do it right. The film takes viewers behind the scenes in multiple locations, including the on-farm slaughter by farmer Eric Shelley, who we get to know throughout the film. But it is through the eyes of his son, Beau, who innocently asks questions about the lamb slaughtered in front of his eyes, that we come to understand how sheltered we are from these images.
What starts out as a concern for the animals becomes a story about people. Kali’s transformation from self-righteous vegan to ambivalent omnivore occurs because she cannot turn down the offers of meat produced from animals raised lovingly by her gracious hosts. What she once saw as senseless acts of violence, she understands as a complicated agricultural system, pursued by decent people fully cognizant of the contradictions and complexity of their actions. The film documents Audrey’s quest to understand farmers and slaughterhouse workers through verstehen – understanding by experiencing their lives on their terms – eating meat and seeing their work from their point of view. It is the journey that the audience shares in as well.