Turtle farm. Taiwan, 2019.
All images by Jo-Anne McArthur.
When we devalue the experiences of animals, anything we do to them becomes justified so long as it brings value to us. A turtle sits on a bloody butcher block. The fish market vendor holds his knife, watching and waiting for the turtle’s snouted head to emerge from her soft shell. One, then two seconds pass before he gives up and moves on. He flips the turtle onto her back, grips the white underbelly, and begins to saw through her body. The agony is visceral. Her webbed feet splay wildly like tiny fingers. With every gash of the knife, her meaty shell is slowly severed, exposing a vertebrae and a bulging, beating heart. No one is waiting at the booth to buy this turtle. When her shell is nearly removed, her bloody, mangled body is dumped into a plastic bag and set aside, as she is made conveniently ready to be cooked and eaten by her future buyer.
Soft-shelled turtle has their shell cut off while still alive and heart still beating. Taiwan, 2019.
Later, we will visit a softshell turtle farm, filled with stacked crates of hatching eggs and surrounded by a grid of pools housing the larger ones nearing slaughter weight. Though not a common food, the turtles are a delicacy in some East Asian countries, sought by a small number of consumers who either believe in its medicinal qualities or are drawn to its unique taste.
Large pools at soft-shelled turtle farm.
Newly-hatched soft-shelled turtles.
Top: Pan of large pools at soft-shelled turtle farm. Bottom: Newly-hatched soft-shelled turtles.
It is standard practice to chop off the turtle’s head before sawing off its shell. And yet in this fish market we observed the butcher impatiently skip this step, hurrying to half-butcher a turtle that no one was waiting to buy.
This is the story of a turtle who is sawed in half alive – another cruel act committed in the name of efficiency.
With special thanks to EAST.