The modern slaughterhouse has figured as an important ethical and political issue in many developed countries. In late imperial and early Soviet Russia, the ethics and politics of industrialized slaughterhouses are illustrated in sharply contrasting ways in the fates of two prominent writers. Lev Tolstoy wrote an essay in 1892 describing the gruesome slaughter of terrified oxen at a local abattoir that was lauded as a “bible of vegetarianism” for the way it presented what many readers viewed as a highly cogent ethical argument against the use of meat in the human diet. A few decades later, Boris Pilnyak was commissioned by the Soviet Food Commissar to write a Socialist Realist novel that would glorify the achievements of his country's newly modernized meat industry. Meat: A Novel (1936), however, failed to please Party officials and led to the writer's execution during Stalin's Great Terror of 1937–38.

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