International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Life as a Vegetarian Undercover Agent
Reproduced with permission from The Vegetarian, March 1992


Henry Heap merged from the shadows to disclose details of his undercover work to Beverley Pink:

Henry Heap is probably the most wanted man in the meat industry. Just the mention of what he does is enough to make a butcher's blood boil and a meat producer go weak at the knees. And there's no doubt that between them they would probably like to have Henry hung, drawn and quartered, then baked into a meat pie. But what has Henry done to deserve such a macabre and grisly fate?

Most photographers have their speciality but Henry's is more unusual than most. He is an animal photographer, but we're not talking about pet poodle portraits here. Henry deals with animals in far less dignified circumstances.

Henry has dared to go where few other vegetarians have dared to go before, right into the bloody, dripping jaws of the meat industry's abattoirs. For he has made it his mission in life to expose the horrors that go on in these dingy dens of death and bring them to the attention of the general public. Knee deep in giblets, Henry has photographed harrowing scenes of animals systematically going to their deaths in the most humiliating conditions. His hard-hitting photographs have been used for posters, leaflets and in magazines and newspapers promoting the animal cause.

So how does a vegetarian like Henry even get within sniffing distance of such horror houses with his spying lens? With a lot of cunning and guts is the answer. On one occasion he got into an abattoir using a fake card identifying him as a photographer with a meat trade journal. He cleverly arranged the shoot on the pretext that the magazine was interested in doing a story on the company's plans for expansion, which had been of some local interest. He was greeted with open arms as they were keen to put over their point of view through the press.

Henry goes to great lengths to guard his cover, even if it means compromising his principles. "I wear leather shoes and continually slag off vegetarians,"

On his first photographic job at a slaughter hause, Henry faced a terrible dilemma. The abattoir offered to arrange a 'kill' specifically for Henry to shoot. Henry, who was at college studying for his photography degree, was sickened by the thought. "I couldn't go through with it. I went back when they were ready to slaughter."

Henry managed to keep his cover right to the end; even when the manager slapped a pound of raw liver in his hand. "It made me sick but I didn't want to blow my cover so I couldn't show my disgust."

Another awkward situation Henry recalls is when working with a veggie friend at another abattoir. They had been invited to lunch by the bosses. Planning their strategy the night before, the friend bravely decided he would eat meat while Henry, by now a vegan, agreed to eat fish if it was on offer.

Fortunately the next day they worked right through lunch, and it wasn't necessary for either of them to eat meat. Henry, however, made the brave gesture of drinking coffee with milk, which he had not done for many years. "I even said, 'I like it nice and creamy.' But when it arrived it was made all with milk. It was all I could do to keep it down. It made me feel so sick; it left an oily film in my mouth."

Henry's work is obviously dangerous, which is one of the reasons why we had to disguise his face in the picture [in the original article]. Once he took a photograph of a man kicking a calf at a cattle market and the angry subject punched Henry in the face, knocking his two front teeth out. Henry just sees it as a hazard of the job. "I took the picture and it was worth it. For me it's all par for the course. It's worth it for the animals."

It's difficult to understand how someone who cares so much about animals can bear to see them slaughtered without giving away the game. "When I started doing it I thought it was hell on earth, but you just have to close your eyes to that part of it. Like meat eaters who have a mental wall which enables them to disassociate meat with an animal being slaughtered, I have to do the same. If I got emotionally involved I would not get the photographs I wanted. I just think of the good I am doing the animals."

Henry believes that shock tactics work, and his images are designed to shock. One of his most popular images that appears on animal welfare organisations' leaflets and posters is of a bull's head photographed face on with a bolt shot through its head. According to Henry, the most rewarding part of his job is when he succeeds in converting someone to vegetarianism with his pictures. "At least ten people have said 'When I saw your photos I decided to go vegetarian.' That's the highest compliment I can be paid."

Henry may be the scourge of the meat trade but to the animal protection movement, he's certainly a saint.