Peace on Earth–for Pigs and Those Like Them
A lot of people who celebrate Christmas, whether as a religious holiday or a secular one, will be eating pieces of pig they call ham today and tomorrow. In an act reminiscent of the strange giving of thanks for the tortured life and brutal, unnecessary death of a turkey on that famed American holiday a month before, many people will hold hands and pray for peace on earth while a dead hunk of animal sits at the center of the table before them. The someone on the table, a someone to whom we extended no peace, no love, no kindness, no respect, will not even be considered, the discordant nature of our actions and our pleas not recognized.
Growing up, I didn’t really know anything about pigs, beyond that the areas surrounding hog farms reek. My great-aunt and great-uncle ran (and their children still run) a large hog farm in my home county, but I’ve still yet to ever see it. The grandparents of one of my childhood friends ran another (smaller, I think) pig farm, and I don’t recall ever actually seeing any of the pigs there either, even though I visited the house and the pool outside with my friend a few times.
No, pigs weren’t really on my mind much for the first 20 years of my life. But they were in my diet — until a winter morning at a breakfast table my senior year of college, when they became the first animals I stopped eating. She was not a vegan or a full vegetarian either, but she ate vegetarian the overwhelming majority of the time. I, on the other hand, was still a devoted meat, cheese, and sometimes-potatoes person. I didn’t even eat vegetables in the form of condiments or sandwich additions. My burgers: bun and burger. My sandwiches: bread, turkey, and cheese. My comfort breakfast: sausage links. My default dining-out choices: sirloin tips and chicken breast. So this difference between us made me nervous. I remember wondering (and asking) how this was going to work when she mentioned my moving in — I needed meat. (Can I tell you how mind-blowing and embarrassing it is to recall some of this? To acknowledge what a different person I was in this area? How completely disconnected and unaware I was when it came to our fellow animals?)
But that winter morning, as we ate our toast and drank our tea and coffee, she brought up the pigs. I don’t remember how it came up. Maybe she was reading an article. Maybe I’d made one of my inane remarks about meat. But she brought up the pigs. She didn’t say much — just one remark leading to one image that’s been burned into my brain ever since: pigs on transport trucks in the dead of winter, freezing; pigs freezing to the sides of the truck and being ripped out upon arrival at the slaughterhouse.
And that’s when I stopped eating pigs. I don’t know how often this particular horror does still happen (even if not often, we still know the transport of animals to the slaughterhouse to be in general a horrific journey to a horrific place and brutal end — if they even survive the harrowing trip), but the image was one I couldn’t shake. And somehow, that moment opened me up to thinking about the animals we eat in a way I hadn’t before. I didn’t become a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, overnight. It took me another year and a half to go completely vegetarian and stick with it and a couple years more to go vegan. Ultimately, it was all about information. I thought I knew things that I didn’t — and so didn’t realize there was any more information I even needed to seek — and unfortunately, there was no one to correct me. But as the realities settled in over time, my diet and ways of living — and thinking and feeling — changed, step by step.
My development from (a) an omnivore who believed without question in the idea of Old MacDonald’s farm and didn’t give nonhuman animals much thought (or credit) to (b) a vegetarian whose primary objection to the eating of animals was cruelty to (c) a vegetarian who on principle opposed killing animals to eat and wear them but who didn’t know about all the inherent killing, suffering, and exploitation involved in dairy and eggs to (d) a vegan who sees animal agriculture for what it is –and more importantly, animals for who they are — and understands that no exploitation or killing is humane: this was the most important, meaningful process of my life, and I only wish it had happened more quickly than it did. And today, I would no sooner eat a “free-range” egg or organic piece of cheese than I would eat that pig.
But it began with that pig. With that image of one, single animal being pulled from the freezing truck, squealing out in pain and fear, to be dragged off to his death. Maybe all this is why my emotions seem to be right at the surface even more than usual with pigs, why tears still fill up my eyes when I look too long at the image above (the image I chose for the AR blog at changedotorg last year), despite having seen that face every day for well over a year. That the first undercover videos I saw revealed the common treatment of pigs didn’t help either. The screams of those pigs as they were hit, kicked, slammed into concrete, and more — those screams, like the screams that have come along with every undercover pig-farm or slaughterhouse investigation since, will haunt me for the rest of my life.
But whatever pigs’ transport and death look and sound like, and whether they’ve lived out their brief lives in an intensive operation or on a “free-range” farm, they don’t want to die anymore than we do, and the end is horrible for all of them. Like other animals, pigs are smart, sensitive individuals who feel the range of emotions and experiences – they are capable of great joy and great sorrow, of playfulness and boredom, of love and fear and pain. They feel. They love. They develop relationships and mourn their companions. And they don’t want or deserve to wind up in slaughterhouses, terrified and desperate to escape. They don’t deserve to end up in ovens because of human selfishness.
There’s little sense in praying or hoping for “peace on earth” when most people making that wish are part and parcel of the most violent, least peaceful, most unjust system on the planet and in all of history. We cannot kill tens of billions of animals each year, just because we can, just because we like the way they and their secretions taste, and claim to be peaceful people seeking a peaceful world. We cannot extinguish life, just because we can, just because we have the power to, and then shake our heads at wars between humans, as if we oppose unnecessary violence. To do so makes us hypocrites. We cannot seriously claim to hope for peace while choosing violence multiple times each day.
Most of the animals we kill for food — flesh, milk, and eggs alike – are even the equivalent of mere children or adolescents when we slit their throats, skin their bodies, and “process” them into meat, leather, and more, all unnecessarily. And there’s not a single thing about this that is in keeping with notions of “peace.”
I don’t know where the saying originated, but I’ve seen it often, and it’s true: during this holiday season, and on every day, peace begins on your plate.
Photo uploaded to stock.xchng by datarec