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Peace on Earth–for Pigs and Those Like Them

December 24, 2009

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

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2009 9:38 am

    I love this line: We cannot seriously claim to hope for peace while choosing violence multiple times each day.

    I love and hate the fact that, each time we sit down to eat, we get to make such a decision. I love that some choose compassion. I hate that most don’t even see that choice.

  2. December 24, 2009 9:44 am

    A few years ago, we were visiting a local organic farm in MA. They had a “petting zoo” inside the barn and asleep in the hay were two piglets, their noses close enough for me to reach through the fence to touch. I’d never touched a pig’s nose before and the feel of it totally shocked & enthralled me! I couldn’t stop touching it! And every time I stroked his little nose, he snorted in his sleep! I loved it. I must’ve stood there for 20 minutes just touching his nose. Of all the animals “available” to eat, the idea of eating a pig has always horrified me, but more so now that I’ve had this contact with this one guy.

    Peace on Earth to all living beings this holiday. And, Stephanie, may the light within you continue to shine bright for all the world, namaste.

  3. December 24, 2009 10:28 am

    Well said, Stephanie. I have a bumper sticker – Peace begins with the fork. And just in case the great masses do not understand, it says underneath “Go Veg”. Making a conscious choice to be peaceful and compassionate is so easy, so uncomplicated. Eat kindly!

  4. December 24, 2009 3:13 pm

    When a human objectifies someone in this way-that is when they regard another’s body as a thing, not a screaming, scared, feeling other self, for the purpose of their own subjective pleasure of eating, they are not at all likely to be aware of…. anyone else but themselves.
    This is a dangerous and tragic scenario which happens nearly three times a day with most humans.
    Sometimes even when they have seen the faces like this picture they still ignore the someone’s. However, we need to keep reminding humans about these faces and about these someone’s whom they are eating. If we don’t they will remain absent.


  5. December 25, 2009 4:50 am

    Peace definitely begins on our plate. How can we ever hope to be kind and gentle to our fellow women and men when we turn a completely blind eye to the pain and suffering and murder that we plate up to eat 3 times a day? Veganism is the BEGINNING.

    Stephanie, another heart breaking piece, thank you. I know exactly what you mean about how painful it can be to remember how you used to be. I was just like you, a die hard meat lover. 6 strips of bacon was a typical breakfast and the more beef packed into my burger the better.

    Now, I’m a fairly intelligent person, I have no idea how I could have been stupid enough to still believe that animals lived fairly decent lives on ‘Old McDonald’ farms. When I saw Meet Your Meat for the first time I nearly died. I could not believe it, I hated myself for what I had been supporting, and went vegan immediately. And to recall all those times when I would gush about how much I loved steak/bacon/burgers makes me cringe and, more often than not, cry. I feel like I have so much to make up for.

    And it was the face of a pig that ‘clinched’ it for me, too. She had both of her back legs broken and was dragging herself around through the mud by her front legs as the murderers casually stood around dropping bricks on her head to try to kill her. I CANNOT put into words what remembering that video does to me. I first saw it 3 years ago and can still see it clear as day. She wanted to LIVE. That was the thought that overwhelmed me. She only has ONE LIFE, that’s it, she will never get another and she WANTS TO LIVE. And those men did not care, not at all, they were laughing and talking to each other and ignoring the immense struggle and fight for survival she was going through. It makes it hard for me to breathe just remembering that scene.

    Thank you for this post, Stephanie, it is one of my favorites so far. It is hard to acknowledge that we used to be complicit in what we are now fighting against, but you know what? It actually gives me hope. I’m not really that special, so ANYONE could eventually go vegan.

    • Druwood permalink
      December 31, 2009 9:32 am

      Do you remember what you were watching that had the pig in it? Was that in Meet Your Meat or something else? Since it affected you so profoundly, it’s probably a good tool for changing others, too.

      Very interesting stories of everyone’s awakening process.

      My initial AHA! moment was getting the PETA Vegetarian Starter Kit about 10 years ago and reading the story about the cow that was so brutalized by workers trying to get her out of a transport truck. At that moment, I didn’t care how unhealthy it might be to not eat meat –I was not going to support cruelty.

      I found this blog from Invisible Voices. The concept of this blog–that animal issues and oppression in general just naturally go together–is absolutely true. Good job!

  6. December 27, 2009 8:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing these very personal memories of where and how your awareness came to be… I think it’s very painful for most of us – the recognition that some how, at some time we were “numb”. When I look back it seems like I was in a hazy, brainwashed state. But since it happens from birth, I just didn’t realize.

    Pigs weren’t the first off my “list”… It was cows who I gave a “special” speciesist ranking to. Shortly after I figured out how short sited of me that was & became a vegetarian… Five years in I read a bumper sticker that said something about “climbing the food chain”. I thought that was so clever! That night I had a bite of my husband’s chicken sandwich. I chewed and swallowed but couldn’t get the idea of “flesh eating” out of my head… Clever bumper sticker and all… It just didn’t seem “right”, and I never went back.

    It would be a few years afterward that I was exposed to “dairy/eggs” and all the “AHA’s!” that come along with veganism and animal rights. I know now, that there is no “holiness” or virtue in causing needless suffering. To grace one’s holiday table with the abundance of life and kindness – Now, that’s cause for celebration!

    It’s kind of ironic though… 50+ years into my life and I finally get what “peace” is really all about – Yet, the new born “activist” in me realizes she’s in for the “fight” of her life. I hope our stories resonate through the universe – till every cage is empty! “Peace”.


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