death on a factory farm

Cute, aren’t they. I love pigs. Many people don’t know they are as intelligent as your family dog. Which makes knowing how many of them live and die even harder to swallow – but we do, regardless.

I’ve done a lot of reading about the slow food movement, and the local food movement and have learned a ton about organic gardening and being a good steward of my little plot of land. The more I read, the more I garden the more I realize it’s time for me to face the other side of the coin. I don’t want to. I eat meat. Like most people, I regularly buy it at the grocery store and so I know that I too, have played a part in this.

I’ve just finished reading “The War in the Country” by Thomas Pawlick. His last book, “The End of Food” was one of those ones that you have to put down once in a while because you just can’t bare to go on, but you can’t leave it down for long. This was no different. In the book, he uses his own community in rural Ontario as a microcosm for what is happening to rural communities world-wide.

Short story? They’re under siege.

The part of the book that I found most arresting was the community’s efforts to block the construction of an intensive hog farm from being built in the area. And then my fiance taped for me an airing of the HBO documentary “Death on a Factory Farm” and it brought Pawlick’s narrative into a whole new light.

Let me just say; it’s not for the squeamish.

I could write pages about the horrors of this kind of operation, but I think the following will be enough to give you an idea. Keep in mind these are not cases of alleged abuse. This is just everyday business as usual. If you watch the documentary you’ll see that these poor things are sometimes subject to even more extreme cruelty and suffering.

It is shameful that we treat the creatures that give us life with so little respect.

Factory farms subject the animals raised in them to an inhumane quality of life; no room to move, perpetually mired in their own shit, unable to forage or root or socialize or tend to their young. Their manure, which on a small, integrated farm would be a gift of nourishment to the fields, in the factory farm context is transformed into vast lakes of toxic sludge that pollutes the air and water.

Because the animals are rammed in there (not to mention surrounded by shit) you can imagine that they need a ton of medication just to keep them on their feet. How does this regular use of antibiotics affect our health? How many bugs will become resistant in this supercharged environment? And what happens when those bugs accidently land on your plate?

The worst part is, I’ve heard of farmers making margins as low as a buck a pig. For the promise of this vast fortune he’s only had to sell his soul to both the lenders at the bank and to whatever huge food-conglomerate he’s hitched his star to. Neither of them will care if he or his farm lives or dies, because in essence the farmer has become a lot like that pig – penned in in his own shit unable to move.

How on earth does this happen?

We have allowed economics to become the only yardstick we measure our success by. Rather than recognizing the pig (and the farmer) as the living beings that they are, we have reduced each to mere inputs in an economic equation. Inputs don’t require compassion or empathy or dignity or fresh air or freedom to move or respect or kindness. Economics allows us to “externalize costs” and pats us on the back for it. What they really mean when they say they externalize costs is that they will let you deal with the contaminated water, the skyrocketing coliform counts in your well, the stench from the lakes of shit, the outbreaks of listeria, the climate change caused by methane, and the high food prices because they’re feeding all the grain to the pigs.

But more importantly, this is how it happens:

We eat cheap meat. Lots of it.

Meat raised with dignity and respect in an ecologically responsible manner costs money. Most of us simply won’t pay what our meat really costs. So who is the one externalizing costs now?

I watched that film and decided – no more. I am not going to support this type of farming by continuing to give them my food dollars. We can fight and write to parliament and “eat local” all we want, but this will not stop until we stop buying it. We can create support for ethically and ecologically produced meat products by taking our time, doing our research and finding some happy pigs. Perhaps some who learn about factory farming will decide they don’t want to eat meat at all, and that’s OK. But for the rest of us who can’t imagine a life without bacon,(and as someone who spent 6 years as a vegetarian, I can tell you I can’t ) – there has to be a better way.

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