Last week I asked esteemed journalist and agricultural history professor James McWilliams to write an open letter to the Northwest Indiana Times regarding their sensationalized coverage of the new Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms. I want this letter to coincide with Pig Adventure’s highly-publicized grand opening on August 5th. The McWilliams letter, which is posted below, will soon be available online for those who would like to sign on and add their comments. We will deliver the signatures and comments posted to this open letter to both NWI as well as Fair Oaks Farms Communications Director, Jed Stockton.
Imagine waking from a nightmare where you were picked up by your legs and turned upside down. You thrash wildly to try to release from the grip of your captor. But resistance is futile. There is no mercy, no regard for your life. Your last conscious moment of life is the terror of being thrown into a gas chamber and your body comes out of the other end of a machine that grinds up your corpse into ground meat. What I’ve just described to you, and what you will see in this video if you watch it, is not a nightmare but the reality behind what humane meat advocates describe as “a humane way of producing chicken meat from live chicken.”
The three examples, of naturally occurring rape, infanticide, and xenophobia, should help dispel the notion that acting in ways that come “naturally” automatically fulfills our moral obligations. In human societies, we evaluate our own behavior critically and negatively judge many instances of naturally occurring conduct. Indeed, if a particular behavior were sufficiently rare, it would suggest that people lack any drive to engage in it, and we would probably need no moral rules forbidding it. From this perspective, it is precisely because both virtue and vice come “naturally” to us that we must critically consider our activities and choose what to do (and what not to do) on the basis of moral reflection.
During Toronto’s torturous heat wave this July, with temperatures soaring to some 40 degrees Celsius (that’s 110 degrees Farenheit), activists from Toronto Pig Save have mobilized to give water and watermelon to severely overheated pigs on their way to slaughter. The gesture is the last— and, likely, the first— act of kindness that the pigs will ever know. When the sweltering trucks transporting the animals to Quality Meat Packers pause at a stoplight just outside the slaughterhouse, volunteers slip watermelon through ventilation holes
In 2011, Congress removed wolves from the federal endangered species list in five states – Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Utah – primarily to satisfy the interests of cattle ranchers. This opened up a war on wolves. Ranchers were upset with the government for reintroducing wolves. Ranchers had expanded their use of land for grazing cows since wolves had been gone for 25 to 30 years after being hunted to near extinction.
I found NWI Times’ coverage of Fair Oaks Farm’s so-called “Pig Adventure” both disturbing and disgusting — not just for its blatant glorification of factory farming, but in how uncritically NWI appears to have “rubber stamped” the Fair Oaks Farm press release without looking critically at this tragically absurd “public exhibit” of animal exploitation and suffering. Why does NWI withhold any opinion on such a nightmare scenario for animals in the very opinion section?
As someone who rescues, raises and advocates on behalf of chickens, one of the biggest challenges I face is getting people to see the chicken BEFORE the egg. Even many of those who are fond of chickens and keep them in their backyards, see them first as egg-laying machines, as if to ovulate on a daily basis were their primary purpose for existence. Our perceptions are heavily distorted by egg-industry marketing that has relentlessly “dumbed-down” the chicken’s identity since the 50s.
Narratives and descriptions claiming that animals make sacrifices for us date back to our earliest recorded history and would have us believe that animals give their consent to be violently killed for a “greater good,” such as to provide us with sustenance or at the request of a higher power. However, to sacrifice oneself means to act freely, to make a conscious choice from a variety of circumstances.
In the newly revised Australian Dietary Guidelines released this week, Australia’s top health experts now agree with leading health advisory boards in the U.S. and Canada that well-planned vegan diets are a safe, healthy and viable option for all age groups. Government health experts worldwide are finally catching up with the large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that a vegan diet is not only a viable option for people of any age, but that eating plant foods instead of animal-based foods can confer significant health benefits
Anyone who has been vegan for more than a few months is probably familiar with what I call “The Inuit Defense.” When presented with an argument for veganism, it’s common for people to bring up the diet of some remote indigenous population (usually the Inuit) as justification for why they should continue consuming animal products. “Well, the Inuit must hunt and fish in order to survive,” they say. The implication being that if the Inuit cannot be vegan, they shouldn’t be expected to be vegan either.
One of the most potent reminders of how much I’ve changed is the smell of grilling meat from a Persian restaurant that I pass almost daily. It is a smell that I used to associate so positively with countless social gatherings, holidays and traditions. With the knowledge I have now, these memories have been intercepted by scenes of very young animals in the last moments of their very short lives who are in a state of great fear and confusion as they are led down a kill line to meet an untimely, unnatural and violent end.
The most important voice is also the one conspicuously closed out of the debate. The voice of the animal victims themselves is missing because they don’t speak our language. And because we place such immense importance on language, we’ve done a pretty good job of ignoring their plight. But that doesn’t mean they don’t communicate with us in a variety of complex ways, that is, if we choose to use our large brains and much-touted claim of superior intelligence to look and listen more carefully.
Like the will to live, the ability to experience pleasure is also not unique to humans. Animals exploited for food also seek pleasure, from chickens who purr, to sheep who (literally) jump for joy, from cows who play ball, to pigs who prefer to sleep snuggled up to one another. Animal behaviorist Jonathan Balcombe writes, “Pleasure adds intrinsic value to life— that is, value to the individual who feels it regardless of any perceived worth to anyone else. Pleasure seekers have wants, needs, desires, and lives worth living.”
I find your notion of “95% vegan” to be problematic. As a practical matter, one could justifiably argue that any move away from animal products helps animals and is therefore a positive step. But the problem is not in this process, but in the logic and the intent. The vegan ethic is based on the notion that the interest of animas are real, can no longer be denied, and in fact compel us to take them seriously. At the very least, animas should not be harmed, exploited and killed when he have other options that are so plentiful to the vast majority of us.
First, a few disclaimers. I am not a nutritionist. I am not gluten-intolerant. I am not, according to the University of Chicago Hospital, part of the roughly 1% of the population that has Celiac Disease. I fully understand that wheat processed into highly-refined products like white flour are empty calories no better for us than any other source of simple carbohydrates. But what’s happening in food marketing today is not a common-sense campaign to single out simple carbs. Instead we’re seeing an all-out war on “carbs,” taking down with it even the complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat and other whole grains, that have sustained civilizations for millenia with a cheap and plentiful source of protein and other essential nutrients.