National Geographic, a well-trusted platform that frequently publishes updates on wildlife and world news, has recently posted a photo to their Instagram which was a sponsored partnership with Chipotle. The post showed a hog farmer from Iowa looking down at a baby piglet in his arms, as if to symbolize a caring and harmonious relationship between the two. Many things are wrong about this photo – and this picture – as a whole.
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Photo by Erika Larsen @erikalarsen888 // Sponsored by @chipotle // Michael Mardesen of Iowa is a veterinarian and hog farmer for A-Frame Acres, an all-natural, sustainable hog farm that has been in his family for five generations. “My whole life I wanted to be a farmer. It’s what my dad did, what my grandpa did,” Michael says. Running a small farm and having enough revenue to feed every mouth is very difficult these days. Becoming a veterinarian enabled Michael to stay in rural Iowa and continue working with his farm and the ag community. His family’s farm works with Niman Ranch, the largest farmer and rancher network in the Western Hemisphere, to be 100 percent third-party-certified under the Certified Humane®️ program. Niman Ranch’s 740 small, independent, U.S. family farmers and ranchers adhere to some of the strictest animal welfare protocols in the industry and have been in a long partnership with Chipotle. Michael says he loves that Chipotle “puts their money where their mouth is in helping aid the young farmers.” // Real food needs real farms. Real farms need real help. Learn more about how @chipotle is cultivating the future of farming by helping young farmers in the U.S.
First, National Geographic shares that this farmer has a “sustainable” hog farm. To break it down simply, animal agriculture, even on “local” farms, puts too many resources into growing animals and keeping them alive that could instead be used to feed the growing human population and spare countless nonhuman lives. As Dave Simon points out, “It takes up to one hundred times more water, eleven times more fossil fuels, and five times more land to produce animal protein than equal amounts of plant protein.” (1) How can we promote any part of animal agriculture, which is a leading cause of the current climate crisis that we are experiencing, as sustainable?
Secondly, the post claims that this farmer is 100% certified under the Certified Humane Program. Even with the “strictest animal welfare protocols,” there is nothing ethical about raising a sentient being for the sole purpose of killing them, only to consume their body or secretions. Can you imagine if, in the U.S., we applied this same logic to cats and dogs and began to use their bodies as food? While it’s a good sign that consumers are increasingly more interested and aware of how animals are raised for food, it can be easy to get sucked into labels such as “humane” without fully understanding the intensely cruel practices that are routine on even the highest welfare farms. It has been well-documented that humans have no biological need to consume animals or their secretions. Therefore, it is time to stop trying to improve a bad system when the whole system needs to be eliminated.
Matt Bear recalls his experiences while working on a hog farm, “A sick mother pig opened my eyes and changed my life forever. I’d seen downed mother pigs (sows) dozens of times before. Female pigs are impregnated over and over again. They get so used up over their short lives that their health often deteriorates – often so badly that they lie down and simply can’t get up again. Anyone who thinks this doesn’t happen because ‘farmers take care of their animals because they care or because they are the farmer’s livelihood,’ just doesn’t understand the enormity of these facilities, the pressures of modern day farming, and the realities of using animals for profit. It’s less expensive to push a used up sow aside than to care for her. And that’s what animal farms are all about – making money.”
To add another deceptive level to this inaccurate depiction of animal farming, the farmer pictured in the post is a veterinarian. As we’ve shared in a previous article, the main responsibility of veterinarians is to help and heal sick animals. Why, in turn, are people who are celebrated for their work in animal care suggesting that we eat their patients?
Our message to National Geographic and Chipotle is this: Real sustainability and food justice will never come from animal agriculture. With so many plant-based foods on the market in reach of those who are privileged enough to choose them and proof that animal flesh and secretions are harmful for our planet and health, it is time to live and promote vegan lifestyle. As caring people who have a voice in big media platforms, it is our right to hold them accountable when they are misguided. Email MG at [email protected] or click below to open email window.
(1) David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much—and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter (San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013)