The squeals of a dying piglet ripped through the calm morning air.
I put down my morning coffee and slid open the porch door, rushing toward the piglet paddock across the lawn. The wet grass soaked my bare feet and they began to slide around in my Crocs, but time was of the essence. I wanted to save a life.
I clambered over the cattle panel, a four foot high welded wire fence, ripping the crotch of my jeans in the process and uttering a soft “Gddammnit” as I hopped down into the muddy pen. A rainstorm had soaked my farm a few hours ago, and I slipped and slid through the newly created mud.
I noticed a half dozen black piglets with floppy ears suckling on one big sow, and saw a little piglet sticking out from underneath her mass. Its back half was crushed under the enormous weight of the 500 pound female pig.
“Crap,” I muttered, “Sonofabitch.” I swore a lot in circumstances like these.
Sows at this weight are unnerving to work around when they have piglets to protect. Still, I had to do something. I grabbed a t-post that was leaning against the fencing and I poked at the sows leg with it.
“Come on, move it, lady.”
The sow glanced at me with irritation in her eyes. I poked her again.
“Let her go! She’s your goddamned piglet, don’t crush her to death!”
The sow grunted and the other piglets continued to suckle. The piglet that was being crushed screamed at full volume at some subtle shift the sow’s weight, and I couldn’t help but imagine what it must have felt like, to have something one hundred times its size crushing it. Like a tow truck parked on my legs, I thought.
Piglets are incredibly resilient and tough creatures.
“Alright, goddammit, I’m going to get you off this piglet somehow.”
Civilized decorum meant nothing to this massive sow as she simultaneously nursed her offspring and inadvertently killed one of them.
At some point in my mad rush to rescue the piglet, I had scratched my arm and blood dripped steadily down my forearm and off of my thumb onto the t-post that I was clutching, which made it slippery to hold on to. I dropped it into the mud.
Before the little piglet had all of the life crushed out of it, I knelt down by the sow and pushed on her back end with all of my might. The sow grunted and started to huff and snort, and got to her feet. In the process, she stepped on one of her suckling piglets who squealed in pain.
Shit, I thought desperately, I’m trying to save one piglet but now I’m going to kill all the rest of them, then the momma was going to take big bite out of me as well! I pulled the trapped piglet out of the way by the hind legs with a quick yank and got to my feet, hands and knees covered in straw and pig shit.
The sow came at me, huffing and grunting like a mad bear, and I backed away toward the cow panel.
“Hey girl, calm down. I’m just trying to keep you from murdering all of your babies!”
She glared at me for a second, and then lost interest and turned away, tail swishing nonchalantly. I looked down and noticed that the trampled piglet was not moving much at all. Its intestines poked out of a a small tear in the skin of its stomach, and I saw that it was a little male pig, a barrow.
I had saved the other little piglet, but now I had a very injured little guy on my hands. He was tiny thing, with the markings of his papa, a heritage breed Gloucester Old Spot, with dappled white and black spots. He was also covered in a layer of dried mud and not moving much. He looked mostly dead as I clutched him to my chest.
His scream split the air near my ears and his momma turned quickly and starting charging toward me, eyes wild. I yelped and quickly climbed over the cattle panel, one hand grasping the piglet to my chest. I fell over onto the other side, slamming my elbow onto a rock, with the sow aggressively pushing her snout at my feet behind the panel. I scrambled to my feet and checked to make sure I didn’t have any broken bones or wounds. It seemed that I was fine.
I headed into my house to see what I could do for the injured piglet.
I believe that the differences of opinion that exist between vegans and meat-eaters arise largely out of the seemingly diametric viewpoints that we each have, on what the nature and role of death is in the theater of life.
I watched the Disney movie Zootopia last night and while I found it very enjoyable as an animated spectacle, the underlying concepts that it puts forth are ridiculous. The main conceit is that animals can repress their savage nature in order to live happily together in a civilized society. In the movie, we see animals that are specifically carnivores portrayed as civilized creatures that wouldn’t harm the hairs on a mouses head. Or, if they do seem to want to harm others, they are (spoiler alert) drugged out on some plant-based narcotic.
I love ideas, and this one is interesting to contemplate. It reminded me of the vegan argument that, as enlightened humans, we can choose to not kill animals in order to eat. I don’t believe that is true exactly, as I wrote here, but let’s play pretend. My first question would be this: Wouldn’t the carnivores in the movie die if they didn’t eat meat?
There are carnivores that can supplement their diet and survive without meat for awhile, and there are carnivores that must eat meat in order to synthesize essential nutrients, called obligate carnivores. They lack the ability to synthesize certain amino acids and break down plant material. Basically, their digestive systems breaks down the protein in meat for their energy.
Certain animals, like herbivores, have evolved complex, convoluted stomachs that are able to break down the “indigestible” fibers like cellulose in plants. Other animals, omnivores, have evolved moderately complex digestive systems and can eat almost anything in order to survive. Happily, we humans fall into the classification of omnivores and can survive on pretty much anything, from seaweed to ants.
If the movie was trying to be more realistic, the obligate carnivores would all perish or weaken substantially and die of degenerative diseases on a vegetarian diet. I imagine that the rodents would then breed prolifically and take over, causing a massive overpopulation explosion, and total environmental destruction within years.
There is the ultimate result of the ethical and ecological framework of the movie Zootopia. My girlfriend and I thought the sloths were hilarious, though.Of course, it is only a movie, created to entertain children.
There are many different species of plants and animals, and they all have different survival tactics. Opportunistic species take advantage of any disturbance within a system to proliferate as quickly and as widely as they can, in order to unbalance the ecological system in favor of their survival.
As humans, we are not obligated to eat animals, but we do have the ability to understand complex systems. The ecology of the planet is run on the ability of plants to photosynthesize, but there is no such thing as vegan ecology. The elemental building blocks of plant life are partially composed of the remnants of animal life — in other words, death.
Most vegans that I I have talked to say that we have the ethical duty, as a society, to stop killing animals for food and other uses.
An ethical system is the framework in which most societies operate. Our belief systems dictate our ethical stances on a day to day basis.
Up until recently, the scientific consensus was that animals were not as intelligent as humans. Now, with new research, we know that a handful of species seem to have cognitive abilities that are very similar to humans, which allow them to communicate and formulate complex feelings and emotions. See “Beyond Words” for detailed information.
All animals seem to enjoy living life and communicating with each other. As a farmer and meat-eater, I don’t deny this. Animals, though, do not have an ethical system of behavior.
When our dog shits in our bed, do we think that they are morally and ethically bankrupt? Or when they hump our legs do we think that they are degenerate and wicked beasts? No, we laugh at them, because they are animals, and they do not follow an ethical code. We do not judge them for being immoral creatures.
The other day, I was taking a walk with my dog, and she chased away a wild turkey mother, and then killed her babies in the ditch in less time then I could summon her back. Does that mean that my pup is an evil beast? No, she was just following her instincts and enjoying the carnage. She really enjoyed the ac of killing and became excited by the smell of blood and guts.
Because they are animals, we excuse our pets murderous and perverted behaviors.
As a society, we have come to some agreements on how we want all of us to act, an ethical construct for the greater good of the societal group. We say we want everyone to be treated with respect, and we say we want everyone to be able to pursue happiness without infringement upon their freedom. We say we want equality for all, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, and peace for all. We say we want everyone to have the same economic opportunities and access to education and health care.
Nature doesn’t have ethics like those.
Instead, nature operates within the context of patterns. Things generally happen one way according to evolution, but can sometimes change chaotically and spontaneously. Each action sets in motion other reactions. Nature is beautiful and complex, but it does not operate within the context of morality and ethics.
A mama bear can tear her cubs apart and eat them if she feels that she won’t be able to feed them throughout the winter or if they are born deformed. Horny male seals kill up to two thirds of their colonies’ seal cubs, in their mad rush to mate with the available females, sometimes crushing their chosen partners jaws in the midst of their copulation. A raccoon feels no guilt, making a midnight snack out of a small nest of chirping baby birds.
Nature is harsh. Idealizing it can only be achieved in the comfort of your own climate-controlled home.
Raising ethical meat is a synthesize of respect and reality. As human beings, we can create ethical and ecological systems that treat animals with respect, while utilizing them for food, and for the regeneration of healthy ecosystems. That said, the most important action that we can take to do that is to eliminate all non-ethical meat from our diets and only support small local farms that treat their animals well. This would be what I consider to be the first step toward producing ethical meat.
Ethical farmers can give animals a good life, with one bad day. It all comes down to respect for them and the planet. Which is a better scenario — To raise sustainable herbivores on regenerated landscapes to feed a healthy and happy populace, or to plow up grasslands to maximize grain production to feed an overweight and depressed public? Which scenario causes more death?
In the end, it is what we choose to eat every day that creates our bodies and our lives. If we can respect that it all flows out of a matrix of life and death, we can respect ourselves and the planet.