Over the weekend a friend of mine posted a video of pig and piglet abuse on her Facebook wall. You might have seen it yourself; it’s been making the rounds and it actually is horrifying. Outrageously sickening. Shocking. Peek-through-your-fingers nauseating. And I don’t even call myself an animal rights activist–I love bacon!
But, when I first saw that it existed, I didn’t even watch it. Of course, I thought, it’s almost always like this at factory farms. But to many people, this is the first glimpse they are getting at the horrors that go on at the “farms” that produce conventional meat.
If you feel like going on a diet for a couple hours, give it a watch (with headphones, unless you want to frighten your colleagues to death). I only got through the first 30 seconds before I stopped it. I had seen enough. It was worse than I had even imagined.
“How can we stop this?!!” my friend who posted the video asked.
Excellent question, my dear. I commented and gave her a brief synopsis, but I wanted to share a more detailed and helpful instructional on how to prevent these types of abuses from happening to pigs, plus cows, chickens, ducks, goats, lambs and other animals. And no, my answer is not simply to go vegan, though that is an option. Nuances, my friend. This blog has them.
Step 1. Ask Where Your Meat Comes From
This is the simplest thing you can do, but it’s extremely powerful. (And it doesn’t have to be this annoying.) At the halal place on the corner, ask where the lamb in your schwarma comes from. At the burger joint down the street, ask where the beef comes from. In the fancy restaurant, search the menu for a clue, and if there is none, ask your server where the duck comes from. Heck, quiz the worker at your workplace cafeteria. Here are the possible answers, from best to worst:
Best: “It comes from Berry Hill farm on Long Island/Upstate New York/New Jersey.”
Better: “It comes from Long Island/Upstate New York/New Jersey.”
Good: “It comes from a butcher in Brooklyn/Long Island.”
Bad: “Uh, I don’t know.” [Quizzical look.]
Worse: “The Cisco truck drops it off.”
This approach does two things: First, it alerts the employee and hopefully management that you give a shit about where your meat comes from. Second, it allows you to politely boycott eating meat from a factory farm. [Factory farm: a large industrialized farm; especially : a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost.]
If they give a bad answer, either switch to a vegetarian option, or walk away.
Step 2. Visit Your Local Farmer’s Market, Natural Grocery Store or Butcher
The farmer’s market is great, because you can walk up to a stand selling duck, chicken, pork, beef and even ostrich and quiz the heck out of them. And they will be excited to answer all your questions, because they are proud of their product. They’ll whip out pictures of their animals, and maybe, if you’re lucky, tell you the name of the cow your meat came from.
That nice Amish guy selling eggs and dairy products? He does not drop kick his chickens. Plus, all the farmers are from nearby, so the meat is much fresher.
If you can’t make it to the farmer’s market, try your local natural grocery store. Whole Foods has a rating system for its meats, from green to orange, indicating the level of welfare of the animal product you are purchasing. At the very least, meat you buy at Whole Foods is butchered from animals that are not pent up in cages. But get a green-rated product, and you know the animal was raised in idyllic conditions on one farm its entire life. Other, smaller natural food stores sometimes don’t carry meat, but if they do, you know it comes from conditions a step up from what you see in the video.
Finally, do a throwback grocery shopping trip by visiting your local butcher. Say, for example, Marlow and Daughters, who are passionate about their pastured meat. While you’re there, just double check by (again) asking where the meat is from.
Step 3: Educate Yourself
OK, you’ve rid yourself of blatant hypocrisy. Now dig a little deeper so you can become an informed advocate. Your reading assignment includes:
Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Extra credit: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
By the time you’re done reading these (surprisingly entertaining) books, you’ll be an expert on food and meat production.
Step 4: Get Involved
Now that you are fully aware of the shape in which our food system is in (that is: completely broken), advocate for change. The route of least resistance is to sign any petitions that come your way (like this one) that try to fix the system in small and large ways. If you want to get a little more involved, call or email your state representative to tell them you want legislation that supports small farmers, and keeps our food safe by imposing restrictions on large factory farms and processing plants.
Also research whether an “Ag Gag” law is on the books or proposed in your state. These laws try to prevent videos like the one at Tyson’s from happening, by making it illegal to work at an agribusiness if you are a journalist or if you are taping. Or, they require you to hand over any footage of animal abuse within 24 or 48 hours, so that animal rights activists can’t build a solid case of abuse and show the world what factory farms are like.
There are, of course, more ways to get involved, including in-person protests, donating to The Humane Society and other advocacy organizations, voting representatives who oppose agricultural reform out of office, etc.
Step 5: (Optional) Stop Eating Meat
The cleanest way to boycott the system is to stop eating meat all together. Personally, I continue to eat meat, calling myself a “conscious carnivore.” I think by now you realize not eating meat isn’t the only option. But if realizing the steak on your plate once had a face turns you off, than clearly this is the right step for you.
So there you have it, the answer to the question of what you can do to prevent horrific abuse of animals like pigs, lambs, cows, chickens, geese, etc. So tell me: Do you agree with these suggestions? What else would you do to change the system? Comment below.
Photo credit: Meneer Zjeroen/Flickr