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Pig Torture and the Holiday Spirit

Pig Torture and the Holiday Spirit
Suki Falconberg
December 28, 2006

I was invited to Christmas dinner and at the center of the table was a ham. Beside that a turkey. As a vegetarian, I find that meals with carnivores during the holidays can be disturbing. People sit around a table, spreading good cheer. They act refined and use cloth napkins and sip wine from fancy glasses. They give no thought to the cheerless life of the dead creature in the middle of the yams and green-bean casserole.

Around Thanksgiving I wrote a piece ("The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving") about the torture turkeys endure before they end up on the table. The pig who became the Christmas ham was treated the same. Maybe worse. It's a toss up when we compare versions of hell on earth.

Like turkeys, pigs are 'factory farmed.' This means they are warehoused by the hundreds of thousands in conditions so confining they live constantly in their own feces, vomit, and urine. The animals never see sunlight, or feel grass. The rank and nauseating atmosphere inside the sheds, a build up of noxious gasses as the feces, vomit, and urine accumulate, is so powerful that pilots, 3 miles up, can smell it, according to an article in Rolling Stone (Dec. 14, 2006). Imagine what the pigs, whose noses are far more sensitive than those of humans, suffer. Consider also that pigs are naturally very clean, so there is a deleterious psychological component of living in constant filth.

Respiratory diseases are rampant among the pigs--about 75% have pneumonia, or some other lung ailment their entire lives: gastroenteritis, salmonellosis, and parvovirus also afflict them. The animals are pumped full of drugs constantly to keep them alive long enough to reach slaughter weight. For those unfortunate to survive the full torture term (about 6 months), live transport follows, another version of confinement hell, since the 'hog industry' packs the animals as tightly as possible in the trucks, in tiers. In freezing weather, the pigs against the walls freeze to the sides of the truck and have to pulled or cut loose. They scream in pain and then the pigs are beaten with rods to force them into the slaughterhouse. Thousands desperately try to get away, jostling and tumbling over each others' bodies. Hung upside down, struggling and screaming, they next feel the knife that slits the throat. If the worker misses, the pig goes into the scalding tank alive (about a third are boiled alive).

Over the holidays, I've seen the Charlotte's Web trailers on TV. That cute little pink piggy face, with its wriggling nose. In reality, piglets go through torture similar to that of baby turkeys (see my "Grinch" article). They are castrated without anesthetic. I have seen videos of the poor little creatures dragging their bloody bottoms on the floor to try to relieve the pain. The piglets also have their teeth knocked out or broken off with pliers so they will not savage each other under the conditions of unbearably close confinement. Similarly, their tails are chopped off without anesthetic, to prevent tail biting, an abnormal behavior brought on by the massive overcrowding. Instead of doing any preventing, however, the sadists that we call 'hog farmers' leave a stump that is so sensitive, the pigs are in more agony (New York Times Magazine, Nov. 10, 2002).

Nothing about any of this is 'normal.' It is a designer hell engineered by the minds of humans. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has a campaign which compares our treatment of animals to the way the Nazis treated the Jews in their own 'confinement camps.' PETA says that we are the Nazis in the world of the animals. I would say that we treat animals far worse than the Nazis treated the Jews. Factory farms for pigs are worse than concentration camp hells. And the numbers are much greater: 10 billion food animals per year, just in the U.S. alone, are subjected to these unbearable conditions, not a paltry 6 million. (Eternal Treblinka, one writer calls these animal hells.)

Sows are keep constantly pregnant, which destroys their bodies, and imprisoned in 'gestation crates,' spaces so small they cannot turn around at all, and can barely lie down. For four months, they endure this immobilization, go insane from it, in fact, as they constantly bite their bars in a vain effort to relieve the misery and boredom. Highly intelligent and curious and active and playful, under normal conditions, these pigs live in extremes of mental desperation. Only once was I able to look into the eyes of a sow in her gestation crate. In them was deep misery. I also think that I saw pity in them, but I'm not sure whether it was for her or for me. Ever since I was a child, I have either imagined or really seen pity in the eyes of animals. I think it is for us, the insane species. The man who started Greenpeace says he has seen the same pity in the eyes of whales as we hunt them.

In videos, I have seen the sores and wounds all over the pigs' bodies, pigs with huge tumors, dead pigs left in pens with the living ones, half-dead ones, barely clinging to life, left to die, since they are too weak to crawl to food or water. In one PETA video shot at a North Carolina pig farm, a worker is beating a sow who has her foot caught in a slat. As she convulses and shakes and screams, unable to get away from him, the worker says savagely to her, "Give it up already, b***h, give it up already." I don't know quite what she is supposed to give up? Her life? Her dignity?

Earthlings, a documentary about how humans torture animals, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, shows a haunting sequence of pigs being beaten, with rods, to get them out of the trucks and into the slaughterhouse. Frantic and screaming, they fall and stumble all over each other as the rods come down on their backs, their noses (breaking them). The background music is opera. It was a scene that reminded me of Wurtmuller's Nazi Valkyrie sequence in Seven Beauties. PETA's parallel could not be clearer. We are the Nazi's in the world of the animals.

The pigs know what is being done to them. You can see it in their eyes. You can also see the question: "Why are you doing this to us?"

When I quiz my fellow Americans, at a Christmas dinnertable, they know nothing of the previous life, and death, of the turkey or pig. The animal came to them in cellophane, or plastic, so I guess these people think that the animal was born that way?--in the freezer at the supermarket it spontaneously generated in its piece of cellophane? It would not surprise me. Scientists are now trying to engineer pigs with no feet--they will simply be round 'hams' at birth--on the theory that, under factory confinement conditions, the pigs don't need feet--they're not going anywhere. I guess the workers will roll them, and beat them, to slaughter, with their rods. (Reminds me of the poor little Chinese girl with bound feet in Broken Trail--sold as a piece of sex meat and not even any feet to run away from her torturers.)

I will spend New Years far away from people. I'll spend it with the animals I have rescued from other humans. I hope the pity in my animals' eyes will nudge me gently into the New Year.

I took my material from a number of websites: PETA, Farm Sanctuary, Viva! and Animal Aid (two UK groups), MFA (Mercy for Animals), and Vegan OutReach. Earthlings is excellent, the best animal advocacy documentary I have ever seen, and can be ordered through PETA.

An afternote on Charlotte's Web: I don't know how the animals were treated during the filming of this movie, but I do know that most of the 800 or so animals used in Babe, including the series of baby pigs who 'played' the title character, were sent to slaughter.

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