Prime Epiphanies:
The Piglet Who Changed the Meaning of 'What's for Dinner?'

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Prime Epiphanies:
The Piglet Who Changed the Meaning of 'What's for Dinner?'

By Ingrid Newkirk, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)

Then it hit me. How could I pay someone to hurt one pig, when here I was trying to prosecute other people for doing the same sort of thing to another?

When I was a humane officer in Maryland, my job was to bring prosecutions for cruelty to animals. I had been called out to an abandoned farm and found the place in a mess. A dog had been left on a chain and had somehow survived. The horses and pigs had not. The barn was littered with broken bottles, left by the departing occupants of the farmhouse in the wake of a drunken party. In some stalls, the animals had cut their legs to ribbons on the shards before dying.

Just as I was leaving the dark barn, I saw a movement back in the corner. There, I found a little pig, too frail to stand. I took him in my arms and carried him out into the fresh air and, laying him down under a tree, went to the pump to get some water.

He was too weak to raise his head, but he sipped the drops of water from my fingers, making little grunting noises of what could only be gratitude and relief. I sat with him, talking to him until the van came to take him and the dog to the veterinary clinic. I had to stay to look for anything pointing to the whereabouts of the people who had done this to him and his fellows so that I could charge the family with cruelty.

That evening, driving home, I began to think of what I could cook for dinner. I had pork chops in the freezer. Then it hit me. How could I pay someone to hurt one pig, when here I was trying to prosecute other people for doing the same sort of thing to another? I didn’t know then that pigs are routinely castrated to prevent injuries from their fellow inmates who have become enraged by confinement. I hadn’t yet visited a slaughterhouse, but like anyone with a functional brain, I knew full well that they must be appalling places if you happen to have been born an animal labeled “food.”

Thanks to steady sales pitches and dishonest advertising, when someone asks, “What’s for dinner?” the mental image often conjured up is that of the prepared pot roast or chicken drumstick, not of who went before it. No one thinks, “A pig!” and starts imagining what it must have been like for that animal at the moment when he watched his fellows being killed by the machine or the knife just ahead of him in that strange, frightening place. We are used to a world in which we accept the Oscar Mayer jingle, during which children gathered around the “Weinermobile” sing happily about how they would like to be a hot dog-a world in which parents scream bloody murder, not at the butcher and at the company exploiting their children, but at the “spoilsport” idealist climbing atop the giant hot dog on wheels with a sign reading, “Pigs Are Friends, Not Food.” It is all quite mad.

Not long after the rescue of the little pig, I read the groundbreaking book Animal Liberation by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. This book had a profound effect on me and radically changed my way of thinking about animals.

All my life, I’d thought that we should treat animals as kindly as possible within the context of using them. It wasn’t until I read Peter Singer’s book that I began to realize that maybe they were not ours to use at all. Perhaps animals weren’t here just as accessories to the human lifestyle, maybe they weren’t merely walking hamburgers and handbags and amusements. I came to believe that animals have an intrinsic worth all their own, that they are not inferior to human beings but rather just different. Surely, as turn-of-the-century philosopher Henry Beston first stated and Singer reiterated, animals are “not [our] underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time ….”

I don’t know about you, but if I were to invite another nation’s representatives to dinner, I wouldn’t dream of turning them into the main course.