By lauren Ornelas, Food
The first time I ever saw footage of a mother pig, in a more natural environment, making a nest for her babies, it brought me to tears realizing the frustration they must feel in farrowing crates.
To commemorate my 25th year of being a vegan, I have decided to share some stories from various investigations I have done of factory farms, auctions, and slaughterhouses. Though these investigations were conducted with the organization I started and ran, Viva!USA, they are a powerful part of my life and hopefully will help many understand why veganism is a key part to Food Empowerment Project’s goal of a more just food system.
Charlotte’s Web is one of those books that made a lasting impact on me. This book not only made me think twice about animals who are killed, but gave me a longtime appreciation for spiders. What is most pertinent about this book today is that the whole point was Wilbur wanted to live – it wasn’t about his living conditions, it was simply about his desire to stay alive. And it also showed us strong and compassionate females.
My first investigation of a pig farm was down in Southern Georgia (I was living in Atlanta at the time). Here on a very small pig farm, I saw firsthand mother pigs in gestation crates and farrowing crates. The haunting images of pigs in crates so small they could not turn around was no longer on video or in a photo – I was face to face with the reality.
The mamma pigs (remember, they are pregnant when they are in the gestation crates) banging their noses on the bars – over and over. Some of the larger pigs lay on their sides, struggling to move. These pigs were probably further along in their pregnancies.
Their boredom and their frustration were not something that anyone could question. Day after day these pigs had nothing but bars to bite on, and they hit their noses against the doors. They stood on cement slatted flooring. Nothing to do all day and night.
Though I have never been pregnant, such an experience is not necessary to understand how uncomfortable these mothers were and how much they desperately needed to be comfortable.
From there, we were able to walk into a building where the mammas were in the farrowing crates. Pigs are moved from gestation crates to the farrowing crates before they give birth.
Here in these crates, where again they cannot turn around or move, they give birth to their babies. And here, I saw anguish in their eyes.
These crates are still legal almost everywhere.
The first time I ever saw footage of a mother pig, in a more natural environment, making a nest for her babies, it brought me to tears realizing the frustration they must feel in farrowing crates. All of the desire of these mothers to create a comfortable and warm place to have her babies—not to mention a desire for natural movements — is prevented.
Some farmers claim if they did not put the pigs in these crates, they would crush their babies. Can you imagine? How ludicrous is that? That would mean that pigs would have died out a LONG time ago. If a species constantly killed their young, I would imagine they would have gone extinct or would have evolved differently. But I guess the farmers want a pat on the back for saving the pigs, right?
Outrageous. But these types of unbelievable myths continue to thrive.
Charts on the farm wall indicated how many piglets lived and how many died. Clearly, their solution to nature wasn’t exactly working either. But the lives of these animals were just numbers.
I traveled to North Carolina (the second-largest pig-killing state in the US) to investigate more farms. My goal of course was to show how the living conditions of these animals don’t vary by the size or location of the farms.
In one area, I found what is called the “nursery,” which is where the piglets are kept before they get to the “fattening” area. This “nursery” was full of cobwebs (clearly not because Charlotte was trying to save their lives) and although the piglets were unbearably cute, there were some who were dead. The dead among the living – a regular scene on industrialized animal factories.
Shed after shed, I saw pigs in smaller pens within large sheds. Here I videotaped a pig with a leg injury – his leg so swollen he had trouble lying down. I watched helplessly as a pig with a huge, black ulceration died – right in front of me. Nearby I saw the putrefied corpse of a pig; what I thought was a plastic bag behind her turned out to be a small, thin pig who was left in the middle of the alley, without food or water.
Treating living beings as commodities is not just something that we as advocates say, it is reality.
I could cite studies and reports examining how intelligent pigs are, but I shouldn’t have to. I could dispel the myths about pigs being “dirty,” but I shouldn’t have to. Pigs, like all animals, deserve to live out their lives free of exploitation and suffering at our hands, and that should be enough to get all of us to stop eating them and go vegan.
Wilbur asked Charlotte, “Why did you do all this for me? I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
I hope one day we can truly be friends to all animals.