I took my New York City born-and-raised cousin to Farm Sanctuary's shelter over the weekend. He was interested in the work I do, so I thought I'd introduce him to the cows, pigs, and chickens living in freedom at the sanctuary, and then haul him over to the local college farm and show him the pigs in crammed stalls and expose him to grisly slaughterhouse techniques.
My plan: to have him make friends with the animals first and then give him a behind-the-scenes perspective -- show him how animals are made for his plate. That would get him. He'd be a vegetarian by the time he headed home.
So off to the shelter we went, my cousin, Tony, unaware of my lethal strategy -- like a lamb to the slaughter. What he knew about animals prior to that beautiful spring day were his veal dinners and his fried chicken sandwiches.
I was about to rock his world. Despite his Italian background, he had a sensitive side. And I was certain, as I am of anything, that one look into a pig farrowing house would be the end of his bacon breakfasts. One minute in front of the calf stalls, and he'd give up his ice cream sundaes. One step inside the slaughterhouse -- with its pulleys and knives and meat hooks, its refrigeration rooms crammed with barrels of discarded, inedible animal hooves and eyes and bloody hides and the like -- and he'd never eat anything made out of an animal again.
But first the setup.
Farm Sanctuary was the picture of peace upon our arrival. Tony was anxious to get started, and I was anxious to get it over with, so there'd be plenty of daylight left for our trip to the college farm. While he took pictures, I pressed to hurry him along.
We stopped to watch two white chickens carefully pecking at each other's feathers. Tony took pictures enjoying the antics. I, of course, noticed their rubbed-away feathers, their severed beaks, their ingrown toes, but I didn't say a word to Tony. I'd rather he saw them in cages, the way they are just before he eats them.
He was especially taken by the female turkey who followed him around until I explained she was hoping he'd scratch her belly. He did, like a little boy at a petting farm, with not a clue about the gruesome truth I planned to show him later. "What's that?" he asked at one point, and I turned to follow his focus. A tom turkey, I had to explain. My dear, sweet cousin was in for a shock. If he didn't know a male turkey when he saw one, he'd be mortified when he saw what I had yet to show him.
Though I pressured him to move along, he didn't seem to heed. He spent nearly an hour with the pigs, scratching their backs, taking their pictures, offering them straw he'd found. "They really do lie around in mud," he observed. "Ah, it's a pig's life!" I didn't share with him how grotesquely overweight the pigs were; so heavy, in fact, some of them could barely sustain their own weight. Nor did I point to their leg deformities and strained walking. He would see soon enough the farrow house at the college farm, where sows were crammed into caged stalls and forced to pump out piglets, as one farmer put it, "like sausage machines."
The cows came home, as it were, from the hillsides and visited the barn as I was urging Tony to follow me to the car. He met Henry, a former veal calf, and after taking the animal's picture said, "Look at those eyes. They're almost unreal."
In my world, they were unreal. The cow eyes at the dairy, he would see, were filled with fear and anguish. And they would never come close enough for him to touch. He giggled like a schoolboy while Henry licked his fingers with a big, raspy tongue.
Finally, after a couple of hours, Tony seemed ready to go. He was no longer the anxious-to-get-started young man I'd brought to the sanctuary. I knew I should have dragged him away sooner, so he wouldn't be so tired, too tired to see the reality of his food choices from a different perspective.
"This has been quite a day," he said, getting into the car with me. He stored his camera, and added, "What shall we do now? How about lunch or something? A salad would be best. I don't think I'll ever eat anything made out of animal again."
Keep fighting the good fight.
And remember: It doesn't always have to go our way.