By the end of the traffic jam, we were down to 52. Yeah; I know people who would kill for that, but for us it's disappointing. And it took an hour and forty minutes to go thirty miles.
But that wasn't the worst of it. For some considerable chunk of that 100 minutes, I moved along side a truck transporting pigs to an abattoir. The temperature on the highway had to have been 102F at least, and the poor pigs were becoming ham before they were even dead. Some of them poked their noses out of the grating, trying desperately to get some fresh air. Some were fighting. Some were biting the metal grille on the side of the truck. Fortunately for me, Vera's recirculation system works splendidly, so I didn't have to breath pig perfume; but I was so upset by this experience that I burst into tears right there on Central Expressway, and sobbed uncontrollably for a good ten minutes.
There's nothing like the spectacle of abject suffering to open one's eyes to the ultimate insensitivity of modern "civilized" human beings. How could we possibly allow another creature to suffer like that, just for a cheap pork chop?
That night, as I downed a bratwurst at the ball game (rationalizing my enjoyment by noting that this particular pig had not died in vain, and that it would probably be the last mass-processed pig product I ever ate), I discussed the problem with the Beloved Spouse and my daughter, and reflected on the Culture of Anonymous Meat.
Mind you, this is essentially what led me to my vegetarian days when my children were growing up. For fourteen years I ate no meat except that which had been killed by friends, or fish that had been caught by relatives. I've actually got nothing against eating meat; rather, I thought that unless I had the guts to kill it (or at least knew who killed it), I didn't have the right to eat it. Later, I tried to eat organic and/or sustainably raised meat and poultry, which has become easier and easier to do. Sometimes "all natural" is the best I could do, but I've at least tried to be conscious of what I was doing. Eating responsibly has, at the very least, to include being mindful of where your food originates and how it's processed.
I think that one reason this situation was off my radar is that 1) my vegetarian years were also Kosher years, so pigs didn't factor into any consideration of carnivorism at all and 2) the pigs I'd known in Taiwan lived happy, sloppy lives before being swiftly dispatched not far from where they'd been raised.
Coincidentally enough, this morning I was reading an old issue of the British version of Country Living (August 2008), which featured an article on commercial pig-farming in England, and noted that "The pig, along with the chicken, is the most abused of all farm animals--sheep graze year round and cows only overwinter in a barn, while most pigs live in concrete prisons" for their entire lives. And while neither sheep nor cows are particularly gifted intellectually, pigs are pretty bloody smart--which makes their torture all the more alarming. All this mistreatment leads to "bland and flabby" meat "devoid of character," according to the author (smallholder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)--and (to prevent infections in close quarters) it's laced with antibiotics. So why are we eating this stuff at all?
Perhaps it's because we're just ignorant of how bad things really are. After all, many of us are now aware of how "milk-fed veal" gets treated and haven't touched that in years. So I'm hoping that most people are just uninformed. But if it's willful ignorance, more people need to be stuck beside a pig-transport on a hot day. Without air conditioning.
Complacency is in some ways a coping device in a complex, problem-ridden world. I do harbor hope that most people tend to wake up when faced with information that exposes that complacency (things like vast oil spills, perhaps). So in case anyone reading this isn't quite up on the nature of pig farming in these United States, or if you don't believe me about how bad factory pig farming is, read this article from BoingBoing (Big factory pig farms are some of America's worst polluters)--but don't go there unless you're prepared to be horrified.
None of this is necessary. For information on bettering the lot of pigs, and sources of humanely raised pork, see the following:
- Hog Production Alternatives, from the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology).
- US Wellness Meats (all kinds)
- Niman Ranch All Natural Meats (with information on husbandry practices)
Image credit: Sow and piglet, by Scott Bauer, via Wikimedia Commons. At very least, this mom seems to be out rooting--something factory-farmed pigs don't get to do.