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Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 4, part one.

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 4:  Meat and Milk Factories, part one

Dear Peter and Jim,

Feels like we just spoke yesterday, doesn't it?  Now here's a funny thing.  Chapter 3 of The Ethics of What We Eat was a mere six pages long.  Chapter 4, Meat and Milk Factories, on the other hand, is so long that I'll be writing you two separate letters about it!  Today we'll talk about pigs, and we'll save milk cows for tomorrow eh?

First things first, I must thank you for giving me a magnificent new word: "mega-piggeries."  Somehow I've never come across it before, but rest assured I will be using it henceforth at every possible instance.  It is so very apt, particularly when we talk about the waste produced by industrial pig farms.  In as far a cry as can be conceived from Wendell Berry's ideal zero-waste farm, mega-piggeries in the US (per your explanation) create half a million pounds of urine and excrement per day.  Perhaps we should call them mega-pooperies?  (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)

Given the sheer numbers of animals and their waste at these factories, it's no wonder that these operations are considered a public health nuisance.  And of course, for the animals, these places are sheer misery.  As you explain early in the chapter, "[t]here is no federal law governing the welfare of farmed animals" before they are being transported for slaughter.  This sentiment is particularly chilling: "Most states with major animal industries have written into their anti-cruelty laws exemptions for "common farming practices."  Effectively, then, cruelty is legal as long as it is done by most farmers, and you can't prosecute anyone for it."  Oof.

This weekend I'll be seeing Temple Grandin speak at the Farm to Table International Conference in New Orleans.  She likes to speak about "bad becoming normal," which is very much what this sounds like.  "Everyone else is doing it" is such a common human justification used for all kinds of atrocities.  And too often, those who speak out against an injustice that is common are then named as the problem.  Why are we so much more content to demonize those who speak out than to admit that we might be doing something wrong?

You made an offhand parenthetical about language use around animals: "Is it part of the gulf we draw between ourselves and other animals that leads to talk of animals as "farrowing" rather than "giving birth," "feeding" rather than "eating," and "gestating" rather than "being pregnant"?"  To answer this question, YES.  Our culture rather adores using language to create a sense of "other."  Whether it's calling Africans "savages" to justify enslaving them; calling people who have been or who are in jail "felons," "criminals," "convicts," "jail birds," or "ex-cons;" or calling food from animals "pork" and "beef" instead of pig and cow; we are constantly using language to deny that beings we deem "other" than us deserve to be treated with respect - or that they even deserve to live free from harm.

I've never gotten to meet a pig, but here's a whole pig family living at Farm Sanctuary (courtesy of Your Daily Vegan).  The mama pig here, Julia, was rescued from a factory where she was being used for breeding.  From what I hear, pigs are good people - they don't deserve to be forced into being baby factories.  They don't deserve to be killed for our pleasure.  No one does.

I'd now like to turn to the Curious Case of Wayne Bradley, a pig farmer that y'all discuss meeting in the book.  Each of his claims is so easily argued against it's almost unreal.  One wonders if he ever allows himself to be exposed to ideas contrary to his own.  To wit:
  • He claims that pigs are better off in confined, filthy sheds because they can freeze outside.  Easy argument: Why not give them the choice of being inside or outside as needed based on the weather?  Answer: money.
  • He claims that the animals couldn't possibly be abused because the babies are cute.  Easy argument: Abuse doesn't stop baby animals from being cute.  NOTHING stops baby animals from being cute.  THEY'RE BABY ANIMALS.  Why not just stop abusing them?  Answer: money.
  • He claims that if he could go to the dentist and have work done without anesthetic as a young man, it's OK to castrate male pigs without anesthetic.  Easy argument: You CHOSE to go to the dentist for your own benefit!  These animals are being castrated so that you can make money on their dead bodies!  That's a pretty big difference.  Why not just use some damn anesthetic?  Answer: money.  "There's not a dollar a pig to throw away."
  • He claims that he must crop the pigs' tails to prevent them biting each other.  Easy argument: they only bite each other because they're crammed into a shed; letting them outside would also stop them biting each other.  Why not give them more space?  Answer: money.
Anyone else noticing a trend here?

My very, very favorite piece of the Wayne Bradley section is the concluding paragraph he asked y'all to include.  All I can say is, wow.
Raising pigs today is so much improved over methods used by our great-grandparents, and the meat that we consume is so much leaner and healthier for us to eat!  The highest-quality standard of 'the other white mean' is the goal of USA pork production in the 21st century.  Let's thank the American farmer for a solid science-based industry that includes good animal care while being good stewards of the environment.  Let's enjoy that pork chop hot off the grill, or that pork roast with potatoes and carrots, because there's no safer food source than USA-raised pigs for the pork consumers in the USA and other countries which import our pork!
Yes, Mr. Bradly, you have most definitely drunk the mega-piggery Kool-Aid.

Alright, I'll see y'all tomorrow.  We'll talk about the milk industry.  It'll be good times.

until then,
melissa b.

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