Killing "Happy" Pigs Is "Welfarish" and Isn't Just Fine

A new book called "Pig Tales" could make a huge difference in meal plans

Posted May 07, 2015

A new book called Pig Tales: An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat by bestselling author Barry Estabrook is a very well written work that deserves a wide audience (the Kindle edition can be found here). By writing about what we know from scientific research and stories about the cognitive and emotional lives of pigs -- how smart and emotional they are -- Mr. Estabrook makes the case that these amazing sentient beings simply have to be treated much better than they are on the way to people's mouth (for more on the fascinating lives of pigs please see Sy Montgomery's "The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood" and "Babe, Lettuce, and Tomato: Dead Pig Walking").

On the inside cover we read that Pig Tales is "An eye-opening exploration of the commercial pork industry that tells you how you can bring home the bacon without compromising your conscience." But, how can one's conscience not be compromised when a meal includes a nonhuman animal (animal) who didn't have to be killed. Let's face it, even if the pigs who are killed were once "happy pigs," they're being killed for thoroughly unnecessary meals and their death is a major harm. 

No one has to eat a pig

I just want to make a few comments that came to mind as I read Pig Tales. First, the title surely is catchy, but let's face it, no one has to eat a pig. Furthermore, while Mr. Estabrook rightly criticizes the way in which pigs (and billions of other animals) are reared -- read, egregiously mistreated and abused -- on factory farms, these killing fields (that cause major ecological devastation; see, for example, Cowspiracy) and corridors/chutes of hell are not really farms and the animals are not farmed with any concern for their well-being. Rather, they are produced, some would say manufactured, and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics to make them more productive, all in the name of money. So, the correct way to refer to pigs and other "factory farmed" animals would be to call them "factory manufactured" animals. Some might call them "products," but this derogatory word robs them of whom they truly are, namely, sentient and feeling beings who care about what happens to them (as Mr. Estabrook clearly shows). And, of course, being killed for food is not sustainable for the individuals themselves.

Pig Tales is quite Grandinesque

Mr. Estabrook often relies on the work of Colorado State University's rock star, Temple Grandin, who has designed what she calls the "stairway to heaven" for cows on their way to being killed by having a bolt driven into their brain. But, using phrases like "the stairway to heaven" is an incredibly lame, misleading, and insufficient way of sanitizing what these "food animals" experience from the time they're born to the time they're slaughtered. And, even if a tiny percentage of the cows have a "better life" before being killed, their life is not anything resembling even a marginally "good life," one that we would allow, for example, companion dogs or cats to experience. In fact, their lives are marked by constant fear, terror, and anxiety (please see "Going to slaughter: Should animals hope to meet Temple Grandin" and "My Beef With Temple Grandin: Seemingly Humane Isn't Enough"). Their utterly miserable life on factory farms is only part of the egregious abuse to which these remarkable sentient beings are continually subjected. 

I mention Dr. Grandin because not only does she fully endorse killing happy animals and works to make their lives even "happier" before they're killed, but also because Mr. Estabrook notes, "Although she is famous for designing humane slaughterhouses for cattle" (p. 230), Dr. Grandin did her Ph.D. research on pigs and created what she called "a Disneyland for pigs," where pigs played with balls and other objects and were calmer than pigs raised in barren stalls. The phrases "a Disneyland for pigs" and "stairway to heaven" are used to deflect attention away from the fact that these animals are to wind up on a plate and that it's just fine because they supposedly were "happy" before they were killed. Raising "happy animals" and then killing them is an easily avoidable double-cross. For more on this topic please see "Should We Kill Happy Animals?," an essay I wrote about philosopher Tatjana Visak's book called Killing Happy Animals.

Making animals happy before killing them is "welfarish"

In a book I'm writing with Psychology Today writer Jessica Pierce on what it means for a nonhuman to be free, we came up with the word "welfarish" to describe how attempts to make an animal's life better in the process of their being used and abused for human ends are truly only "sort of okay." People are doing the best they can do, they say, but they "have to do what their doing" for one reason or another, so it's important to try to reduce the suffering that individual animals endure. Being "welfarish" still allows for incredible harm. 

However, "good welfare" -- being "welfarish" -- is not good enough because there is an incredible amount of totally avoidable pain, suffering, and death that could be eliminated if we stopped using animals in the ways we choose to use them. Wayne Pacelle, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), is quoted by Mr. Estabrook as saying (p. 231)," ... we are not seeking to end animal agriculture ... Meat eating is here to stay ... If someone's going to eat meat, we want them to get the highest-welfare product." Of course, the "highest-welfare product" still once was a feeling and sentient being who was killed unnecessarily for an unneeded meal. 

Would you do it to your dog? Esther, a pig, is "every bit as dear as Fido"

I want to end by referring readers to a wonderful essay called "Esther the Wonder Pig is wondrous indeed — but so are all pigs" by former pig farmer Bob Comis. Mr. Comis writes, "The videos and photographs of Esther elevate her from an abstract idea (practically none of us have any direct experience with pigs) to a real, concrete, individuated being, placing her, in terms of our ability to relate with and to her, on par with the family dog. Esther is clearly a unique individual being, with interests that are personal and particular, and that should be fostered and protected. She has great emotional, psychological and intellectual capacities. She is a being that one can bond with. Esther is every bit as dear as Fido."

Mr. Comis also writes, "During 10 years as a pig farmer I came to know pigs as well as I know my own dog. That's why I quit."

I often ask people, "Would you do it to a dog?" when referring to the reprehensible ways we treat other animals and, after a brief pause, they get it. They come to realize I'm asking this question because the billions of the other animals who are abused for this reason or that, for example "in the name of science, food, clothing, or entertainment," are indeed sentient beings who suffer just like Fido suffers.

Mr. Estabrook, who thinks raising, killing, and eating pigs is sustainable and okay, clearly loves them, so I'm glad he doesn't love me. As I wrote above, Pig Tales is a very well written book that deserves a wide audience. Books and essays written for a broad audience are often much more effective in getting people to make changes in how they view and use other animals (please see for example, "Bipartisan Support to Protect "Food Animals" from Torture"), so I hope that those who do read it will simply remove pigs (and other animals) from their meal plans (please also see "The Modern Savage: A New Book Questions Why We Eat Animals"). Indeed, Mr. Estabrook provides more than enough reasons why we should eliminate pigs from our meal plans rather than eat them. 

No one has to eat a pig, so let's just stop doing it. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservationWhy dogs hump and bees get depressed, and Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistenceThe Jane effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson) has recently been published. (marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)