Monday, November 12, 2007

Are we nice to the animals?

Sean asked me, "From your posts, you seem committed to producing the highest quality meat for your customers with the best, most humane methods. However, you couch all concerns of the treatment of your animals in terms of the quality of the finished product. Do you strive to treat your animals well, over and above activity that will ensure a quality product? How can you reconcile the relationship you develop with these animals with the act of slaughtering them for food? Do you own pets?

I'm not trying to insult you but merely trying to understand what I, as a vegan, see as the cognitive dissonance of people like you who are intimately connected with both the raising and slaughtering of food animals."


Those are important questions.

Yes, I do strive to treat the animals well, especially the breeding stock. So does Gary, the herdsman.

We give them treats. We've bought them toys, which is ridiculously sentimental by the standards of other farmers - the pigs destroy them immediately anyway.

I try to pet the pigs, the way kids want to pet animals in a petting zoo. When I was with the Mangalitsa yesterday, I was shocked at how beautiful they are, and how great it is to have them out roaming around, despite the fact that it is expensive and difficult to manage them. We have to do everything on "pig time", not our own schedule.

We have personal relationships with the breeding stock. The breeding stock all have numbers (or in the case of boars, names), so you know, for instance, that Hans is very calm, Franz is skittish but a great worker, sow 25 is very friendly and demanding of food, that sow 5 is very protective (and bites) and that sow 22 has a particularly nice personality. They are essentially our pets.

When it comes down to slaughtering animals for food, it depends a lot on how it is done. I wish I didn't have to send them to USDA slaughter, where they tend not to get treated very well - especially in small plants. I've explained that here - small and local, in the slaughterhouse business, normally means that the slaughterhouse won't have the best lairage systems.

I don't feel bad at all about properly done on-farm slaughter. From the animal welfare perspective, it couldn't be better.

The eating of the breeding stock is an issue that probably bothers you. If they are like pets, why eat them?

What do you do with a retired 350 lb pet, that say, has serious arthritis, or is going around, biting the vulvas and eating the babies of the other pigs? All I can see is that you move the pig to a pig sanctuary. But there's no way a sanctuary can take all the pigs you might want to give it; the animals simply eat too much and need too much space.

You could euthanize them and bury them (with a nice grave marker), but then all that great meat would be wasted. You don't want to waste the meat. If I can't bear to eat the meat, you can bet that the folks who manage the pigs, who are essentially subsistence farmers, want to eat the meat. Even if they don't, Mangalitsa tastes so incredibly good that people would probably get angry at us if the animals didn't get eaten. You could give the animal to charity and raise a lot of money.


Molly said...

I really like your perspective here. I'm glad the question was asked. I was wondering myself how your raising standards were because you seem very sentimental toward the pigs.

Your standards are unique in the business you are in. You seem to have great respect for the Mangalitsa pigs and appreciate what they bring you (and us as humans in general). I find it great that you have the sense to still find use for a retired pig as silly as it seems to keep a pig around for sentimental reasons, you or someone who could/would eat the meat can find great use for the meat. Sometimes people do silly things for the sake of sentiments.... burying the pig would be a waste of its life/purpose.

Heath said...


Most big farmers aren't sentimental towards the animals, but most small farmers are.

Unless an animal is hostile or irritating, it is hard not to like them. The more time you spend with them, the more you know them, and vice versa.

My obsession with meat quality, and how to achieve it, probably seems cold and clinical. It is, yet it exists simultaneously with a genuine appreciation of the animals.

You can really like the animals, yet still be hoping they'll taste really good.

It is also possible to dislike animals and have malice towards them.

E.g. the skittish or crazy one that attacks, but you keep her around because she's got suckling babies to feed. You'll be thinking, I'm going to eat you - as soon as your babies are on their own, we will eat you.

That gets especially bad if you develop a relationship with the animal where she's attacking you regularly. That usually happens with some. E.g. we have to watch #17 (she bites), but #5 seems to be the most dangerous. She's bitten at least two humans on separate occasions, one of them severely. She's risky to have around.

Kevin Kossowan said...

I believe Heath's in the best position one can be in to truly understand where the food comes from. I kill and butcher the meat I eat too - I think it's a 'normal' and healthy thing to do.

In my mind, whether you eat plants, plant parts, animals, animal parts - something's gotta give for you to have calories to live. Something is being effaced from its existence on the planet to get into your stomach if you plan to see next month. It's the way the world turns.

Rafe said...

I'd add that all of these lovable domesticated animals would not exist if they were not raised to be eaten. So if we were all vegans, we wouldn't be slaughtering animals for food, but it's not as though the animals in question would lead free and happy lives. They simply wouldn't be around at all.

Charlotte said...

Exactly Rafe -- and it seems to me a bigger shame to allow whole breeds/species to become extinct than it does a moral problem to eat a pig that had a happy piggy life somewhere like Wooly Pig. For me, the question is never meat/no-meat, but meat raised by real people vs. CAFO meat...

Heath said...

charlotte: in response to your remark about "it seems to me a bigger shame to allow whole breeds/species to become extinct..."

Some of the heritage varieties don't seem to be optimal for anything anymore. Like the potatoes that split. It is hard to justify paying to keep them around.

Another problem is what about "heritage breeds" that transform so much that they aren't recognizable? Do you preserve those breeds in their transformed state, their original state, or some state in between?

E.g. the Berkshire used to look like a Mangalitsa. Now it looks totally different.

That's one reason why I discount the fact that the Berkshire is the oldest American breed: today's Berkshire has very different meat than the originals.

The breed is the oldest due to the breeders being willing to change the pigs' characteristics as the market changed. Had they not transformed the pigs, the Berkshire would have gone the way of the Mulefoot Hog.

All that matters to me is that today's Berkshire is a very good tasting pig.

I don't play up the "preserving the Mangalitsa breed" angle to my business. I don't think that works with enough people to make it go. I am quite happy to help preserve the breed though. There are very few lard-type pigs left.

gfrancione said...

I would like to share two comments with you.

First, the notion that these animals would not exist if we did not bring them into existence so that we could eat them does not answer the moral question. Indeed, it begs the question whether we ought to be facilitating the creation of sentient beings who are clearly subjectively aware and have interests in continued existence, and then killing those beings for our pleasure.

Consider the following: would it be morally acceptable to clone humans we raised "humanely" and then killed so that we could use their organs? Assume that these humans are mentally-challenged and are not cognitively capable of knowing that they will be killed for this purpose. They would have only the "purpose" of being used to help "normal" people; they would not exist but for this use. Would that be morally acceptable? If not, why is it morally acceptable to treat pigs in this instrumental fashion?

Is it because we are "superior" to them? If that is the explanation, what, exactly, does that mean? Is it because we buy into a religious superstition that we have "souls" and they do not?

2. There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that plants are sentient. Plants do not have interests. There is nothing a plant desires, wants, or prefers. Plants do not have minds. There is no doubt that pigs are cognitively sophisticated animals who are subjectively aware and have an interest in continued existence.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Heath said...


I'm surprised you found this blog and commented on it. How is that?

In any case, I'm happy that you found it and took the time to comment.

1. I've considered the issue of cloned humans being used in a utilitarian fasion by "normal" humans, and have concluded that I wouldn't have a moral problem with it. I've been mulling this issue over the last year or so - I've given it some thought.

When it comes to pigs, I would say they have a lot more in common with humans than most people know. I've become convinced that a lot of behaviors that we think of as fundamentally humans are probably more general mammalian (or just animal) traits.

2. My point in mentioning the varieties of potatoes was merely to point out that the breed preservationists are sometimes ridiculous in hoping to preserve breeds that have no conceivable economic niche.

That's a separate issue from whether or not you kill the animals whose progeny you don't want. Theoretically, someone might be against the killing of individual animals, but then organize the elimination of a particular breed (by restricting or controlling breeding). Someone who likes to preserve breeds would think that was evil, while someone who just cares that individual animals not die due to the whims of humans might find that just fine.

Walter Jeffries said...

Over on Living Small Charlotte mentioned this post. I don't see any cognitive dissonance raising animals to eat. I have no guilt over eating another be they mineral, plant or animal. Everybody eats to live. That is the nature of Nature.

Plants eat. We eat plants. Animals eat plants or other animals. We eat other animals. We in our turn will be eaten by plants, bacteria and worms - assuming you don't go for the wasteful cremation or preservation routes or perhaps tangle with another animal that eats you. It is the cycle of life.

I raise pigs, scratch them behind the ears, rub their backs, talk to them and make sure that they have a good life out on our pastures. When the time comes they will die for me - I cherish them both in their life and their death. Good life. Good food. A better life for them means better quality food for us and the customers of our small family farm.

I am a bit less tolerant than Heath on pigs that bite. I cull hard for temperament in all our animals. The safety of me and my family is far more important than the life of an animal. There are others who are more than happy enough to be pleasant and polite. Mean animals get culled to the dinner table. It's a simple rule and it works.

Buy Locally, Do Good, Live Well & Prosper.



valereee said...

I was a vegetarian for twenty years primarily for humane/ethical reasons. It wasn't the killing itself that bothered me -- I consider that nature intended all living beings to eat something, and humans are omnivores. What I couldn't stand was factory farming and the thought that the animal had been miserable all its life just so I could eat it.

Then the local foods movement started to take off, and suddenly I could find meat from animals who had lived like pigs and cows and chickens are supposed to live. I still am concerned with how the animals are slaughtered, as I don't want an animal's final hours to be terror-filled any more than I want their lives to be miserable.

In my case, it has nothing to do with humans being somehow superior due to religious or other beliefs. (I'm agnostic.)

And I don't find taking the argument to its absurd extreme (then why not clone mentally 'defective' people so that we can harvest their organs) to be compelling. We as a species have decided that intentionally killing humans is murder and illegal but intentionally killing animals is not. While this may be speciesist, the fact we kill animals does not mean it logically follows that we will someday be killing 'defective' humans. It's a slippery slope argument and a logical fallacy. Shame on you, professor.

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Anonymous said...






Bea Elliott said...

Hello - I also stumbled here unexpectedly in researching various "breeds" of pigs and I'm disappointed that Gary L. Francione's questions weren't properly addressed.

Specifically on the issue of killing others: "Is it because we are "superior" to them? If that is the explanation, what, exactly, does that mean? Is it because we buy into a religious superstition that we have "souls" and they do not?"

Maybe I can ask in a more clumsy - yet more blunt way: Exactly what is it that gives you the "right" to purposefully breed/kill others without the "necessity" of survival? I'm curious if I found dogs and cats to be tasty treats... Would you be ethically okay with puppy-consumption? Or horses? ... If you draw the line at humans - I'm wondering is it because it's legally prohibitive - Or is there some kind of religious mandate you follow?

Thanks for a reply to these rather uncomfortable questions.