Merriam-Webster defines truth as ‘the body of real things, events, and facts’. There are many voices clamouring to share the truth about food production with the consuming public and each has their own bias and agenda. Pork production can elicit polarizing feelings, ranging from those who believe it is a deplorable industry raising animals in inhumane factory farms all the way to those who envision idyllic family farms raising healthy, nutritious pork.
When it comes to the reality of meat production, I wonder if for too long we have ignored a truth that we all recognize but hope our consumer doesn’t think much about. This truth is at the root of the animal activist’s argument for why people need to become a vegan and on our side of the story we have hid from it. We have developed terms like “processed” or “harvested” to try and keep from saying it. The truth is simple…we kill pigs to produce and sell meat. Our whole industry is built upon raising animals for slaughter and maybe it is time for us to stop ignoring that fact when we tell the consumer our story.
It is not an easy conversation to have because death has become one of our deepest societal fears. We often recognize that people are typically a few generations removed from the farm now and while the vast majority of baby boomers had a connection to a farmer in their formative years, much of my generation was raised with no connection to the farm. And just as we have become removed from the farm, we have become less comfortable with death. If we turn back the clocks to 1921 the average life expectancy was 57.1 according to Statistics Canada. Even beyond the harsh loss of life in two World Wars, death was more prevalent in general. Men were killed at work, women died in childbirth, and young children succumbed to diseases that have long been conquered by science and vaccines. Death was more a part of everyday life and while it was no less painful to lose a loved one then as it is today, perhaps society had a better understanding that death happened. I do not think that the men and women of my grandparent’s generation feared death like we do today. Perhaps that came with the stronger prevalence of faith witnessed with their generation, or maybe it was just because they were hit with the realities of human survival on a far more regular basis than we are today. Or possibly it is a combination of both.
When I was a kid Disney movies were a staple in our house and the Lion King was watched with regularity. There is a scene in the movie when Simba’s father Mufasa, explains the ‘Circle of Life’ (which also was a great Elton John song on the soundtrack) how the wildebeests eat the grass, the lions eat the wildebeests, and when the lion dies their body returns to the ground to feed the grass. Our circle is not much different: sun feeds our crops, the crop feeds the pigs, and in turn the pigs feed us while their manure feeds the soil for the next crop. Our societal fear of death has corrupted the understanding of this circle and has made us wary of admitting to the truth when we explain animal production to the general public.
So how do we go about explaining what we do and why we do it in a society where death is feared almost universally? We tell the truth. We explain that while the pig is alive, it is free of fear of predators, that every day it has fresh water and plenty of food, and when it is time, their death will come swiftly and as humanely as possible. It is also true to say that meat is a valuable part of a healthy diet. As much as animal activists would like us to forget this fact, humans are omnivores and meat provides a multitude of nutritional benefits.
Animal activists are not going to stop sharing with people that eating meat ends life; it is at the crux of their belief system. If a person decides that they do not wish to eat meat because of that, that is their choice and we are best to respect that. At the same time, animal activists will also continue to push their narrative that livestock are treated inhumanely throughout their lives up to and through the end. It is here that we can make a stand and have the truth on our side once more as we defend exactly what we do and why we do it.