A lesson from a pig called Eddie

 

I love animals and always have, but I am also a meat eater.  In my early 20s, I tried a short stint as a vegetarian, but jumped off the meat-free wagon after a happy encounter with bacon. At the time I felt a twinge of guilt, but the truth is I never gave vegetarianism a second thought.

When I became a mother of two boys while trying to maintain a full-time job as a pharmaceutical sales rep, food was often an afterthought for my family. Then something happened: I lost my job. My predictable world was shattered. The unexpected changes in my life meant that lots of things had to change in the way I lived, and the biggest change was that I cooked a lot more at home.

The silver lining was I had more time to spend with my boys as we started eating meals together -- at the table, every day. Eventually, I found a local part-time job that affected me in ways I’d never anticipated. The job was with Friends of Family Farmers, an organization whose mission is “to promote and protect socially responsible agriculture in Oregon.” While that sounded admirable, I started working there because I really just needed some extra cash.

Then one day in the office, I picked up a coffee table book, CAFO – The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, and began to thumb through it. As I flipped through the pages, learning that CAFO was short for “confined animal feeding operation,” I remember pausing and looking up to ask the ladies in the office, “This isn’t real, right?” Yes, it turns out, it is. That specific moment, looking at those images of miserable looking animals, changed everything for me.

This was the “food” I was so proud to be feeding my family? I couldn’t bring myself to keep doing that, so I stopped buying meat altogether. Of course, vegetarian substitutes couldn’t satisfy my male-dominated household for long, and soon I was on a mission to find socially responsible meat. But was there even such a thing? Yes, it turns out.

My desire to understand the life cycle of an animal and be a part of that process is how I came to know the sweet little black pig named “Eddie.” It all began when my neighbor and I purchased a pair of heritage pigs and decided to raise them together. Once the piglets settled in, they quickly learned that we liked treating them with belly scratches and food. They were extremely intelligent and once they saw us coming would run to get their daily affection and treats.

When Eddie had grown to an impressive 250 pounds, his job on earth was nearly complete. It wasn’t easy, but I decided to be present at his slaughter. I felt that I needed to. How could I have spent so long with him, doing my best to nurture this sweet animal, and then leave him to die with strangers?

On the day the truck rolled up, my stomach was in knots. Meanwhile, I scratched Eddie as he lay on his side with an expression of bliss. I thanked both him and Elton, my neighbor’s pig, for doing their jobs well, for being good pigs, and for the food they would give to my family. I cried and felt a deep sadness that they would die, but also much appreciation for these two creatures. Eddie waddled over to check out his new visitors for treats, he sat down and got a scratch under his chin -- then bang. Done.

I stayed with the carcasses while they were broken down. I noticed the beauty of the pigs’ skin, the depth of their fat as it stretched over the bodies, how bright and healthy their organs looked, and the vibrant color of the meat.  The slaughterer noticed too, telling us that our pigs were some of the best he had seen in 20 years in the business, attributing their quality directly to the quality of their life and their breed. “This is a nice pig,” he kept saying, so, of course, I thought of Wilbur and Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, when the spider wrote “SOME PIG” in her web to honor her friend, Wilbur, the pig. Eddie, too, was one terrific pig; even the men who slaughtered him gave him the respect he deserved.

It sounds silly to say that a pig changed my life, but as I look back, that’s exactly what happened. That sweet pig helped me in my journey as both a meat eater and an animal lover. I learned to take responsibility for the meat brought to my dinner table. And I don’t think Eddie ever suffered.

Lori Bell is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes in Colton, Oregon.

Liv Lyons
Liv Lyons
May 19, 2013 07:13 PM
I loved Lori's story about Eddie, because I could have written it myself. Maybe not as well as Lori, but that's besides the point. She mirrors exactly my sentiments about the animals we love - and eat. I never had a pig like Eddie, but I had turkeys who also became family members, and eventually dinner. The key is to love animals for what they are and make sure that although they are killed and eaten in the end, they never suffer unnecessarily, we make sure that they are never frightened and always cherished. Thanks, Lori, for writing that piece and confirming that there are people out there who think and feel the same way as I do about all the lovely creatures that surround us and depend on us, and although we obviously use them, we also have reverence and respect for their lives.
Dan S Sherburne
Dan S Sherburne
May 26, 2013 11:50 AM
When I was 10, I raised a calf, Sparky, for my brother-in-law on our farm. Whenever Sparky saw me, even as a steer and no longer receiving special feed, he would run to me, leaping and tossing his head in delight. I was present when Sparky was shot and butchered in his pasture. It felt very wrong and I was deeply saddened, but I understood it was necessary; we had to eat meat, and meat came from animals like Sparky. At 16, I discovered that that "understanding," like many such unquestioned beliefs, was simply not true. People do not have to eat meat, and animals do not have to suffer and die to supply it. (My excellent health, having not eaten meat in the 44 years since, is personal testament to the former.) Sparky's death had not been necessary and was not in any way justified. Years later, he should still have been basking in the sun, enjoying the taste of lush Oregon grass, and running to see me.

Our conceit is that when we "raise" animals, we have rights to their lives. But we cannot "own" other animals, any more than parents can own their children, husbands their wives, governments their citizens, or masters their slaves--all of which had been considered true and normal in other times and/or other places. Other animals' lives--their pleasures, their pains, and their loves--are theirs alone, and they value those lives as much as we do ours. We respect them by allowing them to live their lives and enabling them, when possible, to live them to the fullest--as we do (or should do) with our fellow humans. Pretending to care for them as beings, while rationalizing their harm and premature death, is not respect. It is, at best, self-serving and delusional. Nor is attending at their death taking "responsibility." Responsibility involves acting in the best interests of those for whom one is responsible. Taking someone's life, when they do not wish it, cannot be construed as an act of responsibility, much less sensitivity.

In this and similar articles (meat-eating apologia having become something of a genre), "respect" and "responsibility" lose all real reference to the animal being killed. They refer not to actions the author might take on behalf of the animal but to feelings the author contrives to summon to assuage her own guilt and assume the mantle of a caring, sensitive person. While they may have made it easier for her then and since, those feelings did nothing for Eddie and Elton.

Ms. Bell, Eddie took you for his friend, while you saw him ultimately as only meat. The tragedy ensuing from that misunderstanding was his, although even you should, one would hope, come to see the meat from his body to be a poor substitute for the years of love and companionship he had yet to give.


Joann Phillips
Joann Phillips Subscriber
May 30, 2013 09:51 PM
Mr. Sherburne--Had Lori Bell not been a meat-eater she never would have known Eddie at all. Were most humans not meat-eaters there would be many animals not bred and born and raised. Maybe that would be better for the environment overall. But for those of us who do eat meat and want to know how the meat was raised and slaughtered, doing it for ourselves is the responsible way to do it. We are taking upon ourselves the difficulty of causing a death. The chicken and turkey that my family eats tastes better than anything we would get in a store. And i freely admit that i eat less of the meat that i butcher myself because i know the effort that was expended and the life that was lost. You are welcome to go your way and equate animals with humans. I'll go may way and take the responsibility for the food my family eats.