Warning: This post contains some unpleasant pictures. They're not gruesome, but they are for sure gross, a bit gory, and hopefully at least a little disturbing.
Modification of warning: the Great Firewall is still completely screwing me over. I have to post my blog via a circuitous and totally non-suave email method, which means I don't get any control over formatting. I have no clue whether the pictures will actually go up.
Disclaimer: Before I begin my tirade, I bow humbly to all the friends and others I know who spend their vocational lives in the service of others or of the earth. I know people in international development, international conflict resolution, journalism, wetlands protection, primitive skills training, community projects, and more, all of whom devote much more time and energy than I do to altruist pursuits. I mostly just avoid buying and consuming certain things. I actually feel a bit of shame at the fact that my way of contributing is purely avocational, so I want to be careful not to write as if I had a monopoly on the practice of doing good. That said, there's something special about vegetarianism: anyone can practice it without it affecting the other spheres of his or her life. Compared to changing careers, changing your diet is a piece of cake.
Frankly, I'd rather be writing about my last couple weeks in China. How Shanxi province was full of ups and downs both literal and figurative. How a middle-schooler gave me his gloves. How we ran into and joined up with a crew of twenty-two Chinese cyclists, had our first taste of Chinese vodka, stormed a guest house, then rode up the 2000-meter high Mt. Banshan en masse the following day. About how the bare cliffs of the ensuing descent, as well as our subsequent ride down the Taishan mountain range this afternoon, made me once again marvel at the beauty and power of nature. I felt pleased, proud, even honored to be so utterly dwarfed. I wonder if this is how believers feel in the presence of God.
But, instead, I'm going to write about a truckful of pigs that I crossed paths with about fifteen or twenty kilometers south of the Shanxi-Henan provincial border. From across an intersection, I saw the truck pull into a gas station. A wave of pity immediately carried me into the truck's wake. While the driver was gassing up, I pulled around the other side unseen and began to have a look and take pictures.
There were six cages to a row, stacked three rows high. I couldn't tell if the cages were one or two rows deep; simple geometry makes it seem like there wouldn't be enough space for thirty-six cages on the truck bed, but then again, the way the pigs were crammed up against one another with hardly an inch to move suggested that they had been squished together beyond the limits of physical possibility, let alone compassion. Close inspection of one pictures makes it look like such may well have been the case, but I'll be charitable and say that there were only eighteen cages. Three pigs to a cage made fifty-four pigs. Not a single one of them looked healthy or comfortable.
The first thing I noticed was that several pigs had their rears hanging out of the cages. They had so little room that they had been forced to back up so far that the bars of the cage actually ran in between their butt cheeks, like an oversized, metal, rusty wedgie. Some of them apparently did this so that they could urinate and defecate away from the truck, though of course the pigs on the lower levels – many of them with open scrapes and sores on various parts of their body – were hit with the effluent nonetheless. Other animals, the ones unable to turn themselves around, just pissed and shat where they stood. Or lay.
The way the bars cleaved the pigs' back ends revealed a number of anal and vaginal sores. Further, several pigs had white foam seeping out of their closed snouts. A few of those on the upper level were drooling directly onto those on the lower level; one strand of drool even fell directly into another pig's eye, swollen and red with infection. Not a single pig had sufficient room to turn around. Many had their snouts or entire bodies smashed up against the bars of their cage. For most, shifting from a lying position to a standing one, or vice-versa, would have been possible with the permission and collaboration of their cellmates, many of whom had already collapsed, apparently immobile. A number of the pigs licked, gnawed, and pushed at the metal bars in pitiful, futile efforts to at least earn themselves some breathing room. Some were so nearly still that I couldn't tell whether they were breathing or just being pushed by their brethren.
Things like I just reported will not come as news to most. Indeed, what I saw was small-scale and relatively benign compared to what goes on behind closed doors in meat processing plants around the world. I know from experience, though, that one often has to be confronted with something several times before he or she can accept it. The first time, one scoffs, unaware of the scratch that's been made in his or her armor. The second time, the scratch become a chink. Then a crack, then a fissure, and eventually, , after four, five, or however many times, the whole suit falls to pieces, and you're left naked, defenseless in front of the truth. I personally was so shaken that I've decided to renew my commitment to veganism, which has been slipping in recent months; I rationalized this by saying "I cause harm in other ways (e.g. using and disposing of plastic, consuming non-organic food) without thinking twice, so why give myself such a hard time about what kind of food I eat? Aren't I doing enough already?" So, to whoever is reading this, I won't say "please don't eat meat" or "please go vegetarian." What I will say is, please don't ignore the fact that the conditions that I've just described are commonplace. Please don't let your hard-earned money go to support those who knowingly treat animals this way. Please don't say that it's not your fault, or your responsibility. Please don't say that whatever good you could do pales in comparison to the evil done by certain others, or that one person can't make a difference. You can. Please do.
Sorry to interrupt your hopefully beautiful day with such stuff. Thanks for reading.