Last week, I started reading Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals. Well, not so much “reading” as “listening to the audiobook.” (Hey, how else am I supposed to occupy myself while I clean the house?) I read Masson’s When Elephants Weep a long time ago – back when I was a newbie vegetarian – and enjoyed it immensely. I figured I’d like The Pig Who Sang to the Moon as well, and so far, so good.
Masson structured the book so that each chapter covers a different species of farmed animals: pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and ducks, in that order. He juxtaposes information about the animals’ emotional lives – thoughts, feelings, sentience, capacity for joy and sorrow, etc. – with the brutal reality for the vast majority of these “owned” animals. Treated like milk and meat machines, dehumanized and objectified, their individuality obscured and their needs ignored, farmed animals suffer the worst of humanity’s whims and wants.
Though I’m only about a third of the way in, a theme which keeps resurfacing is the extra-special abuses (the collective) we mete out to the female members of the species. With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.
By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially brutal and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction.
Certainly, we recognize that the theft of a mother’s child is an atrocity when the victims are human mothers and children. At the same time, we argue that non-human animals deserve no rights because they are mere brutes, “lesser” beings, ruled by instinct and instinct alone. Yet, what is the drive to reproduce and parent if not an evolutionary instinct? And if we follow the popular line of reasoning – i.e., animals are creatures of instinct – does it not stand to reason that the maternal instinct is especially powerful in non-human animals?
100 million pigs are birthed, raised and slaughtered for “pork” annually – just in the United States. 100 million piglets are stolen from their mothers. Mothers who, without a doubt, grieve for their disappeared babies. These poor mothers are forced to relive the trauma over and over, as each new litter is stolen from them. This is what I mean when I say that a female’s – a mother’s – suffering must surely be the most painful to bear.
The theme of maternal exploitation in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is one I’ll return to. For now, allow me to excerpt a few related passages from Chapter 1, Pigs Is Equal.
Intelligence does not imply worthiness; in other words, it should not matter, from an ethical perspective, how intelligent a particular species or even any particular individual is – after all, we don’t shoot a human being who is not doing as well as his contemporaries at school. Nonetheless people tend to comment on the particular intelligence of these “horizontal humans,” as they are sometimes called because they are so much like us. (p. 37)
In many American factory farms, pigs are routinely sedated and kept in dark or semidark giant sheds so that all they can do is eat and sleep for twenty-three out of twenty-four hours. All the joie de vivre is driven out of the pig. Fattened to immobility, tails cut, teeth removed, their natural instincts to investigate frustrated by being forced to exist in a small pen, their sense of cleanliness ruined by being forced to urinate and defecate in their sleeping space, something no pig would ever do in nature – they have been utterly metamorphosed. So heavy are they that many find it difficult to stand on their own legs. Piglets are taken from their mothers when they are about three weeks old and put into “nursery” pens – where of course, no nursing takes place – with metal bars and concrete floors. They move to “growers” and “finishers,” and at about six months, when they attain the “slaughter weight” of 250 pounds, they are killed. […] The mothers fare no better. They are confined in small pens or metal gestation crates (two feet wide) after pregnancy and four months later are transferred to farrowing crates where they barely have room to stand and lie down. They are denied straw bedding (too expensive). Unable to exercise or even move, they become very heavy (the point, of course) and subject to crippling leg disorders. Psychologically, they become “neurotic,” as the breeders call them, biting the bars of the crates, in a sitting position much like dogs, but looking dazed, showing all the signs of mourning the loss of their babies. Then it is time for the slaughterhouse. (p. 38-39)
In the wild, female sows getting ready to give birth will often construct protective nests as high as three feet. They line these farrowing nests with mouthfuls of grass and sometimes even manage to construct a roof made of sticks – a safe and comfortable home-like structure. On modern pig farms, where the mother is forced to give birth on concrete floors, her babies are often crushed when she rolls over. This never happens in the wild because the baby simply slips through the nest and finds her way back to her own teat. […] Within forty-eight hours of birth the litter establishes a “teat order,” and from then on each piglet suckles only that particular teat on his mother. This seems to be a sort of dominance hierarchy, or at least has always been so interpreted. If allowed, piglets suckle for eleven to thirteen weeks or even longer. On factory farms, however, they are usually removed from the mother at three to four weeks and never see her again. This is so that, having stopped suckling, the mother can be returned into the breeding cycle and be made pregnant again a week or two later. (p. 46-47)
Breed, gestate, deliver, nurse, grieve, repeat: this is a sow’s lot. The whole damn “pork” subdivision of the megatheocorporatocracy rests on the female pig’s sexual organs – in her ability to give birth to the next generation of porcine “property.”
Tagged: animals animal rights animal welfare meat food pork factory farming intersections parallel oppressions animals and women Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson the pig who sang to the moon pig sow piglet ethology animal behavior flickr photos farm sanctuary books farmed animals