Though it is obvious that virtual reality could never truly recreate the experiences of an animal subjected to such cruelty as exists on farms today, a study at Stanford University has perhaps come a little closer than before.
According an article in Scientific American, researchers carried out an experiment meant to give students an impression of what it might feel like to be a cow in a slaughterhouse:
They donned a virtual reality helmet and walked on hands and feet while in a virtual mirror they saw themselves as bovine. As the animal was jabbed with an electrical prod, a lab worker poked a volunteer’s side with a sticklike device. The ground shook to simulate the prod’s vibrations. The cow at the end was led toward a slaughterhouse. (link)
The experiment was not meant to turn people into vegetarians (though it would be nice if that was an unintended effect!) but to learn whether “virtual reality could alter behaviors that tax the environment and contribute to climate change.” Why in the world that required them to feel like a cow I honestly don’t know. (Learn more about animal agriculture and climate change.)
“Once I got used to it I began to feel like I was the cow,” one person wrote. “I truly felt like I was going to the slaughter house towards the end and I felt sad that I (as a cow) was going to die. That last prod felt really sad.”
On that note, the Vegan Feminist Network has written a very thought-provoking response to the idea of a virtual reality program and “feeling like” a cow:
Let’s parallel this. That’s like saying, in order to “feel” what it’s like to be an oppressed person of color, let’s all willingly sit in a prison (considering there are more people of color in prison than any other population because of racism) for an amount of time that you arbitrarily choose in hopes that you, a privileged person, will be able to relate, just so that you can care.
There’s still a very arrogant element involved here. In order for you to care about something, you have to literally be in its position to give a shit. That’s pretty terrible.
That’s why I think it’s important that we don’t conflate empathizing, and then becoming an oppressed being. Those are two completely different projects.
Anyway, we can’t all take part in this particular experiment, but there are a couple of interesting little gadgets available online from Animal Visuals. If possible you should turn your speakers on–perhaps even loudly.
First, a pig trapped in a gestation crate:
Learn more about pigs and gestation crates in Canada.
Animal Visuals also has a virtual battery cage. Again, speakers are recommended:
Learn more about battery-caged chickens in Canada.
Again, such programs as these cannot really come close to recreating the experience of life on a farm, but perhaps they can give us the barest glimpse of it.
Daisy and Stanley bear witness. The driver purposely stayed far from the curb and, with the police present we were not permitted to leave the sidewalk to comfort the pigs. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, August, 2013.
I spent the summer in Toronto visiting my family, especially my elderly parents. I was reluctant to leave Vancouver for several reasons, one of them being that I would miss our Friday Chicken Slaughterhouse Vigils at Hallmark Poultry Processing at Commercial and Hastings. Fortunately we have such an awesome team of regulars who kept the vigils going strong in Vancouver while I have participated in Toronto’s Pig Save, Chicken Save, and Cow Save vigils.
The purpose of these groups is to “erect glass walls in slaughterhouses” and expose the truth about the suffering of the animals who are delivered there. They do this by holding vigils several times during the week, all-day vigils every once in awhile, leafletting on busy downtown corners, and other special events.
I was given an early introduction to the Pig Save experience during my drive from Vancouver. Passing through Manitoba on the Trans Canada Highway, I stopped for a break at a rest stop on the side of the road. Coincidentally, a double-decker truck full of pigs had stopped there too. At first I was terrified to get out of the car but I knew I had to do whatever I could to offer those innocent little creatures some comfort. I patted their noses and spoke to them gently. I wish now that I had had some water for them. I took several photos before the driver came out of the washroom. I expected him to yell at me and tell me to get away from the truck but instead he looked kind of sheepish. I told him that I found it very sad. He said they were fine and went over to touch one of them saying, “You’re okay, aren’t you guys?” I asked him if it didn’t get to him just a little bit. He shrugged and said, “Not really.” I said one last goodbye to the pigs as they drove away–3 more hours–the driver said. I’m not sure how far they had already come.
Pigs crammed in bottom level of transport truck; Manitoba
This had been the third time I’d driven across the country. I’d never noticed those trucks in the past–I guess because I hadn’t been vegan then. After this I was amazed at how many more trucks I saw on the highway.
My first experience at a Pig Save vigil wasn’t at their usual spot–”Pig Island” at Lakeshore Boulevard and Strachan Avenue, just outside the Princes Gates at the entrance to the Canadian National Exhibition site. The Indy car race was in town and the roads were closed. Instead we met at the actual entrance to the Quality Meat Packers slaughterhouse at 677 Wellington Street. The fence outside the slaughterhouse was used to post several large pictures of pigs inside transport trucks, photos taken by various members of Toronto Pig Save. We held posters ourselves and handed out leaflets to passersby. While pulling into the yard, the trucks loaded with pigs did not stop for more than a second so we did not get to see much of the pigs. But as they backed up to the unloading dock , we could hear them squealing and could see the driver hit the side of the truck with his paddle to hurry them along. Suddenly it hit me that this was indeed their final stop and I began to sob uncontrollably. I was comforted by Agnes Cseke, one of the TPS regulars, and by Jo-Anne McArthur, the photographer featured in the documentary Ghosts in Our Machine.
Agnes comforts me as pigs are unloaded. Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur, July, 2013
Since that first vigil, I saw dozens and dozens of trucks go by and didn’t feel the need to cry, just an overwhelming sadness as I would pat as many pigs as I could and offer them water. The first time I saw a pig struggle to drink from my water bottle, I couldn’t help but see my dogs Stanley and Daisy doing the same thing when we go for walks. During the heat wave in Toronto, several vigils were held and many dedicated, caring volunteers came out to bear witness and offer water and watermelon to ease the suffering of the young pigs.
Giving water and watermelon to the pigs. Photo by Anita Krajnc, July, 2013
Many activists broke down in tears as they worked. One day the police were called when one of them threw a bucketful of water into one of the trucks. I guess it had been interpreted as an act of violence towards the truck or driver. We were told to leave the ‘island’ which we did for the day only to return the next day.
Offering a little relief. Photo by Anita Krajnc, July, 2013.
I began to spend most of my time on the other side of the street from “the Island” doing what we in Vancouver do best–holding a sign and waving enthusiastically at the drivers passing by! I stood in a place where I was the first person to get their attention and hoped that they would be alerted to the signs ahead. As in Vancouver, many people wave, nod, smile, or honk in response to the waving. When a truck full of pigs comes along I would just stop and point. I must admit it was hard to smile and wave right after a truck had passed…I had to talk myself into converting all that sadness and anger into reaching the public in a positive way.
Waving to cars in the early morning at Lakeshore and Strachan. Photo by Jo-Aanne Mcarthur, August, 2013.
I was asked a few times why I wave and how it helps the cause. Most basically I believe that sending any kind of positive energy to other human beings is good for the world. Who knows what it might inspire, whether it be for animals or some other issue? As far as spreading the message about animal rights, I hope that people will be able to relate to a friendly greeting and be open to at least hearing what we have to say. If they respond with a wave or a smile, I feel that we have a little foot in the door and the next time they find themselves confronted with the issue they might let us in a little further. If they don’t respond or respond in a negative way (as only a very few do) then at least they go away with an image of us as friendly, positive people, not irrational angry radicals! And lastly, every positive response reinforces my belief that we can reach people and make a difference. I am encouraged to keep working even harder to reach as many people as I can. A few people even blew kisses which brought tears to my eyes and hope for the animals!
My experiences at Cow Save and Chicken Save were mostly about bearing witness, as they are not located in high traffic areas where the public can be easily reached. St. Helen’s, Ryder-Regency, and Genesis meat packing plants are all located on Glen Scarlett Road, just a few blocks away from Maple Leaf Poultry Processors at 100 Ethel Avenue. Recently the group started splitting their efforts between bearing witness at the cattle and poultry slaughterhouses and leafletting at St. Clair Avenue West and Keele Street, the nearest main intersection. The first time I looked into a truck full of poor cows, I cried, knowing that at that moment there was nothing I could do to save them. As with the pigs, we offered them words and water. These particular cows were from a small, family farm. It made me realize that no matter where or how these animals are raised, their final days are spent in misery, fear, and confusion.
Afraid and confused, they have no idea what's ahead of them.
My sister Catherine accompanied me on a couple of occasions and was a great support (as well as feeding me great vegan food!) One day the police arrived in response to a complaint from a security guard that we were giving the cows something to drink and he couldn’t be sure it was water. My sister assured the officer that it was indeed water and when he asked her to drink some she agreed and took a swig! That was all he needed and they left.
The cows were covered in filth.
The Maple Leaf Chicken slaughterhouse at 100 Ethel Street, a few blocks from St. Helen’s, is unlike Vancouver’s in that the trucks full of chickens often wait outside, even in the winter. One day the door to the production line was left open and we were able to use out zoom lenses to get photos of the birds being hung up by their feet and then moved along to the throat slicer. It was heartbreaking.
Sweet little angel.
Video by Michael Sizer, August, 2013
I met many amazing people in attending the events here in Toronto. First and foremost is Anita Krajnc, the founder of the movement. She is amazingly dedicated and has built a powerful medium that has spread worldwide. Of course this is where the inspiration for our Vancouver chicken vigils. Anita and her team have done a great deal of research into the various slaughterhouses. They know exactly what goes on in each department, what each truck is for, and what each worker does. They have found this information through their own investigations (climbing onto the railway tracks behind the pig slaughterhouse for example) and through the book Slaughterhouse by Gail A. Eintz. They have made beautiful posters of the animals in transport trucks and created some excellent information leaflets.
The most important thing I have learned from Anita that can make our Vancouver vigils even more effective is to get as much photo and video footage as possible and post it after every vigil. The library of footage Toronto Pig Save has is incredible, and much of it–especially the footage of offering water to the pigs–has made the television news and gone viral on the internet. Anita does much of the photography herself, but is assisted by many of her team, including Agnes Cseke and Michael Sizer who is working on the documentary film Cow Save. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have Jo-Anne McArthur as a regular at the vigils!
Another special person I met here was Ross Tapp. Ross is a former worker at the Maple Leaf Poultry plant where his job was hanging the birds upside down in shackles. He received a leaflet from Anita on the street one day and has since become a powerful and dedicated animal rights activist! He is a great resource into what goes on inside a slaughterhouse and the minds of the workers.
Ross, in the middle, outside his old place of employment. Photo by Agnes Cseke, July, 2013.
One more episode had an impact on me. I stood across the street from the chicken slaughterhouse as several of the activists got into an argument with a couple of workers. Soon things got out of hand and insults were hurled. I spoke to one of the activists who had been involved and told her I didn’t support that kind of behaviour. She was very open minded and willing to examine the actions of the group critically. Then I spotted my sister speaking to one of the workers who had been attacked. He was very upset and said that he didn’t appreciate being called “fatso”, among other things. She told him that she did not support that kind of behaviour either.
My sister (R), Stanley (C) and me.
I spoke to him as well and what he said really hit home. He said, “You people preach compassion – I don’t see it.” I told him that we would do our best to encourage others not to repeat the incident. He thanked us and waved when we drove away. I spoke to a few other activists who had also not been comfortable with what had occurred. Later I received an email from a TPS member apologizing for her part in the incident. I found this very encouraging because I know how easy it is to get carried away by emotions and passion and how important it is to acknowledge this and take ownership for it.
The following week I returned with a letter for the worker and a slice of home made vegan banana bread (made by my sister!) He was not there when I arrived, so I asked an office worker to deliver it to him. She was very pleased when she heard what it was for. I came back when he was there and asked if he had received our little gift. He smiled and said he really appreciated it. A few other guys were with him at the the time and overheard our conversation. Obviously, I do not like what this man does for a living but I don’t believe we can win respect for the animals if we don’t show respect for humans. I worry that antagonizing workers could lead to them taking their anger at us out on the animals. I can only hope that by treating this man with respect there is a better chance of him making compassionate choices in the future. Who knows? Maybe there is another Ross Tapp inside him!! And hopefully he and his coworkers will share this story with others.
On my way back across the country I saw many transport trucks full of animals, one day 20 trucks full of cattle. I saw a truck pulled over at a rest stop and turned in to visit with the 1000 lb steers inside. Just as with the driver of the truck I met on my way east, this one was somewhat sheepish and very friendly. He admitted that he has been ‘put off beef’.
Now that I’m back in Vancouver I miss all the wonderful people I met through Pig Save and I look forward to seeing them again someday. I learned a great deal about the power of bearing witness. As an activist I believe it’s important to remind myself exactly who I’m fighting for and to be able to describe the situation to others from first hand experience. For the animals, I think it is important that they experience at least a tiny bit of love and compassion in their short lives. For the public, we invite them to bear witness, through our signs and literature, and hope that they, too, will choose compassion. Thank you Toronto Pig Save for everything you do and for inspiring me to keep the spirit alive in Vancouver!
In 2012, a farmer who made “artisanal” goat cheese and had already been investigated several times by the SPCA moved to a new rental property only to be evicted.
Unwilling to transport Marge again, the farmer tried to sell her. He found one potential buyer, who intended to slaughter Marge for meat but deemed her too big for anything but sausage. The buyer made a low offer. The farmer said he would rather let Marge rot than accept the price. Two days later, he did essentially that when he abandoned her and left her with no means of staying alive. (link)
The local SPCA came to her rescue and with Farm Sanctuary’s help, transported her to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.
“Poor Marge has been viewed as a breeding machine, a source of cheap meat, and an expendable life,” says Kate Walker, Senior Humane Investigator of the SPCA of Tompkins County. “Until her rescue, she was not seen as the personable, intelligent, funny pig that she is.”(link)
Farm Sanctuary searched for a permanent home for Marge via adoption network, but everybody who could have taken her in was already full to capacity. As a result, Marge has found her new forever home at their New York Shelter:
We’ve already discovered that she will hold long, steady eye contact with her visitors, beaming sweetly all the while. We’re excited to provide a future for this new member of the Farm Sanctuary family — a wonderful ambassador for all pigs, who are often seen as nothing more than commodities, but who have so much more to offer when given a chance.(link)
Liberation BC is proud to support Farm Sanctuary by participating in the annual Walk for Farm Animals. Won’t you join us?
(Realistically, even if these things were true, it wouldn’t actually justify any type of cruelty, but it’s still irritating to hear them repeated over and over again when they’re so blatantly wrong.)
And finally, the topic of today’s post:
Roosters are naturally bloodthirsty fighters.
It would be silly to pretend that roosters don’t ever fight. They do, just like many other animals who will engage in combat to defend their territory, secure mates, or protect their families. But are they really as ruthlessly savage as cockfighting fans would like us to believe? It’s worth noting that cockfighting usually results in a painful, bloody death for one–or both–of the birds. As pattrice jones of VINE Sanctuary in Vermont (formerly Eastern Shore Sanctuary, in Maryland) explains, “Here at the Eastern Shore Sanctuary, former fighting cocks coexist peacefully with each other and with hens rescued from egg factories. Both groups of birds are physically and psychologically scarred by the specifically gendered forms of exploitation they have endured.”(Crossing the Mammalian-Avian Line)
These former fighting roosters are good friends. (Photo: VINE Sanctuary)
Many fighting cocks have gaffs--specialized knives measuring up to 3 1/2 inches long--attached to their legs.
Now, it’s true that former fighting cocks are frequently aggressive, so for a long time, many roosters rescued from cockfighting operations were euthanized. In fact, this is still the rule in most places. (For example, in 2008, authorities busted a cockfighting ring in Surrey. Federal legislation required that all 1,300 roosters be put to death.) VINE Sanctuary was the first to take these traumatized birds in and rehabilitate them.
Only after some days of spending time in the yards while being held and soothed was [Pietro, former fighting cock] able to see or hear other birds without trying to attack them. Even so, his little heart beat so rapidly with fear whenever another bird came near. He was terrified. Having been fought, with shaved feathers and steel blades attached to his talons, he believed that the only recipe for survival was to attack instantly and incessantly. Having been doped with methamphetamines and testosterone, his endrocrine system responded excessively to any alarm. Having been raised in isolation, he’d never had the chance to learn the social signals by which roosters naturally resolve their conflicts in healthy flocks.(Rooster Rehab)
Cockfighting has been illegal in Canada for some time. The U.S. caught up in 2008, when it was finally banned in Louisiana (most of the country had banned it decades earlier.) The entirety of the U.K. had banned it by the end of the 19th century. It is also illegal in Brazil, France, and most of Spain. In other countries, it is technically illegal but laws are not consistently enforced.
In Cuba, Mexico, Peru, much of Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, this brutal, vicious bloodsport continues as a part of a celebrated “tradition”. And as evidenced by the news report I linked to earlier, it still happens with disturbing frequency even in places where it’s technically no longer legal.
Watch this video from the Humane Society of Berks County in Maryland, who were able to save several rescued fighting cocks with the help of VINE:
(In case you haven’t had enough insanity for the day, I’ll add that authorities busted a canary-fighting ring in Connecticut in 2009.)
We have some very exciting news! In one week, Liberation BC will be partnering with Mercy For Animals Canada to mount an ad campaign on the Vancouver Skytrain which promotes vegetarianism and veganism!
The “Why love one but eat the other?” ad series took Toronto by storm in 2011. Millions of people saw these ads firsthand in the subways, they were shared in the media across the country, and the video about the campaign was watched over 66,000 times on YouTube.
Many people reported going vegetarian and vegan because of these ads. That’s how important and effective they are!
Now these ads will run on the Vancouver Skytrain for the month of May as part of a cross-Canada transit ad campaign that will also include Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.
Here’s a look at the three ads that will be running in the Skytrain as poster-sized ads:
(Just click on them to see a larger version.)
Right now, Mercy For Animals Canada needs to raise just $5,000 more to run this comprehensive ad campaign in Vancouver. If you’d like to help bring the “Why love one but eat the other?” message into the hearts of Vancouverites, please donate now. (Choose: “Why Love One?’ Transit Ad Campaign 2013 from the drop-down menu below the donation amount.)
Oh, and if you’re on Facebook, you can join the event pages for this campaign in English or in French.
Please be sure to spread the word and keep your eye out for the ads starting on the Skytrain May 13th!
This is the third year that we’ve participated in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale, and our chosen beneficiary this time around is Hearts on Noses Pig Sanctuary, located in Mission, BC. (We took a trip to visit them last fall–read all about it!) All money raised from the bake sale will go straight to the pigs.
Hanging out with Comet.
Can you help out by baking or volunteering? Do you need more information? If so, please shoot me an email at becci [at] liberationbc [dot] org. You can also add your name and what you’ll be bringing to this spreadsheet.
In the meantime, let’s meet some of the wonderful pigs you’ll be helping by participating in the bake sale…
This one-eared cutie pie is Sherman.
Whisper and his family all live together in a big pen.
Penny likes to snuggle under piles of blankets.
Panda is missing most of her teeth, but she still loves to eat carrots with a little help.
Roscoe is a gentle giant.
And these are just a few of the 44 pigs who call Hearts on Noses home. So come on out on April 27th to stock up on delicious baked goods and support the pigs!
Twenty-two years later there are still plenty of things, like this t-shirt, to discuss.
Adams analyzes the t-shirt, which was created by a fraternity at Amherst College, with her usual intelligence and perspicacity; I urge you to read her post.
That this t-shirt exists in 2012 and that its roots in the sexual politics of meat go unremarked reveals how truly nested in our culture is the connection between masculinity, male bonding, and meat eating. (more)
Elsewhere on her blog, she shares this relevant ad campaign from Germany:
"Tofu is Gay Meat"
Now I’m going to share a mere handful of the hundreds of similarly creepy images that I’ve found while perusing the internet. (Click through for the source.)
What do you get when you combine a spectacular fall day, 44 of the cutest pigs you’ll ever see, and a dedicated animal rights worker? You get Liberation BC’s Thanksgiving visit to Hearts on Noses Pig Sanctuary!
Liberation BC’s five board members made the drive out to Hearts on Noses in Mission, B.C. on Saturday, October 6th. We were welcomed at the gate by Janice Gillett, the owner, who took us on a tour of her beautiful sanctuary. Most of the pigs we met were of the pot-bellied variety or some hybrid thereof, although a few were Yorkshires, a type of pig bred for food production, and three feral hybrids. (We learned that, surprisingly, pot-bellied pigs are also bred for food production, though on a lesser scale.) Janice also has a couple of horses, two dogs, a few cats, and a turtle. She started the sanctuary in 1993 when she found little Willy, a stray baby rooting around on the property she had just bought. Since then she has become a guardian angel to hundreds of pigs.
Rose, who was rescued from the side of the road with a shattered hip when she was just a piglet. She still walks with a bit of a limp.
Janice is an incredibly hard worker. Despite the fact that she also works full time for SAINTS, she somehow manages to care for all of the animals at her sanctuary as well. Hearts on Noses also benefits from the help of many devoted volunteers.
As we toured the sanctuary, Janice and her team of volunteers told us the stories of the various residents. Many of the pigs come to Hearts on Noses via Craigslist ads, where people bought them as “pets” and then changed their minds when the pigs got to be too big or inconvenient. Janice helps to adopt them out to loving forever homes or brings them to live with her through sponsor donors. Naturally, many of the stories we heard were sad. We met Sherman, who had had one of his ears and one tusk bitten off by a family dog.
Sherman, a big sweetie, showing off his good side.
We met Lucy, who had been so overfed that it will take over a year for her to lose enough weight to be able to walk around comfortably.
Janice makes sure that Lucy gets a little exercise every day.
Meanwhile, Panda had been left in a small crate for most of her life and had both her ears and her tail chewed off by rats.
Panda is also missing most of her teeth, but she still loves to eat carrots with a little help.
Janice is a pretty tough cookie, but the emotional toll this work has had on her became evident when she told us the story of one pig whose caregiver was going to give him up after 10 years. She wiped tears from her eyes as she tried to imagine how this pig was going to feel, leaving the only life he’d ever known.
At least one of the stories was a happy one. When a male and female pig arrived at Hearts on Noses about five years ago, Janice knew immediately that the female was pregnant, although the owner denied it. Sure enough, she soon gave birth to eight babies and now the whole family lives happily together in one luxury-sized pen.
The happy family.
For me, the best part of our visit came when the pigs were released from their pens to roam free all over the sanctuary. (They all spend a good amount of time roaming freely, although only certain ones can be out together at the same time.)
A couple of the feral hybrids, Jeremy and Josh, enjoying the sunshine.
The most excitement came when Roscoe, a 1000-pound Yorkshire, came bounding out his stall. It was a more than a little intimidating to see him coming towards me but I was told to just put up my hands so he could see I had no food and he would walk on by…and sure enough, he did.
Janice with Roscoe, the gentle giant.
We spent a good part of our time rubbing the bellies of various pigs while learning all about them both as individuals and as a species.
Like most pigs, Whisper loves belly rubs.
And no part of this sanctuary was off limits to pigs. Even in the house, on the way to the bathroom, we had to step around two pigs asleep on dog beds in the living room!
Comet getting some lovin' from the entire board.
We were all a little sad to leave Hearts on Noses but the good news is that we’ll be doing a fundraiser for them in the future. For those of us involved in education and outreach it is so inspiring to meet the people who work on the front lines – they are simply amazing. So this Thanksgiving, Liberation BC and hundreds of pigs are thankful for Janice and all her volunteers!
If you’d like to help out at Hearts on Noses or make a donation, you can contact Janice at heartsonnoses[at]shaw.ca. You can also make a donation via CanadaHelps.org!
Check out this video of our visit:
(Oh! After leaving the sanctuary, we went to Chomp, an amazing vegan, gluten-free restaurant in Port Moody that specializes in local and organic delicacies. It is most definitely recommended.)