By Erik Marcus
The “Micro-Pig” Who Kept Growing & Growing
The worldwide pork industry is massive, raising and killing about 1.4 billion pigs a year. I’ll cover the fate of those animals in a moment, but that particular medicine is too bitter to swallow without a spoonful of sugar. So let’s instead begin with a happy story that puts everything into context.
In 2012, a couple adopted a “micro pig” as a pet. She wasn’t going to grow much bigger than a small dog, or anyway that’s what they were told. Reality intervened. The piglet, who they named Esther, just kept growing and growing and growing. It turned out that Esther was actually straight from a pig farm, with genes that would make her grow to 500 pounds within two years and keep growing until she was 800 pounds-nearly as heavy as some cows. By the time the couple realized what they had on their hands, they had fallen in love with her. They started shooting videos of their increasingly massive pig as she hung out around the house, and they ultimately wrote up their experiences in a book titles Esther the Wonder Pig.
Playful, inquisitive, adorable Esther quickly became the most famous pig on YouTube, racking up tens of thousands of views of videos featuring her inhaling pies, yawning, and taking a dip in the backyard. She has inspired countless people to quit bacon, largely because of the joy she so plainly takes from life.
Factory Pig Farming
As with the chicken and dairy industries, pork producers have been responsible for one grotesque abuse case after another after another after another. Indeed, the modern pork industry is the product of a culture where anything that boosts profits is tolerated, no matter how cruel.
As long ago as 1976, the industry journal Hog Farm Management advised its readers to, “Forget the pig is an animal—treat him just like a machine in a factory.” This callous attitude toward animals has only intensified in recent decades. Amidst growing opposition to gestation crates—one of the cruelest confinement methods in all of factory farming—the communications director of the National Pork Producers Council responded:
…our animals can’t turn around for 2.5 years that they are in the stalls…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…
Factory farmed pigs spend their entire lives in crowded indoor conditions—never once setting foot outside. Ammonia from pig urine permeates the barn to such a degree that it damages the lungs of pigs and workers alike. In fact, the fumes are so toxic that merely living near a pig barn elevates risks of a variety of health problems.
Mutilations and Selective Breeding
Just like people, pigs are more likely to become violent and aggressive when housed in crowded and stressful environments. But since crowding is key to maximizing revenue, producers effectively compete over who can maximize crowding without causing mortality rates to spike. They accomplish this by systematically mutilating each piglet shortly after birth. The piglets’ “needle” teeth and tails are cut off to reduce the chances that they will attack one another. Their ears are frequently notched for identification purposes. Males are also castrated. All of this is done without anesthetic. Although it would only cost about 25 cents a dose to inject piglets with a local anesthetic prior to castration, the industry considers even this pittance is too costly an expenditure.
Like chickens, pigs are selectively and relentlessly bred to maximize growth, which invariably increases risk of mobility problems. One of the pig industry’s many unresolved problems concerns “downers”—animals who through sickness, injury, or lameness can no longer stand. About 3 percent of pigs arriving at the slaughterhouse are unable walk to the kill floor. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, overturned a California law that forbade selling the flesh of downer pigs for human food.
Pigs go to slaughter at just under six months of age, at a weight of about 240 pounds. If allowed to reach adulthood, they can grow to nearly 1000 pounds and live more than five years.
Alternatives to Pork & Bacon
Getting pork and bacon out of your diet is easy. Most vegan cookbooks offer at least a few meaty recipes that make terrific replacements to pork-based meals. There’s even a vegan cookbook called Baconish that is entirely devoted to offering meals to replace bacon and pork.
In terms of vegan food products, there are numerous excellent alternatives to pork and bacon, and the options get better every year. There are vegan hot dogs, excellent bacon and sausage products, and even vegan soy chorizo. For a solid roundup of all your options, visit our vegan meats page.