What Came Before–Extended Version

Sorry to start your week off with such a stark, brutal look at pig farming in America. But it is what it is, and anyone who raves about bacon and pork should at least have the courage to know what it takes to put those things on their plate.

This is an extended version of an earlier video from Farm Sanctuary, about a pig named Nicky that escaped from an Iowa factory farm during a flood (apparently natural disasters have freed more than pigs). Before you watch, here’s a little background about pig intelligence and studies that show pigs are able to use mirrors as a tool to find food:

The finding is just one in a series of recent discoveries from the nascent study of pig cognition. Other researchers have found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to the rest. They’ve shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.

They’ve found that pigs are among the quickest of animals to learn a new routine, and pigs can do a circus’s worth of tricks: jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make wordlike sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, close and open cages, play videogames with joysticks, and more. For better or worse, pigs are also slow to forget. “They can learn something on the first try, but then it’s difficult for them to unlearn it,” said Suzanne Held of the University of Bristol. “They may get scared once and then have trouble getting over it.”

Researchers have also found that no matter what new detail they unearth about pig acumen, the public reaction is the same. “People say, ‘Oh yes, pigs really are rather clever, aren’t they?’ ” said Richard W. Byrne, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of St. Andrews. “I would recommend that somebody study sheep or goats rather than pigs, so that people would be suitably impressed to find out your animal is clever.” His feigned frustration notwithstanding, he added, “if you want to understand the evolution of intelligence and social behaviors, it’s important to work on animals like pigs that are not at all closely related to us” but rather are cousins of whales and hippos.

And here is how we treat them. How can this in any way be morally acceptable?

Talking Turkey

We’re not having a turkey (or any meat) at our Thanksgiving table this year. And that was a pretty non-controversial decision in my family.

But if you are trying to talk your family into a vegetarian Thanksgiving, or are taking heat for leaving the turkey out, then I’ve got some useful numbers for you about Thanksgiving turkey consumption:

Amidst groans about being more stuffed than the bird itself, Americans will toss a whopping $282 million worth of uneaten turkey into the trash this Thanksgiving, contributing to the $165 billion in uneaten food Americans waste every year. Along with trashing uneaten turkey, they’ll be wasting the resources necessary for its production — meaning 105 billion gallons of water (enough to supply New York City for over 100 days) and greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 800,000 car trips from New York to San Francisco. That’s enough turkey to provide each American household that is food insecure with more than 11 additional servings (17.9 million American households suffer from food insecurity).

Nationwide, consumers will purchase around 736 million pounds of turkey this Thanksgiving, of which about 581 million pounds will be actual meat. The USDA reports that 35 percent of perfectly good turkey meat in the U.S. does not get eaten after it is purchased by consumers (and that’s not including bones). This compares with only 15 percent for chicken. Why the disparity? “Possibly because turkey is more often eaten during holidays when consumers may tend to discard relatively more uneaten food than on other days,” the USDA writes.

And unless we take action to prove the USDA wrong, we’ll be throwing away about 204 million pounds of that meat and about 1 million tons of CO2 with it. Per pound, the resources needed to produce that turkey are equivalent to driving your car 11 miles and taking a 130-minute shower (at four gallons/minute).* And that’s to say nothing of the vast amounts of antibiotics used to produce turkey meat, leading to antibiotic resistance, which you can read more about here.

And that doesn’t even take into account what the turkeys actually go through to get to a table.

So instead of eating a turkey, how about adopting one?