I Sent 2,000 Pigs To Slaughter And Struggle To Forgive Myself
One of the most common things that people ask me about my decision to give up pig farming and transition to a veganic vegetable farm, especially because I continued to send pigs to slaughter for ten months after I made my decision to quit pig farming is, "Why didn't you, or why don't you start a pig (or farm animal) sanctuary?" It is an excellent question that deserves to be answered. After all, I was an excellent pig farmer. I know and understand every aspect of pigs (and other livestock animals, too, although to a lesser degree). I am able to take excellent care of them. I am quite sure that pigs and other livestock would thrive on a sanctuary here at In Line Farm. And, I as well as anyone know that the world needs more sanctuaries. So, what's the reason, why didn't I start one, or why aren't I starting one now?
Pigs, like many, if not most nonhuman animals, are almost unconditionally forgiving. No matter the abuse they suffer, no matter the deprivation, no matter the psychological horrors they are put through by thoroughly callous people with a profound disregard for the depth and intensity of their being, pigs, given ample physical and psychological space and time, will forgive humans completely. While it might be difficult for them to do so, and while there might be lasting psychological effects of their trauma, (almost) every pig will welcome humans back into the herd.
There are six pigs from the final herd on my farm living their lives out on sanctuaries: Gus and Roxy (Farm Sanctuary in NY), Audrey (nee Niblet) and Mario (Catskill Animal Sanctuary in NY), and Paul and Christine (Rooterville Sanctuary in FL).* I do not know whether any of them remember, or ever were aware, that I sent their herd mates to their deaths. What I have no doubt of is that they have forgiven me for whatever transgressions they might remember. When I go to visit them - and I will someday, when I have worked up the courage to bear the weight of the ghosts of the 2,000 all at once - they will amble, or run over to me enthusiastically to say hello, or perhaps, if feely lazy while lying down basking in the sun they will just look at me and offer a cool, casual, welcoming yawn, or a grunt or two. And that is because, unlike for we human animals, their pure state of universal goodness has not been buried, covered over, shrouded in the detritus of modern life; forgiveness is a ready and perfectly ordinary, unremarkable act for pigs.
So, I have been forgiven - by the pigs. However, being a fettered human animal, able only to catch glimpses here and there of my own inherent perfection in universal goodness, I find it difficult to forgive myself. I carry the burden of 2,000 souls. All that I need do to relieve myself of that burden is forgive myself, and, it is true that just as I am inching my way toward being able to visit the few pigs that were saved, I am inching my way toward letting those 2,000 souls loose so that they, and I, might finally be at peace.
While I am indeed penitent, I do not feel a strong sense of obligatory penance as a means to forgiving myself. Self-flagellation does not lead one down the road to self-forgiveness. Self-flagellation binds one to guilt, to shame, to repentance in a way that exacerbates them, imbues them with undue power, makes it possible for them to overtake one in such a way that they blot out the brightness of one's future.
What, you might be asking by now does this have to do with starting a pig or farm animal sanctuary here at In Line Farm? For me, in the varied ways that I relate to the decade I lived and worked as a pig farmer, starting a sanctuary is akin to holding too tightly, to binding myself too tightly to the ghosts of the 2,000. For me, starting a sanctuary would be to begin a painful journey down an infinitely circular path of undignified and meaningless self-flagellation.
Note, however, that this is not to say - at all - that I do not want to pay my respects and offer my sincerest regrets and apologies to the many pigs whose lives I took. I just see no purpose in wearing those souls like an albatross around my neck.
In order to help move me along the path to self-forgiveness as opposed to the self-devouring circular path of over identification with guilt and shame, and a compulsion for radical penance, I notice those feelings. I am mindful of them. I hold them in the present moment, "with a light touch, and without judgment," as my therapist says.
What I find in the mindful awareness of this light touch, free of judgment, is not a circular path of self-destruction, but rather an impulse to advocacy: to giving voice to those whose language few of us can comprehend; and to bringing to light a kinder, gentler form of farming (veganic farming), which unlike traditional organic farming does not rely on the by-products of raising nonhuman animals for slaughter - manure and slaughterhouse by-products like blood-, bone-, and feather meal - the vast majority of which is sourced from factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses. Also, making an effort to come up with a viable working transitional model that livestock farmers, who feel like I do about slaughter, but who essentially find themselves trapped - feeling unable to act out of a sense of being trapped in their professions because they believe there are no alternatives - might be able to look to for a road map, or simply inspiration.
Devoting myself to being the subject of the documentary in progress "The Last Pig" (click here to lend your support!) is an example of pursuing that impulse to advocacy - in it, I share as best I can the wonder and true depth of the being of pigs, as I understand them. This past weekend I attended a truly wonderful interdisciplinary academic conference focused on pigs where I devoted my six minute presentation during the conference opening round table discussion to challenging the attendees - professors of and PhD candidates in sociology, anthropology, English, political science, religious studies, among many other disciplines - to see beyond the truncated, short-sighted horizons of conventional conceptualizations of pigs to the unbounded, infinitely mobile horizon of pigs in the glory of all their pigness as sacred, inviolable beings - another example of pursuing that impulse to advocacy.
Wholly committing myself to my new veganic vegetable farm In Line Farm in spite of the very predictable (in my case) harsh psychological toll that pursuing another start up farm would take on me (a few major setbacks on the farm sent me into a violent tail spinning depression in early July that I am only now recovering from) shows the lengths to which I will go to promote veganic farming and the extent of the efforts I am willing to make to attempt to refine the process of my own transition into, if not a reproducible model, then a general road map for other farmers to follow.
I believe - for me, in my case - that pursuing these lines of advocacy, farming method promotion, and model building can, and I hope will, do more for the millions of pigs out there who need action (whatever particular action or actions a person is best suited to carry out) from those of us who are able to see behind the veil to the reality of their miserable conditions on factory farms and in industrial slaughterhouses and the totally unnecessary, absolutely arbitrary, and violent deaths of so-called "happy pigs."
While I do not believe in zero sum games, I do know that if I were to start a sanctuary - that is, effectively become a pig farmer again - the energy of my most focused and effective strengths would be diffused and redirected into day-to-day sanctuary management at the expense of what I think is for me a higher calling that can help me benefit not just a couple of hundreds of pigs, but, in no matter how small a measure, all pigs everywhere.
I do not deny, in fact I readily acknowledge, that we need more, many more sanctuaries. If I believe that is where my strengths would best be mobilized, I would start one.
Perhaps starting a sanctuary is where your strengths lie?
*Originally, eight pigs from the farm were placed in sanctuaries. Two with very bad arthritis went with Paul and Christine to Rooterville Sanctuary in Florida where it was hoped that the soft sandy soil would help ease their pain, but even with significant pain management medication, they suffered the pain of the arthritis too greatly and so were euthanized to relieve the extreme pain they experienced.