Ever loved a dog or cat? My guess is that most people in the United States have.
So imagine this:
Take that beloved pet and place her in a confined space in which she cannot stand up or turn around. Artificially inseminate her, and when she whelps, move her — beat her, if necessary, because she won’t want to go — into a “gestation crate” where her pups will have a small space to nurse.
She, meanwhile, will be pressed to the ground by metal bars, forced to eat in that position and urinate and defecate onto hard concrete floors. She’ll probably develop sores. Because of that, and because she lives in a massive indoor facility with hundreds of other animals just like her, she’ll need to be injected with huge amounts of antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.
Her offspring will be taken from her unnaturally soon, so she can start cycling again and produce more puppies. Her boredom will be so excruciating that she and many of the animals around her will literally go insane, smashing their faces and breaking teeth against bars, bloodying their mouths while chewing on anything nearby.
You can well imagine that after three or four years of such an existence — she’ll never have seen the sun or experienced a kind touch — she’ll be no good as a mother and she’ll be shipped off for slaughter.
You surely realize, by now, that I’m talking not about your cat or dog, but an animal of equal intelligence and social needs: pigs. (But for the record, this more or less goes on in puppy mills, too; if you want to adopt a rescued mill dog, check out milldogrescue.org.)
This is how more than 99 percent of hogs are raised in the United States, in so-called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs in meat-washed industry argot. All factory farming is repugnant, but because of the combination of their intelligence, sociability and the brutal conditions that bring us our daily bacon, pigs are by far the most tortured.
(By the way, the agricultural industry doesn’t want you to know how it raises hogs or other meat species. In Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Montana and other states, there are now laws banning the filming of these death houses, pushed by agri-giant Monsanto. Out of sight, out of mind)
Pigs are amazing — and clean — animals. The only reason they roll in the mud is because they have no natural cooling systems. They are, by some measures, smarter than cats and dogs, able to perform certain complex tasks as quickly as chimpanzees.
So. Still think bacon is funny? Hip? A bold symbol of independence?
Still think it’s cute to chuck bacon at Bolder Boulder runners?
Maybe you’d like to slip on your hip “Push Button, Receive Bacon” T-shirt?
Think Homer Simpson’s dimwitted devotion to the delicious cured meat is a riot?
For reasons that I can only guess at — and I will — bacon has become hip and clever. A kind of tag that says, “Screw you, health Nazis! I love my bacon.”
I’ve seen clever posters of roses made of bacon. T-shirts that read, “This girl ? bacon!” And, my favorite — it’s just so darned rebellious — a bumper sticker saying, “I’d Kill a Kitten for Bacon.”
So what is it with all this bacon “humor” ?
Sure, it tastes good. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any (though the fake stuff is surprisingly good), but I remember. No wonder, with all that yummy fat and salt.
Clearly part of it is in reaction to the increasing pressure to eat a more healthy diet that’s lower on the food chain, a recipe for a healthier planet. Americans are rugged individuals, you know, and don’t like to be told what to do. So often we respond with juvenile “nyaa, nyaahs” to prove that nobody’s the boss of us.
And, I’m thinking, at least a few people are overcompensating for a sense of inner guilt. I think most of us — maybe not in Paducah or Tulsa, but surely in Boulder — actually know how harsh and horrible 99 percent of pig farms are.
And, I suppose, some people truly don’t give a damn about suffering.
Whatever the roots of this greasy bit of zeitgeist, just remember that every time anyone buys bacon, they’re voting “yes” for the torture described above. Unless, that is, they make the effort to buy humanely raised pork (or, of course, become a vegetarian or vegan; more on that below).
But lucky us. In Boulder County, we have a growing number of truly local farms that are rejecting the nasty, unhealthy, violent factory-farm model and raising “dirt hogs” — animals that get to have real lives before slaughter.
At Cure Organic Farm on Valmont Road in Boulder, Anne and Paul Cure raise a number of different species the old way, including hogs. In other words, the animals live on pasture supplemented by grain and produce culled from other parts of the farm. They are rotated to new pastures every two or three weeks, depending on the condition of the grass (yes, hogs are a grazing species; drive by Black Cat chef Eric Skokan’s farm on 75th Street near Valmont and you’ll see plenty of piggies, heads down in the grass).
The animals at Cure are allowed to develop natural social hierarchies, and they are never vaccinated or immunized.
“We like to have them in a natural habitat, where they can range, root up ground, turn up the soil,” says Anne Cure. “We let the social dynamic be as natural as it can be.”
When the time comes for young pigs to go to slaughter, they are sent to a small, USDA-approved, family-run processing plant in Evans, Colo., Innovative Foods.
Cure finds it curious that so many people who visit the farm are uncomfortable with the idea that the animals die. Yes, these are meat eaters.
“The switch hasn’t happened yet in their minds, of really wanting to know how food is produced. They’re still in the dark, thinking it just comes in a package,” Cure says.
(Having killed pigs, cattle, sheep and poultry myself, I’ve long thought that all meat eaters should be required to do this at least once, to dispel all that denial.)
But locally, as more and more traditional producers crop up, Cure sees a lot of people waking up.
“I applaud those community members who have gotten to the place of really wanting to know, of caring enough to seek out producers who do it in a natural way,” she says.
Now, back to that vegetarian/vegan thing.
Yes, sure, that’s a great choice if you are concerned with the cruelty of factory farming. But I’ve argued for a long time that the likelihood of America going veg is approximately nil. Given that reality, I urge carnivores to be willing to spend a little more to support the people who are farming in a more ethical way. That’s the only way we’ll ever be able to change the hideous, hellish practices that bring us all that hilarious, hip bacon. (I always get yelled at by people who tell me “free range” is terrible, too; maybe, but it’s better, and that’s progress.)
Bacon isn’t funny or cool. It’s cruel. It’s brutal.
But it doesn’t have to be.