In a recent article for The New York Times, science writer Natalie Angier wrote about a study led by Dr. Donald Broom at the University of Cambridge in which 4- to 8-week-old piglets were introduced to a mirror in order to gauge their reactions. Even these extremely young pigs were quickly able to figure out that a bowl of food reflected in the mirror wasn't behind the glass but rather was behind the pig.
Angier also mentioned the recent release of the first draft sequence of the pig genome. A member of the team of biologists who worked on the project was quoted as saying that "the pig genome compares favorably with the human genome." My immediate reaction was, yes, but how does our genome compare to the pig's?
After all, we are slow-thinking animals. It is not entirely our fault, but we can do better. Thanks to steady sales pitches and dishonest advertising, when someone asks, "What's for dinner?" the mental image often conjured up is that of the prepared pot roast or chicken drumstick, not of what came before it. No one thinks, "A pig!" and starts imagining what it must have been like for that animal at the moment when he watched his fellows being killed by the machine or the knife just ahead of him in that strange, frightening place. We are used to a world in which we accept the Oscar Mayer jingle and the sight of children gathered around the "Wienermobile" singing gaily about how they would like to be a hot dog--a world in which parents scream bloody murder, not at the butcher and at the company exploiting their children but at the spoilsport idealist climbing atop the giant hot dog on wheels with a sign saying, "PIGS ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD." It is all quite mad.
This very odd dichotomy came home to me when I was a humane officer in Maryland. I had been called out to an abandoned farm and found the place in a mess. A dog had been left on his chain and had somehow survived, thanks to a bucket of dirty water. The horses and pigs had not. The barn was littered with broken bottles, left by the departing occupants of the farmhouse in the wake of a drunken party. In some stalls, the animals had cut their legs to ribbons on the shards before dying.
Just as I was leaving the dark barn, I saw a movement back in a corner. Stepping carefully over to the straw, I found a little pig, too frail to stand. He couldn't have weighed more than a few bags of flour. I took him in my arms and carried him out into the fresh air and, laying him down under a tree, went to the pump to get some water.
He was too weak to raise his head, but he sipped the drops of water from my fingers, making little grunting noises of what could only be gratitude and relief. I sat with him, rocking him back and forth and talking to him until the van came to take him and the dog to the veterinary clinic. I had to stay behind to look for anything pointing to the whereabouts of the people who had done this to him and his fellows so I could charge them with cruelty.
That evening, driving home, I began to think of what I could cook for dinner. Ah, I thought, I have pork chops in the freezer. Then it hit me. How could I pay someone to hurt a pig when here I was trying to prosecute people for doing the same sort of thing? I didn't know then that pigs are routinely castrated without anesthetic and that they often have their tails cut off to prevent injuries from their fellow inmates who have become enraged by confinement. I hadn't yet visited a slaughterhouse, but like anyone with a functional brain, I knew full well that they must be appalling places if you happen to have been born an animal labeled "food."
Some animals (but, paradoxically, not as a rule those humans kill in order to eat their corpses) kill and eat other animals. So far as we can tell, they have no choice. Humans have choice and are very proud of it. Instead of killing animals on the grounds that they are intellectually superior to the animals, they should stop killing animals and thereby demonstrate that they have more freedom of choice than other animals.