I’ve been really challenged lately to start caring about stuff. Like, properly caring. Sure, I buy free range eggs and freedom-farmed bacon; between us my husband and I have five sponsor kids; and I have an automatic payment to WSPA every month so they can rescue bears … But why? Because strangers at the supermarket will judge me if I reach for cheap eggs that come in bulk? Because I’d rather avoid confrontation when people carrying clipboards stop me in the street? Or because I actually want to support the welfare of battery-farmed chickens, factory-farmed pigs, bile-drained bears and starving children with the power of my dollar?
My younger brother and I grew up on a farm. It was an idyllic existence, including but certainly not limited to climbing trees, hand-rearing lambs, fishing for tadpoles, building huts out of hay bales, and riding on the back of the tractor. Our idyllic upbringing also featured semi-regular exposure to an incredible yet utterly ignorant evil.
Our neighbours owned a pig farm. My eight-year-old brother and I often visited the farm whenever Dad was lending a hand with pig feeding. During school holidays we were hired to unwrap bags upon bags upon bags of bread for the pigs in exchange for $2 each per drum. Sometimes the bread felt like it had come straight out of a bakery; sometimes we’d take delicious almost-fresh goodies home with us if the expiry date was still in the future; most of the time, though, the bread was green with age or soaked with rain and we hated every second we had to physically handle the grossness. The reward (other than remuneration) was to visit the pigs at the end of every afternoon.
The biggest warehouse housed hundreds of teenage pigs in almost-darkness, the only light shining from the factory lights from above. The pens were stews of mud, sawdust, old bread and pig. We innocently threw buckets of bread into the pens then watched in glee as the animals trampled it all into the mud as they raced to snaffle it up. It stunk in there; the stench clung to our clothes and our hair for hours afterwards.
Our favourite part of the pig farm was where the piglets lived. Here, the sows were separated from the rest of the pigs, in their own pens that only in the last 10 or so years I have come to realise were actually cells. The sows lay on their sides all day, every day. Their babies, all soft and pink and unaware of the horror of the pens they’d soon graduate into, sucked greedily at their mothers’ teats. The sows got special treatment; they got fed maize as well as bread. Dad didn’t like staying too long in that warehouse. I didn’t understand why until fairly recently.
The pig farm was shut down over 10 years ago. A few years later, factory pig farming was plastered all over the New Zealand media. “Cruelty to animals; atrocious living conditions; buy freedom-farmed, not factory-farmed,” cried Mike King and an array of newspapers and television ads. It was only then that it occurred to me how ignorant my youthful eyes had been. All those years ago I’d thought it adventurous to visit the pig farm. It never occurred to me that I was unintentionally supporting the evil of factory farming aged just 11.
Just a few months ago I asked Dad if he’d ever had an issue with the pig farm. He took a while to respond, then replied, “I’m actually considering going vegan.” His reasoning back then was that they needed labourers and we needed money. His reasoning on taking an about-turn on all meat and meat products was that animals everywhere have just as much right as we have to good and fulfilled lives.
I read an interesting blog about a certain brand of ‘free-range eggs’ the other day. I’m using inverted commas because the blog claims it’s actually a load of bollocks. It turns out that the brand is run by another brand which is run by another brand which is run by Mainland Poultry – a company that owns the largest battery hen sheds in New Zealand. It’s claimed that Mainland Poultry recognised a gap in the market then went after economic gain rather than an ethical and animal-friendly way of egg production. Even their definition of free-range is a far cry from what we presume it means. I naively think ‘free-range’ and envision a bunch of hens happily clucking outside under the shade of an oak tree, periodically pecking the dirt for some grain or worms or whatever hens eat. In fact, even these ‘free-range’ hens live in a barn that has a small door to the outside world, except the door is closely guarded by aggressive chickens which means that roughly 70% of those hens will never actually go outside. Free-range my arse.
(In fairness, that blog post was written in 2011 so maybe things have changed. I need to investigate more. Which leads me to the point of this entire post.)
I’m not going to claim that I know all there is to know about free-range eggs, factory-farmed bacon, sponsor kids or saving bears. In fact, I know diddly-squat. I’m also not saying that everyone needs to agree on the egg, pig, kid and bear issues either. Just because those are my things, doesn’t mean I’m right and holy and you should follow me like those silly kids followed the Pied Piper. Maybe your passions are to do with organic food, abortion, single-sex schools or making Harry Potter a legit religion. Whatever it is, sit down and really figure out why you make those purchasing decisions or support those causes and belief systems. Blissful ignorance shouldn’t be tolerated any more. It’s imperative that we stand for something; that we become passionate about something; that we do everything it takes to investigate more about why we do stuff.
But don’t just jump on a bandwagon because everyone else is. Becoming passionate about something without objective and unbiased research behind it equates to standing atop a soap box. Widely research the cause from every angle possible, so you can create your own opinion, not a cookie-cutter version of someone else’s. Analyse your own life and look at how you can apply a cause to it. A worthy cause isn’t about following the crowd. It’s about 100% believing that you can change the world for the better by supporting it, whether that’s financially, morally or anythingelsely.
Because if we don’t truly care about anything, what are we here for?