The Girls

Edwina, Gurty and Woody.

These three names popped into my head the other day, as I absentmindedly clucked at some of the newest additions to our motley family, four rescue free range hens.

While I watched as my mother exchanged cooing noises with them and pretended to admonish them for taking ‘dust baths’ in the mud, my thoughts slowly drifted towards that of the first three girls that ever came into our care.

The ones that in the winter of 2014, seemed to catapult their way into the heart of my family, in a way that didn’t seem possible of any chicken. They created a wave of change that continues to ripple almost three years later. In those two and a half years, they have started conversations, arguments, caused tears of laughter, of heartbreak, raised questions and shattered old perceptions.

Those three chickens also managed to propel me towards beginning a path that in the past, I had not been prepared in committing to take. They showed me the face of a reality I had refused to see.

It was a bitter day in November when they arrived. Littlehill Animal Rescue (see link below for further information on their incredible work) had effectively mobilised the country in finding homes for approximately 7000 hens, all hailing from a solitary factory farm. These hens, pushed beyond the limits of their biology, were rendered unusable following approximately a year of ‘service’, and were now destined for slaughter.

We signed up to collect three. I remember the feeling of hurriedly pushing through the front door of our home, having been at lectures all day, my cheeks flushed with a mixture of cold and excitement. I was greeted by the sounds of curious squawks from behind the closed door of our study.

Those little soft noises were accompanied and contrasted slightly by a more somber silence hanging in the air. Too eager in my anticipation to note the silence in full, I moved quickly, only stopping in pace to gently place my hand on the handle, to delicately open the door, conscious of who might be standing in close proximity behind it. Slowly turning the handle and pushing forward, I quickly peeked my head around the corner, to fully take in the sight of our three little chickens. What I saw stilled my heart. Without saying a word I stepped inside the room and took stock of the sight before me.

You hear about the horrendous things that happen to chickens in battery farms. You see the photos, and hear the stories. But even with this prior knowledge, I was not prepared for the physical reality of what appeared behind that door.

Three different chickens, in varying degrees of baldness and malformation, were placed in various corners of the room. One chicken, later that evening to be christened Edwina, was missing almost all the feathers on her wings, with bald patches on her head and back. Gurty lay in a box placed under the desk. As I entered the room, she slowly got up, and moved away, attempting to shield herself. Quivering, legs stiff, she turned and faced away from me, only to lay an egg that had no shell. I noticed immediately that her behind was completely exposed and hued with an angry red. She slowly made her way back to the box and nestled inside, head hanging low. Meanwhile Woody, the one in best condition, walked around making more animated chirpy noises, pecking everything in sight, including my shoe laces. After cooing absently at each chicken, I glanced up and caught the eye of my mum and then my brother. It was then, the real emotion of the scene before me hit.

I had known that these chickens were rescues. I knew that they wouldn’t be in similar condition to the chickens we had outside, glossy, strong, healthy. I had been recently educated on the horrendous conditions these chickens had lived through and been subjected to, had seen the photos of their sisters in cages, yet to be released.

But for it suddenly not to be a matter of photos, videos and a topic of debate in casual conversations, for it to become three very real living, breathing creatures, that effective immediately, we were now responsible for, that were for us to now love and care for, having been effectively tortured in reaching such a point of brokenness, ignited an anger and unspeakable sadness. To have three vulnerable and fragile animals look at us with eyes that were pained and experienced in suffering, for them to have lived an alien experience in comparison to what we were knowledgeably familiar with and what was natural for them, to now exist in the context of our home, was overwhelming.

That night, when the light was turned off, was the first time they had ever been in the dark. These chickens were a year old, and as chickens only lay during during daylight hours, and under factory farm circumstances are treated as a commodity, it commercially made sense to keep them constantly in light.

Over the next few days, watching them stretch their wings, move their legs, unfurl their feet that had held on to a wire cage for the last year, was awe inspiring. As was their journey to recovery that followed.

It’s hard to describe to people why ‘the girls’ as they were commonly referred to in their wandering threesome, are so important, or why they have made such an impact.

I mean they’re just chickens right?

Perhaps if given the same wonderful opportunity to get to know them like we did, maybe it wouldn’t be so difficult. To have seen them blossom, to fight for life having known adversity for their entire existence, to see them respond to instincts that had been smothered, to recognise them as individuals.

They gave us so much, and to give them even a moment to walk in the sunlight was worth the heartbreak of knowing them.

Woody.

I watch as she runs up to peck my mothers undone lace and then eagerly slip in behind as she goes indoors and shuts the door. As I walk in after them both,  Woody clip clopping with her tiny feet up to the fridge waiting for a treat, I can only laugh at the happy madness of it all.

And then take a moment to reflect on Gurty and Edwina, two of the first brave girls to grace our home, who fought so hard for life, who had their moments in the sunshine and then passed away a few months later.

Perhaps next time you go to pick up eggs or a chicken fillet, you’ll take a moment to reflect.

If everyone does a little bit more, the world could be such a different place.

It’s not worth their lifetime of suffering to satisfy your moment of hunger.

*Featured picture above is a picture of Woody*

Littlehill Animal Rescue: http://littlehillanimalrescue.ie/

Egg substitutes: http://www.egglesscooking.com/egg-substitutes/

 

 

The sides of bacon you don’t want to see

“I know right, he’s such a pig”

“Your room is an absolute pigsty, clean it up”

“Can you believe that someone could be so pigheaded?”

It’s not difficult to understand why people relate so poorly to pigs and have such little empathy for their plight in the meat industry, when our everyday language is riddled with negative colloquialisms and nasty insults centered around their very existence. People believe pigs to be ugly, stupid, dirty creatures, that have no real emotion, no purpose on this planet except to be bred and processed, for the sake of eventually ending up on our dinner plate. People have no issue with the fate these animals face, because they believe it be just that, their predetermined fate. Whether people admit to it or not, they view pigs not as animals, but simply as produce. Something to be picked up off a shelf and consumed at leisure.

It is this unquestioning attitude that is so dangerous, so wrong. So damaging. It is this attitude that creates room for incorrect perceptions to arise, doing these wonderful animals such a painful injustice. 

It is obvious that the people capable of doing this, are the people who have not yet made the connection between what they pick up in a supermarket and that of an actual pig.

Sure, perhaps they can imagine a pig when they pick up a packet of sliced ham, reminiscent of one they may have seen when visiting a petting farm as a child.

But they do not see a pig that lives in horrendous conditions, constantly suffering.

A pig that is depressed, that lives each day to the purpose of getting fatter, entitled to nothing, except to creep steadily towards the end of its life, having known no comfort or joy, no kindness. They can not see that of a young piglet being torn from its mother, allowed only to suckle for a short period though a metal gate (a farrowing crate), before being moved on to the next stage of its insemination into the slaughter industry, the industry that will coldly and callously govern the rest of its life.

They do not see a pig that remains neglected, unloved, crowded and frightened.

In Ireland alone, we need only look at the most recent conviction of one of the country’s biggest pig farmers in February 2015, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for charges of “cruelty on an industrial scale”, neglect and one count of a pig being “left in a pen to be eaten alive”, to see an example of the common place cruelty that we are surrounded by.

In 2013, Compassion in World Farming did an investigation into Irish pig farms and CEO Philip Lymbery afterwards stated: “Our latest investigation into the Republic of Ireland uncovers the most blatant breaches of EU law I have ever seen. This Spring, our investigators visited five pig farms in Cork, Waterford and Kerry. The conditions were beyond our worst expectations. Every farm we visited flouted the law and neglected their animals. For example, our investigators found:

  • Pigs living in pens inches deep in excrement
  • Fly infestations due to the filthy conditions
  • Severe injuries caused by fighting
  • Widespread tail docking
  • Open wounds caused by tail-biting
  • Bored pigs chewing dead animals left in their pens
  • Weak and emaciated pigs left to die in corridors
  • Pigs in ‘hospital pens’ apparently just abandoned to die
  • Dead bins’ full of pigs of all ages.”

And yet, people continue to remain unaware and indifferent. These facts may be lain out in front of them, but the concept of being connected to it still remains abstract.

While shopping the other day, I overheard a parent say to their child “Let’s walk down the second aisle over there and pick up a bag of pasta, we’ll have that for later. Do you know what would be nice with that actually? Some bacon, chopped up and thrown in with the sauce. Let’s go pick it up now on our way to the checkout.”

And honestly, what’s the real difference between picking up any good in your local supermarket, right?

Perhaps the main difference, that people tend to overlook when moving casually from one aisle containing pasta and jars of olives, capers, and tins of tomatoes, to another aisle containing freezers and fridges filled with dead carcasses, is that one ‘product’ lived, breathed, felt pain, emotion, exhaustion, fear, and was then slaughtered. The other product, did not. How chilling is it that we have become so desensitised to death, and the type of death these animals suffer, that we can so carelessly and indiscriminately equate these two ‘goods’?

I know people that pride themselves on their love of bacon, of sausages, that don’t actually know anything about what they’re eating, except for ‘how much they enjoy the taste’, and its protein content. Protein that can be found in plant based diets. Tastes that can be found alternatives for.

How have we become so brainwashed that we can overrule in our minds this very obvious desecration of life, that happens so commonly, in such a horrendous fashion, with very few seeming to care? That we can revel in ignorance and broadcast not only our taste for meat but our pride in committing such savagery.

I guess some people would take that as a compliment. Being considered savage. People that would declare themselves hearty carnivores that are merely responding to their primal instincts.

Newsflash. Carnivores eat bones, blood, gristle. Humans, on the other hand, rarely eat anything other than cooked meat, and are extremely selective in what parts. We are not mass manufacturing animals and putting them through extreme suffering for the sake of our survival. We are allowing and encouraging this industry, because we have cultivated a recreational taste for flesh. A taste, which lasts seconds in our mouths, engages fleetingly with our taste buds.. and then is gone.

Through our consumption of animals, we have declared openly that their suffering, their lives, their precious time on this planet are worth only the value of a meal to us.

Here are some simple, regularly overlooked facts:

1. Pigs are extremely intelligent creatures, and “have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly three-year-olds,” – Dr. Donald Broom, a Cambridge Unive. They are placed as the 4th most intelligent creature on the planet. They’ve also been taught how to play video games using joysticks which they move with their mouths. They also are known to love music.

2. Pigs are highly affectionate, love cuddling and naturally would sleep together in nests.

3. They are incredibly social, gregarious animals. They greet one another by rubbing noses, similar to how we shake hands. They “lead social lives of a complexity previously observed only in primates.” They also communicate very effectively with one another; “More than 20 of their oinks, grunts, and squeals have been identified for different situations, from wooing their mates to expressing hunger. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices”

4. Pigs are clean and prefer bathing in fresh water than in mud. Bathing in mud is usually just a way of protecting their skin from the sun.

5. Pigs have been proven to dream.

6. When piglets are born, mothers have a way of ‘singing’ to their young and are renowned for making incredibly deep connections with their piglets.

And their suffering, the cost of their life, is the price of your dinner.

These animals that we have damaged and broken, deserve the right to life.

The right to kindness, to happiness, to freedom. Freedom from the life we have chained them too.

We need to stop seeing animal cruelty and the enslavement and consumption of animals in the meat industry as separate issues.

We need people to be educated, and to not so readily accept what little information they already have as unbending truth. To do research and make more informed decisions.

The information is out there. If you wish to continue with your consumption of animals, don’t you at least owe it to them to be aware of what they go through because of your insatiable demand for meat?

I wish people had the opportunity to look a pig, or any animal for that matter, in their eyes before it happens. That there were able to give a pat on the head, whisper a few words, give a scratch behind the ear. And then be forced to bear witness to their death.

Lucky for you you don’t have to right? Nobody is going to try and confront you with the truth, because you are quite happy to remain blissfully ignorant and that benefits the industry making money from this.

We need to rectify the mass destruction that we have caused, and wash their blood clean from our hands.

Please reconsider, please challenge your preconceived thoughts and ideas, please don’t take the easy route.

Please don’t eat meat.

Information sources: 

  1. http://www.philiplymbery.com/2013/06/pig-farm-cruelty-exposed/
  2. https://irishpigs.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/pig-price-and-pig-meat-market-report-september-12th-2011/
  3. http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/pigs/hidden-lives-pigs/
  4. http://www.think-differently-about-sheep.com/Sentience-%20In-Farm-Animals-%20Pigs.htm
  5. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/farmer-jailed-for-18-months-after-pigs-ate-each-other-1.2101869
  6. http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/cork-pig-farmer-pleads-guilty-to-cruelty-and-neglect-310743.html

Why is the world such a cruel place

When I first created this blog, I had plenty of ideas in mind as to what I wanted to write about. Politics, current affairs, travelling, recipes, the environment, animals, magic – and these are all things I still want to write about. But what has really pushed me into finally writing something today, to reach out in some medium or form, is a picture I just saw on a social media site.

It’s a picture of two cows, comforting one another, before being put to slaughter.

It has moved me, shaken me, and sickened me to my core all at once. It has reminded me why I have given up eating meat, while in the recent past having considered myself to be something of a hefty carnivore.

While still what I’d call a fledgling vegan, the occasions on which I relapse or make a mistake have become evermore infrequent. And every time I want to revert, every time I begin to feel lazy with it, or begin to allow myself to normalise the idea of eating meat again, I am exposed to something that awakens inside me this horror, this absolute bone deep despair, this anger; something that brings it all home again. And this time, it was the picture of two cows looking deep into each others eyes, offering comfort to each other over something that we will never understand and will always be excluded to, showing in them a depth of emotion that we repeatedly fail to acknowledge.

Why are we so cruel? So shamelessly callous and purposefully oblivious to our obvious shortfalls, as human beings, where we allow ourselves to be surrounded and tainted by suffering. As human beings, we owe a duty of care to the animals we consume. Contrary to popular belief, the meat you buy in a supermarket does not arrive there straight from a factory, all cellophane wrapped and ready for easy consumption. That meat you’re eating was a someone, not a something. It had emotions, feelings, relationships with other animals, possibly people, given the opportunity. Cows are known to be highly sensitive and loving, with pigs being highly intelligent and clean and affectionate. I even learnt the other day that it’s possible to litter train pigs, just like cats.

We have this attitude concerning meat, this highly addicted and brainwashed attitude, that seems to create a guilt free pass to blissfully consume meat the way we do, to treat animals the way we do, that allows for them to arrive on our plate in a manner that doesn’t stimulate our thoughts to generate anything beyond what is right in front of us. Animals are given such little respect, treated so horribly, regarded as a product, rather than the living, sentient beings that they are.

People don’t like to look at the reality. But if you’re brave enough to open your eyes to understand fully the meat on your plate, and you decide to open your heart and begin to care, even a little, you’re more than likely going to end up having it broken. But the alternative is far worse, where you decide to be blind yourself and ignore the atrocities that are so commonplace around us, where the reality is that it continues and we all play a role in it. If everyone turns their back, or pretends not to see for the sake of protecting their sensibilities, nothing will ever change. I believe, that maybe in a 100 years time, people will look back and shake their heads in disbelief at how foolish, wasteful and cruel our generation has been. At least, I hope it does.

I have written this with tears of frustration. When I see photos like that, I feel like jumping up and down, like standing on some podium and shouting to the world to educate itself and change it’s ways, that we cannot sustain what we have abused for so long. And then I feel claustrophobic with horror, by the simple fact that so few people seem to care. I get this constant surge of emotion, where I want everyone to see and understand what is so relevant to all of us, what is so REAL. Just because they don’t have a voice, does not mean that we shouldn’t listen, or that we have the right to be complacent. Somewhere in the world, right now, there are new born baby calf’s being torn away from their mothers. Mothers taken immediately to give their baby’s milk to a machine. Bulls slaughtered. There are calf’ being locked in small dark spaces where they can’t move so their muscles are lean and soft (veal), there are pigs lying on dirty concrete floors giving birth to the next stock of meat, there are animals brought to slaughter houses, after leading horrendous lives; scared, afraid, distraught, lonely, and confused.

Maybe the worst thing about that photo for me was that the cows weren’t confused. They knew exactly what was going to happen, and had already quietly accepted that and were now awaiting their sentence, gently offering each other comfort in their final moments, as friends.

I just WISH the world would wake up. Realise what we are doing, and what we continue to fail in stopping. I just wish the world was a better place. Filled with people who cared more, who felt more, who saw more. People who would THINK more, and were just generally better human beings.

I just wish that more people we’re trying make a difference.

If anyone decides to read this and wants to see the photo, here it is:  (http://www.pinterest.com/pin/528047125030339594/)

Here is another link to a picture that broke my heart and correlates to one of the above image descriptions.

“His life has just begun.. And so has his suffering.”

(Taken from https://www.facebook.com/AnimalEquality/photos/a.435806799076.215987.220873174076/10152562932074077/)