Going to take a slight swerve here. At least it may seem that way, but it does go to the direction of where I want this blog to go. Here are the questions I am struggling with; Do food ethics matter? If they do, then just what does that mean? Is the ethic simply that if we feed everyone all the time, then anything goes? It's not what I am addressing today but, does it matter how we grow grains and vegetables? By that I mean what chemicals are or are not o.k.? Genetically modified? Mega ag companies? And I could go on but these are things I will address at a later time. Today I'm going to consider meat and the animals that we raise for that purpose. This will just be a small piece of a very large and complicated puzzle so let's see were it goes.
The thing that has brought this to the fore front for me is an ethical struggle I am having with something that would seem pretty irrelevant and minor. Pig wrestling. Yup, pig wrestling. Now let me get this out of the way up front, I'm not a member of PETA, I eat meat, I have hunted deer, ducks, geese, squirrel, rabbit etc. That being said, the more I learn about the processing of meat in this country, the more vegetables I eat. So what does pig wrestling have to do with food ethics? Maybe nothing, that's the struggle I am having.
This sums up some of the issue as I see it.
"It's widely agreed that because animals feel pain we should not make them suffer gratuitously. Some ethical theories go even further: because of the capacities animals possess, they have a right not to be harmed or killed. Such views concern what not to do to animals, but we also face the question of what we should do to assist the ones that may be hungry or distressed. And if we do, say, feed a starving kitten, does this commit us to feeding wild animals suffering through a hard winter?"
Animal Ethics in Context
(at a later date I'll give a bit of a review of this book.)
I am not a farmer, never raised pigs and know nothing about hog psychology. But one argument that I will not accept or even consider is one that I have actually heard and read. "The pigs love it, they are having fun" NO, the events I have seen I don't think the pig was having much "fun". Here is a excerpt from an ad for a pig wrestling event.
"Hog wrestling is a competition where four person teams enter the mud pit/arena and try to catch a hog and lift it up onto a padded barrel. The porkers are clearly in their element, the competitors clearly are not. The whole thing ends up being a tremendous amount of fun."
from an event in Crivitz, WI July 20 2013
I can't say for sure, but that pig doesn't look it's in its element, or like it's having much fun.
Now with that out of the way. Who cares? It's just a pig. What's wrong with having a little fun? Most of these events benefit charities or causes, that makes it o.k. doesn't it? The only people that complain are tree huggers, PETA freaks or city people that have no clue. The bigger, more "pig friendly" of these events use several pigs and each pig is only in the ring once and with a strict time limit. So they really care for and protect the pig, right? Hey if weren't for these events these pigs would probably already be on someones plate, so we are doing them a favor.
Hopefully, you are starting to understand my dilemma. But Del, this reads like you are dead set against it. Maybe it does. Maybe I am. And it is the way I am leaning. But here is the thing, I regularly complain about people putting human emotions and thought onto animals. Do animals have and show emotions? I have been around animals enough to know that, to a degree, yes they do. But I think we make a mistake when we equate those instincts with human emotion and rational thought. Take the photo above. It's very easy to put a human emotion on that pig because of the way it looks. Is it emotion as we know it or is it simply a projection of the fight or flight instinct? I am not sure, and no, neither are you unless you are the "Pig Whisperer".
So now that this is as clear as the mud in the ring, lets muddy it up a little more. Forget the ethics (yeah right), is it legal? It depends on how you read the law and which side of the argument you are on. Let's look at the relevant Wisconsin state statute. (I'm using WI because that's were I am).
Chapter 951 of Wisconsin law deals with Crimes Against Animals. This is a three page document, which you can look at here. But, let me read for you what it says about pig wrestling or does it say anything about it? You decide.
"(1) No person may intentionally instigate, promote, aid or abet as a principal agent or employee, or participate in the earnings from, or intentionally maintain or allow any place to be used for a cockfight, dog fight, bullfight or other fight between the same or different kinds of animals or between an animal and a person. This section does not prohibit events or exhibitions commonly featured at rodeos or bloodless bullfights."
If you come down on the side of pig wrestling is unethical and illegal, you focus on the highlighted section above. The "between an animal and a person" thing, Well that seems clear cut doesn't it? Nope. The other side of the legal argument is that first, this isn't a "fight" and second "this section does not prohibit events or exhibitions commonly featured at rodeos or bloodless bullfights". So it comes down to how read the law and what you consider these events to be. I've never seen a pig wrestling event at a rodeo or bullfight, so I don't know how "common" that could be. Is it a fight? Maybe, maybe not, but I have never seen the pig grab a human and stuff him in a barrel. Obviously lawyers on both sides are pretty convincing that they are right, it is there job after all.
“Since pig wrestling is between an animal and a person and is not commonly featured at rodeos or bloodless bullfights, we feel this is a crime against animals as per Wisconsin Law,” says Lynn Paully co director of the AFA. "Moreover", she notes, "not only are those who run or participate in pig wrestling competitions breaking the law, but a spectator of such an event is also in violation of Chapter 951 and could face felony charges."
But then again,
Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard says "I do not believe that what is occurring here could be described as a ‘fight.’ I also strongly suspect that what is described here is akin to exhibitions commonly featured at rodeos. For these reasons, this office declines to take further action at this time in this connection.’
Well that clears that up doesn't it? So where does all this leave me? I'm not going to say that if you enjoy watching or participating in one of these events that you are a terrible evil person, or that you can't go to one. (telling you what to do offends my Libertarian sensibilities). My simple rule is this, "first do no harm". Which leaves it for you to decide if this causes harm or not. And that is what I want to accomplish, put the topic out there and let you decide.
I'm going to end it here. I could go on and on and still not make things any clearer or sway one side of the argument or the other. So what do you think? Does it matter? Is there such a thing as ethics in the treatment of food? And just where is the Line?
Tofu wrestling anyone?
Stay hungry my friends
some other sources