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She struggled in the farrowing crate. She struggled for breath, her tiny, feeble body too weak to stand up. Her chest heaved as she struggled to stay alive. She was exhausted. Her eyes were barely open. Was she only a few hours old? Was she blinded by the toxic fumes of this concentration camp? Were her eyes infected from the sh*t, blood, and decaying bodies of her brothers and sisters? The rotting corpses she lay among - the stench of inescapable torment assaulting her senses.
Naturally, this was the result of commodifying the bodies of animals. The quality of our delicious bacon doesn’t depend on the eyesight of the living creature from which it came.
But we weren’t there to theorize - we were there to record, to bear witness, to investigate. We had to be silent, invisible. We had to go completely unnoticed.
We were spread out throughout the facility, crouching along the rows of farrowing crates
and attempting to capture their experiences. We didn’t want to be there. We didn’t want to leave without rescuing anybody. We didn’t want to focus our efforts on photography while ignoring the pleas of these pigs. We didn’t want to cover our faces and sneak onto someone else’s property. But alas, there we were, with acidic stenches engulfing our senses; the repercussions of the procedures of despotism and domination.
Her eyes opened a little more - pigs are curious by nature and we figured she yearned to connect with us, what with our giant, black, peculiar cameras peering into the crates of these pigs. We couldn’t help but smile. It would only take some water, food, warm blankets, proper veterinary care (that is, veterinary care at all), and a few hours spent outside of this facility and she could easily grow up to be the fiercest, fastest, and happiest pig around. We could just imagine her wiggling wildly in a puddle of mud, content. There we were again, unable to stop ourselves from fantasizing.
But our smiles faded.
Her tiny squeals were barely noticeable compared to her mama, who lay, immobile in the crate, taking up most of the space as her overgrown body lay on top of her dead babies, the bars of her prison cell pressing into her back. See, farrowing crates are not large enough to comfortably or sanely fit a pregnant or breastfeeding sow, a pig only six months old herself. The rate at which infant mortality and cannibalism occurs is entirely intuitive given the situation we inflict upon these creatures. We have no reason to be surprised. (And yet, in those moments, we were. Naive whistleblowers.) Her screams were so human, so loud and raw, full of the insanity, boredom, pain, despair, and distress that the individuals on that farm experienced constantly. It is all they will ever know.
These pigs were going crazy. The activist to my right tried to lay down beside the crate, hoping to accurately capture the situation from the mother’s point of view. The closer he got - as he tried to move away - the more erratic she became until the screams were so loud we had to back away and take a break. But as we did, it was almost as though she feared us leaving her alone more than she feared us hurting her - and what else could she think? We were humans, and to these pigs, we were either there to rape them if they were female, castrate them if they were male, or cut off their tails, cut off their teeth, and eventually take them away on a truck to another facility where they would be put into gas chambers. Yet, it was almost as if she knew, deep down, somewhere inside of her, that we could also be the very arms that carry her away to safety. To a place far, far away from this one.
We noticed her baby - the half-blind piglet whom we observed before - was furiously trying to push her mother’s body off her sibling, whose body was crushed under enormous weight. Her sickly squeals got louder and louder - it was clear she had more energy to help someone else than herself. She tried to push and pull and ram herself against her mother’s back, hoping her sibling would crawl out. But he was dead, and she didn’t know this. His body, we observed, the little we could see of it, was red with infection and blood and the only sign of life was the maggots that inhabited the wound on his back - a gaping hole filled with lesions and marred with pus.
Silently, we wept, and though it was fruitless, we gently redirected her to another corner of the crate, hoping she didn’t exhaust herself from a futile effort. She gently lay down again, her squeals getting fainter and fainter as we made our way to another crate.
But I couldn’t help but ask why. Why? What is the point of any of this? Why do we let this happen? And for what? For what? We must be ridiculously, embarrassingly, and shamefully stupid to think that a ham sandwich is worth this. It’s not. No amount of money, food, products, advancements, or innovation that is the result of the objectification of a living being will ever be worth it. It’s not.
How they could tell we were about to leave the facility, we didn’t know. But all at once, the screams of the sows we’re amplified - the hundreds and hundreds in this facility and the hundreds and hundreds in the neighbouring sheds. They screamed, yelled, squealed, screeched, and shrieked in unison, their spine-chilling and hair-raising cries reverberating throughout the facility, clamours that went deep inside our bones. We knew, without a doubt, that what they feared more than anything was our departure.
After all, we get to break in, take photos, cry, and then at the end, we get to leave. We get to walk out through the door, discreetly lock the sheds, and make our way across the farm fields to where we hide our vehicles, ensuring we make no noise and reveal no secrets. We get to walk away.
We can escape.
They can’t. They never will.
What they feared, we realized, more than the torture, the rape, the castration, and the pain
they were used to was the possibility of being forgotten. The prospect of being abandoned, left behind.
How could we let any of this happen? Why?