In 2011, a pig farmer named Bob Comis posted a rather surprising, and short, entry on the Stony Brook Farm blog. He said, “This morning, as I look out the window at a pasture quickly growing full of frolicking lambs, I am feeling very much that it might be wrong to eat meat, and that I might indeed be a very bad person for killing animals for a living.”
Comis raises perhaps 500 pigs every year on his farm in rural New York. He does not run an industrialized operation. Rather, he strives to treat the pigs as well as possible, raising them in a pasture-based manner. They can go outside, root around, play and socialize together, rest inside shelters or shady wooded areas, and wallow in mud to stay cool.
They live happy piggy lives, right up to the day they take their final truck ride to the slaughterhouse. There, of course, things are not so rosy.
“One morning, I woke up absolutely certain that killing animals to eat their meat was wrong,” Comis told Modern Farmer in 2014. “So it might seem like I’ve sided with animal rights advocates, but the long view that I’m taking on this makes my position more complicated than that.”
“We Have an Obligation to Eat Otherwise”
These are amazing words from someone who makes his living providing animal meat for human consumption:
What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95 percent of the American population. I know it in my bones — even if I cannot yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don’t weave dark, damning shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise.
It might take incalculable generations of being hooked by and grappling with the ethics of slaughter to get there. But we really do need to get there — because again, what I am doing, what we are doing, is wrong, even terribly so.
Taking Baby Steps Toward The Day We Don‘t Keep Livestock At All
Comis believes that we need to stop raising and slaughtering animals for food. He also knows this happy animal-friendly future won’t happen in one fell swoop. It’s going to require a shift in cultural thinking.
“I think a lot of animal farmers have the same ethical struggles me, although I’m not sure how many struggle as intensely as I do,” Comis told Modern Farmer. “I believe this is likely the case with even non-corporate factory farmers. Feeling nothing strikes me as mildly sociopathic.”
Pasture raised pigs outside on a sunny day. Photo credit: Thinkstock
Those who believe in the “all or nothing” approach will not like Bob Comis or what he has to say. He continues to raise pigs for slaughter, and no matter how well those pigs live until the day they die, the abolitionist proponents won’t be fans.
For those who believe progress must sometimes be gained in increments, Comis’ non-intensive livestock farming approach may find favor.
“For now, I justify non-industrial farming as a necessary compromise that will gradually shift how we think about using animals as food,” he said.
“By raising animals the way I do, I offer a way out of the industrial farming system, which is worse by orders of magnitude than the way I farm, and should be abandoned immediately,” Comis told Modern Farmer. ”That’s how I rationalize my farming. I know that on the macro level, my small farm does not change much. But on the micro level, I do make a difference in the lives – and deaths – of individual pigs.”
Comis is different than those who espouse a continuation of the “sustainable humane meat” industry. Instead, he advocates for a future in which his type of farming serves only as a stepping stone toward the day we don’t eat animals at all. He wants to treat the animals decently until we can get society to the point where we don’t eat them at all.
“An Unethical Life Shrouded in the Justificatory Trappings of Social Acceptance”
“As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance.” Comis wrote for The Huffington Post in January 2014. “There is more, even, than simple acceptance. There is actually celebration of the way I raise the pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane — while all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder and a murderer.”
Realizations such as this, discussed publicly by individuals in the livestock trade, are the first nuggets that will lead to the end of animal farming. Comis isn’t the only livestock rancher to express horror at industrialized animal farming. Howard Lyman, the “Mad Cowboy,” was a fourth generation cattle rancher and dairy farmer until health concerns turned him vegan and caused him to lobby hard against the very industry he’d once embraced.
Resist the urge to dismiss what Comis has to say because he’s still farming pigs. I wanted to do that, too. It’s the easy and understandable reaction. We want to say “If you think it’s so wrong, stop doing it!”
The fact that any livestock farmer feels this way — and encourages public discussion about it — is monumental. I’m impressed Comis gave voice to his worries, even if he’s a failed vegan, still a meat eater and still a livestock farmer. He’s thinking and writing about the issue. He’s deeply bothered. He’s stirring the pot. He’s making noise. That’s how change begins.