In Robeson County, NC, author/activist Steven M Wise found a grisly confluence of history, horror, and current events. He discovered that on the same ground where Christian settlers decimated the Native tribes, and where a noted local family ran a plantation where once slaves were shackled, beaten and starved, there is a new, modern type of oppression being practiced - cruelty to animals.
Most of us would not hurt our pets; the very name "pet" implies a love of the creatures that we humans have decided to shelter. But we overlook or carefully ignore the daily slaughter of thousands of intelligent animals in the huge factory farms in eastern North Carolina. Mr Wise, animal protection litigator and author of Though the Heavens May Fall, wishes to call our attention to the distressing and often illegal acts perpetrated against pigs in Robeson County and elsewhere.
To produce this book, Wise interviewed former workers in the slaughterhouses of eastern North Carolina, visited one pork factory (though even with addresses in hand he found most plants were not there when he went to look for them), and talked to such diverse informants as representatives of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and right-wing speechwriter and animal rights advocate Matthew Scully. Like Scully, he tried numerous times to arrange an interview with any higher-ups at these pork production facilities without success, and finally concluded, as Scully put it to one reluctant exec, "If I ran a place like that, I wouldn't let people in either."
Wise talked to a scientist who labors to make pork more palatable and went to the World Pork Expo in Iowa, where the pig is mocked when alive (the "Pigcasso" art show, the pig races) and venerated when turned into meat. He spoke to a highly placed member of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jonathan Merritt, who believes that "dominion" over God's bounty should include thoughtful stewardship of our animal resources, not their torture and wholesale murder. Wise even tried to contact the pope.
To bring us up-close and personal with the slaughterhouse industry, Wise invented a fictional piglet named Wilbur, born in the factory barns of the Tar Heel, NC, plant, living out a short and painful life: born to a mother whose pen gave no room to turn around, much less to nest, Wilbur was castrated when barely out of infancy, left to suffer and fight with his fellow pigs in a cramped space, not given vet services if he became sick, and finally at six months, taken to the killing floor. There "the hog is herded in from the stockyard, then stunned with an electric gun. It is lifted onto a conveyor belt, dazed but not dead..." where its throat is slit and its life blood is pumped out via its slowly dying heart. If the stun gun doesn't hit true - and it often doesn't - terrified pigs are simply bludgeoned into submission with metal poles or strapped on the conveyor belt alive and bleating. These are not imaginary events - they have been captured on hidden video cameras. One man who worked in a North Carolina factory reported that he had to quit because he couldn't hurt the pigs, while his co-workers did so, readily and sometimes, he believed, gleefully.
Wise puts his facts together carefully, examining the pork industry, in which North Carolina is a pioneer state, from pre-natal to pork chop. Without assigning blame, he casts light on how the daily grind of this brutal work shop turns workers callous. The new hires are generally recently arrived immigrants grateful for work and unlikely to refuse any task, no matter how grim, or to complain or blow the whistle about what they observe there.
Regulations exist in North Carolina for the protection of animals in factory farms but are often not enforced, or only practiced when inspectors visit. Regulations adopted in other states that could make the pig's life less traumatic and painful have not been taken up there. Any method that enhances the short, shocking life of the factory-raised pig reduces profits. And pork is all about profit.
Wise is not asking that we boycott pork or take up a radical vegan lifestyle. He is merely asking that we read his book and consider the plight of Wilbur and his fellow pigs, nearly 40,000 of which are slaughtered each day in the eastern part of North Carolina alone. He is hoping to find, not converts, but advocates for the pig. With this dramatic and incisive book, he will no doubt find many.