This piece was originally published in Cuttings.
Fact 1: I have never eaten bacon. Ever. People are shocked by this, they give me looks of unadulterated pity when I tell them. Pig meat is a uniting factor for many people. I keep this as a mental note.
Fact 2: Pigs are loud. My first day on the farm, I can hear the sows and their recent offspring grunting gutturally from 10, 20 metres away. Even when presumably happy, pigs sound like they are in anguish.
Fact 3: Sows are incredibly large. The fact that they have been kept in stalls for the majority of their adult lives isn’t helping. I’ve heard from female friends that childbirth is extremely taxing, but I don’t think it’s viable as a sole form of exercise.
Fact 4: The camera I have hidden in my jacket lapel is the most expensive electronic gadget I have ever been responsible for. I am consistently afraid that I will bend over a feeding trough and see it tumble from my lapel to be immediately snuffled by some inquisitive sow.
The footage I have gotten so far is both mundane, and shocking to a non-farm visitor. Animals in cramped conditions – check. Sows with bedsores? You betcha. Tiny, dead piglets? Of course. None of it is breaking any new ground, not like some of the recent grabs animal rights activists have shown on television over the past few months.
But the average farm with completely ‘ordinary’ methods often looks horrifying to the general meat consumer who likes to think of it as ‘pork’ and not ‘pig’, ‘beef’ not ‘cow. ‘Chicken’ is still ‘chicken’ though. That’s interesting.
Fact 5: Despite my initial squeamishness, I am growing to like my new colleagues. They thought I was weird at first, with my vegetarian soup lunches, my refusal to take my jacket off, and the beard that somehow makes me look less manly. But over the past month, I have become part of the team.
Here’s the thing no one wants to believe – they all really love the pigs. Not just for eating – but as animals. They have favourite sows, and they love picking up the piglets for a quick cuddle. I mean, they all eat ham sandwiches for lunch, but it’s like they don’t make the connection, you know?
Fact 6: I finally got the footage I needed. They put a sow down today. She had a broken leg, crushed in the sow stall from her thrashing to stand up. Her legs were weak from disuse, and they buckled under her weight. I got a shot of the farmer shooting her in front of the rest of the barn, the squealing of the pigs a thundering soundtrack to the killing.
There were tears in the farmer’s eyes as he hauled the body out. I handed in my resignation that afternoon.
Image: Greg Ortega
Zoya Patel is the editor and founder of Feminartsy. She has worked for numerous arts organisations, including You Are Here Festival, the National Young Writers Festival and as a selected editor for Seizure’s Viva La Novella Prize in 2015. Her work has been published in a number of publications including Women’s Agenda, iD.co, Right Now, the Canberra Times, Junkee and more. She was the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year, Highly Commended in the 2015 Scribe Non-Fiction Prize, recipient of the 2014 Anne Edgeworth Young Writers Fellowship and recipient of a 2014 Edna Ryan Award for making a feminist difference in the media. She is represented by Curtis Brown Australia. You can find more of her work at www.zoya-patel.com.