Pave It Over? The view from Old Sarum
Over the hill from my mother's house in Salisbury, England, is what she calls "pig town." This consists of an orderly row of what look like mini Nissan huts
spaced about fifteen feet apart. Each contains one or two pigs and straw bedding. The pigs are free to wander here and there, socialize, and root around in the soil. It all looks a little like Barbar the elephant's Celesteville
. When the ground becomes too muddy, the pigs (presumably not the same ones) are moved to another field. And so the land is rotated.
This farmer is presumably following legal requirements established in the U.K. for the "humane" raising of pigs. No intensive confinement, an ability to socialize and root and wallow, and no metal crates in sight. And, incidentally, no obvious problems with pig manure or its smell. To this untutored eye, it's everything that animal welfarists could want. Yet, it's also obvious that these pigs are not going to grow to full maturity, that they will all be shipped off to slaughter, and there's no proof that that experience won't be awful as well as terminal.
However, I can't help but feel there is something "good" about this, and part of that feeling I know is wrapped up with the fact that I find pigs interesting and that it pleases me to see them, and to see them outside. But there's another aspect to that feeling, and to my consternation it comes from the fact that, multiple sins aside, at least Britain is treating its pigs well.
I recall wandering past the House of Commons a few years ago with a friend and coming across a tent in which a man was protesting on behalf of pigs. Naturally, we stopped and looked, happy to meet a fellow animal advocate. It turned that the man was a British farmer, and that he was protesting the extra costs and effort he was making to look after his pigs when the rest of Europe couldn't give a damn and thus could produce cheaper meat.
An animal advocate, indeed. The farmer was proud that his animals had better welfare; but he felt discriminated against because his government and fellow citizens weren't doing enough to subsidize or eat the flesh of the pigs he was loving to death. What did he want us to do? He wanted us to eat his bloody pigs, that's what. When we said we were vegetarians, he looked disconsolate: doubly the villains, we not only didn't eat his products, but we in effect weren't helping him help our cause. Thus, we felt pulled to support the bad in order not to support something worse.
As a vegetarian, I want pig town to go out of business, even if the pigs will disappear from the landscape and a certain amount of abstract, metaphysical freedom and enjoyment in being alive is removed from the ether. But there's another wrinkle. The land owned by the farmer acts as a barrier to the seductive forces of real estate expanding beyond the borders of Salisbury into the countryside. If he can't make it, the farmer will have a huge incentive to sell his land for subdivisions. And that will mean that no animals, pigs or otherwise, will get to root in the soil.