I remember instead of going into farrowing rooms to put piglets on the trucks to go to other farms, I was instead going from room to room filling a grain cart that could hold about 300 pounds of feed and instead I was filling it with dead piglets. I honestly don't think I'll ever see a more horrific scene and it was caused by a disease.
When we first met our guest it was on a 'Ask Me Anything' thread on Reddit, and her story was so fascinating that we asked her if she could do an in-depth interview with us. Most of us are familiar, to one degree or another, of how animals are treated on industrial farms. We've watched the documentaries and it's hard not to have some inkling of what goes on there, but there's something about reading another person's experience that makes it more compelling and impactful.
In our interview, we wanted to talk a bit about our guest's experience on the hog factory farm, but we wanted to focus more so on the positive — her transitions to veganism and her experiences there.
The AMA has an incredible wealth of information on what it was like to work on the farm and how hogs were treated, and we definitely recommend you give it a read through. Some of the stories are harrowing, like the terrible abuse on the animals that our guest witnessed from her own coworkers. This goes beyond the inevitable oppression that comes with the mass production of meat and other consumables, to the lack of a basic moral compass that would go a long way to minimize the pain these animals go through. It's an eye-opening window into an environment conducive to suffering and violence, and not just for the animals, but for the employees too — otherwise, what would drive someone to kick a piglet? Or pull it by the ears? What other than frustration and anger?
This interview will introduce us to that world and then focus on her transition to veganism, and it will hopefully serve as a window into the comparative ethics of the different lifestyles.
Before we move into the interview, we'd like to say that by no means do we mean to judge or to criticize. Many of us eat meat, including pork. That's okay, but it shouldn't stop us from exploring the details of that world. And it shouldn't stop us from discovering newer, better ways to live the way we do.
The interview is broken up into three parts:
How were the animals treated on the farm you worked at?
When I worked on the farm, I felt as though I personally took as good of care of them as I could, given their conditions, and I think the majority (not all) had the same thinking in mind. I was taught they were inside, in a controlled temperature room away from predators and when they were pregnant they were kept in their own crates for their own safety. Some sows were in pens when they weren’t gestating, but the ones that were would always pick on the weakest one because they never had time to establish a hierarchy since they were moved in with different sows constantly. Watching two of them go at each other was definitely not a fun thing to see.
There were a few times where I would see a sow with an abscess on their ear and I would tell my manager about it and he would say that the vet had looked it over and it was nothing to worry about. This did baffle me even then because they were usually on their ears and there was one that I saw was bigger than my hand spread wide and as thick as my hand balled in a fist. Sometimes the tag on their ears would get caught on something and blood would spray out when they shook their heads. A lot of blood would come out at once because I got covered in it once.
When you worked there, had you heard of the vegan diet?
I did in a very naive way. I for sure saw it as something very unhealthy since I grew up being taught eating animals was the healthy thing to do. I saw it as a threat to my father’s way of life since he had and still does work in the industry. I’m ashamed to say I think I believed just about every negative stereotype there was about veganism.
Do you think mainstream opinions of veganism have changed since then?
Do you mean for myself? If so, absolutely. Even when I was still an omni I started to realize they weren’t out to get my father out of a job they were just thinking about the animals. Then later on when I finally met a vegan in person it changed my opinion about veganism drastically.
As for mainstream thoughts of veganism I think overall it has become more of a positive idea especially because of the famous documentaries that have come out.
After your experience, do you think there’s any way to farm humanely?
Now that I am vegan my answer is no, because the conclusion I’ve come to is it all ends in death for human consumption and there is nothing humane about that in my opinion.
However, at the time I thought the way the factory farm I worked for was doing it as well as they could, because in my mind it was impossible to not have factory farms because of all the people that “needed” to eat them. But I thought the most humane were the farms that allowed the sows to roam in much bigger areas. I always did enjoy seeing them on those farms playing in the mud and grass.
How did your experience as a hog farmer change you?
It made me have a greater appreciation for the people that work in the industry that do it day in and day out. There were people that I worked with where I knew they would spend their whole lives just cleaning pig pens. It gave me even greater motivation to get my college degree so I didn’t have to do that for the rest of my life. It gave me very good work ethic and allowed me to see the definition of “hard work” from a very different perspective. It for sure helped me get other jobs later on because I think my employer knew I wasn’t going to be lazy.
Would you encourage other young people to work on a hog farm?
Absolutely, I think education is extremely important and it would really make people decide if it’s still worth it to consume them. I’m actually disappointed now that I look back that it didn’t make me at least become vegetarian but I also grew up around the industry so I think I was just to numb to it.
The Transition to Veganism
What was the most powerful factor that contributed to your switch to veganism?
I have given this a lot of thought myself and I will have to say it was a very close friend of mine who was the greatest help of all. He was the first vegan I had ever met and, now that I think back, I am thankful he still wanted to be friends even after he knew I used to work on a farm. I was always very curious about his lifestyle.
Overtime, I just couldn’t deny the logic behind it. The last video that he sent me which was earlier this year I think is what really got me looking at veganism in a different way:
Be aware does not talk about veganism at all and instead simply talks of a world where women are solely just objects for men’s pleasure. As a woman, I think it really did hit close to home (trigger warning). If you have time, it’s worth the watch.
What was the biggest challenge about committing to vegansim?
It really is a complete lifestyle change. I never realized how much my morals are challenged every day when I’m not at home in my own happy little bubble.
A good example of this would be I have just recently been on my first vacation since making this lifestyle change and had to let my family members know since we all cook meals for each other. I had told them not to change what they had already planned to make but to simply not include me when they might be throwing things on the grill.
My cousin ended up saying that she bought sausage I could eat and I was just so flattered that she had decided to do that. Unfortunately she re-looked at the packaging and saw there were eggs and milk in them and said “well I tried right?” I nodded, but my stomach churned and I for sure had a moment of thinking that the effort was there so why not just have them? But then it was the realization that I should never compromise my own morals just because it could make them uncomfortable. I’ve realized it’s the biggest difference between a lifestyle and just a diet.
Have you endured criticism from friends and family about your switch to veganism?
Yes, but so far it’s mostly humor based, and I was teased all my life for my height so I have pretty thick skin now.
So far the most popular question has for sure been “where do you get your protein?”, and “are you eating enough?”. I’ve always been a very skinny person so my mother was very worried about my weight when I said I was switching over.
It’s funny that she never blinked an eye when I would say I commonly had two large whopper meals from Burger King, but now that I’m finally eating my vegetables health has suddenly become a concern.
You mentioned that talking to a vegan helped convince you - how important do you think having a mentor is in succeeding at the vegan diet?
To me, very important. I’m extremely happy that he is not tired of me asking questions. I am having to re-think entirely about something that used to be a big part of my life, and so I’ve found his patience invaluable.
Did you struggle to stick to being vegan at first?
I never do anything without a lot of forethought first but smells were what killed me the first few weeks of being a vegan. I am a junk food eater for sure, and I live next to a Dairy Queen, Burger King, and a Taco Bell. I actually started taking a new route to work and from work on my bike just so I didn't’ see them on the way home. But I would always just remind myself of why I went vegan in the first place and that was for the animals.
What types of food did you eat when you started out as a vegan?
As I am answering these questions I’ve only been a vegan since the end of June 2017, but at the start it was pretty much Tofurkey Chickn’ Apple Sausage, Chipotle Veggie Bowls (gotta have that free guac!), and a lot of pasta. Since then I’m slowly learning how to cook my own foods, and I’m trying to get away from the processed foods since it’s better on my wallet and my health. I had a horrible diet as an omni, so this is encouraging me to do much better now.
On The Vegan Lifestyle
Did you ever cheat on your vegan diet? What did you have?
Not on purpose. I have for sure had slip-ups though. While traveling I ordered a simple bean burrito from Taco Johns once and while eating it I saw something yellow and I opened the burrito up and there were bits of cheese in the burrito. I sighed in defeat, and was mad that I stated to have a bean burrito not a bean and cheese one.
Another time I got a sauce on something at Garbonzo’s thinking it was a vegan sauce and later saw the sign again saying that it was vegetarian. Also, I became very upset with the “Simply” company and some of their orange juice, you can’t put something from sheep in your product and still call it simple!
What is the greatest vegan meal you’ve ever had?
Oh, this is tough...because thankfully there have been many! But I will narrow it down to two instances. The first was when I made the Beyond Burgers for my s/o other and myself. The second is when I am in the Denver area there is a restaurant called Watercourse Foods and I am in LOVE with their seitan buffalo wings with their ranch (everything is vegan there). I ate there when I was still an Omni and it is actually what made me realize I didn’t need animals products to have good food.
When you come home hungry after a long day, what kind of vegan food do you look forward to?
This is new as of this week but I am really liking to make a giant french loaf, with lots of hummus, balsamic vinaigrette, cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, and sometimes Hickory Smoked Tofurky Slices. I am considered a giant to some and my appetite is giant as well, so usually I end up make two or three of these.
What does a typical vegan breakfast look like for you?
Pretty simple actually, it’s usually two or three bananas. I don’t give myself a lot of time in the morning and bananas are easy to throw in my bag before I take off to work on my bike.
If you go to a non-vegan restaurant with friends, what do you order?
I have noticed the safest things are usually the fries. So I’ve learned to eat before I go, otherwise I could eat about four baskets of fries on my own. I will also order a cocktail of some sort.
Veganism in Society
What would you like outsiders to know about the vegan diet?
You can still have junk food! I thought to be a vegan was where you could only have healthy stuff. It has also inspired me to learn how to cook. On special occasions, my favorite thing to make is the Beyond Burger, and my s/o says they are better than most non-plant based ones he’s had.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to living as a vegan?
The awkwardness of having to explain veganism when someone notices my plate looks different from theirs. Or, if you’re about to eat with someone at their place coming up with a way of saying, “Please don’t make anything with animals in it for me!”
How can vegans overcome their negative stereotype (pretentious, meddling, etc)?
Come at it on their terms. Whenever I’ve heard a new idea I have always listened when I feel like I’m being listened to as well. Insulting someone’s way of doing something is in my opinion not the way to get them to see your side.
Honestly the simple question of “why?” can go a long way because I can guarantee you most omni’s have never had to defend their lifestyle. I so badly want to smack any burger I see in someone’s hands and shake them silly but I know that wouldn’t have worked on me so there isn’t a point to do it to someone else.
Do you plan to continue spreading the word about veganism? If so, how?
I do! For now I simply just want to keep educating myself about different aspects of veganism and reflect back on how my own thoughts have changed since transitioning. It wouldn’t surprise me that a couple years down the road I might be doing some activism work. It’s actually exciting to be apart of something that can have immediate results.
If the whole world goes vegan, what will be different?
Ha, well hopefully this question means overtime but I think if we can show compassion to those who are most helpless then perhaps we might see the most peaceful time to be alive. I am hopeful that maybe at the end of my lifetime I might be able to witness this.
We'd love to hear your thoughts. Don't be shy and drop a comment below!
If you enjoyed this interview, you may also like our Ultimate Beginners' Guide to Veganism.