By Courtney Ryckman
June 22nd, 2015 was not an ordinary day for Anita Krajnc, co-founder of organization Toronto Pig Save. It started out as a normal Monday morning in which she and a group of fellow animal rights activists stood outside of Fearman’s Pork in Burlington to bear witness to the pigs headed to slaughter. One truck in particular stopped to allow the group to view and speak to the pigs. What the driver hadn’t anticipated, though, was what they decided to do next – pour bottled water into the mouths of thirsty beings. Despite his protest, Anita continued to feed the pigs while teaching him about the golden rule: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
The incident resulted in her being charged with criminal mischief, forcing her to face a fine of up to $5,000 or six months of jail time. The story itself blew up on social media, and then mainstream media, resulting in Anita’s name being spoken around the world, especially among animal activists. The tale has been told by many since 2015, but rarely from a perspective of a vegan, animal activist, and Toronto Pig Save admirer. Ladies, gentlemen, and yes – even pigs – sit back, relax, and prepare yourself for Criminal Compassion; a podcast about the injustice that farmed animals experience every single day and the woman fighting against that.
I had the chance to speak with Anita, who, by the way, is an incredibly pleasant person to be around. The first time we met was at one of Toronto Pig Save’s weekly chicken vigils in October, but more on that later. First, I’ll have Anita explain what exactly happened with her story. “So I was charged with criminal mischief, interference with property for giving thirsty pigs water. It went viral on social media in a way that I didn’t expect. There were two petitions with hundreds of thousands of signatures. And then when I had my pre-trial, I didn’t expect a media scrub. It became a national media story. From there, it became an international story. It was covered in all of the UK papers, and from there it went to Hong Kong, Europe and everywhere.” The organization holds vigils for chickens, pigs and cows at various slaughterhouses in the Toronto area. It was my first vigil, and while I had a small idea of what to expect, I don’t think that I was quite prepared. What happens at a vigil is this: a group of people, quite large in size (on this cold night, it was around thirty to thirty-five people outside of Maple Leaf Foods) wait for trucks filled with animals to stop outside of the slaughterhouse. This doesn’t always happen, of course; it’s up to the discretion of the driver. It does happen more often than not, though, so the group is given about ten minutes to step up to the truck, look inside, and bear witness. Then, our time is up, we step aside, and the animals are killed just minutes later. Now, bearing witness is extremely important to the group. The goal is to encourage a vegan lifestyle, while also being with these animals at time of extreme distress, fear, and tragedy. The long-term goal of the Save Movement is to hold vigils at every slaughterhouse in the world, bringing forward a positive and love-based movement for animal rights.
Let me set the scene for you: it’s a dark night. Maple Leaf Foods is next door to a Metro grocery store, which is an unsettling feeling. To know that thousands upon thousands of beings are being killed while thirty metres away, people are paying to have it happen is… well, it’s disturbing. A truck is seen turning a corner, and the group makes its way to the side of the road. When it stops, you’re faced with a transport filled with orange and yellow crates which hold six to nine thousand chickens. Six to nine thousand chickens are in front of you, but not one of them is making a sound. Upon further inspection, you realize the crates aren’t tall enough to allow the chickens to stand. Instead, they’re stuck sitting down, but they’re breathing so heavily and rapidly that you’re afraid their chests may explode. The crates are far from clean, as well; they’re covered in feces, feathers, and a few have cut off chicken’s feet that have been left behind from the past truckload. You’re told that if you touch the chickens, who don’t even bother to flinch, you must immediately clean your hands. When you look into their eyes, which I did, you feel an overwhelming sensation of concern. Or maybe it’s sympathy, empathy, pity, condolence. Then, you’re told to step off of the road, and you do, only to watch them be taken into the building next door. If employees don’t bother to try and block the scene before you, then you may just see the chickens being pulled from their crates and hung upside down to be led on a conveyor belt to their demise.
For any animal lover, this is hard. It’s also a wakeup call for those who still eat meat. As Paul McCartney famously said, “if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian” (YouTube). It’s because of the disconnect between the meat on a plate and the cruelty and injustice that goes on in the animal agriculture industry that people don’t quite understand veganism. If more people would refer to the things that they were eating as animals, however, this may shift. For example, young children don’t seem to understand that beef comes from the remains of a cow, or pork and bacon is the result of a slaughtered pig. There are many videos online in which children tell their parents that they no longer want to eat animals because they’ve learned that they have to die. People by nature are compassionate, and if they’re given the correct facts, they may choose to do something to help another being.
Compassion is a key in Anita’s trial. “Basically our hashtag is ‘compassion is not a crime’.” Having realized that she could use the so-called “pig trial” to raise awareness of the cruelty and wrongdoings of the factory farming industry, she along with her vegan lawyers, constructed a plan. They would use the three trial dates to prove not only that she was only doing what she felt was right in the situation, but also put the industry itself on blast. A number of experts were called, from a veterinarian who testified that the pigs were in great distress, to a medical examiner who linked meat consumption to heart disease and cancer, to a geographer who concluded that the industry was hurting the Earth. “My lawyers, I have two vegan lawyers, and they decided to fight it in a way that reflects the true mission of our group. What we do what we do, because we want people to bear witness and we sort of see it as everyone’s duty to bear witness. Basically, my lawyers were able to put animal agriculture on trial through this case, by looking at those aspects.”
So where exactly is the problem with the industry? What is it that Anita and her team are fighting? Is it in the slaughter itself? How animals are treated from birth to death? How meat affects human bodies and the environment? What about all of the above?
It’s no secret that animals are mistreated in the factory farming industry. It’s difficult to respect an animal that isn’t as soft as a cat, or as goofy as a dog. What’s more is that employees in this industry consider the animal a product; it’s simply a good that needs to be manufactured and kept healthy enough to eat. So, to save time and money and to create more product, these companies practice the bare minimum. Unfortunately, in Canada, the bare minimum just isn’t enough to keep animals safe and cared for. Pigs, for example, can be in transport without food and water for up to 36 hours (Pigs), and so, often times they are. This happens in extreme heat and extreme cold, as well. They’re rarely comfortable, being cramped in with as many others as the law allows it, and they’re almost always in distress. Pigs are intelligent and emotional beings, too. “One more expert, Dr. Lori Marino, who’s a cognitive behaviourist. She spoke, she said basically that pigs are persons if persons are defined as someone who’s self-aware, has complex emotion, is intelligent and so forth.” Studies have shown that they have the mental and social capabilities of dogs and chimpanzees (Greenwood). They can solve puzzles, make friends, and most importantly, feel. Still, Canada has yet to recognize that these beautiful creatures should be treated with more dignity and respect. Even more, the slaughterhouse is a place of extreme abuse and torture to animals. Organizations like Mercy for Animals has done many undercover investigations which show pigs, along with other farmed animals, being roughly beaten, kicked, and thrown. In one instance at Tyson Pork Group in Oklahoma, workers are seen throwing bowling balls at pigs’ heads and slamming piglets against the concrete, leaving them harmed but still alive (YouTube). This happens more often than the average consumer would like to think, and it’s the job of an activist, like Anita and her group, to make it public knowledge.
Another important argument that the defence made in court was the effect of meat consumption on the human body. Studies have shown that people who follow a well-balanced plant-based diet are less likely to have diabetes, heart disease, prostate cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and also have a 33% reduced risk of premature death (“Health”). Many vegans, like myself, also experience increased energy, clearer skin, weight loss, and relief from headaches and migraines (“Health”). These were some of the points that experts at the trial focused on when speaking about the importance of cutting meat, eggs and dairy out of a human being’s diet. The environment was also a contributing factor to Anita’s trial. The animal agriculture industry is one that relies on the breeding of animals to, in turn, kill them for profit. Because the population is increasing rapidly, so will the production of meat. It’s been proven that livestock production contributes 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions to the earth, which is more than the effect of all transportation (Pluhar). And, let’s face it: the more that we feed animals, the less we have to feed hungry human beings. Animal agriculture just isn’t sustainable for a population of seven billion people.
Toronto Pig Save is doing the best it can as an organization to help people realize that. Despite how busy the trial has left her, Anita commits to attending vigils and actively doing her part to support the group. Vigils aren’t the only thing that they’re known for, either. One of the most recent campaigns that has been launched in Toronto is the subway outreach; you may see a pink, blue or green poster on your daily commute that says “why love one but eat the other?” and expresses just how intelligent and caring pigs, cows and chickens are. This is the second year that it’s running in Toronto, and so far, it’s been well-received. In addition to this is ClimateVegan.org, a website that informs and supports potential vegans while focusing on the positive impact that veganism has on the environment. Some more activism that Toronto Pig Save focuses on is what they call Virtual Reality Outreach; a group attends a public place (they say that college and university campuses are their biggest targets) and pays patrons five dollars to watch a short video through a virtual reality headset. The video puts the person in the perspective of a bystander in a factory farm. This produces intelligent conversation, as well as true consideration for those who still eat meat on the daily. In addition to all of this outreach, Toronto Pig Save acts as a model and as support for new Save Movement groups all around the world, from Niagara to the UK. “We promote the rise of groups across the world. So, at the beginning of this year we had 50 save groups, and not all of them were active. But at the end of this year, we’ll have 100, and all of the new groups are active.”
So, why pigs? Why does this group of activists focus on the rights of pigs, cows, chickens, and other farmed animals instead of pets like cats, dogs and domesticated birds? The answer is simple: these animals are praised and sheltered while people tend to look the other way when it comes to animals that are eaten. Of course the group loves domestic animals – in fact, the other co-founder of Toronto Pig Save is Anita’s dog, Mr. Bean, who I’ve yet to meet. I did hear him, though. Whether people like to admit it or not, there’s a double standard between the animals that are being eaten and the ones that get to play in our living rooms at home. Meat eaters who claim that they’re animal lovers typically mean that they have a great love for pets; they don’t much care about the treatment of the mother cow who doesn’t get the chance to bond with her calf, or the pig who’s being beaten until he cooperates and walks into the truck that will take him to his death. Whether or not these people understand how intelligent and emotional the beings are is unknown, but it’s why Toronto Pig Save works so hard to inform and discuss. The group aims to take the anger and disgust that comes of society when the Yulin Dog Meat Festival occurs and aim it towards the factory farming industry every single day. The double standard needs to be brought to light so that farmed animals are protected under the same rights that cats and dogs are. “I think people have no idea how much these animals are suffering. You have to look them in the eyes and then you will see. And then you’ll see what a great injustice is being done. If you look the other way, you don’t think about it, then it’s not really happening in your mind. So it’s very important to be present at these sights. And to bring everyone to see it, because I think if the whole community saw it people would change faster, and also speak out louder.”
Absolutely anybody can get involved with Toronto Pig Save. Whether you’d like to attend a vigil to bear witness yourself, donate a dollar a month to the organization, donate to the subway campaign, or help out with the Virtual Reality outreach, you’re doing a tremendous favour to both the group and the animals in question. I can say firsthand as someone who attended my first vigil by myself that the group is so incredibly welcoming and warm no matter your situation; they were excited and eager to hear from a meat-eater who attended with her friend. More than that, I met people who shared the same passion for saving animals as I did. The group wants to hear from absolutely everybody; Anita even says so herself: “We use a love-based community organizing approach, so we try to get every – it’s not a clique or anything. We want everyone. We want diversity, we want people of all ages, genders, orientations, classes, and so forth. We have people from all walks of life. We have grandmothers, we have mothers with babies coming to vigils. So that’s what makes me really happy, when you see the diversity. Because, like I said, I think that we all have a duty to bear witness.”
A duty to bear witness. Human beings are the reason that animals are in this position in the first place, no? So, maybe we should have to put ourselves through some discomfort to ensure that they’re feeling a little more comforted. We should be telling them how sorry we are that they’ll be treated like objects for years, despite the knowledge that proves otherwise. The criminals in this story are the cowards who abuse and mistreat animals, not the woman giving water to thirsty pigs on a hot June day.
My name is Courtney Ryckman, and I thank you for listening to Criminal Compassion; a podcast about Anita Krajnc and her dedication to the pigs.
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