Verlyn Klinkenborg Virtually Romanticizes Pig Killing
Earlier this year, Verlyn Klinkenborg of The New York Times advocated spaying and neutering for all pets as a way to deal with the pet overpopulation crisis. He didn’t mention property status or intentional breeding, but at least he got in the fray. I’ve always been ambivalent about Klinkenborg. He’s got that yearning for the rural life of days past, when things weren’t led by efficiency standards and units processed or produced. But killing is killing. Killing without necessity, whether carried out by your local pig slaughterer or by a intensive factory farm, is still killing without necessity.
Klinkenborg seems to not understand that or be willing to deal with it. Let’s deconstruct Two Pigs.
- He begins:
"Very soon, a farmer and his son will come to the farm to kill our two pigs. If that sentence bothers you, you should probably stop reading now — and you should probably also stop eating pork."
Yes, you should. And I’m not going to say he should stop eating pigs. But I will suggest he stop deluding himself that what he does is somehow morally different in the end than what any other meat-eater or animal killer does.
- He continues:
"I truly love being with the pigs. And taming them means it will be that much easier for the farmer and his son to kill them swiftly, immediately. If I had no more foreknowledge of my death than these two pigs will have of theirs, I’d consider myself very lucky."
I have no idea how he manages that kind of mental acrobatics. And how does he know how much "foreknowledge" the pigs have of their death, I wonder?
- And now, for the amazing:
"The questions people ask make it sound as though I should be morally outraged at myself, as if it’s impossible to scratch the pigs behind the ears and still intend to kill them. If I belonged to a more coherent, traditional rural community — one that comes together for pig-butchering in the fall — I would get to celebrate the ritual in it all, the sudden abundance a well-fed pig represents."
Celebrate the ritual of the killing? The abundance a well-fed pig represents? It’s 2007, and I find Klinkenborg’s romanticizing of killing and of a community killing together outrageous. Now that we know pigs are as sentient as dogs, why do we still kill them? Tradition? Because we did it yesterday?
- He continues, as if what he just wrote wasn’t completely absurd. And we learn he finds the pig killing process and what it yields, somehow . . . beautiful.
"[Watching the killing] is how we come to understand what the meat itself means. And to me, the word ‘meat’ is at the root of the contradictory feelings the pig-killing raises. You can add all the extra value you want — raising heritage breed pigs on pasture with organic grain, all of which we do — and yet somehow the fact that we are doing this for meat, some of which we keep, most of which we trade or sell, makes the whole thing sound like a bad bargain. And yet compared with the bargain most Americans make when they buy pork in the supermarket, this is beauty itself."
It is a bad bargain, for both your karma and for the pig. And it is in no way beautiful. It is human behavior at its ugliest: the rationalizing of killing. And all for something as unnecessary as the taste of meat.
- Finally, the assumption:
"Knowing that you’re doing something for the last time is a uniquely human fear. I thought that would be the hardest thing about having pigs. In fact, it’s not so hard, though it does remind me that humans have trouble thinking carefully about who knows what. One day soon I’ll step into the pen and give the pigs a thorough scratching, behind the ears, between the eyes, down the spine. Their tails will straighten with pleasure. It will be the last time. I will know it, and they simply won’t."
We like to think we have fears that are uniquely human, and maybe we do. It certainly makes killing easier on our conscience. But it doesn’t make the killing any more justifiable.
We don’t know what the pigs are thinking, but we do know that regardless of how Klinkenborg chooses to defend himself, he has committed the ultimate act of betrayal.
Write a letter to the editor and describe how it makes you feel to read Klinkenborg’s words.