This story was originally published by Caitlin on Medium.
Bob Comis was doing the right thing. He was the picture perfect image of the small-scale, humane farmer that today’s Americans so desperately want. He was raising about 250 pigs at a time on wide open land, providing his pigs with mud wallows, cozy beds of hay, and space to run, play, and naturally socialize. In a time when 94% of people agree that animals raised for food should be free from abuse & cruelty, Bob Comis was the hero. Factory farms were the villain. But the upcoming documentary, The Last Pig, digs deeper into the inner philosophical questions about animal farming, even on Bob’s fairytale farm. Our hero began to question his role in the life and death of over 2,000 pigs.
“They follow me — curious, interested. What they don’t know, is that this communion is a lie. I am not their herd mate, I am a pig farmer. And sometime soon, I’m going to have them killed.”
The Last Pig follows Comis’ journey in his final year of raising pigs for food, after coming to the conclusion that he would no longer be a part of the death of the intelligent, complex beings he raised.
There are so many beautiful things to say about the project that is The Last Pig, starting with the visually stunning trailer and Comis’ poetic prose that narrates alongside. In the two minute trailer alone, there are about 10 philosophically important quotes that could be discussed in detail. But what caught my attention immediately about Bob Comis and his decision to give up pig farming, was just how necessary this narrative is to the animal rights movement.
The cruelty on factory farms is well documented and the “but these are rare instances!” argument is now virtually nonexistent, thanks to abundant undercover footage by organizations like Mercy for Animals and PETA, but that doesn’t mean that ‘humane farms’ are completely free from moral consideration. As a vegan, it’s easy to chuckle at the people who want that Certified Humane sticker on top of their pre-packaged ribs at the supermarket, but most consumers feel better about buying sustainable, humane, family farm style products these days.
When talking with people about eating animals, nearly everyone I encounter that seems to care at all about the source of their food says something like, “I don’t eat a lot of meat; when I do I make sure it’s humanely raised, so it’s much better!” It’s a sentiment I understand. As a vegetarian, I spent a lot of time hunting for the cage-free, free-range, organic, hormone-free, certified humane labels on any animal products I still purchased. I knew I cared about animals, and those labels made me feel I was doing my natural part in ensuring their welfare. However, what even the most conscientious people overlook when it comes to eating animals is the underlying moral question:is it morally okay to take someone’s life when it’s not necessary for our survival?
Is raising something humanely enough justification for taking its life? At the end of the day, is killing someone with kindness in our heart still just killing someone? Does giving a pig a happy life make it happy to die as our food? Do any of these things matter? The Last Pig encourages us to ask these questions. Comis came to his own conclusions.
“I don’t want to have power over whether something lives or dies anymore,” says Comis, and it reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago. Someone I know works on a very small scale organic vegetable farm, where they also happen to raise a couple of pigs at a time. My acquaintance spends a lot of time with the pigs, posting selfies with them on Instagram and accruing a plethora of likes for her free-range hand-raised food. A recent conversation went something like this:
Acquaintance: “A few weeks ago we had to slaughter one of the pigs, and it was so hard.”
Me: “Wow, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I bet the other pig wasn’t too happy about that.”
Acquaintance: “Yeah, but we walk the pig away a bit to kill him.”
Me: “Still, pigs are really smart. I’m sure they know what’s going on to some extent.”
Acquaintance: “True. We take a moment to honor the pig’s life though, and we are really respectful. Still, it’s pretty emotionally hard to do. I just don’t know what else we would do.”
Me: “Well, I mean, you guys make a living off of organic vegetable farming. You could just not kill the pigs…”
In a time when factory farms are the obvious enemy, people are left to believe that killing an animal humanely is noble. It’s seen as the right thing to do, despite the fact that not killing or using the animal for food at all would be ethically preferable.
In a Huffington Post article (“The Importance of Our Evolution Beyond Killing for Food”) written by Comis in early 2014 he states, “ What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95 percent of the American population. I know it in my bones — even if I cannot yet act on it.” This was before Comis made the decision to give up pig farming. Coming from a working farmer, it was an incredibly bold statement to make publicly. Glimpses of Comis’ crises of conscience, as he calls it, can be seen throughout his writing even years before he would send his last pig to slaughter. In a very brief blog post in 2011, Comis wrote the following:
This morning, as I look out the window at a pasture quickly growing full of frolicking lambs, I am feeling very much that it might be wrong to eat meat, and that I might indeed be a very bad person for killing animals for a living.
The one sentence blog post received 76 comments, sparking the usual debate with terms thrown about like ‘omnivore’, ‘circle of life’, ‘honorable work’, etc.. A few concluded Bob Comis was being a negative downer for expressing such an extreme thought. Some responses were kind, gentle, and thanked Bob for his honesty because others too felt the same way.
The Last Pig is the necessary next step in the animal rights narrative. It is for those that care, but still justify. It is for those that accidentally use humane as a crutch. It is for all of us that — within the deepest confines of ourselves — know that there are questions that we might not like the answers to. It is for the 2,000 + happy pigs that found themselves in a not so happy ending, and for Bob Comis who was brave enough to share his innermost doubts.
Please find The Last Pig on Indiegogo to check out their current crowdfunding campaign to complete the film and help the filmmakers who paid for it out of pocket just because they believed in the importance of Bob’s story.
If you’re interested in following Bob Comis’ journey more closely, visit the following links:
Facebook: The Last Pig