‘The Last Pig’ Doesn’t Offer Easy Answers on Animal Farming
By Monica Stanton
When I sat down to watch The Last Pig, I did so with the slight trepidation of a seasoned environmental filmgoer. But my worries were unfounded. While films about factory farming are known for using gruesome exposé footage to proclaim an ardent animal rights message, director Allison Argo's picturesque, meditative documentary does the opposite. The film gives us idyllic scenes of the relationship between a small-scale pig farmer and his happy herd—and then it gradually unravels the logic of this utopia.
Argo is best known for her documentaries focusing on endangered animals and conservation. Her production company, ArgoFilms Ltd., has produced 19 films and won awards, including six national Emmys and the duPont-Columbia award for journalism. Argo has said that she was hoping to make a film about the ethics of eating animals for some time, and when she discovered pig farmer Bob Comis's reckonings with his vocation in Salon and HuffPost, she knew he was the right subject. Argo's team began filming Comis while he was still farming pigs for consumption, and they were there to capture the transition when he eventually decided to send his last pig to the market and give up animal farming for good.
With countless long landscape shots in upstate New York set against a lively orchestral score, the film first follows Comis on his mission to offer a more ethical alternative to factory-farmed meat. Much like proponents of peaceful parenting, Comis explains that he herds his pigs and retrieves attempted escapees through strategies that play to their higher faculties (such as their attachment to the rest of the herd) rather than through confinement or punitive measures. Strikingly, it seems that this loving care flows in both directions. We learn that Comis started raising pigs at a time when he was battling clinical depression, and his communion with the animals helped him cope.
I often wonder what motivates viewers to see activist films like this one when they know they'll encounter saddening scenes of animal death. Argo's film makes the payoff clear from the start: It's the cute pig footage. Reels and reels of almost painfully adorable pig footage. Yes, the shots of misty early morning farmland and autumnal forests in upstate New York are gorgeous, but they pale in comparison to the endless close-ups of these porcine beauties. In one of the film's most joyous scenes, we watch the pigs splash, stomp, nuzzle and roll around beneath a spewing fountain of water at mud bath time. Amidst the frenzied action, the camera focuses for a long moment on a sow blissfully lounging at the shore of the mud pit, nestling contentedly into the earth as she watches her family frolic.
In one of many sweeping landscape shots, farmer Bob Comis feeds his herd. The Last Pig
These stunning shots aren't the mere aesthetic flourishes of award-winning cinematographer Joseph Brunette. They are integral to conveying Comis's gradual reckoning with his obligation to, as he puts it, peddle in the death of the intelligent creatures he cares for. At one point, we watch a series of naptime close-ups on sleepy brown pig eyes, sparkling dust particles swirling around their lashes. Comis's voice-over comes in: "After 10 years of looking into pig eyes, I've come to understand that they're never vacant. There's always somebody looking back at me."
When the film transitions from these joyful pig bathers and content pig nappers to the inevitable slaughterhouse, we understand Comis's internal conflict. The camera doesn't linger on the gore, but the lifeless bodies of these once-lively friends are enough to give us pause. And when Comis finally decides he must transition to plant farming, we remain in that pause. It's not exactly a happy ending. Comis sends the titular last pig to slaughter, and we're left with quiet final scenes of his solitary vegetable harvesting. The crop shots are as beautiful as always, but Comis worries he won't be able to make a living, and it's hard not to imagine that he misses the pigs. I certainly do.
Unlike the clear message of a film like Eating Animals, The Last Pig doesn't give us an easy dichotomy between "good" small farms and "evil" factory farms. Instead, it invites us to linger in the discomforting space between our values and our practices. Why should pigs be commodities when dogs are companions? Does "happy pigs make happy meat" really make sense? While environmental degradation and urgent attempts at climate action are both hurtling forth at breakneck speed, Argo's film forces us to slow down and ask why, and for whom, we take action in the first place.
"The Last Pig" began filming in 2014 and was boosted by an Indiegogo campaign to wrap up in early 2017. It just finished its festival run this past fall, with 34 festivals and several awards. The film is slated for public release in autumn 2019. If you'd like to bring "The Last Pig" to your community, you can set up a screening to start a dialogue.
Monica Stanton is a news fellow at Stone Pier Press, an environmental publishing company with a food focus.
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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