‘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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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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