Making Animals Visible Again

I’ve been out of a job for nearly three weeks now and the upside of that is it’s allowed me the chance to do more activism.  I had a job interview on Monday and though I’m still actively looking for work, I’ve welcomed this time to get out there and do some of the things I couldn’t do when I was working full-time. One of those things was attending slaughterhouse vigils with Toronto Pig Save, an animal rights group here in Toronto.

I don’t want to assume everyone knows what vigils are so here it is: vigils consist of standing outside slaughterhouses, on public property, and watching the animals marked for slaughter come in on trucks. The purpose is to document what is happening to them with photos and videos, and to also raise awareness by holding informative signs visible to the public driving or walking by. Inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, “bearing witness” to the suffering of another living being is a powerful act: it is upsetting, yes, but when you see it with your own eyes, and happening in your own city, it does push you to do more. The pain you feel from seeing suffering up close also becomes the force that drives you to keep going. A double-edged sword, to be sure, but one I feel honoured to carry.

I had the opportunity to attend two vigils this week: one was at a cow, lamb, and calf slaughtering facility (a place I’ve written about before) and the other was a pig slaughtering facility in Burlington, a city located about an hour west of Toronto.  The Burlington facility is the same place where a truck full of pigs rolled over last October and what injured pigs were not euthanized on the spot – in front of people and despite the pleas of activists to save them – the remaining were WALKED to their deaths by employees (I wasn’t there but I wrote about that day here).  Thursday was my first time attending the Burlington vigil and armed with my protest sign and iPod camera, I was as ready as one can ever be.

Society wants to erase animals. The animals we have been raised to use for food, clothing, entertainment, research, and endless other “purposes” without a second thought, become an ethical inconvenience when someone puts a face and voice to them. And that is the power of bearing witness – it makes animals visible again. It brings them back to how we once related to them when we were children – beings with names and sounds and their own reasons for existing.  But once we’re fed that first piece of animal flesh or the stolen eggs of a hen or the stolen milk from a mother cow, that connection to animals begins to decline. By the time we’re adults making our own “personal choice” to eat meat (even though it was already made for us), it is all but wiped out.  Bearing witness is a way to bring animals back into view – not as pieces on a Styrofoam tray or shrink-wrapped body parts in a freezer case – but as they were originally born and were always meant to be: whole. Living and breathing and alive. Here with us, not for us. The industrialized confinement and slaughter of animals is one of humanity’s greatest and most cruel blind spots.  But if we turn our heads just enough – if we harness the courage to look – we will see. And then we can change the outcome.

The video below was taken Tuesday at St. Helen’s and Ryding-Regency Meat Packers in Toronto. I apologize for any shaky camera action – I’ll get better.

As this truck pulls in, note the sick and feces on the outside of it:

And that is what the animals stand in as well:

Cows Forced to Stand in Own Filth During Transport

By the way, in Canada, it is LEGAL to transport cows for as long as 52 hours without food, water, or rest, “in addition to a 5-hour food withdrawal period.” What this means is, once an animal is deemed “ready” for slaughter, feeding them is considered a waste of food supply since they’ve already reached “market weight” or their production has slowed enough to cease being profitable, as is the case with dairy cows and egg-laying hens.

Here is a cow I saw briefly, reduced to a number – strangely it was “52” – as indicated by the dirty green tag punched through her right ear:


One thousand cows are slaughtered at this hellhole everyday:


St. Helen's

But look a little to the right on Tuesday mornings


…and suddenly it’s not so easy to ignore a slaughterhouse.


What portion of these stories we can tell, we must, even if it’s only the end.

The pig slaughterhouse in Burlington (previously called “Fearman’s Pork” but since the truck rollover in October, is now suddenly called “Sofina Foods”) was equally grim but it takes up an entire city block, an imposing fixture located at a major intersection. As ugly as the barbed wire, and No Trespassing signs make it, that’s only a fraction of how ugly it is inside, full of death and blood and fear.


I lost count of how many trucks we saw in a two-hour period, but I recall at least 12. All pigs, all headed to slaughter, all now dead.





Fearman’s/Sofina Foods kills 10,000 pigs every day. And if you think that can be done humanely, with love, and with dignity, then you are very, very mistaken. You have been lied to and deceived by marketing, advertising and companies with financial interests to protect. And that gives them every reason to lie to you; I have none.

So what can you do? First step: stop eating animals. That is the single greatest act you can take for animals. Stop giving your money to companies and paying someone to kill them for you.

Second Step: Don’t take my word for it. Educate yourself. Find out how “food” gets to your plate. Put aside what you think you know, put away the stereotypes about vegans and get on with seeking out information.  We live in an age where information is at our fingertips. Let’s use it!

Third: Connect with other vegans and animal activists. Support is essential for this journey, especially when meat-and-dairy eating is still very much the status quo and some people will make fun of you and mock your eating choices. In my experience, that takes help and practice to respond to.

Fourth: Get involved with activism. Write letters, sign petitions, go to a protest, attend vigils, talk to your friends or family, take someone out for a vegan meal. Activism can take many forms and you know the ones that will work for you and your community.

Fifth: Be patient and kind with yourself. Once you’ve made the decision to go vegan, don’t try to do everything at once. I’ll give you an example: for me, I switched to a vegan diet overnight. But as for my clothing, household products and other non-vegan items, that took about a year for me to completely replace. Activism came later too and my involvement was gradual.

Lastly, I’m going to leave you with a video I did not take but someone with Toronto Pig Save took at the vigil on Thursday. If this doesn’t make animals visible for you, I don’t know what will.

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