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Bearing witness to the fate of animals as they arrive in transport trucks at Toronto-area slaughterhouses
The petroleum industry and tar sands are climate mega-culprits, but the greater crime could be stuck between your teeth.
Greenhouse gases from meat and dairy put more carbon into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trains, ships and planes combined.
If your brain is still more acclimated to the delicious smell of bacon in the morning than to the impending extinction of humanity, you may want to unfollow Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Glenn Murray on Twitter:
On May 16, Murray tweeted, “Ontario recognizes our planet is currently heading for a disastrous 4 degrees Celsius mean temperature change & we have [to] stay under 2.”
But the minister, however cognizant of that danger, wasn’t one to refrain from eating the beef (and tweeting about it) at 11:08 am May 27 with fellow MPPs on the lawn of Queen’s Park, where Beef Farmers of Ontario had pitched their tent.
The preem got into the act under the tent, too, “helping serve up delicious @Ontariobeef.”
Sliced another way, according to scientists, 1 kilogram of beef is roughly equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions to taking a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.
“It is so serious, we could see the disappearance of life on earth within decades,” says Anita Krajnc, who describes herself as a human, animal and environmental rights activist.
What she is not is a speciesist. “I believe that all animals are equal,” she says.
In 2010 Krajnc founded Toronto Pig Save, and soon after that Cow Save and Chicken Save. The groups hold weekly vigils bearing witness to the fate of animals in transport trucks as they arrive at Toronto-area slaughterhouses and beyond. The noticeable presence of the activists is “designed to encourage people to choose vegan.”
Krajnc explains that the vigils are a type of direct action informed by one idea: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to your initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can, and try to help.”
In the first few days of April, Krajnc successfully conducted a delicate negotiation with Newmarket Meat Packers that ended in the donation of a lamb (later named Meadow) to the Pig Save group as a sign of respect for their right to protest.
In return, she gave them a copy of Tolstoy’s treatise on non-violence, The Kingdom Of God Is Within You. “I read Gandhi and Tolstoy every day,” she says. “I find it grounding. It makes the vigils very emotionally sustainable.”
It’s 7 am on May 28, and Krajnc, bicycle in tow, is waiting for the westbound train on the Exhibition GO platform. Her destination is Burlington, where opposite the GO station sits a sprawling 365,000-square-foot industrial building, Fearmans Pork Incorporated, the oldest continuously operating pork processor in Canada and one of the biggest.
She cycles along Harvester Road to the northwest corner of the complex, where transport trucks carrying pigs approach from the QEW. There, she joins two other activists on a narrow concrete island in the middle of the intersection where the trucks wait.
They approach a truck to talk to the pigs and apologize from human to pig for what is about to happen to them. They tell the animals they are loved. Inevitably, the light turns green and the truck moves on they wait for the next one.
“It makes me feel sad because it is unnecessary,” says Caroline Wong, a Pig Save member and recent graduate of U of T’s environmental studies program. “These are babies. They are only six months old, and it’s very unnecessary to consume them. But the world is waking up – the world is going to change because we are here and we are showing them this is not okay.”
Each truck carries about 200 animals, and 50 or so trucks a day bring pigs for processing inside the Fearmans plant.
“It’s a very partial form of witnessing,” says Krajnc, reflecting on the limitations and frustrations of her activism. “Someday we’ll stop these trucks.”
On her way back to the GO station, a truck bearing a large cylindrical tank emerges from Fearmans. Krajnc speculates, “That could be the blood truck.”
Dozens of animal rights activists are standing in silence, holding dead animals. It’s noon on May 30, National Animal Rights Day.
Krajnc is cradling a dead squirrel, and next to her someone holds a dove. Others bear the bodies of a Canada goose, a rabbit, a pig, a cat, a raccoon and various other critters, all very dead remains of their former selves.
“Our planet. Theirs too” are the words emblazoned on black T-shirts worn by the protesters for the occasion.
“It’s actually very empowering,” says Krajnc. “You do difficult work, but it makes your life meaningful. The opposite of that is living a selfish life and caring about material things, but ultimately that’s not living.”
Organizer Jenny McQueen explains that all the animals on display died of exploitation caused by humans.
“No money was paid for their bodies,” says McQueen, but she won’t say where the carcasses came from, except one – a robin killed by the car of a fellow activist earlier in the week.
The demonstration was originally set to take place in Trinity Bellwoods Park, but bylaw enforcement officers and police threatened arrests. The police proposed a spot on Strachan south of Queen just across the street from the park, which ended up blocking access from Strachan to Ella & Elliot, a store selling ridiculously high-end cribs, clothes and other procreative accoutrements/spawning provisions/reproductive swag.
Caught in the small parking lot between the store and the demonstration, a pregnant Ella & Elliot customer idled in a black Range Rover Evoque until the activists dispersed.
On May 31, the Falun Dafa marching band is keeping the crowd pumped in Christie Pits before the Toronto Veggie Parade takes off. Krajnc and a dozen others in the Climate Vegan contingent gather to pose for photographs.
Could Toronto become a vegan city? “Absolutely,” says Krajnc, “because it’s an absolute necessity once people learn how catastrophic climate change is and what an important role becoming vegan plays as part of the solution. There’s no choice but to become vegan. People are going to wake up very soon.”
Councillor Mike Layton is here “to show support for the Toronto Vegetarian Association.” He admits to being a meat-eater – “I’m more of a meatless Monday type of guy” – but speculates that he may “have to convert to vegetarian or vegan if I end up getting a car.”
Along the Bloor parade route, the Climate Vegan group marches behind the Toronto Vegetarian Association’s 16-wheeler flatbed truck. On the flatbed is a gas-powered generator supplying power to speakers playing dance music.
People on the truck are throwing plastic-wrapped vegan cookies onto the sidewalks for passersby. Volunteers marching behind the truck are distributing single-serving tetra-paks of chocolate or vanilla soy milk.
The Climate Vegan group falls back to take some breathing room from the truck’s exhaust. Undeterred, Krajnc tells her small group, “Maybe next year the Veggie Parade can be pedal-powered.”
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