BiteClub, Local Products, Meat

A reprieve for Reggie

A pig bound for dinner is saved by local vegans. But another is destined for bacon.

Seated at a reclaimed wooden table in Healdsburg cafe, rays of summer sun streaming in like spotlights, three Sonoma County women have come together to save the life of a 50 pound pig whose imminent destination is my dinner table. After a volley of emails, we’ve agreed to meet here. It’s immediately clear that they’re not leaving without at least guilting me into rethinking my carnivorous ways. But their ultimate mission is safe haven for the Hampshire I’ve named Reggie Bacon.

Several weeks ago, I publicly announced that the pig in question would be the poster swine for a personal adventure in getting personal with my pork. He was to be raised compassionately (eating plenty of acorns and Gravenstein apples) at a Sonoma County farm, slaughtered by my own hands in the last days of summer, butchered and consumed in a farm-to-table experiment. The aim was to live out he urgent calls of food activists like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters to curtail our factory-farming dependancies and better understand the imprint of our own eating habits. The whole thing seemed like a good idea.

But as I wrote about the fate of Reggie, the passions of animal rights advocates and vegans were stirred in a very vocal way. Many were outraged, Facebook groups were mobilized and letter-writing campaigns ensued. How could I possibly live with myself after putting poor Reggie on a dinner plate. It was easy to dismiss much of the well-meaning, but sometimes misguided rhetoric and in a few cases off-the-rails ranting. My question to each of these activists was, “Why me?” Why attack someone who was actually in agreement that the commercial meat industry wasn’t in humanity’s best interest? Why attack an individual who was trying to better understand and embrace the inherent brutality of meat eating by experiencing it personally rather than mindlessly buying neatly packaged, faceless cuts of meat in a supermarket? I’m not a pet-eating monster, as many opined. I’m merely an avid consumer of bacon, ham, sausage and salumi trying to get personally involved with the process.

A few emails, however, caught my attention. In particular a plea by local vegan Dian Hardy, who merely wanted to talk about her experiences as a vegan. She wanted to raise the funds to purchase Reggie from the farm and send him to a no-kill sanctuary. I agreed with the plan in concept. So a few days later, here I was, eating dehydrated grains and nibbling a raw, meatless lunch at Cafe Gratitude with Hardy, Nan Sea Love and Eileen Harrington, all who shared their reasons for coming to veganism and involvement with a local organization called Compassionate Living Outreach.  Formed in 2008, the group encompasses both a passion for animal rights as well as the vegan lifestyle, embracing Sonoma County vegans with potlucks and nutrition information.

Reggie at Farm Sanctuary

They’re not alone. It’s estimated that about 23 million American follow a vegetarian diet — eating no meat, but including milk products and eggs in their diet. The same study, conducted  by Harris Interactive in 2009, concluded that about 7.3 million are vegans, excluding dairy and eggs as well as meat. And with increased concern about health issues, the environment and animal welfare, as well as a number of celebrities adopting a meat-free lifestyle (former President Clinton, Alicia Silverstone, Ed Begley, Jr., Woody Harrelson, Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt and Alice Walker have adopted vegan diets) that number is growing.

Hardy, who has been a longtime activist in the local animal rights movement agrees. “There are no ‘others’ even for animals,” she said. For Hardy, Sea Love and many vegans, compassion for the suffering of animals is their primary driver for eschewing meat. They rattle off anecdotes of inhumane treatment, the brutal treatment of animals in factory farms and are often very emotional about their feelings. Hardy, who lives in West County, was an early member of Sonoma’s People for Animal Rights, an often outspoken group promoting animal rights.

Harrington, who came to veganism several years ago, has a more pragmatic take on her choices, initially moving into vegetarianism for health and environmental reasons, ultimately becoming a vegan. She’s contrite about the difficulties of maintaining the lifestyle. “I have to be compassionate with myself sometimes,” said Harrington. “Our group is about making progress. Eating meat is not sustainable for the earth. We have to take one step at a time, and it’s time to take it to the next step,” she said. “We all make mistakes and we learn from them.”

“But being holier than though is a big turn off. Sometimes vegans get a bad rap and deservedly so. I can see how (veganism) can be see as ‘we’re better than you’. But we’re all trying,” said Sea Love. “There are the ones you hear, and there are quiet ones all around you doing the gentle work,” she added.

I’m moved. We agree that if they can raise $200 to pay the rancher for Reggie and find him a good home, he’ll get my personal pardon. I inform them that I’m still going to carry out my plan, however, with another pig. They agree that this is “my journey” and despite their own reservations agree that Reggie saving Reggie is their journey. Two days later, after another flurry of emails, the funds have been raised and Farm Sanctuary in Orland, California has agreed to give Reggie a home for life. The 300-acre shelter hosts dozens of animals and offers tours and even overnight accommodations for animal-lovers. They’ve rescued countless animals from factory farms, slaughterhouses and auctions. Again, I’m moved.

So on a warm September morning, we gather in the parking lot of Western Farm Supply in Santa Rosa. Reggie in the back of a pick-up is secured in a wire cage but panting and grunting. Harrington, along with Santa Rosa vegan Caren Stanley (who has donated the money) meet us with the driver from Farm Sanctuary.

It takes four of us to hustle the uncooperative pig into a dilapidated crate that threatened to collapse with his weight. “It’s like he won the lottery,” said Harrington. I can’t argue. “I love you,” said Stanley, as he snorted and sniffed inside the Sanctuary van, “I love you, Reggie.”

As Reggie drives off to his new home, there’s a moment where Prebilich, the vegans and I share a moment of good vibes. “We’re not about being anti-farm. We are trying to give people another path,” said Harrington. “We want people to move toward a more compassionate world.”

Several days later, a picture arrives in my inbox. It’s of Reggie in a field of flowers at his new home. It’s adorable.

But here’s the thing. I’m still a carnivore. After my adventure with the vegans, maybe I’m a more thoughtful carnivore. I’m more willing to think about the animals I eat (which was sort of the original point, anyway) and reconsider if I really need to eat that roast beef sandwich, or if a veggie special might do instead. I’m more aware of the animal life which I’ll take this week as I continue this journey. My new vegan friends, I’m sure will be praying for us both. And I’ll be thinking of them, and the compassion and love they’ve shown not only to animals but to me.

“It’s a big tent. We can all come inside,” said Hardy.

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36 thoughts on “A reprieve for Reggie

  1. Ironically, all this patting eachother on the back, “animal love” is just saving the one with a name in favor of killing another pig that is not named to take his place. Saving individual animals does nothing to reduce the overall demand and when the demand exists, it will be filled. It’s up to the individual to choose if the demand will be filled with animals who had a better life than what a factory farm allows or not. So, vegan warriors, you really achieved nothing in this case as the executioner’s ax is just going to fall on a different pigs neck. What a waste of time all this quixotic nonsense is. It’s like a bunch of Don Quixote’s running around congratulating each other for saving a life. The only way you can make a real impact is to reduce the demand. If you can’t educate people to eat less meat, you are just playing musical pigs, so to speak, and doing a Sophies Choice on the animal with a name versus the animal without one.

  2. “I honestly think that every person who eats meat should be required to experience this very raw act before eating their next carnitas taco or chicken salad. Using your bare hands to remove the still warm organs of an animal makes you very in touch with what you’re about to eat.”
    As a multi-year vegan and decade-long vegetarian turned omnivore, I couldn’t agree more. Having to kill what you eat also limits the amount of meat that you’ll eat… because killing animals is a huge, messy, emotionally draining pain in the ass, and you’ll look at it differently from here on out.
    Honestly, having been on both sides of the issue, my current perspective is that moving meat into an ‘optional’ or ‘side dish’ status is the most sustainable and even most compassionate choice. I still eat vegetarian 95% of the time (or even more). But animals represent a very important part of a farm’s nutrient cycling, so having them around is beneficial for us; plus, our many happy hens and goats wouldn’t be alive at all if it weren’t for the deaths of a few roosters and wethers. Also, wild animals can destroy entire crops, and if you need to kill them to defend your livelihood, it makes sense to eat them. (To the vegans: yes, we tried many, many things before resorting to a gun, and lost many hundreds of dollars worth of crops to wild pigs. Even vegetables can’t be grown without creatures dying.)

    1. Amen Lynda, finally someone who actually has the credentials to state the real truth. I agree with you wholeheartedly. If you want to eat meat, you should be willing to take part in the harvest. Even better, force them to also grow or barter/trade for all of their sustinence. That would certainly create a lot of new Vegitarians if it were mandatory, at least initially. At least until people were once again forced to face the realities of the world and the food chain. It’s easy to be a sideline vegan and preach your own style of elitism without really understanding how the world really worked before Whole Foods opening up every few miles offering the latest trendy vegan fare.

  3. Ironically, all this patting eachother on the back, “animal love” is just saving the one with a name in favor of killing another pig that is not named to take his place. Saving individual animals does nothing to reduce the overall demand and when the demand exists, it will be filled. It’s up to the individual to choose if the demand will be filled with animals who had a better life than what a factory farm allows or not. So, vegan warriors, you really achieved nothing in this case as the executioner’s ax is just going to fall on a different pigs neck. What a waste of time all this quixotic nonsense is. It’s like a bunch of Don Quixote’s running around congratulating each other for saving a life. The only way you can make a real impact is to reduce the demand. If you can’t educate people to eat less meat, you are just playing musical pigs, so to speak, and doing a Sophies Choice on the animal with a name versus the animal without one.

  4. I’m vegan because I don’t want to have another heart attack. Many folks who have heart disease and their cardiologists have done the same thing. Sometimes I miss meat and cheese and the whole world of animal products but it can’t be denied I’m healthier by any medical measurement you’d like to apply, feel much better, am now a normal weight for my height, and have a lot more stamina than I did as a carnivore. I have no ideological viewpoint on the manner and don’t really care what other people eat. All I know is that it’s working very well for me and hopefully I’ll live longer and not have any more cardiac incidents. I think many vegans are vegan for the same reasons as myself not because they’re “close minded hippies”.

  5. “I honestly think that every person who eats meat should be required to experience this very raw act before eating their next carnitas taco or chicken salad. Using your bare hands to remove the still warm organs of an animal makes you very in touch with what you’re about to eat.”
    As a multi-year vegan and decade-long vegetarian turned omnivore, I couldn’t agree more. Having to kill what you eat also limits the amount of meat that you’ll eat… because killing animals is a huge, messy, emotionally draining pain in the ass, and you’ll look at it differently from here on out.
    Honestly, having been on both sides of the issue, my current perspective is that moving meat into an ‘optional’ or ‘side dish’ status is the most sustainable and even most compassionate choice. I still eat vegetarian 95% of the time (or even more). But animals represent a very important part of a farm’s nutrient cycling, so having them around is beneficial for us; plus, our many happy hens and goats wouldn’t be alive at all if it weren’t for the deaths of a few roosters and wethers. Also, wild animals can destroy entire crops, and if you need to kill them to defend your livelihood, it makes sense to eat them. (To the vegans: yes, we tried many, many things before resorting to a gun, and lost many hundreds of dollars worth of crops to wild pigs. Even vegetables can’t be grown without creatures dying.)

    1. Amen Lynda, finally someone who actually has the credentials to state the real truth. I agree with you wholeheartedly. If you want to eat meat, you should be willing to take part in the harvest. Even better, force them to also grow or barter/trade for all of their sustinence. That would certainly create a lot of new Vegitarians if it were mandatory, at least initially. At least until people were once again forced to face the realities of the world and the food chain. It’s easy to be a sideline vegan and preach your own style of elitism without really understanding how the world really worked before Whole Foods opening up every few miles offering the latest trendy vegan fare.

  6. I’m vegan because I don’t want to have another heart attack. Many folks who have heart disease and their cardiologists have done the same thing. Sometimes I miss meat and cheese and the whole world of animal products but it can’t be denied I’m healthier by any medical measurement you’d like to apply, feel much better, am now a normal weight for my height, and have a lot more stamina than I did as a carnivore. I have no ideological viewpoint on the manner and don’t really care what other people eat. All I know is that it’s working very well for me and hopefully I’ll live longer and not have any more cardiac incidents. I think many vegans are vegan for the same reasons as myself not because they’re “close minded hippies”.

  7. Vegans are the minority in this country & i’m surprised you bowed down to those close minded hippies. We are VERY fortunate to live in a place where farm to table exists in so many facets. I raised a pig once & was very happy knowing what that animal ate & how it was cared for. I also harvest wild pigs from our beautiful land in Sonoma County because if people like me didn’t, our land would be trashed by these ravaging animals that tear up entire hillsides overnight. If it matters at all, i live in Healdsburg & i actually eat at Cafe Gratitude as well!

    1. Heh. I can’t seem to win coming or going.

      As i write this, I’m just out of the shower after a day in the killing fields. The deed is done, and I’m excited to write the final installment of this series. I honestly think that every person who eats meat should be required to experience this very raw act before eating their next carnitas taco or chicken salad. Using your bare hands to remove the still warm organs of an animal makes you very in touch with what you’re about to eat.

      I will say that the act didn’t change my feelings toward meat a bit — other than realizing how much work it is to process an animal by hand. I have a lot of respect for the people who do this kind of work and the care with which they do it.

      As for the vegan folks, I ask that we remain respectful. I appreciate their viewpoint, which is why I included it. It isn’t my viewpoint, nor did I “bow down” to them. I saw an opportunity to pay the rancher twice, rather than once. She got the money I paid for Reggie and the money the vegans paid for Reggie to go toward today’s pig. I also saw an opportunity to listen and learn from them. I don’t respect the voices of hate and insanity I got on my original post, but I did respect Eileen, Nan and Dian, as well as the folks from Farm Sanctuary. They were kind and intelligent people.

      This is an adventure is learning about my food. And trust me, it’s been exactly that.

    2. So because I’m a vegan that makes me a close (sic) minded hippie? Interesting. I’ve been employed in professional jobs my entire adult life, I’m a registered Republican who’s voted in every election since I turned 18 and I’m finishing my second graduate degree in public health so I can help change our healthcare and agriculture industries before they bankrupt and ruin my country. A hippie? Not remotely close. And my open-mindedness is precisely what has allowed me to seek, acquire and incorporate into my world view the social, environmental and ethical issues leading to my choosing to become a vegan. You don’t have to share the views some vegans and you don’t have to like the stunt pulled in this story but you damn well better respect people whose diets are the result of their making more responsible social, environmental and health choices than you. And no, it does not matter at all that you live in Healdsburg or eat at Cafe Gratitude.

  8. You were actually sourcing your food for all to see (literally) and then you back off last minute because the vegans made a facebook page? Seriously? Pretty sad. I love that you are going through with it but the actual impact to your readers (seeing where your food actually comes from) is far less now that it is a faceless pig instead of Reggie. You will definately come away from this changed after the slaughter today but your readers will not, another faceless pig on someone elses plate.

    1. The pig wasn’t faceless…it was from the same litter as Reggie and from the same Rancher. I will share the final installment next week. Have a little faith in BiteClub!

  9. Vegans are the minority in this country & i’m surprised you bowed down to those close minded hippies. We are VERY fortunate to live in a place where farm to table exists in so many facets. I raised a pig once & was very happy knowing what that animal ate & how it was cared for. I also harvest wild pigs from our beautiful land in Sonoma County because if people like me didn’t, our land would be trashed by these ravaging animals that tear up entire hillsides overnight. If it matters at all, i live in Healdsburg & i actually eat at Cafe Gratitude as well!

    1. Heh. I can’t seem to win coming or going.

      As i write this, I’m just out of the shower after a day in the killing fields. The deed is done, and I’m excited to write the final installment of this series. I honestly think that every person who eats meat should be required to experience this very raw act before eating their next carnitas taco or chicken salad. Using your bare hands to remove the still warm organs of an animal makes you very in touch with what you’re about to eat.

      I will say that the act didn’t change my feelings toward meat a bit — other than realizing how much work it is to process an animal by hand. I have a lot of respect for the people who do this kind of work and the care with which they do it.

      As for the vegan folks, I ask that we remain respectful. I appreciate their viewpoint, which is why I included it. It isn’t my viewpoint, nor did I “bow down” to them. I saw an opportunity to pay the rancher twice, rather than once. She got the money I paid for Reggie and the money the vegans paid for Reggie to go toward today’s pig. I also saw an opportunity to listen and learn from them. I don’t respect the voices of hate and insanity I got on my original post, but I did respect Eileen, Nan and Dian, as well as the folks from Farm Sanctuary. They were kind and intelligent people.

      This is an adventure is learning about my food. And trust me, it’s been exactly that.

    2. So because I’m a vegan that makes me a close (sic) minded hippie? Interesting. I’ve been employed in professional jobs my entire adult life, I’m a registered Republican who’s voted in every election since I turned 18 and I’m finishing my second graduate degree in public health so I can help change our healthcare and agriculture industries before they bankrupt and ruin my country. A hippie? Not remotely close. And my open-mindedness is precisely what has allowed me to seek, acquire and incorporate into my world view the social, environmental and ethical issues leading to my choosing to become a vegan. You don’t have to share the views some vegans and you don’t have to like the stunt pulled in this story but you damn well better respect people whose diets are the result of their making more responsible social, environmental and health choices than you. And no, it does not matter at all that you live in Healdsburg or eat at Cafe Gratitude.

  10. You were actually sourcing your food for all to see (literally) and then you back off last minute because the vegans made a facebook page? Seriously? Pretty sad. I love that you are going through with it but the actual impact to your readers (seeing where your food actually comes from) is far less now that it is a faceless pig instead of Reggie. You will definately come away from this changed after the slaughter today but your readers will not, another faceless pig on someone elses plate.

    1. The pig wasn’t faceless…it was from the same litter as Reggie and from the same Rancher. I will share the final installment next week. Have a little faith in BiteClub!

  11. This is a lovely and moving story. When you kill an animal so you can satisfy your taste for meat, I predict this may have an impact on your persona and spirit. I hope you’ll share that in your blog. Even those who claim to raise animals and aren’t factory farms are reported to not be doing such a great job, in terms of treating the animals humanely and how they are raised and cared for. There are many stories here in South Sonoma Co. It isn’t just on factory farms. It is on farms in general – when animals are raised and the “product” paraded around, with cute photos, as “fresh meat.” I wonder if this carries its own type of karma for people who choose the animal raising and slaughter path – small or factory. It would seem so. If you’ve been around rescued farm animals and rescued animals in general, you know how incredibly cruel and unconscious we humans can be and how incredibly wonderful the animals can be and always were. I applaud you for being open to the 3 women’s viewpoints and their action to purchase Reggie so he can have a cruelty-free home and continue to live. We humans seem to love to slaughter vegetarian animals and eat them.

  12. This is a lovely and moving story. When you kill an animal so you can satisfy your taste for meat, I predict this may have an impact on your persona and spirit. I hope you’ll share that in your blog. Even those who claim to raise animals and aren’t factory farms are reported to not be doing such a great job, in terms of treating the animals humanely and how they are raised and cared for. There are many stories here in South Sonoma Co. It isn’t just on factory farms. It is on farms in general – when animals are raised and the “product” paraded around, with cute photos, as “fresh meat.” I wonder if this carries its own type of karma for people who choose the animal raising and slaughter path – small or factory. It would seem so. If you’ve been around rescued farm animals and rescued animals in general, you know how incredibly cruel and unconscious we humans can be and how incredibly wonderful the animals can be and always were. I applaud you for being open to the 3 women’s viewpoints and their action to purchase Reggie so he can have a cruelty-free home and continue to live. We humans seem to love to slaughter vegetarian animals and eat them.

  13. Very nice story, Heather, and well told. As a follow-up, perhaps we can all ponder what it means to be a carnivore. I’m not trying to be “holier-than-thou,’ I’m a carnivore, but I do struggle with it from an ethical and an environmental perspective. When I consider my own eating habits, my logical mind tells me to be a vegetarian, but I guess I’m addicted to meat because I don’t listen. I’d be interested to hear your and others justification(s) for eating meat. Are just a guilty wannabe-vegetarian such as myself? I’m not going to bombard you with arguments against eating meat, you seem quite capable and I’m sure you’re already familiary with most of the arguments, I’m just curious what your response is.

  14. Very nice story, Heather, and well told. As a follow-up, perhaps we can all ponder what it means to be a carnivore. I’m not trying to be “holier-than-thou,’ I’m a carnivore, but I do struggle with it from an ethical and an environmental perspective. When I consider my own eating habits, my logical mind tells me to be a vegetarian, but I guess I’m addicted to meat because I don’t listen. I’d be interested to hear your and others justification(s) for eating meat. Are just a guilty wannabe-vegetarian such as myself? I’m not going to bombard you with arguments against eating meat, you seem quite capable and I’m sure you’re already familiary with most of the arguments, I’m just curious what your response is.

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