Pig Farmer Turns Vegetable Farmer and Vegetarian—Says It’s Morally Wrong to Kill Animals for Food
Bob Comis was a pasture-based pig farmer who loved raising pigs. Comis prided himself on raising his livestock with the highest possible animal welfare standards and farming practices on his Stony Brook Farm in central New York state.
Comis was proud that his farm provided a much-needed alternative to big agribusiness and was a “way out” of the dark, inhumane reality of industrial factory farms. On Stony Brook Farm, his pigs could enjoy expressing all their natural behaviors everyday—playing and socializing, wallowing in the mud, rooting in the earth, basking in the sun, foraging for food, and resting in dry shelters—until that last day—where they were killed for their meat. For 10 years, Comis was a happy pig farmer, until suddenly, one day, he felt what he was doing was not only wrong it was unethical, and in that moment he knew he could no longer raise pigs for a living.
Comis’ decision to finally stop raising pigs came with some earlier niggling doubts that began surfacing in 2011, when he felt the first hunches that “it could be wrong to eat meat, and that I might indeed be a very bad person for killing animals for a living.” He admits in a Care2 article, “On and off, I have struggled with the ethics of raising animals to kill them so that we can eat their meat. At times I have felt a great deal of guilt.” He particularly struggled with one major failure of the slaughter system for pigs, “last pig problem,” where the last pig is psychologically and emotionally so stressed they literally go ballistic being left behind and alone until the slaughter door finally opens for them.
In 2012, on his Stony Brook Farm blog in an essay entitled “The Grapple of Ethics,” Comis says, “As a pig farmer, I live in an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance. There is actually celebration of the way I raise the pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane—while all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder and a murderer.” And later in the blog he says, “What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95 percent of the American population. I know it in my bones—even if I cannot yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don’t weave dark, damning shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise. But we really do need to get there—because again, what I am doing, what we are doing, is wrong, even terribly so.”
But it wasn’t until two years later in 2014, that Comis deeply felt the conviction that killing animals for their meat was wrong. In an article for Modern Farmer in 2014, he confessed that his ethical struggle began when he started farming livestock and raising animals for meat. “I knew the McDonalds hamburger I ate came from a cow, but that cow had no real existence for me.” But for Comis, it was the day-to-day farming of animals and caring for them where he came to know them as individuals and saw them as beings, not the faceless meat served in cellophane or fast food chains. He rationalized the value of his small family farm by providing the animals with the best possible environment and experiences to the horrors of the industrial factory farming system, which he says, “is worse by orders of magnitude than the way I farm, and should be abandoned immediately.” He even could rationalize the deaths of his pigs, because the small “well-managed” local slaughterhouses he used provided a high level of animal welfare and he felt “the pig has no experience of its own death.” But Comis later challenges this belief during his many visits to the local slaughterhouse and witnessing the violence of the pigs’ death throes. He says that despite animal agriculture experts’ opinions to the contrary, “it is almost impossible to believe that the pigs are not thrashing around because they are in pain.” When the pigs are suddenly lifeless and hoisted up, shackled by one hind leg, he admits that the pigs’ deaths weigh heavily on him. He says he is not alone in his feelings in the animal farming community, “if anyone feels nothing watching an animal being slaughtered, they must be mildly sociopathic.”
More evidence of his changing belief system was in an article for the Huffington Post, where Comis says, “Truly, I cannot think of one sound ethical argument in favor of slaughtering animals for their meat. The simplest way to put it is that slaughtering animals for their meat is a socially permissible ethical transgression. Societal permission does not make it ethical, it just makes it acceptable. Slavery was for centuries socially permissible (in spite of the fact that there was always a minority standing firmly against it). Did that make it any less unethical? I doubt anyone today would say yes.”
In Modern Farmer he talks about moving away from industrial factory farming by providing a high quality of animal welfare through small family farms as a first step in the process, “Conscientious animal farming is necessary for a transition toward a vegan world.” He advocates for reform against the systematic mistreatment of animals in industrial agriculture. But in a world full of conflict and dualities he feels the conundrum, “In a way, livestock farmers lie to their animals. We’re kind to them and take good care of them for months, even years. They grow comfortable with our presence, and even begin to like us. But in the end, we take advantage of the animals, using their trust to dupe them into being led to their own deaths.”
The real shift came in early 2014 when Comis became a vegetarian. It was then that he felt the contradiction over continuing to raise and slaughter pigs for a living while practicing his new diet and belief system. In an article published in The DoDo he says, “I had thought I could be a vegetarian while continuing to be a pig farmer at the same time because it is important that there be as many pasture-based pig farms as possible at this critical time in our agricultural and cultural evolution.” Comis felt the paradox of his vegetarian diet while still raising and slaughtering pigs, and admitted he was overwhelmed with sadness when faced with the dilemma of continuing what he loved—raising pigs, even though he had become a vegetarian. In the article he says, “I understood that I, personally, could not be a vegetarian pig farmer and be truly happy. I could not ethically say no to eating pigs and other animals, but say yes at the same time to raising them for slaughter, regardless of how nice I could make their lives, or how painless their deaths might be in the small slaughterhouses I use.”
For Comis, the decision to finally stop pig farming came in one startling, eye-opening epiphany on a cool, misty morning on his farm, “in that moment, I experienced an intense desire to have nothing more to do with death.” That was the moment his uncertainty over what to do next, suddenly became clear. In a still morning moment on the farm looking out over the landscape and his pigs, Comis decided to become a vegetable farmer. Like all major decisions, they often come with compromise and don’t happen quickly. Reality struck Comis hard. He realized the transition to vegetable farming needed to wait a year until his existing obligations and agreements could be met with the pigs. Change sometimes doesn’t come easy, but the first step in any transformation, is making the decision to change.
Comis recognized the massive uphill effort that making this change would involve. In his article for The DoDo he said, “I am willing to upend my life for the pigs, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not that easy, at all. It is, in fact, incredibly difficult.” For Comis, pigs were his life for the past 10 years, and he came to understand their needs, desires, behaviors, and communication—“I know them so well that I now speak pig.” He even talked about the “healing power of living with pigs. Raising pigs, even with on again off again intensely conflicted feelings, has been a joy.”
Today on Bob Comis’ Stony Brook Farm website are the words: “Stony Brook Farm is now officially closed. For ethical reasons, I decided to stop pig farming.” Stony Brook Farm is no longer. But in its place, he has a new farm with a new vision, one that doesn’t hurt or kill animals but grows healthy organic vegetables. This year he opened his new In Line Farm, “where even no animal manure or slaughterhouse by-products are used for fertilization of the crops.”
More by and about Bob Comis
Here’s My Plan to Quit Pig Farming, and Start Living Ethically, by Bob Comis (Pubished: 3/28/2014)
What Humane Slaughterhouses Don’t Solve: The Last Pig Problem, by Bob Comis (Published: 3/10/2014)
My Heart-Wrenching Transition From Pig Slaughter to Growing Vegetables, by Bob Comis (Published: 2/22/2014)
From Confessional: I Raise Livestock and I Think it May Be Wrong, By Rhys Southan (Published 2/5/2014)
Huffington Post Green
The Importance of Our Evolution Beyond Killing for Food, by Bob Comis (Published: 1/03/2014)
Stony Brook Farm, blog (July 29, 2012)
The Grapple of Ethics
Pigs in the Mist: The Last Pig (Trailer)
Pigs in the Mist: The Last Pig is a feature length documentary currently in production
Credits / References
Comis, Bob. “My Heart-Wrenching Transition From Pig Slaughter to Growing Vegetables.” The DoDo. February 22, 1014.
Comis, Bob. “What Humane Slaugherhouses Don’t Solve: The Last Pig Problem.” The DoDo. March 10, 2014.
Comis, Bob. “Here’s My Plan to Give Up Pig Farming and Start Living Ethically.” The DoDo. March 28, 2014.
Southan, Rhys. “Farm Confessional. I Raise Livestock and I Think it May Be Wrong.” Modern Farmer. February 5, 2014.
Comis, Bob. “The Importance of our Evolution Beyond Killing For Food.” Huffington Post Green. January 3, 2014
Bird, Susan. “Livestock Farmer’s Surprising Admission: What I Do is Wrong: I Know It In My Bones.” Care2. March 3, 2014.
Comis, Bob. “Pigs in the Mist: The Last Pig.” YouTube Trailer. www.thelastpig.com.
Comis, Bob. Stony Brook Farm website: www.stonybrookfarm.wordpress.com.