This past week we learned of another death. Oliver died at little more than a year old. That seems tragic enough, but he wasn’t expected to live past six weeks.
Oliver was a suckling pig, destined like his brothers and sisters to be the tender main feature at a barbecue or luau. A kind-hearted person at an equine charity auction outbid the competition, scooped him up and brought him to the Rancho Compasión farm animal sanctuary.
Unlike his brothers and sisters, Oliver had the chance to experience a life of love, care and freedom to roam, play with his farm family, and feel real grass under his trotters.
Pigs are amazing creatures. I won’t describe all of their fantastic features, but will say that they are very intelligent social animals, on average more intelligent than dogs, some primates, and most politicians. Oops, I mean toddlers. As I have described in another piece, when this sunk in, it profoundly affected how I view the world.
I have to admit that even when I decided I was not going to eat animals, I was still suspicious of the farm sanctuary concept. I guess that practically speaking I thought there were already billions of farm animals out there. To take proper care of these animals for what in some cases could be many years seemed very expensive and wasteful. Now I see things a little differently.
Back to Rancho Compasión, where visitors would have been able to see the rich life Oliver led, including the emotions he displayed as he went through the day. With little prompting they would have made the connection that farm animals share a lot of similarities with us. This connection is tough to make when we observe them in butcher wrap or a Styrofoam package, or even if we see them in the factory farm system, packed together their whole grim lives as they are raised, transported or taken to slaughter – where they are just units, numbers, product.
They would have seen that a pig like Oliver is an individual, not just meat.
Sadly, Oliver had a persistent infection, likely from the inhumane way he was castrated as a piglet, and it ultimately attacked the bones of his bulky 700 pound frame. Thanks to the very narrow breeding that doesn’t consider any need to grow beyond toddlerhood (declining economic returns), he put on over 600 pounds in a year. In spite of heroic care, he was suffering greatly and the sanctuary made the compassionate but difficult decision to end his life.
I was slow to realize the value of farm sanctuaries, but it should be no surprise that the founders of Rancho Compasión did not hesitate to start one. While this sanctuary is clearly a team effort, it would be hard to imagine it coming together without the humble powerhouse named Miyoko Schinner.
Miyoko consistently comes up with high ranks on lists of compassionate entrepreneurs. A well-known chef and author with a number of amazing cookbooks (“The Homemade Vegan Pantry” is worth its weight in gold), she started Miyoko’s Creamery which produces award-winning non-dairy artisanal cheeses and butter.
A vegan since an early age, Miyoko describes herself as a “mission with a company”. As she grows her business, she seeks to nudge traditional dairy out of supermarkets and transform the food system. Her workers include many who have left the cruelty of factory farms behind. She is working with farms to convert from animal agriculture to produce crops that will become her beautiful cheeses. Miyoko is also very passionate about (successfully) defending her company and the plant-based food industry from big industrial agriculture, their lobbyists and in-the-pocket politicians who try all manner of techniques to keep compassionate products off the shelf.
We have never met Miyoko in person but Valerie and I sent a package of our critter care books to Rancho Compasión. Her assistant let us know that Miyoko loved the books and they were used in fund-raising auctions for the sanctuary. Miyoko also sent us a care package of cheeses for our community animal care event. The instructions were simply to enjoy and not publicize the source of the cheese! Well, now that Miyoko’s cheese and incredible butter are more widely available in Canada – we are spilling the beans and encouraging you to try it for yourself. The Roadhouse Cheddar Spread is a great place to start, along with her Cultured Vegan Butter.
The animals of Rancho Compasión are clearly part of Miyoko’s family. When Oliver died, Miyoko devoted the first part of the free cooking class she has been doing on FaceBook during Covid-19 to a discussion about Oliver and what he meant to her and also the meaning of his life in the big picture of how we treat animals as a society. Her compassion, passion, and vulnerability are an inspiration, and we are so happy that she is providing such an amazing example for entrepreneurs seeking to build successful businesses with heart.
Here is her post:
For more cool things about pigs:
P.S. This winter we had the pleasure to hear a presentation by Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary, probably the best known North American sanctuary. Gene is another practical but thoroughly inspirational person. Some of their animals feature in a beautiful book called “Allowed to Grow Old” by Isa Leshko. Leshko’s pictures of farm animals who have reached their senior years in the gentle care of Farm Sanctuary are very heartwarming and thought provoking.
I also want give a nod to folks like Jean-Luc Daub, a former slaughterhouse inspector in France, where meat and dairy are considered nearly sacred. Jean-Luc fought back from work-related PTSD with the help of his rescued pig named Henni. Jean-Luc is a pioneer in his country and a voice of hope for a kinder future. You can find Jean-Luc’s sanctuary La Ferme d’Henni le cochon Refuge on FaceBook.
Main photo credit: “Oliver” by Rancho Compasión