34° Good Morning
34° Good Morning

Do cruel and carcinogenic foods deserve a national observance?

Toppings being added to a hot dog.

Toppings being added to a hot dog. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Just as people would be outraged if the tobacco industry claimed that September were “National Cigarette Month” or if dog breeders declared December “National Puppy Mill Month,” we should be appalled that the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council has deemed July “National Hot Dog Month.” Apparently, the council thinks cruelty to animals, environmental pollution and life-threatening health problems are worth celebrating - twice: Its pork-marketing ploy resurfaces in October, which it calls “National Sausage Month.” I think it’s safe to say that most Americans - even those who still eat meat - don’t feel that cancer-causing tubes of pork deserve a national observance, especially when tasty, healthy meat-free options are readily available.

Instead of commemorating animal suffering and unhealthy foods, let’s enjoy some veggie dogs and learn more about the pigs referred to by the council as “hot dogs” and “sausage.”

Turns out, much of what we think we know about pigs, including some of the more mean-spirited stereotypes, is inaccurate. For example, pigs don’t “sweat like pigs”; they’re virtually unable to sweat. They wallow in water or mud in order to keep cool. And mud also serves as “sunscreen” to protect them from sunburn. They are clean by nature - when given sufficient space, they’re careful not to soil their living areas.

Disparaging terms involving animals often say more about human behavior than animals’. A pig farmer in the U.K. has even asked for derogatory terms such as “pig out” and “eat like a pig” to be removed from the Oxford English Dictionary, because the expressions are archaic and don’t accurately describe pigs, who eat fruits and vegetables, not junk food.

Humans who have spent time around pigs at sanctuaries say that they’re friendly and intelligent. When they aren’t confined to filthy factory farms, they like to play, listen to music and sleep nose to nose. In his book “The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs,” naturalist Lyall Watson writes, “I know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open-mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.”

There’s plenty of proof that pigs are smart and personable - and movies like “Charlotte’s Web” and “Babe” have been extremely popular - yet not everyone seems to understand that pigs are sentient beings, not breakfast foods or items to be served in a bun.

On any given day in the U.S., more than 68 million pigs are confined to factory farms. Approximately 115 million are killed for food each year. They spend their lives in cramped, filthy warehouses, denied everything that’s natural and important to them. Pregnant pigs are restrained in metal gestation crates so small that they can’t take a single step in any direction. Piglets are taken away from their mothers when they’re as young as 10 days old, after which their grief-stricken mothers are forcibly impregnated again.

Piglets are packed into pens to be raised for breeding or for meat. Their tails are usually chopped off, their teeth are often clipped in half, their ears are mutilated and males’ testicles may be cut off - all without any pain relievers. When the time comes for slaughter, pigs are hung upside-down, scalded and bled to death, often while they’re still conscious.

That’s no way for us to treat other sentient beings.

This National Hot Dog Month - and every month - please spare pigs by passing on pork. Every month should promote kindness to animals, not killing them.

Heather Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation.