The Last Pig: farmer calls it quits, exposes betrayal involved in ‘humane’ meat
- Published: 16 October 2015
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The Last Pig is a new feature-length documentary that follows small-scale pig farmer Bob Comis’ last year of pig farming. The film captures his delight when caring for the pigs, and his torment at transporting them to the slaughterhouse. After a decade of pig farming, Comis has a change of heart and decides to stop the slaughter. Alison Waters talks to Allison Argo, the film’s director and producer, about the impact of Bob’s story, her inspiration for making the film, and ‘humane’ farming’s betrayal of farm animals.
17 October 2015
When filmmaker Allison Argo read Bob Comis’ article, Happy Pigs Make Happy Meat?, she was deeply affected. Writing during the “beginning phases of the complicated process of ending [his] life as a pig farmer”, Comis divulges that he is “haunted by the ghosts of nearly 2,000 happy pigs”.
“I read a few more of his pieces and was so moved, I could hardly breathe”, Argo tells The Scavenger. Argo was compelled to contact Comis.
“We talked for an incredible hour. I asked if he’d allow me and my cinematographer friend, Joe Brunette, to drive the five hours to meet him, no obligation. He said ‘yes’ – and in two weeks we were filming. We had to jump right in or we would have missed the story”.
And, a compelling story it is.
When Argo met Comis he had been a successful small-scale pig farmer in upstate New York for over a decade. Comis became aware of the incongruous relationship he had with the pigs on his farm. He experienced delight and laughter in their company: “their various expressions of contentment, of happiness, are infectious”.
Yet, each week, he drove a small group of those “happy pigs” to the slaughterhouse where they were “shot in the head with a captive bolt gun to render them unconscious” then stabbed in their “beating hearts” with an “exceptionally sharp knife”.
Eventually, Comis experienced a “final crisis of conscience”, a change of heart. He abandoned pig farming, and embraced vegetarianism (and, then, veganism).
Argo, a filmmaker for 25 years and a six-time Emmy winner, had long desired to make a film about the ethics of farming and eating animals.
“But, I hadn’t found an approach or story that felt new and intimate. When I read Bob’s prose, and learned that he was starting a transition from pigs to vegetable farming, I knew this was the story I had been looking for!” Argo says. “I feel incredibly blessed that Bob has entrusted his personal story to us.”
It is a widely held belief that small-scale (or free-range) animal farming is the humane solution to the brutal and exploitative environment of the modern factory farm. Initially, Argo was not immune to this belief.
“I’ve been vegetarian for decades but, even so, I went along with the small-scale farming rationale for meat eaters. Then, I got to know the pigs”. And, she visited a so-called humane slaughterhouse.
“You know what? Slaughter is slaughter. A sentient being is snuffed out in the first chapter of [his or her] life… They were eight months old – youngsters who would have lived for at least another decade.”
Argo found it distressing to bear witness to the “breach of trust” that occurs when a “humane” farmer condemns to slaughter the animals that he once “cared for and nurtured”.
Comis speaks eloquently about this betrayal when he discusses the inquisitive pigs that followed him as he worked: “What [the pigs] don’t know is that this communion is a lie. I am not their herd-mate. I am a pig farmer…and sometime soon, I am going to have them killed”.
This fact is all the more potent as Comis acknowledges the sentience of the pigs: when he looks into their eyes, “there is always somebody looking back at [him]”. These are the same eyes that will be “as still and glassy as marbles” in the slaughterhouse.
Although The Last Pig is her first film about farm animals, Argo has always made documentaries that “raise awareness of those that have no voice”. From endangered frogs in the Amazon to displaced elephants in Bangkok, she aims to “inspire understanding and compassion” through her films.
“I find it interesting that our society is often passionate about protecting endangered wild animals, but turns a blind eye to those raised for consumption. There’s definitely a disconnect,” she says.
It is this disconnection that Argo seeks to challenge in The Last Pig. She believes that Comis’s story of compassion and transformation has the potential to “open hearts and minds”.
“My hope is that each viewer will join Bob on his journey, basking in the camaraderie of the pigs and the beauty of the farm as the seasons change, experiencing Bob’s battle of conscience as he takes his friends to slaughter, his struggle for truth, and the strength he finally conjures up to change his life.”
Ultimately, Argo hopes that viewers will “be inspired to find their own truth, face their own contradictions and find the courage to change”. In fact, Argo underwent her own transformation during filming – the ‘heart-to-heart’ discussions with Bob and her own research encouraged her to embrace veganism.
Eighteen months after Comis’s and Argo’s initial phone conversation, the film is nearing completion.
Argo and Brunette have almost entirely self-funded the production of The Last Pig to this point. While an independent film allows for complete creative freedom, it also bestows a “tight” budget.
“I’ve loved working with PBS and National Geographic on prior films; however, at the end of the day my films had to conform to someone else’s programming needs. The Last Pig has the freedom to evolve organically into the most compelling, eloquent film possible, without having to hit any marks or fit into a mould…but, we do have to raise the funds to complete the film,” explains Argo.
Argo and Brunette have launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund the final shoot and hire an editor. Argo is heartened by the support they have received to date, which ensures she is a step closer to sharing her film’s vision with the world.
“My greatest hope is that The Last Pig will bring us closer to a compassionate society, where every individual has the right to live, whether four-legged, two-legged, finned or winged.”
The Last Pig is scheduled for completion in early 2016.
To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, go to:
To view the official website of The Last Pig, go to www.thelastpig.com