Just south of downtown L.A., the city of Vernon is not much more than an unremarkable stretch of warehouses and factories. But recently, one of these anonymous buildings has become a hotspot of activity: The Farmer John slaughterhouse.
Every Wednesday, nearly 100 people — and even Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix — have lined the streets around the slaughterhouse to pay respect to pigs before their final moments.
“They are innocent, sweet, sentient, smart beings that are smarter than most people's dogs or cats,” says Ellen Dent, cofounder of the Animal Alliance Network, a part of a worldwide group of activists who peacefully greet animals before their slaughter. “They want to be loved by us...and we meet them with torture and death.”
Activists congregate on the street alongside electric candles, which set a somber, funereal mood.
“It’s a vigil, not a protest,” Dent says outside the slaughterhouse. “You try to offer [the pigs] any comfort that you can.”
Then a towering, 18-wheeler truck makes its way down the street.
The Vernon Police Department — working with the activists and slaughterhouse — blocks off traffic for two minutes.
In that time, activists rush from the sidewalk and spill into the street, spraying water into the truck’s trailer where the pigs are held.
Pigs squeal, seemingly unnerved by the experience before settling down.
After two quick minutes of activists providing the animals with water and petting the occasional snout, the driver takes off. Activists repeat this process for two to three hours.
“We're not here to fight with anybody,” Dent says. “We're not here to storm into their slaughterhouse. We're just here to raise awareness.”
Smithfield Foods, the owner of the Farmer John slaughterhouse, tolerates these demonstrations. “Because of these coordinated efforts, the public demonstrations do not impact Farmer John’s production process or our ability to serve our customers and consumers,” Smithfield says in a statement.
Consumers have also begun turning to meat alternatives.
Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork processor, but the company has started participating in the plant-based food business.
Last year, they debuted burger patties, meatballs, and non-dairy parmesan cheese, all without animal products.
The activists hope that one day this slaughterhouse will only produce plant-based protein instead of killing pigs.
Until then, they’ll be lining up on Vernon Avenue, comforting pigs every Wednesday.
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