Imagine a dog. She spends her entire life in an iron crate so small that she cannot turn around. Her tail has been cut off so that other dogs in cages jammed up against hers won’t chew it off in distress. When she has puppies, the males are castrated without painkillers. They are left close enough for her to nurse, but too far away for her to show them any affection.

Fortunately, this dog is a fictional creation. We have laws preventing people from treating pets this way.

Unfortunately, we are doing this to animals that are very similar to dogs. This is an all-too-real description of how we treat some of the millions and millions of pigs we raise for meat on factory farms.

So why do we treat the animals we eat in ways we would never, ever treat our pets?

For the third season of the Vox Media Podcast Network series Future Perfect, we delve into how the meat we eat affects all of us. In this episode, we speak with Lori Marino, a neuroscientist who studies animal behavior and intelligence, to try to understand this paradox on our plates.

Marino makes it clear that pigs — and even chickens — are intelligent, emotional beings worthy of our moral consideration. She also helps us understand why we don’t consider them morally worthy.

You can subscribe to Future Perfect on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Further reading:

  • Lori Marino has written in-depth roundups of the existing research on both chicken cognition and pig cognition.
  • You might enjoy this study tracking how students’ attitudes toward chickens changed after taking a class in chicken training.
  • This podcast episode uses clips from a BBC Earth segment on how pig intelligence compares to toddler intelligence, as well as from a Compassion in World Farming piece on pigs and video games.
  • Dylan Matthews here at Vox has written in depth about unnecessarily painful pig castration. He’s also written explained the practice of mass culling male chicks.
  • Watch the first-ever video of pigs using tools with no human prompting.
  • For more on what labels such as “wild caught,” “organic,” and “grass-fed” actually mean for the food you eat, Rachel Krantz wrote this useful guide. We also have more information on what it means for eggs to be “cage-free.”

This podcast was made possible thanks to support from Animal Charity Evaluators, a nonprofit that researches and promotes the most effective ways to help animals.

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