The Veal Deal

Farm animal activist Kari Nienstedt just says no to beating up barnyard pals

NT: Wait a minute. Did you say "de-beaked"?

Nienstedt: De-beaked. Five chickens are usually kept in a 14-inch-square pen, and they just sort of go nuts. They get stressed out and start attacking themselves or their pen mates. In order to minimize the loss, chicken farmers often slice off the tips of the chicken's beaks so they're blunt and can't pierce the skin.

NT: Okay. Stop. Enough. So you're saying that farm animal rights activism is about making sure the animals live full lives before they're slaughtered.

E-I-E-I-O my ass: Kari Nienstedt is all about protecting farm animals from nasty Old McDonald.
Emily Piraino
E-I-E-I-O my ass: Kari Nienstedt is all about protecting farm animals from nasty Old McDonald.

Nienstedt: It's really about how you can live your life without contributing to suffering, without harming animals and causing them pain. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but in the meantime, it would be better if farm animals were treated nicely.

NT: But is a chicken really sitting there thinking, "God, my life really sucks. I have to share my pen, and eat this shitty grain, and then some asshole's going to cut my head off"?

Nienstedt: No. But they're aware they're being tortured. When you get to meet an animal, one-on-one, you get to see that they do have personalities. I met a chicken, and she had a sense of humor! But she was being tortured. Factory farm animals are in a constant state of torture. It's really horrible.

NT: But for every head of cattle that you save from cow abuse, there are millions that don't get rescued. So what's the point?

Nienstedt: Not millions, billions. Ten billion farm animals are slaughtered every year in the United States alone. About eight billion of those are chickens and turkeys. Those sorts of staggering numbers are why you see so much burnout in the farm animal rights activist community. These issues are so overwhelming.

NT: Did you just say the phrase "burnout in the farm animal rights activist community"?

Nienstedt: Yes. It's a big problem, and there's no organization in place to address it. It happens when you start thinking about how many people on the planet eat meat, and how your family doesn't understand your position, and pretty soon you're depressed and ready to go back to eating meat.

NT: What's all this about turkey adoption?

Nienstedt: Well, you can sponsor a turkey at Farm Sanctuary. You're not actually taking him home with you; it's a Thanksgiving program where you send us money, and we send you a photograph of the turkey and his name and a little background on him. The money pays for his feed and care during his stay at Farm Sanctuary.

NT: Or so we're told. I visited, and read about Lydia the hugging turkey, who likes to give turkey hugs to shelter visitors, and Megan the Cuddling turkey, who gives turkey kisses. But I still wonder what Thanksgiving dinner would be like without a pile of dark meat.

Nienstedt: Well, there are substitutes, like Unturkey and Tofurkey, but you're right, we tend to think of the holiday as being about eating turkey.

NT: Excuse me. Tofurkey?

Nienstedt: It's really good! You should try it.

NT: I promise I will. So, you guys operate farm animal sanctuaries. Is this a place where goats can go to recover from being fed the wrong kind of garbage by Farmer John?

Nienstedt: Not entirely. We go to slaughterhouses and go to the dead piles and look for movement among the rotting bodies. We oftentimes find live animals, and we take them back to Farm Sanctuary and rehabilitate them and they either live out their natural lives there or we adopt them out.

NT: If I were a goat, and I went to Farm Sanctuary, would there be turndown service? Instead of a mint on my pillow, would there be a tin can?

Nienstedt: No, but it's really great there. The pigs get to roll in mud, and the cattle get to graze, and the ducks get to run up a hill. The only real trauma there is when one of the animals gets adopted out, and then the other animals get sort of sad.

NT: Farm animal adoption? Do you place sheep with inner-city kids?

Nienstedt: No. In order to adopt, you have to have farmland, and you have to be vegan, and you have to be committed to unusual pets. Chickens and ducks and pigs are funny and moody, and Farm Sanctuary is a great place to meet them and discover that they have these great personalities. We host "pignics" where you can meet pigs and give them belly rubs. And I promise you, once you get to know a pig, you'll never think of him as ham again.


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