Sonia Faruqi understands physical confinement. The young, former Wall Street investment banker worked seventy hours a week crunching numbers in a small cubicle among hundreds of other small cubicles in a Manhattan office tower.
Then, in 2008, “the economy tanked,” she said, “and, two years out of school I was laid off and wondered what I would do next.” Faruqi, a graduate of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, moved to Ontario from New York City to volunteer as a farm worker while contemplating her next career move. Her volunteer work included time spent on dairy farms, chicken farms and pig farms among others.
Faruqi felt shocked and moved by the living conditions of the animals that she observed on large factory farms. “Cows were tied to stalls and unable to move for most of the year. Tens of thousands of hens in airless barns were kept in cages the size of a book cover. Many people cry when they see the hens,” she said.
She believes that animals need to be able to move, to feel grass and sunshine, to play and socialize. “Animals are sentient beings,” she said, “They should not be treated like commodities. Pigs are actually smarter than dogs.”
Sonia Faruqi had accidentally found her next career: researcher, author and farm animal advocate. She embarked on a globetrotting search for better and more humane ways to farm. The results of her findings and analyses are contained in her 2015 book, “Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth about our Food”.
Faruqi stressed that she is not anti-farmer. She values the necessary work that farmers do and she believes that they do care about animals, but find themselves caught up in an economic and technological system that offers few alternatives. Her goal is to help farmers find humane alternatives through her research and writing.
Some members of the audience at the Sarnia Public Library defended current farming practices and disputed claims that conditions are not as bad as Faruqi reported. A chicken farmer explained that free-range chickens would fight and that they are safer in cages. A pig farmer suggested that if pigs roamed outside they would spread disease. Temperature controlled barns keep dairy cows comfortable, claimed another. Some animosity towards the guest speaker appeared to emerge, yet Faruqi remained composed and courteous to all who expressed opinions.
“Around half a dozen farmers actually stalked me from my Petrolia event to the Sarnia event in an apparent effort to intimidate,” she said. “They are hostile to perspectives on the topic other than their own, even though the pulse of the consumer is altering toward a more humane farming system. I am hopeful for a better time and for a more open discourse to emerge as we stumble into the future as a society.”
Faruqi’s mission to expose what’s going on behind closed barn doors has ‘ruffled some feathers’. Yet, she remains committed to advocating on behalf of farm animals and farmers. George Orwell, author of the political satire, “Animal Farm” said in 1945, “Men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat.” Seventy years later, Sonia Faruqi carries on the debate.
“Project Animal Farm” by Sonia Faruqi is available for purchase at The Bookkeeper in Sarnia.