Snowzilla may have rendered Washington D.C. a post-apocalyptic wasteland last January, but for one Maryland family, the landscape wasn’t totally lifeless.

No life too small

Amidst a sea of white snow, the Smiths found a pink, shivering piglet—badly bruised and nearly frozen to death. They brought the piglet inside and tended to him all night. As a result, this little piggy, named Wee Wee, won’t go to the market, but will get to live out his days at a sanctuary.

"On the factory farms that produce nearly all of the meat, eggs and dairy America consumes, animal abuse is standard industry practice."

The Smiths did what so many would have done.

Indeed, we’re a nation of animal lovers—rescuing them, spending billions on our pets, buying them gifts, even letting them sleep in our beds. Just like the animals we consider part of our families, pigs like Wee Wee—as well as chickens and other animals who make up our nation’s food supply—are also individuals: they have their own personalities, likes and dislikes, and they can make wonderful, smart and loyal companions.

Industrial abuse

Yet, on the factory farms that produce nearly all of the meat, eggs and dairy America consumes, animal abuse is standard industry practice. If Wee Wee had been one of those animals, his teeth, tail and testicles would have been cut off without pain relief. His mother would likely have been locked inside an immobilizing “gestation crate,” giving her about as much space as a coffin.

USED, ABUSED: By demanding products that abide by higer animal welfare standards, we can help minimze the unnecessary cruelty of factory farms.

Birds are battered in similar ways. Nearly all egg-laying hens are confined in cages so cramped each bird has less space than an iPad on which to live, unable to even spread her wings. The meat industry has genetically manipulated chickens to grow so fat and fast that even taking a few steps can cause them to painfully collapse under their own bulk. The list of abuses goes on.

Shaping up

But there’s hope. As we learn more about this cruelty, the demand for reform grows. Major egg buyers—McDonald’s, Denny’s, Costco, Target and more—have announced the switch to 100 percent cage-free eggs. Pork buyers like Walmart are phasing out pig crates. Americans are also moving away from a meat-centric diet, eating 10 percent less meat today than eight years ago, through practicing the three r's: “reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, and “refining” our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards.

The problems farm animals face are clear, as are these solutions. Not many of us have had the opportunity to rescue a helpless piglet, but countless compassionate people, through their food choices, are driving a more humane food supply and more humane society for piglets like Wee Wee and so many others.