Cartoon of a pig running. Illustration by Gracy Malkowski.

Student Animal Alliance is a UF-based group of conscientious individuals that advocate for the well-being of all animals, including humans. United by a desire to help those who cannot speak for themselves, we face global issues through individual education.

Our events are designed to show students the true costs of animal products by contrasting their harmful effects with the viability of alternatives. With considered tact, we inform people of the consequences of institutionalized animal cruelty, as well as the benefits of plant-based diets, synthetic and plant fabrics and humane methods of product testing.

To meet American demand for animal foods, leathers and by-products, concentrated animal feeding operations (also known as factory farms) slaughter over 9 billion animals per year. Over the course of their short lives, these animals are systematically tortured through processes like beak clipping, tail and horn docking and castration.

Undercover investigations like those recently compiled in “Farm to Fridge” reveal the conditions inside factory farms. Animals are densely packed together in open areas or confined to dirty pens and cages too small for them to fully extend or move their bodies. Workers are at liberty to abuse the animals, and they often do. The animals suffer from insanity, sickness, sores and compromised immune systems. Antibiotics and pesticides are used to keep them alive.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, factory farming consumes the largest share of America’s water and agricultural space (in the form of feed crops). It’s the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (beating the transportation sector), and it pollutes the water with pesticides and feces run-off (causing eutrophication, which leads to ecologically devastating algae blooms).

Although plant-based agriculture is not without its ecological costs, the difference is on an order of magnitude. Animal products cost more than ten times their caloric content to produce, and America uses almost 70 percent of the grains it grows as animal feed. If those grains were instead used to feed people, recent estimates show that the surplus could end world hunger.

A variety of studies show that animal-based foods contribute to a host of human ailments, including heart attacks, cancer and diabetes. Diets high in whole plant-based foods, in contrast, have been shown to extend life expectancy, reduce the risk of chronic disease and even reverse the progress of chronic diseases in their early stages. And contrary to popular misconceptions, plant-based food can be cheap, delicious and satisfying (tofu is not your only option).

If students demand artificially cheapened animal-based foods, fabrics and by-products without considering the consequences, the logical result is the current condition of government-subsidized factory farming. Through education, we can shift the market toward alternatives that are economically, environmentally and morally feasible.

Student Animal Alliance works toward the formation of a community and support structure for those who want to learn more, meet others or make personal changes, but need help transitioning. We have meetings twice a month, host monthly potlucks and frequently volunteer as a group at local animal sanctuaries. We also host fun events like Hug a Vegetarian Day, show movies and put on an annual VegFest, where we give out tons of free vegan food on campus.

One of our favorite places to volunteer is Rooterville, a sanctuary dedicated to rescuing farm animals. They specialize in potbelly pigs (pets that often get abandoned after their “cute” piglet stage) and farm pigs, which are often clever enough to escape from factory farms (see illustration above).

It’s hard to get an idea of how smart pigs actually are until you spend a day with them. They each have unique and complex personalities. It’s not anthropomorphizing to call a pig shy but curious, friendly and loving or a jealous attention whore. They remember people and will recognize you after long periods apart. A day at Rooterville is a long day full of physical labor, but spending the day wallowing among pigs and knowing you’ve helped is always worth it.

For more information on Student Animal Alliance, find us at www.facebook.com/groups/SAA.UF or email mbinder@ufl.edu.

Illustration by Gracy Malkowski.