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We’re the fat pigs now – George Orwell would be highly amused

June 22, 2020

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

George Orwell, Animal Farm

I am a lover of all things piggy. Always have been. I’m sorry if this upsets those of you who spurn the pig for religious reasons, or because you’re veggie or vegan, or because you just don’t like the taste of pork.

I used to collect piggy ornaments. Somewhere in my garage there are three pink flying pigs that used to adorn our lavatory wall, a reminder that when my wife used to compare me to that glorious animal if I overdid the fruit cake or the custard creams, her observations were close to the truth.

But now, according to the Sunday Times, to call humans fat pigs is a gross injustice to pigs, because on average they’re leaner than we are. I’d be happy about that if I thought the turnaround was the result of our concern for piggy welfare. But of course it isn’t. We don’t care if pigs are fat or thin. We do care if our bacon or ham is laden with fat, because fat is not good. This is ironic given that we really are the fat pigs these days. So that’s one foodie strategy that isn’t working, except possibly in Islington or Malibu.

But I do try to separate in my mind my love of pork from my affection for pigs, because to do otherwise would cause great anguish. How could you eat an animal that you so admire?

If we all stopped eating pork, the domesticated pig, which is the result of millennia of human-pig interaction, would cease to exist, except possibly as a source of leather or heart valves. We would be left with wild boars and warthogs, which are a different proposition altogether from the lovable animals that snuffle and grunt in the mud and help the French find truffles.

We humans are good at living with confliction (which is a less toxic word than hypocrisy). How otherwise would the Founding Fathers of America go on about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness when those admirable aspirations were sustained through the labours of legions of enslaved workers?

So for better or worse, I continue to love pigs and pork. Though as a sentimental human, I don’t love the way we keep pigs in pens and treat them as units, pump them full of hormones and antibiotics or shove them into trucks on their way to market in such confined spaces that their noses bleed against the bars of their cages. That’s when the mental barriers break down.

Not that I’m about to go into a diatribe about American factory farming techniques that enable producers over there to sell pork products at half the price as we do in the UK, which is the source of some contention as we try to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. Other pork-producing countries in my beloved European Union are hardly much kinder to their pigs, particularly the Netherlands and Denmark. And as for the Chinese, the welfare of all sorts of edible animals is hardly up there on their national agenda.

There is something disconcerting about the lean and mean pig, even if their brothers in the wild are just that. I have a wonderful coffee-table book called The Ubiquitous Pig. In it are paintings of extremely large animals, not penned up, but waddling around in seventeenth century English farmyards. They look like sleek, aerodynamic barrage balloons. There are also old photos of what Americans call hogs. They’re humongous, and likewise seemingly raised under more benign regimes.

Of course it comforts my conscience to see those stickers on pork joints when they paint eloquent pictures of the slab of meat’s life as a pig, as in “from specially selected, free range pigs raised in Lord Emsworth’s country estate, fed only on the finest acorns, leftovers from His Lordship’s table and the occasional thigh of a disaffected farm worker.” With apologies, of course, to PG Wodehouse.

I don’t entirely buy into the intelligent pig myth. Yes, they’re intelligent within their physical limitations. But so are dogs, and most of them don’t grow into 200-kilo behemoths. Not do I wish to have a pig as a pet. Not even a Vietnamese Pot-Bellied Pig.

Pigs are pigs. The’re not Babe. They won’t take over Animal Farm. Lean as they now are, there won’t be Piggylympics any time soon. They’ll eat you if you play dead in their sty, and God help you if you get in the way of an angry wild boar.

I love them for what they are. Substantial animals, with attitude, personality and a gravitas that doesn’t just spring from their bulk. I love their grunting, their snuffling and their lack of concern for what they eat. Pigs are never going to be vegan. They interact with us humans, but unlike dogs, they make no attempt to ingratiate themselves, and unlike cats, they don’t try and manipulate us.

I can live with the contradiction of respecting an animal I’m delighted to eat, because that’s what we all have to do if we’re meat-eaters and we think further than the neatly-packaged piece of flesh from a supermarket. I have a high regard for sheep, cows and chickens as well. Should the time come, as well it might, when it’s no longer an option to live on a planet full of farting cows and slurry-producing pigs, I shall have to accept the inevitable. But I’ll lament the passing of all those farm animals, especially the pig, because their departure will be our fault, not theirs. After all, we’re responsible for their evolution from bristly brown bruisers in the forest to pink pigs in shit.

And if anyone wants to call me a fat pig, that’s fine by me, because they might think they’re insulting me, but they’re actually paying tribute to a very special species.

From → Books, Business, History, Social, UK, USA

  1. deborah a moggio permalink

    “…because that’s what we all have to do if we’re meat-eaters and we think further than the neatly-packaged piece of flesh from a supermarket. ”

    Wonder how many people would buy meat if the label said, for example,
    pig flesh, or cow flesh.
    Maybe we need a touch of reality in our diets.
    I would be more than bereft without “animal protein”, but the day may be coming…

    • You probably guessed why I deliberately used the word flesh. And yes, the day may be coming./

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