We decided to raise pigs again this year. Two years ago we put a half of a pig in our freezer for the winter (the other half, and other pigs went to other people’s freezers) and we enjoyed a long stretch of not having to buy pork. My daughter would eat unlimited amounts of it – there never seemed to be an end to what she could eat. She always leaned a little on the carnivore side but it almost got ridiculous when my husband and I would look at each other at the end of the meal and admit that neither of us had gotten any pork for ourselves. The strawberry jalapeno jelly from our own berries and peppers to go along with it was probably a likely culprit in the adoration.
Here was the thing though. I had a hard time eating these pigs for attachment reasons that I could never quite name. It wasn’t guilt, it wasn’t because I’d acquired them as cute little piglets, it wasn’t the taste, flavour or texure. It was something more profound than that and I’ve never been able to put my finger on it.
As the pigs grew older and began to stink more and grew little pokey beards and third chins, it was certainly easier to see them as future meat items than it was when they were snorting, wiggly piglets. Early on we had been able to join them as a family and run and play with them in the yard. But there came a day when I could no longer go in the pen and had to deliver their food over a gate as they were sure to push me over or chew unrelentingly on my pant leg.
Pigs have been known to consume whole chickens that enter into their pens. Our experience with pigs and chickens together was different though. We once hatched out a group of eggs that only amounted to one lone male chick. His ‘mother’ (the one who sat on the eggs, but hadn’t laid them) raised him to a point, teaching him to forage and roost, but after a certain size he decided to move in with the pigs. This bird would forage right inside the troughs as the pigs pushed their way aggressively through their slop and never even got a nick on him. The pigs would draw blood from one another at feeding time but seemed to respect this little feathery guy and leave him be. My husband called them bacon and eggs.
Chicken Little Sleeping on the Pigs
But back to my emotional issues. I recall the fear I felt when I considered starting to perform my songs in front of people. It was paralyzing. I was fraught with nerves and could barely even strum a chord or sing a note in this state. Most nights after I tried to sing at open stage nights, I would be too nauseous to eat, couldn’t keep food down anyway and barely slept. But there was something so pure about this fear that it seemed to call me to move through it instead of around it. In time, I walked over those coals and came out on the other side slightly frazzled when performing but mostly comfortable with it entirely. It was a fear that I am very proud to have conquered – a distance I thought to be not traverseable is now behind me.
As a teenager I was disgusted by anything on my plate that looked as it did when it had been walking or swimming around. To resolve the tension I made the choice to no longer consume meat. This went on for two whole, very strict years. I believe I did it in the name of liking animals too much. But really, looking back, it was a very similar fear to the singing one – it was pure, deep and real - and it was going to take some work to get over it. I could not, would not get my head around the fact that what I was eating had been a real live walking thing. I could not let down that bridge. So instead I took away the side of the equation I could control – the one that kept me from being a hypocrite. I do not suggest that choosing not to eat meat is something that people should ‘get over’ but for me, it was a fear that had me far too curious to ignore.
Fast forward to me driving down the highway with two snorting little curly-tails in the back of my van inside a dog cage. When they first left their mother they had been squealing and anxious. But as we drove, I turned on some Sarah Mclachlan tunes and they perked up their ears and rested their little heads against each other. They seemed blissed out.
Home we came and into their new home in the barn they went, immediately rummaging their noses deep into their straw beds. Below was some half worked down bedding from the cows in the winter. I expected that the pigs would finish off the job quite nicely by rooting around and slowing turning over the piles until they were soil. The previous pigs had made a glorious pile of organic, black matter for us in those same conditions.
The soil the pigs helped make 2 years ago will be spread on our fields.
My previous experience with pigs had also ended bitterly when a large portion of the meat had been brined and smoked too long in a way that made it too salty and overcooked. I was very sad that the meat that I had so carefully fed over the summer had been wasted in this way. This time I have a different butcher and I can make better choices about how to process them.
So somewhere on this journey, I have been able to create a road between the animal that I care deeply for and the meat in my freezer. I will lovingly bring them apples from every tree on our farm. I will bring them compost from the Red Apron local, organic, take-out restaurant in the city. They will get whey from my cheesemaking efforts. I will be hosing them down on hot days and building them a little cooling pool out of an old cast iron tub. I will be putting out barrels with the two ends cut out for toys and building them a shade hutch in their open yard.
These little stinkies are going to get the best life I can possibly give them. And then they will get the best death and be adored on our plates with strawberry jalapeno jelly.
That’s just a song that I’ve learned how to sing, finally without any fear.