Pig as Pet: lovin’ some, munchin’ on others

Sweet dreams!!

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I follow this pig on Instagram. Her name is Pearl. She recently graduated from “fixture” status, occasionally pictured on her owner’s personal Instagram account, to an account all her own. Of pictures of only her. Which 21.5K people look at.

Pearl is a pet. She has a name. The Huffington Post wrote about her. Buzzfeed created another list. She inspires plush animal sales. Her Instagram presence mirrors those of a few of my favorite dog accounts (namely, the irresistible Huck and Gus). In case you were fooled, Pearl is actually a dog. Her rare breed makes her existence all the more enticing, because while everyone’s best friend seems to own a corgi these days, house pigs are a little harder to come by at breed-specific meet-ups.

Corgi Meet-up
Corgi Club, no pigs allowed

Meanwhile, the Western World couldn’t be more obsessed with ramen and banh mi sandwiches. But when it comes to dog eating, not allowed. Hong Kong-based food blogger and Saveur Blog Award winner behind Lady and Pups, encourages you to sign a petition against killing dogs for food. Her photo skills and petite pets are here to help the cause. After you fill out your information, be sure to check out her recipes for pork sticky rice balls and jerked Sriracha roast pork tacos.

***

My grandmother recently told me the thrilling story of her grocery shopping adventures. Our local family-owned grocer sells Oscar Meyer bacon for $7. Can you believe it?! Seven dollars is too much for bacon, so she’ll find it elsewhere. Don’t hold your breath – as it turns out, Wegmans sells the same product for only $5. Wegmans now has a new convert.

Consumer behavior in the food market is driven by more than taste and cost. After all, it certainly isn’t driven by convenience. We’ll drive to the next town over for more bacon for our buck. We tell ourselves that it’s a necessity. We need to eat. But actually, given the costs to our own wallet, our health, and the environment, we need bacon just as much as a woman needs these Jeffrey Campbell neoprene shoes, which took me three days to add to my online shopping cart, delete, add again, and repeat – four times – before convincing myself I don’t actually need them. I already own a pair of bright yellow sneakers, and building a closet out of yellow comfort shoes isn’t sustainable for my lifestyle. Even if they were on sale.

Who’s to say what you or I need? Bacon seems an appropriate breakfast side dish. Until we add bacon to cookies, in which case, forget the potential for a feel-good-about-yourself vegetarian hashtag. Maple bacon doughnuts, Salted caramel pretzel bacon cupcakes, I’m sure bacon-scented soaps are a thing already. It’s as if, in the last decade, bacon was rediscovered as more than just a side to breakfast scrambles. So farmers have all the more reason to heighten pork production. It’s what U.S. citizens are asking for, and factory farms are delivering. Unconvinced? See Instagram’s 4 million bacon hashtags.

Not every dog is as cute as Huck and Gus. Not all pigs are as cute as Pearl. One of my first pig memories begins at the Maryland State Fair. A huge, bear-sized show hog lay in the mulch, unconcerned with the dozens of shouting kids passing by at every moment. He smelled bad, and his butt was green. GREEN. Like, someone needed to get a baby wipe up in there. Yet I couldn’t look away. This hog had lived. It was old, and it knew things. Since it wasn’t destined for ham sandwiches, who’s to really know what kind of jam-packed life it had led.

Pigs are equally as smart, if not smarter, than dogs. I have a moderately unintelligent Jack Russell mix. And that breed was his selling point. He was supposed to be small, cute, and smart. He looks less cute than Pearl when wrapped in a blanket, and has to be held in the air while we clips his toe nails, or else he’ll eat them.

Peekaboo! #tbt

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Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, elaborates on this dog-as-food dilemma, questioning the criteria for what’s “animal” enough to eat. He helps us out with the research on this one:

Stanley Curtis, an animal scientist friendly to the industry, empirically evaluated the cognitive abilities of pigs by training them to play a video game with a joystick modified for snouts. They not only learned the games, but did so as fast as chimpanzees, demonstrating a surprising capacity for abstract representation.

But my dog can push and pull open the screened door, letting himself in and out of the backyard. Meanwhile, “Generations of farmers have known that clever pigs will learn to undo the latches of their pens…. Pigs often work in pairs, are usually repeat offenders, and in some cases undo the latches of fellow pigs” (JSF).

It turns out; pigs are as smart as a 4-year-old child. They form social hierarchies and realize immediately when new members are added to their living space, often excluding them. America’s Test Kitchen invited Barry Estabrook, author of Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat, to share some pig wisdom on episode 412 of their podcast.

19:10 The agricultural experts said that young piglets should be kept at a temperature of 83 degrees. And so farmers would set their thermostats in the wintertime to 83. And then somebody got the idea, well let’s put a thermostat in the pigs’ quarters that they can adjust. And the pigs had no problem figuring out how to do that…. The piglets would lower their thermostat to 63 degrees at night and bounce it back up to about 74 during the daytime. The farmer was saving 50% on his natural gas heating bill. And the pigs did it.

Dogs are companion animals. Just like Pearl. Some argue that pigs serve no purpose other than to be raised and slaughtered because their byproduct is their body; they can’t lay eggs, and they don’t produce milk for human consumption. Just like dogs, right? We live in a bacon-crazed world, while we’d never eat a distant relative of the pups that shit in our houses and sleep at the ends of our beds. But nah, puppies are cute, and bacon tastes good.

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