I think everyone has a mental bucket list. In years past I checked things off my own like sky diving, backpacking around Europe and volunteering on an organic farm, but it took me until this year to complete one of my top entries: scratching a pig’s belly.
I don’t know exactly how or when this dream developed, but I’ve wanted to befriend a pig and scratch his or her belly for pretty much as long as I can remember.
I’m sure you’ve heard, as I did growing up, that pigs are some of the smartest animals on the planet, with their measured intelligence surpassing that of dogs and other domesticated friends. On the other hand, pigs are also seen as smelly, destructive and gruff.
Perhaps their contrasting reputation for both intelligence and filth is a part of what drew me to them, as they seemed so misunderstood and rough, yet loveable.
This past year while I was traveling in New Zealand, I fulfilled my dream during a visit to a new friend, in the Far North. This gentleman had given sanctuary to a couple of pigs in his macadamia nut orchard where they live their lives tubby and content. I prepared ahead of time for the visit by saving watermelon rinds and banana peels to offer as tokens of friendship… or, probably more accurately, bribes.
There were two pigs, Pigin and Millie. Millie was the elder (18+ years) and Pigin the younger (18+ months). Millie was dark, plump and the smaller of the two. Pigin on the other hand got her name because she took eating very seriously and had grown too fat to squeeze out through wires around the orchard. Thus, she was now Pig-in instead of Pig-out.
They were both in the shade sleeping, as I eyed them from outside the fence. I opened the gate and called back to my host:
“Can I just go in?”
He replied, “Yes, just go slowly and give them a chance to smell you.”
As I neared their sleeping spot they began to softly snort and sniff the air. Their faces were so plump and scrunched I could barely see the slits of their closed eyes.
“Are they blind?” I asked.
“No, but they mostly use their noses” he said.
I set a watermelon rind near them on the ground, and their noses began to probe the air weighing whether this new smell was worth getting up for.
After a little more snorting and sniffling, they decided it was worth it and they rose. Pigin quickly shuffled over to her piece of watermelon, while Millie took a little longer, using her nose to help leverage herself into a standing position. They both ate their rinds in what I can only describe as a “snarfling” manner.
After they were finished I dangled banana peels into their mouths and set more watermelon rinds in front of them. As I did this I slowly began to touch their thick, rough, prickled skin. Pigin didn’t seem that interested in my friendship. She was happy with the food, but gave what sounded like an unhappy snort when I tried to scratch her. So I let her be. Every once in a while she would try to steal Millie’s watermelon, which I chided her for, but quickly learned that Millie could take care of herself. She gave Pigin some proper squeals and nips until she left Millie’s share of the food alone.
Unlike Pigin, when I scratched Millie’s back she grumbled in delight and leaned closer. When all the food was done she used her nose to help lay herself down and after some good side scratches she presented her belly, ready for rubbing. The skin on her back and side was rough, thick and tight. But the skin on her belly was loose, wrinkled and soft.
I couldn’t help but smile as she lay soaking up each pat of adoration. After I finished her tummy rub, which I think could have continued all day (provided there were snack breaks), I thanked both Pigin and Millie for the visit and left the orchard.
I was thrilled. I now knew what a pig sounded like when she was happy.
As I think back to this encounter it is juxtaposed against thoughts of the “Pork/Bacon” culture that has developed in the last twenty years.
Eating pigs has become a cultural joke. There are literally bacon and pork societies, conventions and “bacon-a-month” cults! People bond over their love of “pork” as if they could not live without eating part of a pig’s body at each “meal.”
“There is: bacon ice cream; bacon-infused vodka; deep-fried bacon; chocolate-dipped bacon; bacon-wrapped hot dogs filled with cheese; brioche bread pudding smothered in bacon sauce; hard-boiled eggs coated in mayonnaise encased in bacon — called, appropriately, the ‘heart attack snack’; bacon salt; bacon doughnuts, cupcakes and cookies; bacon mints; ‘baconnaise’, which Jon Stewart described as ‘for people who want to get heart disease but are too lazy to actually make bacon’; Wendy’s ‘Baconnator’ — six strips of bacon mounded atop a half-pound cheeseburger — which sold 25 million in its first eight weeks; and the outlandish ‘bacon explosion’ — a barbecued meat brick composed of 2 pounds of bacon wrapped around 2 pounds of sausage.”
— Arun Gupta, The Indypendent
“How can you not eat bacon?” They wonder.
“You have to admit that it smells good, even if you won’t eat it right?”
No… I’m afraid your burning pig flesh does not smell good to me. In fact it makes me sad and sick.
From the full roast pig sitting on a picnic table in Maine, with his skin broiled and mouth agape, to the large dead boar lying in the back of a truck in Hawaii, his killer “squealing” and grinning at me as they pass.
… it all makes me sad.
I think this is part of the reason I wanted to scratch a pig’s belly. Eating their bodies had become such a joke, and I wasn’t laughing. I wanted to respect and care for them just for being, to know what they sounded like when they were alive and capable of being happy, as opposed to dead and packaged as “happy.” I suppose now that I think of it though, I never needed to befriend a pig to care.
All it took was stopping long enough to ask myself if it was right. Was it right to use them like “products,” to laugh when someone offered me “bacon mints” or stuck a plate of baby back ribs in my face? Just say it slowly enough: baby—back—ribs. It is not even hidden behind industry jargon like “pork” or “sausage” is.
There are many more things left to do on my bucket list. But most of all, I want to see a world where there is liberation for all: From slavery, oppression, murder, war, violence and hunger. A world where there is liberation for all regardless of ethnicity, gender or species. I know it’s a tall order, but one life choice, one belly rub at a time… I’m checking things off my list.