Say hello to Peter.
Peter was one of the three piglets that were the first we had six years ago. He and his sisters had a long lovely summer and autumn chomping away and snuffling about until the inevitable time came. Peter was the first to go, mostly on account of reaching an age where his intentions towards his sisters become not entirely honourable.
I took this picture at Ray Smith's (the River Cottage butcher) house, where we chopped him up into various pieces, made sausages, hams and salamis. Ray used it as his Christmas card that year.
Having not eaten meat for 16 or 17 years it was a pretty big deal taking him to the slaughterhouse. I was quite shaken by it. Why did I do it? Because not eating meat didn't add up to the right thing to do for me anymore. My whole diet was a compromise between what I believed, what I knew enough about, what I chose to ignore and what I was ignorant of. I drank milk, I ate dairy...male calves of a dairy breed obviously don't give milk nor was their meat (sold as veal) hugely popular, so they're usually killed reasonably promptly. I ate those vegetarian sausages made from soya (hardly a sustainable crop usually) using much energy, before being packaged and shipped to us to buy from the supermarkets. Hardly a model of sustainable eating. My work at the time was in advising government agencies and local authorities about managing landscapes - I was perfectly aware that animals that we raise to eat give us many of our most valued landscapes - the South Downs for one - that in turn supported valuable biodiversity that would be compromised if we decided to plough them up for vegetables. Could eating the 'right' meat, I wondered, really be 'greener', mean that more animals lived, that more ecosystems thrived, than by being a vegetarian?
I wrote a reasonably ordinary article about it at the time, describing how Meat Is Murder summed up entirely how I felt when I wasn't eating meat, but my mind had started to wander in that year before getting Peter and his sisters. Morrissey, it occured to me, might just as easily have written ‘Milk is Murder’....or 'Eating Processed Soya From Halfway Around The World Causes Climate Change That In Turn Kills Things Even If You Don't Happen To See It Happen Which Also Is Murder'.
It was tough taking Peter to the slaughterhouse but, crucially, it didn't feel wrong, just tough. We kept pigs for a few years after and now, after a gap of a couple of years we have pigs, or rather piglets*, back at Otter Farm. That's them above. I am ridiculously happy. I hadn't realised how much I miss the life that their movement gives to the place, the fun they are and how very sociable and bright they are. They're nervous at the mo, but should get bold in a couple of days, as long as we keep chatting to them.
I've a chapter or two of book edits to check, a couple of pieces to write, a school visit to plan and I still can't help myself from sneaking out too often to say hello.
We kept Peter's sisters - Miss Diane and Sue Ellen - as breeding sows for a while and the birth of the first litter was something I'll never forget.
So I eat meat now, but not all meat. Just some, where I feel like eating it is doing some good as well as tasting so bleedin' delicious.
Apologies, I realise there are only two things duller than talking about eating meat or not:
(a) a person who when playing Scrabble constantly bleats 'Why do I get all the crap letters?'
(b) that dullard who interrupts a perfectly tedious game of Trivial Pursuits with something along the lines of 'well, of course, he used to be the holder of the most light-middleweight weightlifting titles but Ramsuack Bobofumble from Tangingyika eclipsed his oft-considered unbeatable record during the world all-comers weightlifting championships 2006, held in Pant Y Cumbkock, South Wales. This must be the 2003 release of Trivial Pursuit. Obviously we have to go with the answer on the card but we may want to take it to a vote as to whether an award of a piece of cake** is merited'.
At the risk of impersonating Mr Trival Pursuit, I would like to contend that the fastest creature on the planet is NOT, the cheetah. It's the piglet. Or at least it's the male piglet that backs gently on to the electric fence, while trying to gain advantageous purchase on a favourable root. The snap of electric as the fence comes into contact with the piglet is enough to make any male, of any species, wince. Which part they come into contact is fairly evident from the picture of the young Peter. A fabulously comic set of backwheels.
* My 4 year old daughter told me how lovely she thought they were - she's named them Alice and Daisy, even though they're boys. Then she asked when we could make them into salami. Hmmmm.
** Cake or cheese? Maybe piece of pie? Please submit your vote via Comments.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 3:20 PM
Say hello to Peter.
omg I have never gone through such extremes of emotions reading a blog - that photo of that THING at the beginning is ugh! and then the piggy wiggys are so mmmmmm (IWOOT)...i'll come back and read it later - for now, I have a headache and i'm off for a lie-down and then a long lunch...my nerves are shot to pieces Mr D.
added to which my 'disabled sign word' is 'sembk'...WTF?
I nearly choked on my tea when I read your daughters comment, just the sort of thing my 5 years old niece would come out with!! I have heard other people talk about how they have gone back to eating meat occasionally and how they have felt healthier - I think its the iron. Personally, I couldnt be a vegetarian but I do find myself questionning more and more some of the ways meat is produced and some of the arguments that are put forward by vegetarians. If you dont like eating animals fine, but I dont like being preached at!!! Excellent post and I love your piggywiggy pics, possible greetings card side line?
Arabella Sock said...
When I echoed Monty Don's sentiment of "Bring on the pigs" this wasn't quite what I had in mind. Poor little piggywiggles.
The unfortunate thing is that all the ex-veggies/veggies that I know have been 'turned' back to meat eating by the temptation of something a bit porky..
I gave up on vegetarianism for very similar reasons - well, Nigel Slater's chicken in tarragon cream sauce must bear some responsibility too. It's good to read such a reasoned argument - and the accompanying pictures of adorable/ tasty piglets are wonderful!
(Oh, and triv pieces are always cheese around these parts)
Arabella Sock said...
Absolutely pie on the triv purs question. I have a circular raised bed in my garden which is divided into four. It looks like a triv purs counter but with less segments. We have always referred to the separate beds/segments as 'pies' and it has only just registered in my mind why.
The Constant Gardener said...
oh my goodness, common sense breaking out at last.
The whole polarised veggies vs carnivores argument makes me so cross, for exactly the reasons you've outlined here. I'm an ex-veggie: and now eat about half meat-based and half non-meat-based meals.
It strikes me that those who defend industrial-scale meat farming ('we couldn't feed the world if we didn't do it like this') rather overlook the fact that we eat far too much meat: therefore if we all cut down the amount of meat we ate to that which could be produced humanely, we'd all get to still eat bacon sandwiches while not exploiting our piggy friends.
Incidentally when my eldest was about 5 we came home to find the fox had been to visit the chicken run, and she was with me when we turned the corner to see eight chickens lying on their backs with their legs in the air. Her response? "Oh good, now we can have chicken for tea."
A country girl to the core, like her mum :D
James A-S said...
Cheese. Absolutely no question. Subject closed, I think.
I am terribly envious of your piglets. We had Berkshires at one point: two of them called Daffodil and Daisy (children are sometimes fearfully unimaginative when it comes to naming things: I voted for Ludmilla and Gascoigne Pees but was outvoted. Massively).
They were a delight to know. We used to lie between them in the dry straw: lovely rough hairy backs and a peculiar smell (very like sleeping with Matthew Wilson).
They came for walks with us and the dogs - although they occasionally got distracted by windfall apples and acorns.
When they went, they tasted delicious.
We really ought to get some more.
Lia Leendertz said...
Cheese, I think.
Like everyone else (and wouldnt it be nice if your comments really were representative of everyone?) I am an ex-veggie who now only eats meat once or twice a week. good stuff only. But i do drink milk, and I do eat 'processed soya from halfway around the world that causes climate change and so kills blah blah' (snappy slogan, btw), rely on it fairly heavily in fact so this post has given me lots to think about. I shall feed my children only organic parsnips until I come up with a solution.
Twas sausages that did it for me (organic, locally raised, hand-slaughtered etc...).
Great post. Thought provoking.
Definitely pie for me please.
Like your comments. I went vegetarian for several years and then pretty much went through the same thought processes about which was actually more beneficial in the long run. I constrain myself to only eating meat that I know hasn't come from the type of farms where their treatment of animals is questionable to say the least. Thank you PETA and several other organisations for making this info easy to find.
Your daughter reminds me of mine at the same age, driving past a field of newborn lambs with their mothers.
"Ooh lambs! Yum!" she said enthusiastically. Roast lamb is still her favourite meal and she is almost 21 now.