Foodstuffs: The Life of a Pig Raised for Slaughter

Feb 25, 2016

When you’re about to sit down to a meal, and that meal involves a piece of meat—a steak, some chicken, or pork chops, for example—how much do you think about the animal it came from? We all bring a different level of awareness to the dinner table, and it can be uncomfortable for some people to think deeply about the chicken, cow, or pig that was killed to become someone’s food. 

Last week, Concord Monitor reporter Elodie Reed began what’s expected to be a six-month journey, following the life of a pig that is being raised for slaughter. She spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello. 

What inspired you to write about a pig from birth to death?

I started this food and farm blog for the Concord Monitor called AG & Eats, and I wanted to do a long-term project for the blog. And I thought, well, I love animals, and I’m also really interested in food and sort of how it comes to be, and why not follow an animal from birth to plate?  And I’ve been in touch with Carole Soule at Miles Smith Farm in Louden, and she let me know that she was having a batch of piglets soon, and I thought, well, why not a piglet?

So if you’re an animal lover and you know that this pig, who you’re calling Pink in the article, is going to be killed at the end, I can imagine that must be difficult for you as a reporter to go into this and cover this.

Yeah, it’s almost like a challenge for me. I was introduced to the idea of meat coming from animals when I was a kid. I was watching PBS Frontier, and I flipped on the TV, and there was this image of a guy with a hatchet and a chicken, and the two hadn’t come together yet, but they were about to.

Did you avert your eyes?

I had the sudden realization and I ran from the room. I was eleven years old. And ever since then, I’ve been very sensitive to the topic of animals and meat, and killing them. And, you know, I ate meat for a long time, until I became a vegetarian three years ago. And I’ve always been interested in getting back to that topic, and challenging myself to think about it more, and sort of delve into what actually happens to these animals that are raised for meat.  And so this just felt like an interesting reporting challenge, and I also thought it was an interesting topic for the community to check out.

What are the kinds of things you’re going to be tracking as you follow Pink?

Well, first this is a visual project, so I’m obviously going to be photographing Pink every two weeks, and just giving a general description of sort of what’s going on, what’s going into Pink at it were. And then I have these Pink facts that I’m tracking every two weeks: I’m looking at how old Pink is, how much Pink weighs, and how much it costs to raise Pink—what all the inputs are.

Why is it important to track the costs, since most of us, when we consider the cost of meat, all we really consider is what the package says at the grocery store—why is it important to track this kind of cost?

The whole purpose of this project is to really understand the inputs that go into your meat. And that doesn’t only mean the actual pig, but what helps raise the pig. So, you know, the bedding it lays on,  or the food it eats, or the breeding costs for the mom that the pig gets its milk from for the first 30 days. There’s all these different things that go into our meat that we really don’t think about. And you know, it’s like a raising a baby: you have to get diapers for your kid, you’ve got to make sure mom is happy, and it’s the same thing with animals, and I just think that’s an interesting thing to be keeping track of.

And you’re following a pig at what sounds like a small family farm in rural New Hampshire, which would be a totally different experience if were, say, in a state like North Carolina, which is known for farms that some would say aren’t necessarily wonderful for the pig’s experience.

Yeah, and I think that’s what made me interested in this project. You know, I, you know those factory farm videos you see online, I have a really hard time watching those and I usually don’t watch them, just because often the animals are, you know, in such a small space, the animals aren’t being taken care of. The only reason to raise them is for their meat, and their livelihood and their happiness isn’t a consideration.

And we won’t delve into the ethical conversations here I guess. But with these pigs, I know that, with Carole Soule, because I’ve been talking with her before now— these guys go outside, she really loves her pigs, you know? She’s scratches them, she spends time with them, she talks to them, and I just am interested in that connection, having that deep a connection to your food. Carole eats her pigs. I mean, she eats the meat herself, and she says it’s a really gratifying experience to raise it herself. Not only does she have gratitude to these animals for providing her food, but she has a really deep connection to her food, one that goes past just picking up a tray of pork in the grocery store.

When you were a child, Elodie, you turned away from the TV screen when that chicken was going to be killed for food. Will you be able to turn away this time, when it comes time for Pink to meet her end?

Well, I have six months before I have to make that decision.

Six months to mentally prepare.

Yeah, and one thing I think is interesting about doing this as a journalistic project is, when you get behind a camera, or you have a notepad in front of you, or if you’re a radio reporter and have a microphone, there’s some sort of wall that goes up and you’re in an observational mode. And it’s almost easier to hear or see or experience difficult things, because it’s not happening directly to you. So, I’m hoping that allows for me to fully document the process.

Why do you think readers of The Concord Monitor need this level of awareness of what happens to a pig and the transformation to something that you eat—why do they need that awareness?

Well, I think our job as journalists is to present information and let people decide what they think about it, and then change their actions based on that decision.