Bringing home the bacon

Paul Richardson's piglet will be lunch one day
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Indy Lifestyle Online
In certain important respects, having a pig is not the same as having a baby. But in other respects, the similarities are notable. Like human beings, pigs start out small and pink and become large and pink in an alarmingly short time, their cuteness decreasing in inverse proportion to their size. And pigs, like babies, change lives.

There are plenty of good reasons for keeping a pig, but the reasons may not necessarily be the same before and after the purchase. Personally, I had long been disgusted by the modern meat industry and all its works, but guiltily continued to buy commercial meat until BSE. Then something clicked. I knew vegetarianism wasn't an option - I was too fond of carbonnade flamande, steak frites, a good leg of lamb. But from now on, I would try to ensure that the animals I ate had led healthy lives. Keeping my own pig seemed like a way of controlling the means of production. My house happened to have a stone pigsty, uninhabited for decades. When a sow in the next village produced a dozen piglets, it seemed as good a moment as any to take one of them off her hands.

Like an anxious mother-to-be, I interrogated a friend who has kept pigs for years. "How much food will it need per day at adult stage?" I asked, pen poised. My friend simply smiled, opened her eyes wide and answered: "A lot." Two months down the line, I realise what she meant. Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer amount the animal gets through, its perpetual ravenous hunger, and the almost frightening speed at which it grows. Since I've had mine, I swear she has doubled in size. The pig is a protein-machine of incredible efficiency, which is of course the reason for its popularity with economical mankind.

She arrived as a piglet as long as your arm, and immediately began skipping inquisitively round the sty, before tucking in to her welcome meal. The way she planted her little trotters in the bowl and made bubbling noises with her snout in the food, blinking her brown eyes with satisfaction, would make a grown man melt. From the very first day she confounded our anti-porcine prejudice by keeping her bedding perfectly sweet and clean. My life is increasingly centred around her. I spring out of bed hours earlier than I ever used to, woken by the necessity of her breakfast. At meals, I catch myself deliberately leaving tit-bits for her and in restaurants I embarrass friends by asking for a piggy bag.

For home workers who enjoy distraction, a pig provides all you need and more. Whatever the time of your visit, she will always be doing something amusing, whether it's digging about in the mud or lolling in the sun or hiding her plate behind a bush (her favourite joke). Might she not fancy a handful of fresh grass as a mid-morning snack? I wonder as I stare at my computer screen, each possibility providing the perfect excuse for a break.

She has wreaked subtle but pervasive changes on my lifestyle; for example, I can no longer be away from home for longer than a few hours, and even being away for the weekend requires a piggysitter. My clubbing days are over - I need to be up for the early morning feed. And there can be no more loud, all-night parties in my house: the pig's quarters are a few steps away from the kitchen, and she needs her beauty sleep.

You'll notice I refer to her as "she". The nearest she gets to having a proper name is Miss Piggy, or very occasionally Princess. Originally I'd intended her to be "it". I'd heard it made things easier when The Time Came. And, of course, the time will come. Maybe this year, maybe next. People are horrified when they hear of my plans for her, which include jamon serrano, chorizo and English- style herb sausages. I usually tell them what my friend told me - that you don't feel quite the same about a cute little thing you can cuddle in your arms as you do about a squealing monster weighing a quarter of a ton. Besides, the death of the animal is all part of a process in which we are all complicit as soon as we take the shrink-wrapped pork joint from the supermarket shelf.

As an idealistic carnivore in search of a healthy life, I'm determined to face up to that fact with as much courage as I can muster. Just don't anybody mention Babe, OK?

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