Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Bubble and Squeak
For a change, this post is not about food; in fact, it is emphatically not about food. It is, instead, about animals, particularly pigs (with some references to dogs, cats, chickens, horses, pheasants and bunnies thrown in). My family has just returned from our annual trip to England, which is, among other things, a great chance to go for rambles along leafy country lanes lined with hedgerows, and to meet/observe local animals. This year we stayed in a converted barn on a farm in Henley-in-Arden, where we met Bubble and Squeak, two enormously affectionate and charming Koona Koona pigs, a mid-sized, long-haired breed from New Zealand. They're both female and extremely friendly; whenever a person approaches, they come running over (grunting winningly) to have their ears and bellies scratched, and will take food right out of your hand. The owners of the farm bought them to crop grass and for "entertainment value," which they certainly provide: every day we'd head outside to say good morning to them, as well as visits throughout the day amidst our comings and goings. They each have very distinct personalities, Bubble being the sort of alpha-female, Squeak the more laid-back and affectionate, flopping on her side to be petted. It was really fun getting to spend so much time with them, and to see how very much like dogs they are in terms of the way they respond to human attention.
There were also mother and daughter horses (Maggie and Adara, the latter being a beautiful 6 week old foal with a penchant for tossing her head and running around with a sort of "look what I can do!" enthusiasm whenever we went near her), one shaggy cat and two chickens whose names we didn't catch, two retrievers (Pippa and Cassie), some pheasants, and innumerable bunnies hopping in and out of the hedgerows. All in all, it was a pretty idyllic week in a lovely, tranquil setting; the kind of thing that makes you think about chucking it all and going to live in the country. I mention all this not merely in the interest of composing a travelogue, but because the more time I spend with a greater variety of animals, the more impressed I am at their personality, their intelligence, their individualism, and the more incredulous I feel at many people's inability to recognize every living creature's innate imperative (indeed, their right) to stay alive, to live out their existence in a natural way. If, as we so often hear, humans are at the "top" of the "food chain," shouldn't that oblige us to behave as stewards to the animals to whom we judge ourselves superior, rather than preying upon them out of a misguided sense of entitlement, for profit and/or what amounts to nothing more than a gastronomic preference? I realize that I'm stating the obvious, that anyone who bothers reading my blog is probably already on board with this idea, and in any case I'm not really interested in preaching, even to the choir. For the most part my version of activism has stressed being positive and approachable, trying to set a good example while remaining open to conversation, and wooing people with delicious vegan food. But I'm increasingly aware that it's vital to actually spend time with the animals who are too often dismissed as "food" in our culture: it's not only huge fun, it's a powerful reminder of the millions of lives at stake, of the importance of what we are doing as vegans, and (most importantly) of how much more needs to be changed. So keep being excellent to each other, and if you get the chance to hang out with some pigs, take it; you won't be sorry!