Raising Pigs for Meat: Love Them, Kill Them, Eat Them

Our pigs arrived two days ago, and never did anything cuter grace a cloven hoof. They're about 25 pounds each now, and we're going to get them to about 240. Then we are going to kill them and eat them.

I've been warned not to name them. I've been warned to keep it always in mind that we're raising them for food. I've been warned to not become too attached to them. And I think these warnings, clearly well-intentioned, are misguided -- for two reasons.

First is what we owe the pigs, which are smart, social animals. They thrive on the company of each other, and of the people who keep them. Withholding affection does a disservice to an animal connected to us, and withholding it in the hope that it will help us weather the day that the animal dies is, I think, selfish.

My great-uncle Frank was a subsistence farmer in Minnesota, and he believed that loving an animal was part of a farmer's duty; hardening yourself to your livestock was a failure of stewardship. Part of giving an animal the best life you can is allowing your emotions to be invested in its well-being.

Hardening is also a slippery slope. It can start with refusing to name your pigs, or feed them treats by hand, or spend time in the pen with them. It can end with factory farms and gestation crates.

But this isn't just about what we owe the pigs. It's about the kind of people we want to be. Hardening doesn't hurt only the hardenee; it also hurts the hardener. Withholding love from something in the hopes that its death will hurt less doesn't seem like a strategy for a rich, fulfilling life. You risk becoming the kind of person who uses gestation crates.

I know, going in, that the day we kill these pigs will be very hard. I will be sad and I will cry. But the prospect of steeling myself against their piggy charm every day between now and then is intolerable.

There are people who believe that eating meat but being unwilling to kill is hypocritical and, although I do kill some of my own meat, I don't think that's true. You can believe that meat-eating is moral but prefer someone else to do the killing, assuming that someone is willing to oblige.

But there's something you can't do. You can't look away. You can't be squishy or squeamish about the adorable creatures that are killed for your consumption, and then consume them. You can't say, "But they're so cute!" and then close your eyes until someone else makes the problem go away. Ethical meat eating begins with ensuring the animals we eat live well, and ends with an open-eyed acknowledgement of what we do to turn those animals into dinner.

So I will love these pigs, and then I will kill them and eat them.