The internet is rife with pictures of cute baby animals and there is no escaping the more recent increase of piglets and micro-pigs in the mix. But how many of us want to associate that sweet little snuffling snout with our delicious Saturday morning bacon sandwich? Thick cut smokey bacon, glistening with fat, crisped to perfection and smothered in ketchup. As we hastily cram it between a couple of slices of well-buttered bread and guide it lovingly into our mouths, how many of us think about the animal we are actually eating? Do we even want to?
It's this disconnect that we are all happily bumbling along with that is most concerning. Our current food supply is completely unsustainable and by 2050 the world population will have reached well over 9 billion. We won't be able to continue to eat all the foods we currently consume day-to-day. For us, as consumers, it's too easy to be detached from all of this. Particularly living in the cities, we run to the supermarket on the way home from work. We grab and we go. 'It won't make any difference if I stop buying food in the supermarket', is the usual retort. Why are we so unable to link everything together? Or, so unwilling to do so?
I wanted to join up the dots, having grown up in the countryside next to a farm, I'm somewhat accustomed to the trials and tribulations of farm life and meat production. But I wanted to do this properly and experience the full journey. So, I've just bought three piglets - to the abject horror of most of my friends who have responded with, 'but you're not going to eat them are you?'
Since starting on this big piggy journey, I have received death threats online calling me a murderer. I've had my morals, sanity and conscience questioned. A particular favourite, 'I hope one day you'll be hung up just like this poor pig', was left under a picture I took of a pig carcass hanging in a walk-in refrigerator. I was on an exploratory trip to Sweden where I volunteered on an organic pig farm for three weeks and this was one of the pieces of meat I was due to butcher.
Whilst in Sweden my day started and ended (sporting ultra attractive high-vis overalls) with feeding and spending time with the pigs. We'd then head to the charcuterie to cut meat, make sausages or weigh spices for curing. Any other opportunity in between times I would dash out and try to lure the piglets for a cuddle with some kitchen scraps or weeds from the garden.
The most overwhelming reaction to this has been confusion. How am I able to cuddle a newborn piglet one minute, and then head back into the charcuterie to start making sausages the next?
In truth, what would you rather be eating? A product pumped full of water, preservatives and chemicals with no idea of its origin? Or something you have lovingly reared, butchered and prepared? For me, it's a no brainer and the difference in taste is extraordinary. So does this make it worth paying a little more for food with good provenance?
As consumers we are at the end of a very long chain of processes, particularly when our meat is imported from other countries. Most of our cheap meat is imported and can only be produced at these low costs by ignoring animal welfare laws, which in turn puts pressure on UK farmers to produce meat at a lower cost again. This can result in poor animal welfare here in the UK too. This is why, as hard as it is to accept that our cute little piglets are going to end up on our plates, I'm determined to confront the entire process from start to finish. We no longer value our food because we don't have to sweat to get it. I'm hoping with a little more sweat and (perhaps some tears) my final product will be something I truly value, rather than just another throwaway comestible.
For more information on factory farming issues visit: www.farmsnotfactories.org