Blood Relative

Years ago, my friend’s parents owned around four acres in the middle of the South Carolina woods. They stocked their property with different breeds of animals, all consigned to death for food because the family wasn’t rich and it was doing what it needed to do to survive. From early on, my friend studied the relationships between animal intelligence, behavior, and appearance. For instance, he noticed that chickens were mostly unconscious of anything meaningful. No one seemed too worried about the death of a chicken. A drumstick on the dinner table didn’t inspire too much reflection.

On the other hand, pigs responded to human behavior in recognizable ways. Piglets would eat their food as quickly as possible so they could return to the games they played with human children. They would squeal with delight when people arrived for a visit, and they knew they were cute. They remembered human faces and personalities and would respond warmly when children showed them affection. To a degree, they were even aware of their own and others’ behaviors. They certainly noticed the difference in the quantity and quality of food they were given, and they recognized their mothers to the day they died.

As pigs grow older, their skin gets course and crackly. Long, wiry, random hairs jut out of their flesh. Dirt encrusts their ears and noses. Their hooves become increasingly stained with the worst the earth has to offer. Most pigs also notice that people are rarely outside although they are, so they shy away from affection. Some of them see themselves as ugly and understand why people don’t respect them although most don’t care. They always look at your hands or feet, hoping for food, but they almost never make eye contact. They attack and bite each other over mysterious hierarchies. If they’re lucky enough to escape into the wild, they grow tusks and more hair, and they might even attack and eat you.

It’s not a good idea to slaughter a pig in front of one of its mates. Pigs realize what happens when one of their own is ushered away under duress. They understand the sound of death, and they never forget it. A pig being slaughtered sounds like a shrieking woman and baby combined. The pig is screaming for its life, all the while knowing how alive it is. Pigs have long-term memories and can negotiate mazes. In some ways, they’re smarter than dogs and as conscious as chimpanzees. They exhibit empathy. They push up against the most distant wall during the slaughter and will attack you later if you give them a window of opportunity. As they grow older, they shun those who will eventually eat them. They think of themselves as more than fuel, as crude as they are. In the end, they hold humans in contempt.