All the Poor Priscillas: How I Lost My Taste for Pigs (Yes, Even Their Blessed Bacon)

I come from meat-eating farmers, proud sausage makers who built a factory for their craft right in the middle of their tiny hamlet. I've listened to impromptu supper-time monologues based on the faith that vegetarians who think farming animals is cruel simply don't know any better. I've witnessed a giant sow rotating over fire, suspended by a rod run through her from mouth to anus, and then eaten her with potatoes and creamed corn. I was once introduced to a pig named Priscilla who was seatbelted into the back of a car. I later found her delicious.

This is Priscilla the pig in Costa Rica in 2005. She was seatbelted into the back seat of a hatchback that arrived so we could say hello to our supper. Later, we ate her.

This is Priscilla the pig in Costa Rica in 2005. She was seatbelted into the back seat of a hatchback that arrived so we could say hello to our supper. Later, we ate her.

There was a period of about two or three years in my early twenties, though, when I became vegetarian. I cited healthful living and an inability to eat things with mothers as reasons for my decision. I strived to live more peacefully with myself and with the world, and I extended that effort to consuming and wasting less overall.

My experiment with ethical living all started out with so much hopefulness, but my vegetarianism was conflicted. Coupled with a growing guilt about habits like wiping my butt with the remains of once vibrant life, my efforts toward a more ethical way of being became exhausting. Every manufactured thing looked like the end product of a long line of violence, a violence my consumption made possible. I couldn't even shit without being complicit in some kind of death economy. What had begun in hope had turned decidedly apocalyptic. I felt certain that the human race was a global cancer.

My health was suffering as well as my spirit, but it was when I found myself studying up on the kooky asceticism of breatharians that I knew it was time to take a more middle road approach. I decided I could eat humanely-raised, locally-farmed meat when it was available, cancel my subscriptions to paper publications, and learn how to do more with less toilet paper. I still fantasized about a solar-powered cabin by a creek with a vegetable garden, but I knew I could never hack the bugs and lack of wi-fi. I learned to live with compromise.

Since then, I've considered vegetarianism again on occasion, but never with any real seriousness. If I'm honest, the idea has mostly come from a vain desire to act like a better person, even though I have been unconvinced about its ethical merit. Lately, though, this has changed.

I am suddenly filled with a deep and abiding empathy for pigs. Not cows. Not chickens. Not fish. Pigs.

This is Aidan cooking all'amatriciana, a tomato sauce with guanciale (cured pig cheeks), with spaghetto quadrato.

This is Aidan cooking all'amatriciana, a tomato sauce with guanciale (cured pig cheeks), with spaghetto quadrato.

Over the last few years, I've had to give up ham, aside from a few instances when I forced it down out of awkward politeness. Its baby-pink colour is too destabilizing. I have also foregone my breakfast bacon when I thought a little too long about the pig it once was, but this has happened due to inconsistent emotional whims and not out of any moral or ethical depth, because how could I give up bacon? I once did loose calculations to determine how much of my life I had lost to bacon if each strip of bacon equalled five minutes, and I figured that the couple of weeks lopped off the end of my 96th year were worth it.

Lately, though, I just can't do it. I've been hiding my pig-related feelings, pretending that I'm just being generous when I give my bacon away, ordering second-choice items off menus rather than what used to be my first choice. I finally had to come clean to Aidan a couple of nights ago, though, when he cooked a delicious spaghetto quadrato all'amatriciana, which is a pasta dish with tomato sauce that includes guanciale, a cured Italian meat made of pig cheeks.

I tried to eat it, because it looked and smelled delicious, and this was one of Aidan's culinary firsts, but I ended up pushing the bits of guanciale into a pile at the edge of my plate. In my mind, I could feel the pig's cheek pressed to mine. Her coarse, blonde hair brush my temple. That small eye looked at mine while she shifted her weight impatiently, huffing warm air out into the cool between us. She knew, and I didn't want the dead taste of her in my mouth.

I know how this sounds. I imagined a sow so vividly that I gave her a kind of individuality, an agency she possibly never even knew to want or to try to possess in actual life. I'm suffering guilt over a fiction I concocted because my bleeding, leftie heart anthropomorphized a beast, gave her an emotional life we can't know for certain she possessed. I have falsely equated meat with murder, as though pigs can be persons.

And yet none of this matters to me. Yesterday, a burger I ordered came with bacon, and that beautiful, warm sow was against my cheek again. I know that pigs can be wild and vicious. I know that invasive boars are tearing up our landscape and would as soon rip into my face as lean against it with any affection. I just don't care. This isn't about whether pigs are fuzzy-wuzzy friends or murderous beasts. When their flesh touches my teeth, I feel like a cannibal.

If I were a painter, I would paint pigs as backlit saints to atone for my unjust acts. If I were a witch, I would burn candles under a waxing moon. If I were a Catholic, I would go to confession. 

I know this is ridiculous and irrational, because it is only the pigs I feel bad about. That aforementioned burger? I ate it. Bye bye cow. You sure were tasty. Aidan does things I dream about with chicken thighs, and I still love them. Show me a round of ham, though, and I am the quiet guest secretly twisting the tablecloth in their hands to distract themself from weeping.

I guess this means I've had my last bacon. I can't argue my way out of the gut-deep disgust this irrational feeling instills. There are no more bowls of barbecue pork noodles in my future. No more pork chops under thick mushroom sauce. No more honied ham.

Whatever it is, there is something about the piggy beasts I just can't shake. I've simply lost my taste for them, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

[pours one out for all the poor Priscillas]