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October 2, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Are pork chops really that good?

If it seems unlikely for a vegetarian (that would be me) to own a couple of table- bound pigs, it probably seems downright absurd that their names should be Tender and Delicious.

And yet, there they are, in their little house, behind their fence, a couple hundred yards behind the house here at Schoolhouse Farm. They’ve been here since earlier in the summer.

For my part, I’ve never been so glad to have had a series of sinus allergies that have impaired my olfactory abilities.

Having spent even just a little bit of time with them, I’ve begun to wonder exactly how it is that pigs ever became such a popular farm animal. Perhaps it is a testament to the supreme gastronomical pleasure of bacon and pork chops, because they seem to be among the more difficult animals to bring from farm to table.

First, there’s the smell. Oh. My. Lord. The smell. It would be more pleasant to raise a herd of skunks with major anxiety disorders. Then there’s that legendary pig intelligence.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve heard people compare pigs to dogs because of their intelligence. I have it on good authority that one of the farmers at The Farmers’ Museum teaches the pigs there to sit in order to get their daily meals.

P.S. If you ever have pigs, teach them to sit in order to get their food. The difference between a pig who will sit and a pig who just wants to eat is like the difference between a wolf and a golden retriever.

At my house, we have wolves. They are small, pink, oinking wolves, but wolves nonetheless.

Remember the pig scene in “The Wizard of Oz,” before the twister and Dorothy’s trip to the Yellow Brick Road? Dorothy is walking along the pigs’ fence like a balance beam, and falls into their pen. All the adults drop what they’re doing and race to her rescue.

It’s not because she fell; it’s because she fell into a pen full of rutting, carnivorous animals.

Are pork chops really that good?

For my part, I try to have as little interaction as possible with Tender and Delicious, especially Delicious. Tender seems fairly resigned to her fate as sustenance.

She stays in the pen.

She runs into the mini-barn when people approach, and timidly emerges when she realizes that food is in the offing. She sleeps like a hamster under her straw.

Delicious, on the other hand, is the alpha swine. She hangs out near the gate, rears up on her hind legs to investigate visitors and snorts out commands. Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

She also gets out on a semi-regular basis.

Their fence consists of horizontal boards, like a horse fence, reinforced inside with a layer of welded wire pig fencing that also goes a couple of feet into the ground to discourage a tunneling escape.

Beneath the gate, there lies a heavy railroad tie to prevent the girls from exiting there.

I should say that the railroad tie is there sometimes, because Delicious is adept at moving it out of her way when she feels the need. She also has learned to pull the wire away from the wood in order to make an escape.

To date, she has never traveled far, just rooting about the fields of Schoolhouse Farm, trotting close enough to the dining room window to send our little dogs into a flurry of fury.

And when she hears that her human captives have returned from their day passes, she will venture down to the driveway to terrify and menace us. Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

What human ancestor of ours decided that this kind of animal would make for ideal livestock? Yes, their meat is tender (and delicious, from what I understand), but the downside is enormous. How did pigs win out over, say, deer or rabbits or one of those other, gentler breeds that remain ``game’’ instead of “livestock”?

I would ponder that longer, but my captor is calling. Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger is contemplating a BLT. You can connect with her at www.moremindfulfamily.