The Earth is Your Sty
The end of the world is near. Food riots. Transportation strikes. Crop failures. Famine. Salmonella. Cyclones. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. Floods. Wildfires. Landslides. War. Terror. Shark attacks. Plague. Asteroid collisions. Drinking-water shortages. Torrential rain. Everlasting droughts. Bee die-off. The end of the Mayan calendar. The pending magnetic pole shift.
No doubt, a major catastrophe is imminent. We deserve what we get because we’ve been pigs at the trough, happiest and most active when consuming. Back and forth, bumping snouts and skulls. Grunting and yelping, licking and slurping with no regard for manners or personal space. We fight and bite, pawing a warm slop of eggs shells, cooked potato peels, kitchen scraps, garden waste and bacon-maker commercial feed. We screech and squeal for more, even when the trough is still half full, and keep shouting and swilling until the food disappears, then wander to the opposite corner of the sty — time to shit.
Twice daily, I slop the pigs, Lenny and Squiggy. Experts say not to name pigs destined for the table. Better to think of them as bacon and sausage, loin and ham, rib and roast. When Lenny and Squiggy reach 200 pounds, before they develop too much fat, they will be killed.
They weigh about 60 now and I’m putting the slops to ’em so they stay happy, because they should be happy as long as possible before they die — maybe in four months, maybe a little longer — having consumed about 600 pounds of food. The books say pigs offer the best feed-to-food conversion ratio of any mammal. The books say the butchered pig will become 170 pounds of pork. But these are my first pigs, so I gotta see (eat) it to believe it.
I work with Lenny and Squiggy at my new gig as the hired hand on a gentleman’s farm on an island at the edge of America. The farm, a magically beautiful green place, has long, rolling views of land and sea. There are clams, mussels, and wrinkles in the front yard. The farm is home to the pigs, 20 alpacas, a dozen chicken and a llama named Victoria. My sweet wife tends the gardens. We live in a shack on the water with two little dogs. We’re lucky.
But if catastrophe struck tomorrow, we’d still be screwed. The next disaster will cast a shadow a thousand-fold worse than the Ice Storm of 1998 or Katrina. It’ll be a million times harder and bleaker than five-dollar gas or six-dollar milk. How much food do I have on hand? Wine? Weed? What about the junkies and pill-heads? Supply interrupted, will they quit cold turkey or go on a withdrawal-crazed rampage? And what about the mentally ill, dependent on pharmacopoeia to keep their brains straight and prevent meltdowns? And the elderly, with their pumps and dialysis, their meds and machines? What will happen in prisons and jails, and in cities where millions live without enough gardens and pigs and chickens?
Pain and sorrow and suffering. Panic, then horror. Empty supermarkets. Starving children. Mass death and disease. Corpses piled in the streets awaiting the ad-hoc funeral pyre. That’s the future, no doubt. Too many humans hooked on cars and coal, incapable of surviving without industrial farms and factory food delivered from far away.
It wasn’t always this way. Not long ago, people had real gardens, chickens running around the dooryard, a spring pig and a fall pig, maybe even a cow. Everyone got their deer. Clever Mainers lived near the shore or visited often. They went clamming, foraged for mussels and wrinkles. Down East, they fished for mackerel and real wild salmon, then went looking for fiddleheads in the spring. They raked blueberries in August, picked apples and dug potatoes in the fall. The season determined the diet and root cellars filled with canned goods fed them through the long Maine winter.
The smart ones still follow these cycles, and I’ve gotta learn because I’m not gonna starve. You?
Pigs are quieter than many neighborhood pets, and a pigpen, at 20 by 20 feet, with a hay-filled doghouse for shelter, would fit in most yards. Clean up the manure and compost it: no smell. Apartment dwellers could convince suburban pals to set up a collective pen. That’s community food.
Portland’s zoning code prohibits pigs within city limits. But when society collapses, who needs zoning?