Real pigs don't chat with spiders, but they do communicate constantly with one another in their own language. More than 20 vocalizations have been identified for different situations. Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers' voices, and mother pigs sing to their young while nursing. They snuggle close to one another and prefer to sleep nose to nose. In their natural surroundings, pigs will spend hours playing, sunbathing and exploring.
Biologist and Johannesburg Zoo director Lyall Watson writes in his 2004 book on the species, The Whole Hog, "I know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being."
They are thought to have intelligence beyond that of an average 3-year-old child. Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University found that pigs can even play joystick-controlled video games and are "capable of abstract representation." Dr. Curtis believes that "there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by these pigs than we would ever have guessed."
Pigs who aren't confined to mind-numbing conditions on factory farms are clever, charismatic animals who enjoy life just as we do. James Cromwell, who played Farmer Hoggett in the hit film Babe, was so moved by the intelligence, sense of fun and personalities of the animals he worked with that by the end of the film he could no more eat a pig than he could eat his neighbor.
Many people share this view. When a reporter revealed that the pig who "posed" for photos for a reprint of E.B. White's best-selling children's book was destined to be sold for slaughter, concerned people from around the United States and Canada begged the owner to spare the pig's life. He reportedly received so many pleas that he decided to name the pig Wilbur and pledged to keep him forever in a specially built pig pad on his farm.
Despite the popularity of Charlotte's Web and Babe, as well as the evidence of these animals' intelligence and personality, the public has not yet fully absorbed the message that pigs are individuals, not dinner. On any given day in the U.S., there are approximately 60 million pigs living in filthy factory farms. A hundred million are killed for food every year.
Off the big screen, mother pigs spend most of their lives in individual crates 7 feet long by 2 feet wide-too small for them even to turn around in. Piglets are taken away from their mothers when they are as young as 10 days old. They're packed into pens to be raised for breeding or for meat. As a result, many display neurotic behaviors such as cannibalism and tail-biting, so farmers use pliers to break off the ends of the piglets' teeth and chop off their tails-all without painkillers. Once her piglets are gone, each sow is impregnated again, and the cycle continues for three or four years before she is slaughtered.
Each and every one of these pigs is "some pig," capable of suffering, fear and sadness. If you've forgotten the empathy you felt for animals destined for slaughter when you read Charlotte's Web as a child, see the movie and ask yourself why you eat "extraordinary" pigs like Wilbur, especially when there are great-tasting faux pork products, such as Smart Dogs, Gardenburger Riblets, Gimme Lean meatless sausage, and Yves Canadian Veggie Bacon, Deli Slices and Veggie Pizza Pepperoni Slices, available in supermarkets and health food stores. You don't need to weave an intricate web to save pigs-just make a few different choices when sitting down to eat.