This is part of a pig series cross-posted at the Washington Post.
In Yiddish, there are two words for eating: essen is simply to eat, and fressen is to eat like a pig. Keeping pigs has given us the chance to observe fressing up close. And, although whoever coined the adage about not wanting to see the sausage made wasn’t going quite this far back in the process, he may as well have been. It isn’t pretty.
Pigs eat a lot. And they eat like pigs. They spread their food all over the place, they grunt noisily, and they chew with their mouths open. They climb over each other to reach the food, and fight each other for the last scrap of something delectable
In one respect, though, pigs get a bum rap. No matter who tells you otherwise, pigs will not eat everything. And, even among the things they will eat, they have definite preferences. They are very fond of fish and fish skins. They love eggs, cooked or raw. Any kind of grain – bread, noodles, oatmeal – makes them very happy. They are not, however, overly fond of vegetables.
You’d think that the pig snout would be a blunt eating instrument if there ever was one, but it turns out pigs can use their snouts with remarkable delicacy and discernment. We’ll pile all our scraps into one bowl – fish skins mixed with pizza crusts combined with cucumber peels – in the hopes that the unappetizing peels will get snarfed up with the enticing skins and crusts, but that is not what happens.
We spread the snacks over the length of the long trough (long in the hopes that it avoids food fights, but the pigs all want the same morsel no matter how many other morsels there are), and the three snouts go in grunting. They push the food, and each other, around, and there is general mayhem. When the smoke clears, the fish skins and pizza crusts are gone, and the cucumber peels – every last one of them – remain in the trough. It’s uncanny.
Over the next several hours, some of the cucumber peels will disappear, and by the next day they’re usually all gone. There is at least one thing, though, that they simply won’t eat. They hate cabbage. The couple of times we’ve given it to them it has sat in the trough for days until we clean it out and let it get swallowed up by the pen. Ashes to ashes, cabbage to mud.
Watching a pig eat sheds some light on the eating habits of our own species. Animal protein? Yes please. And simple carbohydrates in the form of bread, pasta, and sugar. They, like us, have marked preferences for the fatty and the calorie-dense.
Many years ago, I interviewed an animal nutrition expert who’d been hired to design a diet for a zoo’s orangutans, who had lately gotten terribly fat. He found out that their obesity problem dated to when a local doughnut shop had started donating all its stale doughnuts to the zoo. The orangutans, it seems, had been getting the lion’s share.
Give orangutans leaves and fruits, and they maintain an appropriate weight even in captivity. Give them doughnuts – fatty and calorie-dense – and they get fat almost immediately. This is as much a problem for humans as it is for orangutans, but it works just fine for animals that are supposed to gain 240 pounds in six months.
We are all of us fressers.