Two Pigs, One Pen

Verlyn Klinkenborg of the New York Times is one of the most talented writers on a staff littered with all-stars. His style—terse, elegant, clear—is perfectly suited to explaining the rural life to urban readers. It’s humane and warm, but it’s also stripped of the forced folksiness and sentimentality that typifies so much American writing about the country.

When I interviewed him five years ago, one of the most arresting things he said was this:

It’s very hard to explain to someone how profound the satisfaction of walking into a pen and scratching a couple of red pigs behind the ears while they eat really is.

He begins an editorial for last Thursday’s edition of the paper like so:

Very soon, a farmer and his son will come to the farm to kill our two pigs. If that sentence bothers you, you should probably stop reading now — and you should probably also stop eating pork. ... I talk to the pigs whenever I’m in their pen, and ever since June I’ve been slowly taming them, getting them used to being scratched.

Five years on, he’s still scratching pigs behind the ears. But the compelling part of his editorial is that he’s so profoundly struck by the seeming contradiction of sincerely caring for an animal that you’re planning to slaughter and eat.

In roughly 400 haunting, thoughtful words, Klinkenborg sums up what it’s like to eat meat and to truly know an animal’s life and death. It’s powerful stuff.

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