I just finished reading The Good, Good Pig, a book about Christopher Hogwood, a pig who was kept as a pet by Sy Montgomery until his death from natural causes. I was actually reading it at the coffeehouse last night, and someone asked me about what I was reading, and she said “that sounds kind of boring,” after I explained that it was just about the life of a pig, not about raising pigs for slaughter or running a farm.
But it was anything but boring.
I don’t have a lot of experience with pigs; we never kept them, and I’ve only met a handful of pigs. I certainly don’t count any among my animal friends, although I have always rather liked pigs. Their earnest, cheerful faces and curly tails would warm even the coldest heart, I think. I read the book because I was interested in learning more about pigs, and about the life of one particular pig, and because I just generally like animal biographies since I am a sucker for a furry face.
Christopher Hogwood was an unusual creature. Montgomery and her husband adopted him when he was the runt of the litter, and they intended to raise him as a pet, not for food, since Montgomery is vegetarian and her husband is Jewish. Most pigs don’t live much longer than six months in the United States, because that’s when they’re mature enough to harvest; Christopher Hogwood lived for over a decade.
In addition to being a member of Montgomery’s family, Hogwood also interacted with his neighborhood, and it sounds like he acquired quite a long list of friends. In the final chapter, Montgomery talked about the powerful emotional effect that Hogwood had on the people around him; animals seem to have this magical ability to break through barriers which humans can’t, too inspire people or soothe aching sadness or remorse. Some of his fans described him as a sort of pig Buddha, teaching people to enjoy life and to take the time to be with people they love.
Pigs have been an important part of human life for thousands of years, and they are one of the more curious farm animals in our lives, since we keep them solely for food, not for milk or textile material. But pigs are also used to hunt for truffles with their extraordinary noses, and people once used them like hunting dogs to track prey, according to Montgomery. That little factoid was new to me, and I thought it was rather interesting, myself. People have a lot of misconceptions about pigs, which is rather unfortunate, because pigs certainly do not deserve their bad reputation; they are cleaner than many other animals, for example, and they are searingly intelligent. Pigs are great problem solvers and they also have an excellent memory; Montgomery wrote about several people who only saw Hogwood intermittently, but were still instantly recognized, for example.
I would highly recommend The Good, Good Pig. While Montgomery is vegetarian, she certainly doesn’t push vegetarianism on her readers, and the book isn’t a cleverly disguised polemic on why people shouldn’t eat animals. It’s just the story of a pig and his life and the people he met, and that’s it. It was interesting to get a small window into pig behaviour, and into what happens to pigs who are allowed to live out their natural lives. It’s certainly not going to stop me from eating pork, but it does give me a deeper appreciation for porcines. The book certainly doesn’t take long to read, and you might find yourself enjoying it immensely.
The book definitely didn’t anthropomorphize Hogwood, but it did give him a character of his own, and that character was interesting, dynamic, and sensitive. For people who haven’t interacted with farm animals, that might be surprising; while we think of our own pets as distinct personalities, I think it’s hard for some people to think that chickens and pigs and cows also have their own unique selves, and it was nice to see Hogwood profiled as an individual.