Picturing Pigs is an advocacy project dedicated to depicting pigs positively—as sentient creatures who are full of love and deserve care and compassion. Most of us who live in urban and suburban areas never see live pigs at all. Our information about pigs comes from the media, advertisements, or perhaps social media posts. Within these depictions, a few themes emerge. Pigs are often portrayed as silly, bumbling, or greedy. Another common trope is to depict caricatures of pigs as butchers; an aggressive feral boar, a silhouette, or a flank of meat. All of these depictions encourage us to disassociate pigs as individuals and sensitive creatures and makes it easier for us to consume them as pork, bacon, and ham. We hope to counter these messages with positive pig pictures, and in doing so we hope these images move people to think twice about eating pork, not out of guilt, but out of love and respect for pigs as sentient beings.
How did this start? Why pigs?
Jane and Shannon met in 2015 while volunteering at Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, NC. Both share a love of ‘the underdog’ and are advocates for spaying, neutering, and adopting. Through their advocacy they were surprised to learn that one of the reasons North Carolina has a surplus of cats and dogs is because animal welfare legislation has a pattern of being blocked by lobbyists from the agriculture industry. In particular, the NC Pork Council has been vocal about its opposition to passing a puppy mill bill, citing that it is a slippery slope to care for some animals and doing so could have a negative impact on the local economy. If giving puppies food and water is threatening, what is happening to pigs in our community?
Why I-40 billboards in Duplin and Sampson Counties?
Duplin County produces more pork than any other county in the United States. The second-biggest pork producing county is Sampson County, situated next to Duplin County. The local community is NOT who is targeted. Instead, the billboards are installed on I-40, the interstate that connects the west coast of the USA to the east coast. We hope anyone traveling on the interstate this summer will see these billboards and consider the beautiful souls who are kept in the dark, isolated from each other and then slaughtered for cheap meat. Through positive imagery of pigs, we also hope to call attention to the millions of "unnamed, uncounted, unpictured” and therefore un-grievable* souls who are the victims of the farming industry.
The billboards are located at exit 384 (on the left side of the road, heading Westbound), and exit 353 (on the right side, heading Westbound).
(*Dora Apel makes this point about unpictured human bodies in her 2013 essay The Public Display of Torture Photos. Apel cites Judith Butler with the term “grieveable bodies” which comes from Butler’s 2004 Precarious Life essays.)
Shannon took these photos at a family hog farm in Italy. At this farm they raise, process, and sell pork from their land. This is what a “small family farm” looks like. There is no bedding, rooting, or enrichment for pigs. Instead of letting pigs form their own natural social groups, pigs are sorted into brick ‘pens’ by size, which can result in behavior problems. These images were not taken undercover, and Shannon was invited to meet the pigs. However, I will leave this farm unnamed and their location undisclosed so they do not face backlash.
Please keep in mind that most factory farms will not allow you to see the animals at all. North Carolina has passed ag-gag legislation to make viewing these farms a crime (Please note some of these ag-gag bills are being challenged.) These laws encourage disassociation of the individual animal from the meat, and they also prevent us from seeing images of pigs as anything other than caricatures, icons, cartoons, or slabs of meat. This is one of the motivations for our project, Picturing Pigs.