Peppa Pig has missed a vocation

Large White Pig (Yorkshire)
Large White (Yorkshire) pig (Pixabay)

Starved of spicy stories or constipated by covid, the British media wrote about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s bad hair day. In a speech to business leaders, he lost track of the message and, presumably to preserve poise, he ad-libbed about Peppa Pig World.

The pink cartoon character has become wildly popular. A child’s father told the Guardian newspaper how young superfans rushed to meet Peppa in an Hampshire amusement park, looking like an audience with the Pope. Peppa is an English creation but has become a worldwide phenomenon, nowhere more popular than in China where 2019 was the Year of the Pig. A porcine celebrity was as unheard of as a pig that can fly. No longer.

Turning animals into cuddly cartoon characters helps to forget the reality of real lives under domestication and in factory farms. Millions of pigs are raised in climate-controlled sheds, never seeing sunlight before reaching their destiny as chops and sausages. Is there a more ignominious end for a beast credited with superior intelligence to dogs?

I admit complicity and guilty feelings when chops sizzle on my grill from an animal I never knew but who, under different circumstances, might have become a beloved pet (not indoors). Our ancestors probably had the same ambiguous feelings. Where I grew up, families used to keep a pig given a Christian name and fed on kitchen scraps until sentiment evaporated in the autumn when the slaughterman drove up. When I used to visit a slaughterhouse to collect research specimens, I closed my ears (eyes and heart too) to the heavy slump after the bolt shot. After casual flirtation with vegetarianism, my carnivorous appetite restored.

Our relationships with animals wheel between affection and respect versus insouciance and far worse. Dogs are man’s best friend, yet no other animal receives more abuse at home. A donkey carried Jesus into Jerusalem, but countless numbers suffered in mines and as beasts of burden. A conservation symbol and most popular wild animal in Britain, yet badgers are shot, gassed, and even baited with dogs in illegal pits. I could go on … except to add that it matters not just for the sake of fellow creatures but because culprits of inhumane treatment are more likely to be cruel to children and spouses as well.

Toxic masculinity (not exclusively male) is often responsible for violence against vulnerable creatures. It erupts from poor anger control and frustration, treating victims no better than other property and to remind them who is boss.

Matters are not so bad now, thanks to legislation bolstered by science that reveals even invertebrates can feel pain (see post on lobsters). We pay more attention to the welfare of pets than herds or flocks of animals. Compassion is diluted by number. We prefer not to think too deeply that meat, eggs, and dairy produce, neatly wrapped and hygienic, came from sentient creatures raised and sacrificed for us under conditions we tacitly accept.

Perhaps that distance explains why (I’m told) Peppa Pig eats bacon without a pricked conscience. Sad to think the iconic pig works only as an entertainer and has missed an opportunity to teach animal welfare to children.

By Roger Gosden

British-born scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology. Career as professor & research director spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. Married to Lucinda Veeck Gosden, embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. Retired early to Williamsburg, Virginia, to write and recover from 'nature deficit disorder'. Currently a visiting scholar at William & Mary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Gosden

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