Editorial: Fair can do better than pig scrambles

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The idea of elementary school kids in clumsy pursuit of squealing pigs sounds like fun – right up until you put yourself in the pig’s position.

Imagine yourself reading the Monitor over a cup of coffee when someone much larger than you grabs you by the legs and drops you into a pen with a bunch of uncoordinated giants. You have no idea why you’re there, but you’re pretty sure whatever happens next won’t feel very good. And then you realize all the giants are holding bags that are just big enough to hold your body – and they appear to be getting ready to chase you. Nope. No thanks.

This is the 34th year of the Deerfield Fair pig scramble, in which children have three minutes to grab a young pig by the leg and place it head first into a bag. Anyone who has ever chased a pig will tell you that’s no easy feat, and so the reward for catching one is big: You get to keep the pig.

Like a lot of issues that divide people, there are no good guys or bad guys in the pig scramble debate – just different perspectives. People like Kristina Snyder, who started a petition demanding that the Deerfield Fair end the event, believe that there’s something inherently wrong with finding entertainment value in what amounts to animal cruelty. Snyder isn’t asking people to stop hunting or eating meat, she just wants fair-goers to see that what is fun for them may be terror-inducing and physically painful for pigs.

On the other hand, what opponents of pig scrambles interpret as squeals of terror could actually just be pigs being pigs. “It’s what they do – they squeal when they’re hungry, when they’re scared, when they’re bored,” Carol Soule of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon told the Monitor. Donna Peck of Pembroke Animal Hospital said that because pigs are tough, hardy and built for speed, young children don’t pose much of a risk during the scrambles.

We don’t know everything there is to know, or much at all, about the anatomy and psychology of pigs. Perhaps the scrambles don’t physically hurt them. And it’s even possible that the pigs enjoy the chase, although we find that harder to believe. We do, however, believe that people should hold a certain level of appreciation, if not reverence, for the animals they raise for companionship or food. That is not what the scramble teaches.

Exactly 70 Septembers ago, E.B. White wrote an essay called “Death of a Pig,” in which he describes the several days and nights he spent trying to nurse his ailing pig back to health. Beyond being a beautifully written essay, “Death of a Pig” is also about how our lives are intertwined with those of all living creatures – even the ones we eat. White writes: “The scheme of buying a spring pig in blossomtime, feeding it through summer and fall, and butchering it when the solid cold weather arrives, is a familiar scheme to me and follows an antique pattern. It is a tragedy enacted on most farms with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder, being premeditated, is in the first degree but is quick and skillful, and the smoked bacon and ham provide a ceremonial ending whose fitness is seldom questioned.”

When a pig dies in a manner that is off-script, it’s a different kind of tragedy. “No one took the event lightly,” White writes, “and the premature expiration of a pig is, I soon discovered, a departure which the community marks solemnly on its calendar, a sorrow in which it feels fully involved.”

We don’t believe Deerfield Fair organizers should end the pig scramble because they are being pressured to do so. They should end it because it is a departure from the most valuable lessons of life and death on the farm.