Swinia (or On Being a Pig)

Joanna Micek // Brooklyn, NY

Swinia. Go ahead, poke it with your tongue and roll it around in your mouth. If you can’t enjoy the odd, ungainly Polish sound of schweenya, try it in whatever language works for you. Don’t be a pig. You’re such a pig. God, what a pig. Fucking pig. Piggy, piglet, pigglette.

“Pig” is a descriptive word, evocative, and infinitely adaptive. It’s funny, playful, cutesy, dirty, sexy, lewd, crude, mean and downright hurtful. I like when my lovers call me a pig. I have been a soft incarnadine piglet and a greedy pig, and liked being both. I have been called a swan and a white-tailed doe too, but neither felt quite right. As time goes by, I’m making peace with the fact that I am a pig; I’m versatile, adaptable, colorful, delicious, juicy and full of personality. C’est la vie.

I reunited with my namesake a few months ago after twelve years of a strict vegetarian diet. Chinese pork dumplings were my gateway drug. It wasn’t bacon like most vegetarians claim. In fact, I’ve never particularly liked bacon—not the weirdly textured American version nor the thickly marbled with fat Polish kind. I don’t care about the cultural significance of it nor do I understand the fascination with it and I refuse to fetishize it. I don’t want bacon wrapped around other meats, crumbled in anything or crisping up my breakfast sandwich.

This winter I spent the holidays “back home” on a farm in the Southeast of Poland, where my connection to the pig is rooted. It’s no longer a working farm so there are no chickens to be fed, eggs to be found, cows to be milked nor pigs to be looked after. Yet it’s still filled with the sounds and smells of farm life. I was able to see the little shed where my Dad used to butcher pigs once a year. As it was described to me, there would be piercing squeals of fear and pain, buckets of hot, steaming water, long terrifying knives and countless trays set up to catch every little bit of meat, skin, gut and bone. Then it was followed by hours upon hours of carving, grinding, chopping, smoking and salt curing. Each and every piece of that pig, from its ugly, snouty head to its hairy hoofs was used and preserved to be enjoyed weeks or months later.

This pig butchering ritual hasn’t happened in over twenty years. My Dad is long gone and the farm will be put up for sale this spring. There will be new holidays, new homecomings, new lovers and new pet names, but for the time being I am letting my inner and outer piglets roam around.

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