We wanted to produce a sustainable pig toy. A pig toy that was carbon neutral. This made us rethink the oven-baked biscuits idea. After consulting with a research technician at Scotland’s Rural College, we were made aware of the delicacy of a pig’s constitution, so we knew we had to tread with care. My previous research on hyphae networks in forests and Cath’s on utopian architecture led us to trial mycelium. Given the right conditions this grows on grain substrates, and we were excited by the prospect of bonding grain without using other resources.
So, with a carved wooden former I visited Plastic Mouldings Ltd, in Irvine. Three weeks later 30 x vacuum formed pressed moulds miraculously arrived at my door. These were paired up and adapted to create incubators for the live and growing substrate.
Honing the brick recipe and creating sterile growing conditions proved to be challenging. My front room was turned into an impromptu laboratory. The mycelium had its own requirements. It was to be kept moist but not wet, consistently warm (through a Scottish winter), with blinds drawn and vigilant daily observation by headlamp, to spot foreign moulds. Kitted up in latex gloves, masked against the pervasive fumes of pure alcohol, constantly sterilising surfaces, pressing, weighing and microwaving grain, boiling huge panfulls of straw, it took 28 days for the mycelium to bloom. Dreaming pink bricks, beetroot powder was added which glowed magenta, but disappointingly faded once the brick had air-dried.
Using straw rather than beer mash created lighter and faster growing bricks, they were also less robust so not ideal for boisterous pigs. The beer mash that Barney’s Beer provided varied depending which beers were being produced, rye, spelt, hop and oat mixes were all trialled, causing mycelium spores to grow at different rates and in magnificent forms.
The process was then stopped, and bricks were exposed to daylight, stacked and dried.
The idea, to involve stock men and women in creating and designing edible structures that are specifically suited to their drift of pigs.
Next step, send a sample to the lab to test for mycotoxins…
As with Carnevale, we began by discussing toys and games designed for children that might be adapted for pigs. We mulled over building blocks that could be stacked, bead-like objects strung in chains, or interlocking construction toys, and then settled on a notched circular form which could be easily reproduced, then slotted together like a rudimentary cactus.
We tested various mixes of spent beer mash and binding agents such as cornstarch, wheat flour, potato starch and carrageenan. However, there are concerns about how safe carrageenan is for pigs, and research papers suggest that potato starch helps their digestion, so we have gone with that. The mixture requires pressure to bind the material, so we tried using a briquette maker- a metal contraption sold to convert newspapers into fuel, which proved very unfit for this purpose. We took a lead from an online video showing how encaustic tiles are made by compressing cement powder in a hydraulic press, then we approached UoE’s Engineering Department at Kings Buildings where Mark and Andy, the technicians, showed us how to put five tonnes of pressure on each biscuit.
Barney’s Beer microbrewery gave us a batch of mash that contained rye, and this proved to be the best mix for biscuits that retain their notched form so that they can interlock in modular chains. The rye produces more durable biscuits; able to withhold the attention of a dozen curious pigs for longer too.
We made two sizes of former and so we will soon produce a batch of smaller (funsize) Hognobs using wheat and rye mix. We will then test both versions with the pigs at Gorgie Farm and document the pigs’ reactions to these enrichment objects.
What follows is a dash through some Serious Research I’ve been thinking about for a while: the historical use of pigs in alcohol advertising. I spend a lot of my academic life questioning how animals are represented in various places; I’ve written pretty extensively on the negative uses of pig images (antisemitism, misogyny, etc) and ‘pig’ as a linguistically loaded term. Now, something a bit lighter.
My favourite pub in Cambridge is called The Flying Pig. It’s a delicious eyesore near the station, which used to be a desert a million miles from town (the University, of course, scorning a station as a site of ill-repute). ‘Investment’ has meant a score of luxury condos, Wasabis, and Sainsburys Locals, for those who commute to London but like to pose on a punt at the weekends. In amongst this slightly brittle and soulless new town, the Pig is digging its trotters in. It’s one of Cambridge’s last Free Houses, and the unofficial watering hole of the long-running Folk Festival: the walls are plastered with posters of festivals past. They don’t do food, unless you count a truly magnificent selection of dodgy corner-shop crisps. Pink Floyd used to drink there. It’s possible to get 15% beer. It’s proper, and slightly ornery, and I love it, not least because of the name.
That name. There’s an issue of the Spectator from 1710 where someone sounds off about the rise in daft pub names (listing ‘The Flying Pig’ as one of them). But names and signage were an important historical issue; in the same way that license-holders now need to be clearly identified, medieval law insisted that tavern owners marked their properties as places to sell alcohol. Take this example of a local writ in 1430: ‘Whoever shall brew ale in the town of Cambridge with intention of selling it, must hang out a sign, otherwise he shall forfeit his ale’. Pictorial inn-signs are also a relic from an era of high illiteracy.
While the most common animal sources for pub names are ‘lion’, ‘swan’, and ‘stag’ (heraldic influence, of course), we do see a few pig-pubs. The most common is The Pig and Whistle. I’ve investigated this (I had initially assumed it was a bit of whimsy) and apparently it’s a bastardisation of ‘Byggen Wassail’, a medieval feast celebrating the end of the barley harvest. Its common use in the North East of the UK in all likelihood reflects the Danish and Viking heritage of the locals.
Pig and Whistle sign: Brian Curtis (pub is in Dover, Kent).
That leads us to the clearest connection we have between pigs and the alcohol industry: medieval husbandry. Even amongst the peasantry, most households had a pig, generally tended to by the lady of the house. Home-brewing was also common across Europe. Thus developed the custom of feeding brewery dregs and beer mash to the hogs (one Andrea and Cath are cheekily subverting in their toys). But what about the alcohol content? Drunken animals (especially birds who peck at fermented fruit) are all over the internet. It makes sense that pigs with a taste for mash would enjoy a cold liquid version; they need all the help they can get to control their body temperatures, after all. Here’s a picture of one of my favourite writers (Sy Montgomery)’s pet, Christopher Hogwood, sucking down a cold one:
Hogwood: Sy Montgomery for the Boston Globe
Normally, medieval swine could nibble on grass, tubers and roots. In the run up to slaughtering season (Christmas), this diet was supplemented by a ton of acorns. High in calories and fat, but easily sourced, this was the preferred method of getting the best from your investment. The practice was so commonplace that most medieval almanacs and calendars depict November with an image of swineherds, thumping acorns down from the trees for their hogs to gobble. This was itself a booming business for landowners of wood pasture; pannage fees [to allow you to fatten your pigs] were widespread: surveyor scribes often recorded the size of a woodland based on how many pigs could graze there (silva n porci).
Acorns and Hogs from Psalter: British Library, Royal 2 B VII, f. 81v. Image in the public domain; digital image courtesy of British Library, London, UK
Fallen apples were also ripe (sorry) for snaffling in the orchards and open forests where hogs grazed year-round. I reckon this accounts for the links between pigs and cider: a pastoral dream of mushed apples and leisure. Farmers these days are bringing pigs back into the orchards, as a more eco-friendly form of pest control: a farm in Michigan is using a bunch of Gloucester Old Spots to nibble beetle larvae and hoover up infected apples (it won’t harm them; amazingly, pigs store venom and toxins as fat—which is why they can eat poisonous snakes and their own poop, no bother). Incidentally, here’s an adorable fact I learned recently: folklore suggests that the spots are bruises from fallen apples. Cute.
Gloucester Old Spot: Robert Dowling for The Guardian
Rattling on through to the 18th century, we see some interesting linguistic changes. Around 1750 is the first recorded use, in deepest Herefordshire, of ‘a pint of squeal’ or ‘squealpig’ to refer to a glass of cider. Apparently this is a tradition that persists, as is the custom of referring to an ale jug as a pig.
All of this has laid the foundations for the use of pigs in modern alcohol advertising. I’ll cover more ground on this in the future (and believe me, it’s pastures-worth) but here are 3 short case studies from across the world.
North America: WhistlePig
An upstart rye company, based in Vermont (and a nice riff on ‘pig and whistle’; I wonder if this has speakeasy significance?). Most interesting for my purposes here are their Spokespig, Mortimer Jr (shown in his full glory, below) and their bottle design: more accurately, for the fantastically named Boss Hog range. Each year they release a new edition of their premier offering, featuring a pewter bottle stopper. These stoppers are themed and charming: 2017’s offering— Armagnac aged— features a chain-mailed hog in reference to Prince Edward, The Black Prince, who famously looted the finest Armagnac barrels from France. I love that this also harks back to the tavern signs and their allegiance to the monarchy.
Mortimer the Hog: Alberto Baccari for WhistlePig Whiskey Ltd
Pewter bottle stoppers: WhistlePig Whiskey Ltd/ Master of Malt
Spain: Gran Cerdo
Gran Cerdo: Tivoli Wines
I first tried this in a bottle shop in SE London
and became quite hysterical with the name’s origin. ‘Gran Cerdo’ [literally: Big Pig] is a term of sass, akin in Spanish to a more vituperative ‘fatcat’. When the bank rescinded its loan as the wine wasn’t a taxable asset, the makers crowdfunded and bottled it anyway. The label features a hog’s mouth stuffed with dollar bills, and a feisty:
You corpulent, sweaty suit-wearing people, someday you’ll discover that some of the most important things in life aren’t assets you can impound. Thanks to our friends, with their help we finally got this wine bottled. Now you can enjoy our baby, try it with pasta or ham.
England: Orchard Pig
Founded in a shed in Somerset, OP play off every bucolic stereotype: the proximity to Glastonbury, the muted colours, the fact that the company is named after the ‘original orchard pigs’ who shared the founder’s smallholding.
OP isn’t the only English cider to have ‘pig’ in the title, but my god it’s the most extra. The snazzy silhouette logo. The puns (I love the ‘Sty News’ section). But mostly: THE GLAMPIG.
GlamPig: Orchard Pig
This is the height of holidaying, the Valhalla of vacationing. A glamping pod with its own festoon lighting, snazzy hot pink deck chairs, and a built-in bar. Originally a PR stunt for their new Pink Pig cider, this brings together all of the historical influences I’ve discussed above (pastoral cabin, based in an orchard, etc), updated in millennial pink for the ‘gram.
With that: I’m off on my own trip (not in a Trojan Hog, sadly). When I’m back, I’ll be publishing my interview with Prof. Francoise Wemelsfelder: expect lots of chat on Quantitive Behavioural Analysis, being an emotionally attuned scientist, and me doing some fairly embarrassing fangirling.
 Signs were also key in a competitive market; see Cat Dent’s paper for more on this:
I have lots in common with the Queen. We both like to colour-block; have soft spots for dogs whose bellies drag on the ground; I, too, generally can’t be bothered with earnest social engagements, and my face shows it.
Now we have another thing to bond us: a mutual appreciation of Gorgie City Farm’s Olive the Duck.
Queen is joined by ‘cheeky duck who thinks she’s a human’ during Edinburgh city farm visit, ITV News report, 4th July 2019.
Olive is Gorgie’s resident diva: the Primadonna of the Pond, if you will. She is to waterfowl what Mariah Carey is to VIP lounges. She is stubborn, vain, sassy and demanding. I could not love her more.
She paused to say hello to me on her lunchtime waddle about the farm. It was like meeting Madonna in Lidl.
But though Olive was an enormous highlight (due deference and all that) we were really there to see the pigs, of course. Gorgie has a delightful crew: Iron Age to Tamworths, all ages and sizes. Andrea, James and I mooched up to their pen and called inside the shed where they were snoozing in a line, out of the sun. One by one, they responded to our whistles and clicks, shuffling outside and into the warmth.
Our Iron Age happily accepted our scratches and pats, sighing like contented dogs in front of the fire. I’ll be interviewing Prof. Francoise Wemelsfelder in a couple of weeks about her pioneering work on animal emotion and boredom; seeing these chaps made me think of her theories about humans recognizing happiness and contentment on creatures’ faces. I mean, look at this guy.
Next up were the Tamworths: Ginger, Sporty, Baby, and Posh (hilarious trivia: their mum was called Lady Marmalade). They squeaked and grunted so excitedly that I felt a bit smug, before realising that it was actually for their keeper, approaching with a bucket of fruit. Cheers lads.
The rest of the visit saw us enjoying the rest of the farm’s happy, well-fed, well-cared-for residents: a few goats, this supremely fuzzy sheep, and what James called ‘them fancy chickens’ (I think they were Wyandotte and a few Silkies, but I’m rusty).
Capers aside, our trip to Gorgie was integral to our ongoing research. Not only is it important to support Gorgie (NB: they take donations by card now, brilliant) but also to remind ourselves of who benefits from the work Equity For Pigs is doing. Piglets and pigs wag, loaf, mooch, squeak, oink and grunt in reaction to different people (a Very Tall Man, a sunglassed and overly keen woman, their keeper, and an artist who’s met them before) and things (a bucket of food, the scratch of a sunglass-arm, sunshine). For me, it’s a joyous confirmation of what we knew: that they are intelligent, emotional, and emotionally intelligent. It’s also opening up questions about how we might pique their interests with the new prototypes: a delicious challenge, in all senses (and for all senses).
Regular visitors will be well aware of my infatuation with Andrew’s greyhound, Pace. It’s not just because of her supermodel bone structure and genteel demeanour, but her roundabout responsibility for the formation of Equity For Pigs. More precisely, it was a fated dog-walk up St Leonard’s Hill a year ago, where Andrew spotted the beginnings of the Holyrood Distillery.
About the same time Pace was nosing her way through the park, I was nosing about for partners for a creative-industries post-doc. Andrew and I go way back, through the British Animal Studies Network; he and Andrea had collaborated before on all sorts of vet/art crossover projects. Because he is a mensch, Andrew put me in touch with Andrea, where I casually mentioned that I’d been working at a bougie gin distillery while writing up. She mused that she’d been thinking of using images from her and Cath’s last project, CARNEVALE, as beer labels.
You know when people say ‘My life flashed before my eyes’? Nerdily, a whole project flashed before mine. The crew began to take shape; like Ghostbusters, but with more pigs, and arguably a cooler lab. Andrea: fine arts skills and a history of making irreverent materials with a serious welfare-oriented core. Andrew: veterinary ethics, animal welfare, a history of arts-science collaboration. Me: Animal Studies, literature and visual culture, and 4 years at a desk writing = a deep need to be out in the field. Preferably a sty, actually. Add to this Andrea’s collaborator Cath (herself the maker of incredible architectural work on apiaries) and my side-hustle in the booze game, and we were already high on the hog.
Back to the beer labels. Aside from the long history of pigs in cider and beer advertising, Andrea had wanted a visual shorthand for the play/pleasure outputs of CARNEVALE. It’s also a bit of a sad truth that most humans need to see that animal rights will benefit them somehow. I mentioned that this was taking place in Scottish craft-beer supernova BrewDog, who had recently launched a doggy offshoot of their shares scheme, Equity for Punks, jauntily renamed Equity for Pups. I can’t help myself, really; I just like to sass people out. And so Equity For Pigs it was.
Now we needed a distiller. Not just any distiller; a local one, a creative one, one that maybe hadn’t been established for so long that Development or some other hideous corporate entity blacklisted us for being Detrimental To The Integrity Of The Brand.
And so, while Pace was busy doing what Pace does, Andrew spied Holyrood. He emailed me about this new place that seemed to be under construction, and who might be amenable to a chat.
Let’s skip forward through this next part and state simply that they were, indeed, amenable. A new venture for a crew of Canadians and Scots, they’re bringing single-malt distilling back to Edinburgh after a 100 years. It’s a testament to their charm, progressiveness (and cracking product) that they crowd-funded an astonishing £5.8 million to found their new site.
And what a site it is.
Beauty aside, what drew us to Holyrood was their drive for innovation, for complexity, for excellence. They are complementing the literal landscape, but changing the metaphorical one. You can see it in their careful redesign of their Victorian building; in the gleaming gallery windows ripe for pop-ups; in their plans for interactive visitor centre, and in the spritely delicacy of flavour in their gin. Our first meeting in their Shop was something else, and not just because we had seen a Jack Russell carrying a bottle of wine in its mouth on the way.
Soon, I’ll be interviewing Rob about his thoughts on the opening of the Distillery, on building mutually beneficial and circular, ‘maker’ economies in Edinburgh, and on sustainability practices. We’re also in talks about re-using draff from the whisky-distillation to make more sustainable, edible pig toys (as one does). My personal dream is to make a special edition of their Auld Tam gin called Auld Tamworth; a version for pigs (an apple water? Hazel cordial?) and one for humans, with a cheery Gorgie-City-Farm-ginger-pig label.
But more of that later. In the meantime, Holyrood will be opening their doors in the coming weeks. Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, remember that it is now your moral duty to consume some of their spirits; it’s for the pigs, you understand.
Photo credits: Norrie Russell, Abi L. Glen and Andrea Roe
Academia is a dystopia and its hellscape is The Conference. Our dictator is Intellectual Satisfaction; his shady hoodlum, Mark ‘The REF’ Scheme. We sit, crammed into the shambling abattoir of Another University’s Lecture Theatre, trying to keep up with the barrage of facts and references and references to the facts. Promises of coffee breaks morph into Kafkaesque nightmares. It’s cold, or hot. There is unflattering lighting. The chairs were designed by masochist with a taste bypass. And Christ, somebody has to live-Tweet all of this.
Imagine, if you will, a beautiful utopia. A bank of windows; the sight of grass; some intriguing neon ribbons floating in the wind. Seating designed to cosset, not crunch. It’s Sunday, and all through the ECA, not a creature is stirring…unless you count the dogs. And oh, such hounds! Abundant and shiny and curious, snuffling about their owners, shyly making new pals. Said owners, now, stand on their own hind legs with a beatific smile to deliver their papers. The caterer is serving us vegan rainbow realness. Students hand out name badges and little wooden tags for collars, while the lecturer (a vet) bends down to greet each beast with a treat.
Welcome to the More Than Human workshop, the brainchild of Dr Andrew Gardiner of R(D)SVS, and his students, third-year grad vets, Sayre Sundberg and Jesse Hirota. Their question was simple but thrilling: what might animal-centric academic events look like if we considered animal needs within the event itself? The term ‘interdisciplinary’ gets tossed about like a grubby tennis ball these days. I scoff at it, to be honest; I’m a medievalist, and we don’t get a choice: you learn the dead languages and the art history and the codicology and the philosophy before you get to do anything useful. But what Andrew, Sayre and Jesse created was a truly conscious and effective form of the term: the day was not just cross-discipline or cross-institution, but inter-species.
That last one is not to be sniffed at (sorry). I got some bemused reactions from colleagues about my ‘dog-friendly conference’. I am used to their good-natured snickering about my Animal Studies ways (though some are outright mischievous; my Principal Investigator mutters ‘sausages’ to wind me up every time I mention Equity For Pigs). But it was so much more than that, with huge credit going to Andrea for coming up with the goods in the afternoon session and for Cath’s install support on the day. Remember the intriguing neon ribbons I mentioned earlier? This was Talking Sticks/Moving Spaces: a temporary art installation on the lawn at Lauriston Place, designed for the Visiting Barkers (hereafter ‘VBs’) and their owners. After introductions from the Care Inspectorate’s Henry Mathias and Andrea herself, Prof.Jane Desmond walked us through the ethnography exercise for those sadly without pupper. Jane is a sociologist and dancer; her crash-course in how to observe interactions was almost balletic in content.
And then it was time: release the hounds! We padded out the doors with dogs in tow (or rather, the other way around) while our colleagues remained, notebooks in hand, to watch the 20 minute proceedings and draw, scrawl, and script their responses. The VBs investigated flowerpots smeared with peanut butter; a Ferrero-Rocher tower made of tennis balls; walls of neon streamers; giant rubber balls resembling blue bubbles; a scarecrow. Each had their own way of playing with the objects, with their owners, and with their fellow VBs. Here, some pictorial highlights:
Team More Than Human also managed to perfect the standard format of papers and talks: five speakers across disciplines, career and project stages, and a mini-reading group at the end of the day. I went first: a Brief History of Swine, where everyone was gamely cheered up by an overview of EFP after I’d provided a barrage of nasty medieval antisemitisms, butchery pictures, and bacon-flavoured prophylactics. Next came Jo Williams, a developmental psychologist at Edinburgh. Jo’s work really is the end-game of inter-species work: she researches the effects of violence and Adverse Childhood Experiences on human behaviour (including cruelty to animals), but also how these might be mitigated by work with companion animals. Andrew then treated us to his signature blend of ‘tonally light but intellectually substantial’ in the form of Accommodating Benjy, Benjy being the ‘queer steer’ and viral sensation. What might it mean for farm animals to be labelled ‘queer’, and why was it deemed a reason to preclude Benjy from the slaughterhouse over the others?
Rebecca Marsland followed with a fascinating insight into the politics of bee-hives, and how beekeepers meticulously allow for these to maximise the health (and, it must be said, productivity) of their bees. We closed with Maythe Han’s extraordinary self-ethnography. Maythe gave a moving account of how her disability has altered her temporality (to ‘crip time’), but also how rescuing Frank (her handsome Border Collie mix) from Russia has helped re-orient her sense of time and purpose while navigating her disability. Not only was Maythe’s paper raw and moving, but the structure of the workshop allowed for a nice visual representation of its themes: Frank refused to let Maythe hog all the limelight, and curled up at her feet during her talk.
And so we drew to a close. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on some outcomes and common threads from the day, beyond the (slightly) facetious suggestion that I should be allowed to bring one of the Gorgie Tamworths next time:
The possibility that animals can be part of academic space: confirmed
The difficulties and allowances that need to be made for them (e.g. comfort breaks, silent clapping)
The irreverence which the animals brought allowed for ice-breaking, but also brought a paradoxical sense of calm, and this actually facilitated academic discussion
The success of physical, interactive break-out sessions
Guerrilla ethnographies and their usefulness
So what next? Not to put undue pressure on Sayre, Andrew and Jesse, but. The people (and the pups) demand a repeat performance: an annual gathering where we can keep pushing the boundaries of what it means to be More Than Human.
During the preparations for Carnevale, Andrea and myself constructed an interactive pig toy similar to ‘Kerplunk’, that favourite game for the lawless last day of school. Our doughtier scaled-up version had to withstand the intrigued exploration of a dozen ‘growers’ at the SRUC farm. These are mid-sized pigs, that stand around knee-height, but have the tenacious strength of a large dog.
We took half an old whisky barrel and drilled holes in it, enjoying the smell of the previously booze-soaked oak. We pushed long poles through these holes to span the barrel and cut a large hole on the base. We raised the whole thing up on four sturdy legs, so that wily animals couldn’t pick fruit off the top, buffet style. As pigs cannot lift or turn their heads easily, the lip of the barrel was just higher than their snouts, so they had to pull out the poles to release the fruit stacked in there. The sticks were not splintery, and short enough to allow the pigs to manoeuvre around.
When the time came to introduce this ‘fruit machine’ to the pigs, Marianne gathered them behind a pig board, enabling us to lower the Pig Kerplunk into place and heap it with red apples, pomegranates and crunchy pinecones.
The pigs approached cautiously. On scenting the bounty within, they worked quickly, and efficiently. After around 10 seconds chewing on the sticks (or planning their strategy), they shoved the barrel over and ate the delicious spoils.
We hardly saw it coming.
And so we presented our improved version of Pig Kerplunk at the Future Farms event in NMRL at Kittochside. A larger whisky barrel was bought and drilled. A stout stand was constructed from pitch pine rafters, with jointed legs angled to counter the horizontal forces of peckish pigs. A loose lattice of poles was carefully positioned to temporarily contain six bags of apples and some pinecones until the poles are jiggled and removed. Then jackpot! the apples would cascade onto the ground, rewarding the pigs for their own ingenuity with our human largesse.
In the sharp cold of February, we set up our solid, improved Pig Kerplunk in the little yard next to the pigsty. Visitors to the Future Farms event gathered around the fence to get good views. The poles were positioned strategically in the barrel and the scarlet apples were stacked on top. Matthew then let us artists out and the pigs into the yard. Two female Tamworths, gleaming coats the colour of copper fuse-wire, emerged like they were first in the queue for a jumble sale. A third sow stayed inside as she was ‘a bit grumpy’ to borrow Matthew’s understated phrase. He is used to balancing the expectations of vast pigs and an audience more accustomed to Peppa and her pals. The Tamworths circled the yard and sniffed the air and knew there were apples nearby. They snuffled along the hazel poles and around the barrel, intrigued by its wild woods and pub fire whiffs. One pig tugged a pole, rattling the apples and making us raise our cameras expectantly. After a bit more tentative chewing, a sow reared onto her back legs to look inside the barrel, and her weight splintering a support, tipping the barrel enough to reveal its juicy contents. It was then just a scant moment until the pigs twigged and used the drawn-out poles to lever the entire contraption over and enjoy their cornucopia.