The Pig That Wanted To Be Eaten
When I began writing "The Pig That Wanted To Be Eaten" I had no idea that it would one day be published, or, in fact, that anyone else but me would ever read it. It was, I guess you'd call it, a labour of love. Or maybe not; it was born out of need, not desire. I guess a word that might fit comfortably here would be 'catharsis'. But anyway, here it is, and here you are, reading it.
My sources of fact are mainly newspaper articles, taken from the internet, because that's what I've got access to. Books are difficult for me, and anyway, there's no library here. A lot of the information I've used is just what I've been told by people I've known, but I've tried to reference what I can.
Since this whole process of publication has started I've been thinking a lot about why I did this. When I started out it just seemed natural to try and find out the facts, and to set them down as accurately as possible. Now, I'm not so sure.
S.P. August 2034
The Pig, if I am not mistaken,
Supplies us sausage, ham, and Bacon.
Let others think his heart is big,
I think it stupid of the Pig.
In February of the year 1981 the science fiction writer Douglas Adams published the second part of his Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. In it, he postulated a solution to the ethical crisis facing those who, though they really wanted to eat meat, could not countenance the killing of an innocent animal.
It was decided to cut through the whole tangled problem and breed an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly. And here I am. (Adams, 1986: 73)
More than twenty years later, in July of 2005, the first critical study of the idea appeared. Though largely philosophical rather than scientific in tone, Julian Baggini's seminal work The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten was an important step, bringing Adams' idea into the focus of the intellectual establishment and creating a flurry of popular interest. This was the year that UK scientists first successfully cloned a human embryo (Sample, 2005); this was the year of the House of Lords ruling that "the creation of 'designer babies' to treat siblings with genetic disorders [is] lawful" (Andalo, 2005); this was the year that Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, a novel telling the story of such a child, topped the bestseller charts. After the war on terror, stem cell research and genetic engineering were the topics on everyone's lips.
The moral climate of the time was highly divisive. While scientists forged ahead in the battle to cure genetic disorders such as Parkinson's and motor neurone disease, pro-life extremists who had previously limited their assassination attempts to abortionists now found new targets. But the march of progress would eventually all but silence these dissenting voices, as Julian Baggini predicted.
The protagonist of [Adams'] novel, Arthur Dent, recoiled in horror at the suggestion [of an animal that wanted to be eaten], describing it as 'the most revolting thing I've ever heard'... but as Zaphod Beeblebrox objected to Dent, surely it's 'better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten'? Dent's response seems to be no more than a version of the 'yuck factor' - the kind of instinctive recoil that people feel when confronted by something that doesn't seem natural, even if there are no moral problems with it. (Baggini, 2005: 14-15)
It had been the same, Baggini argued, with organ transplants and blood transfusions some years previously. While these had seemed 'freakish' when first conceived, by 2005 "the idea that they are morally wrong [had] died out, apart from among a few religious sects ... [Is] there any good reason", he concluded, "why the vegetarian of today should not share a table with [Arthur Dent] just as soon as his menu becomes a reality?"
Baggini's dream, however, was just that. The technology of the time was too limited to hope for its immediate realisation, and the attention of the public - a fickle creature at best - soon waned. Just a few months after the publication of the book it had been all but forgotten, and the story of the pig that wanted to be eaten was put on hold.
The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.
It was picked up again six years later, in 2011, under the guise of the G----- corporation's 'Green Meat' project, a project initiated by the American geneticist Ian Cram, whose aim was the eventual commercial production of animals such as those Baggini described.
Cram had been marked out as a prodigious talent during his time at MIT, and it came as no surprise when in 2008, on completion of his dissertation, he received along with his doctorate an immediate offer of employment from G----- which promised him the funds and the freedom to take his research in any direction he so wished, provided there was an eventual commercial application. He accepted, and quickly relocated to a facility in the UK, where laws surrounding genetic research were far less prohibitive than in the Christian Right dominated US. It was here that, three years later, he was able to start putting into practice the ideas he had gleaned from reading Baggini, and project 'Green Meat' was born.
In April of 2011, a meeting to discuss the incipient project was held in the G----- research facility where Cram was based. Attending were Cram himself, the small group of scientists he had chosen to work with, the director and assistant director of the facility, several other visiting executives, an accountant and two of the corporation's lawyers. Cram and his team set out the problem as they saw it, breaking it down into its constituent parts and explaining to their audience exactly how they hoped to overcome each obstacle and what resources they would require to do so.
There were, they said, two distinct aspects to the problem: creating an animal that held the desire to be eaten, and creating an animal capable of expressing that desire. As there would be no way of knowing whether an animal held the desire to be eaten if it was not capable of expressing it, a solution to the second problem was a necessary prerequisite to a solution of the first. That second part, continued Cram, could be further subdivided: the animal must first be able to understand such basic concepts as the self, desire, and being eaten, and it must then be able to convey these concepts in a language and a medium understandable by humans. For maximum commercial viability, this must be speech.
Cram and his team proposed that the best approach to this half of the problem would be to attempt to isolate the DNA responsible, in humans, for the creation of vocal chords and for the parts of the brain that deal with language and self-image, and to experiment with the insertion of this DNA into pig chromosomes. The pig had been chosen as the initial test animal, not just as a result of the title of Baggini's book, but also due to important similarities between the two species whose DNA was to be mixed. The same reasons that had made pigs ideal for use as organ donors - the first successful pig to human xenotransplant had been performed, after years of failed experiments, two years before (Sample, 2009) - also made them ideal, argued Cram, as recipients of human DNA in the planned experiments. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly in this case, the smell and taste of cooked pig and human flesh are identical, so there would be a much smaller chance of a detrimental effect on the marketability of the final product.
On the second part of the problem there was some disagreement among the scientists. Three of the seven, including Cram, believed that creating an animal which held the desire to be eaten was simply a matter of finding the gene for wanting to be eaten, and turning it on. The other four scientists were less confident in the omnipotence of DNA. The desire to be eaten, they contended, was not a physical attribute that could be determined by genes, but a behavioural one, that was determined by upbringing. It would thus be necessary to find a way of inculcating a desire to be eaten in an already existing animal. The methodology such an operation would require, they added, was outside their field; it was the province of psychology, not genetics.
The argument between the two groups of scientists was a restating of an age-old debate; one that has been posed, in one form or another, for thousands of years, and since the latter half of the 20th century had been commonly referred to as 'nature v. nurture'. There are myriad discussions of the subject available in both the popular literature and in serious scientific journals; a typical formulation can be found in Richard Lane's book of the same year as the meeting of Cram and his scientists.
Are we all slaves to our genetic destinies? Merely acting out a script that is preordained from conception? Or do we start life as a 'blank slate', a tabula rasa on which each day engraves new chains? It is not much of a choice; but it is a choice ... For if we believe that our genes are us then we have no hope for change ... If, however, we believe that who we are is not innate, but a result of past experience, of upbringing - well, this we have hope to neuter. (Lane, 2011: 3)
As is evident from Lane, by the early 21st Century all pretence at objectivity had been abandoned from the debate. Few, if any writers attempted to shed new light on the problem through research; instead, those who had a political, religious or egotistic point to make would adopt the position that best suited their bias and arrange the facts accordingly. Cram and the two who supported him belong, sadly, in this category also, although it is perhaps understandable why a man who had devoted his entire life to genetics might have wished to hold an exaggerated belief in the importance of his discipline.
In 2011, however, Cram's position was still tenable, and the two groups of scientists could come to no easy resolution. The final decision, when it was made, was made by the G----- executives: work on the first phase would begin immediately, and a psychologist would be added to the team to plan for and oversee the second. This decision against Cram was based for the most part not on scientific but on financial considerations - although it is of course possible that some of the executives present had read Escaping the Prison of Self - and it was also the first restriction that had been imposed on Cram since the start of his tenure at G-----. An impingement on his ego and his sense of authority, it shook the rosy picture Cram had previously held of the corporation, and sowed the seeds of discontentment that would eventually lead to his acrimonious departure from the company some twelve years later.
I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.
George Bernard Shaw
The first test subject to survive infancy was born just seven years later, on the 6th of June 2018, part of a litter of three successful pregnancies which had themselves been part of a batch of eighteen successfully fertilised embryos. Over the years, Cram and his team had refined the procedures involved in creating the embryos and become increasingly adept at employing them, and such success stories were no longer uncommon; however, prior to this litter no piglet had survived past the first twelve days. This was partly due to the method of birth: the larger heads of the piglets - a result of their increased brain size; an effect of the human DNA added to their chromosomes - meant that it was necessary to deliver them by caesarean section in all cases. The larger brains also meant that the foetus needed longer in order to fully develop; the normal gestation period of a domestic pig is four months, in humans it is nine, in this new hybrid it was somewhere in between. However, the sow carrying the litter would go into labour after four months regardless, and as a result the piglets were routinely born dangerously premature. At birth each piglet was transferred to an incubator where it would be connected to a respirator and an intravenous glucose/saline drip, but despite constant supervision by the medical and veterinary personnel drafted into the project for that purpose, the mortality rate of piglets during the first day remained extremely high. Unusually, however, of the three piglets born that day, two survived the first 24 hours; the third pig and runt of the litter dying a little over eight hours after birth of disseminated intravascular coagulation.
The two remaining piglets were the strongest yet produced, and after two weeks had passed - a time longer than any previous piglet had survived - they were tentatively named. In a further week, it was hoped, Salt and Pepper would be strong enough to be removed from their incubators, and in just a few short months attempts could begin to instil in the young pigs the rudiments of communication. Sadly, just two days after her christening at the hands of the scientists, Pepper contracted pneumonia, and after a short but laborious battle succumbed to the disease. Salt, however, survived, and made the transition from the incubator as smoothly as was hoped some eleven days later.
David Pearce, a doctor in comparative psychology, had been added to the Green Meat team as a result of the meeting of 2011 and had since been working on a methodology to be employed in the second phase of the project. As well as establishing in the engineered pigs a desire to be eaten, he was faced with the additional difficulty of developing the ability of these hybrid animals to employ the more human brain and vocal structures that Cram and his team had endowed them with. It was a task that had no precedent, and Salt, given to Pearce upon safely reaching the age of four months, was his first and at that time only available test subject.
Pearce decided that he would concentrate his efforts solely on the development of Salt's capability for speech, rather than immediately attempting to implant in him the desire to be eaten. This acted as a control: by not attempting to mould the pig's psyche he would be able to study its normal development, gaining valuable insight which could then be fed back into his plans for subsequent pigs. It also meant that any problems encountered could safely be attributed not to some flaw in his method, but to unforeseen side-effects of the engineering carried out by Cram.
His first step was to develop a version of baby sign language - a way of communicating with children too young to talk popularised in the early years of the century - modified to fit both pig and human physiology. In this way he could lay down the groundwork of communication with Salt while he was still unable to form words. The technique paid off: soon Salt was able to convey a variety of desires and states of mind to the psychologist through the use of gesture and body language. Pearce would repeat, slowly, the appropriate word each time he or Salt made a sign, trying gradually to inch forward towards verbal communication. He would read books to Salt, especially those stories that contained pigs; DVD's of children's programmes were often played; and Pearce and his colleagues would take every opportunity to talk to the piglet.
The noises the piglet made in return were not fully human, but they were not entirely porcine either. In his suicide note dated January 2024, Pearce describes how each day he took encouragement as the sounds made by Salt became less random, more structured, and talks of his increasing delight as, months in to their relationship, they started to resemble syllables rather than squeals. "Those days were some of the happiest of my life" (Pearce in Day, 2024). The two of them, perhaps inevitably, became very close during this period. Salt would visibly perk up when the time came for his visit from the psychologist, and stand snuffling, excited, waiting for him, and Pearce himself enjoyed these visits no less. As one worker at the facility put it: "When he would go to see the piglet, you could see its tail shoot up, and his." (Anon., in Lewis, 2024)
In this way Pearce continued his tuition of the piglet, and Salt continued thriving under his care, until some two months before his first birthday he uttered a sound that was very much like his name and all of Pearce's work came to fruition: "Sol". It was the first word ever to be spoken by a pig. Pearce and his colleagues were overjoyed with their success, and the pig, sensing their happiness, repeated his newfound trick over and over again, to ever increasing jubilation from his audience.
The celebration would be short-lived, however: later that month Salt would suffer a severe stroke which would leave him completely paralysed down his left side; this would be followed just days later by another, from which he would not recover. From subsequent batches of animals - all of which died much younger than Salt but from similar complications - it became clear to the scientists that the genetic stock engineered by Cram suffered from a fatal flaw, and that Salt, by surviving for as long as he did, had been the exception rather than the rule.
I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.
By early 2022 Cram had ironed out this difficulty and was able to produce, with a reasonable success rate, healthy piglets carrying the modified chromosomes. Although the death of Salt had hit Pearce hard - he had taken some time off his job for G----- before being assigned, in the interim, to work in other areas of the corporation - he was now in a position to begin in earnest the implementation of his idea on an initial test batch of a dozen animals.
Pearce's thesis: that to create in the piglets a desire to be eaten, he would form in them as they grew up an association between being eaten and happiness. In order to achieve this, every aspect of the piglets' upbringing was to be coordinated. He had already commissioned a series of picture books which, though all different, shared the same basic structure; the protagonist of each was a happy young pig whose greatest desire, fulfilled by the end of the story, was to be killed, cooked and eaten by his or her young human master and companion in adventure. A number of films had also been produced, along similar lines. These would be constantly reinforced by the staff of the facility, who had been instructed to refer cheerfully and often to "that wonderful time to come in which we would ourselves devour our charges [the piglets]. We were encouraged to discuss the specifics of cooking, to smile, and to say: 'If you're a good pig, you'll taste especially nice'."(Anon., in Lewis, 2023).
The results were not positive. Although initially the piglets' development mirrored that of Salt, towards the end of their first year they started to become unresponsive to Pearce and the others who worked with him. As their linguistic ability began to take shape, they used it, conversely, less and less, becoming quieter and more introverted each day. This decline, slow but persistent, continued until eventually every one of the animals had almost completely withdrawn from the world that surrounded them. The pigs would sit unmoving in the same spot for hours, their eyes glazed, oblivious to outside stimuli, reacting only if one of the staff moved close enough to touch them. Then they would flinch back violently and cry out: "a guttural, horrible sound", wrote Pearce, "somewhere between a pig's grunt and a child's scream" (Pearce in Day, 2024). More often than not this would set off the others and it would be necessary to restrain and sedate them all, as the noise of the twelve animals together would bring angry complaints from those working on projects in adjoining areas of the facility. And as the piglets retreated into themselves, so did their master. In an article published shortly after his death, a lab technician who worked with him during those months described the change that came over Pearce: "He just seemed to close up. He was always a pleasant person to work with, chatty, but after Salt died he was never the same. After the other pigs started doing what they did, he wouldn't talk so much anymore. Later on, he just seemed so tired all the time that it would cost him too much effort to speak."(Anon., in Lewis, 2024)
It was clear that Pearce's technique had not been a success, and so a meeting was called to decide the fate of the pigs, and of the project. The geneticists who had worked on the first phase of the project had since been moved on to new areas of research, and were not invited to the meeting. Cram, however, still saw the Green Meat project as essentially his own, and this lack of consideration on the part of the directors reopened old wounds. He still held that the proper course for the second phase of the project would have been to search for a 'desire to be eaten' gene, and saw Pearce's failure as his vindication in the matter.
Over the years Cram had come to resent the psychologist, whose liberal views clashed with his own republican politics - Pearce had once teasingly pointed out that it was the policies of Cram's own Republican Party which forced him to live in exile in order to pursue his chosen profession - and as the project was moved gradually out of his hands this resentment had grown deeper. The meeting was the last straw; when he found out it had been held and he had not been invited Cram angrily confronted the director of the facility with an argument for his position that consisted largely of overblown defamations on Pearce's character. He demanded that he be put back in charge of the project, and that the search for a 'desire to be eaten' gene begin at once. In reply, the director told Cram in no uncertain terms that his outburst was inappropriate and unwelcome, and in future would he please keep such opinions to himself. Cram, incensed, had cleared his desk and left by the end of the week.
Pearce fared no better as a result of the meeting: he appeared before the board of directors a broken man, timid and cowed, struggling to make eye contact and talking in a voice that was almost inaudible. When asked if he knew where his method had gone wrong he replied, simply, "no". Neither did he put forward any new proposals for experimentation with the piglets. Instead, he excused himself quietly and left part way through the meeting, after being granted leave of absence in order to seek treatment for some "personal problems of mine that have come to the fore in recent months" (Anon. quoting Pearce, in Lewis 2024). Those remaining quickly agreed on the outstanding issues: the existing pigs were to be put down and a new batch created for experimentation; Pearce was to be replaced by a psychologist new to the project; and should he in fact return from his leave of absence he would be given a sideways promotion to a different area of the corporation.
Litigation, n. A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.
The following day (11th August 2013) the Daily Mail ran with a headline on its front page: "FRANKENSTEIN PIGS: FIRST THEY WERE TORTURED, NOW THEY WILL BE KILLED". The Sun ran a similar story: "PIG WORKER SQUEALS". As a result of the previous night's decision to terminate the pigs a technician at the G----- facility had turned whistle-blower, and over the next few days the details of the Green Meat project were splashed over the front pages of every British newspaper. Activists from environmental, animal rights and anti-genetic engineering pressure groups picketed the facility, and by the end of the week had combined their resources to assemble a formal legal challenge to the corporation's plans.
Their case consisted of three main allegations against G----- intended to prevent the termination of the pigs and to halt work on the Green Meat project for good. The first of these was that the mixing of human and pig DNA carried out by the corporation was in itself illegal, as the proportion of human DNA in the embryos qualified them for consideration under the laws proscribing the cloning of humans for anything other than medical necessity. This, they argued, was reason enough to scrap the project. The two other allegations rested on the assertion that, as a result of the engineering that had endowed the pigs with some of the cognitive capacity of humans - crucially the ability to give consent - they should also be entitled to the same rights as humans in a court of law. Following from this, they argued that the work carried out by Pearce in the second phase of the project would be considered torture under the Human Rights Act (1998), and that any killing of the pigs without first obtaining their express consent, as outlined in the Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Act (2007), would constitute murder.
The case went to the High Court that November. In answer to the allegations brought against the corporation, counsel for the defence John Begley QC asked Judge Sir Andrew Keay to consider the wider ramifications a judgement against G----- would incur. There was, he told the court, "a strong medical tradition" of the mixing of animal and human DNA; even more so the mixing of pig and human DNA; without the ability to experiment in these areas free of restrictions, would the scientists of generations past have been able to give us custom grown replacement organs, or the ability to screen embryos for debilitating genetic disorders? (Begley in Fowles, 2023) Further to this, argued Begley, while the modified pigs certainly did have some human-like characteristics, they were still recognisably non-human. Didn't we all, he asked, sometimes like to see human characteristics in animals; in our pets, for example? Wouldn't giving these animals the same rights as humans demean us all? And could the work carried out by Pearce really be called torture anyway? The pigs had been given food, water, and brought up in a luxury not commonly afforded to such animals. Now, of course, the pigs had withdrawn from all this; of late they had had to be fed by drip to keep them alive while awaiting the outcome of the trail. They were no longer able to give consent to anything, or even to survive without constant medical care; was it really the ethical thing to do, Begley concluded by asking, "to keep these poor animals shackled to a life they so clearly want to leave?" (Ibid)
The judgement of the court left neither side entirely satisfied. Summing up, the Hon. Mr. Justice Keay gave an impassioned speech in which he highlighted the importance of scientific progress in all areas of life, citing - as had the G----- lawyers - the many life-saving techniques developed though genetic engineering in the past, and stressing the great debt the vegetarian public would owe to G----- should the Green Meat project prove a success. However, he added, it was imperative to preserve the sanctity of life and of the laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide. The 2007 Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide Act clearly stated that "explicit and unambiguous consent must be given"; and as these genetically modified animals had been created with the explicit purpose of allowing them to give consent, it would be "both churlish and contradictory of [the corporation] to then deny the importance of their right to exercise it." (Keay in Fowles, 2023) While the Green Meat project itself was lawful and could continue, he ruled, the corporation had a 'duty of care' to the pigs it had created; a duty of care which expressly prohibited their non-consensual termination.
Under the ruling, G----- was obliged to pay for the creation of an institution charged with caring for the pigs - who by this point needed twenty four hour supervision in order to survive - and to fund its maintenance until either they died from natural causes or the time came when they were once again communicative enough to give consent to their deaths, or otherwise. For this purpose a rest home for the elderly which had recently been shut down as unprofitable (the increasing life expectancy of those living in Britain and the resultant high ratio of old to young citizens had led to the abolishment of the state pension in 2019 (Fillis, 2019), and only the very rich could now afford such care) was bought by the company, and the pigs transferred there.
This extra cost hung heavy over the meeting of G----- executives convened to decide whether the Green Meat project continued to be a financially viable proposition, or whether it was time for the corporation to cut its losses and cease work on the project altogether, despite the hard-won court ruling that it was lawful. Subsequent batches of pigs, it was feared, could suffer a similar fate and so incur further costs. However, despite these reservations the project was given the green light to continue, and after the appointment of a psychologist to replace Pearce, who would be found hanging from the rafters of his Suffolk home the following month, work was resumed.
Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.
Dr. John Firth, Oxford graduate, snowboarder, and passionate conservationist (Douglas, 2025), believed that the failure of his predecessor lay in his underestimation of the power of the survival instinct. Pearce's tactics of attempting to associate desired behaviour with feelings of happiness basically amounted to positive reinforcement, and this was nothing new. While such an approach could reasonably be expected to succeed in training the pigs to behave in ways which were not harmful to them, Pearce's attempt to work against the survival instinct and link happiness with self immolation had, in Firth's view, caused an irresolvable conflict in the pigs' psyches which was in turn responsible for the rapid deterioration of their mental states. What was needed, Firth intuited, was a way to create in the pigs a desire to be eaten that was stronger than their natural desire to live, and exploiting happiness alone was not sufficient for this.
Firth began by looking for examples of suicidal behaviour occurring in the natural world. If he could ascertain what motives would make a wild animal wish to end its own life, there was a good chance this information could be used to manipulate the desires of the pigs in his care. However, to his consternation he found such examples to be extremely thin on the ground. Even lemmings, he discovered, which to this day are still commonly believed to commit suicide in times of over-population, do not kill themselves. From numerous scandalised reports on internet sites, Firth learnt that the popular myth that lemmings will intentionally jump to their deaths from cliff-tops in fact resulted from the 1958 Disney nature documentary, White Wilderness, in which a group of about two dozen lemmings imported to Canada for the purpose were forcefully herded over the edge of a cliff for the camera, after being filmed on a spinning, snow covered turntable to create what appeared to be a sequence of lemming migration.
Having found no answer in the animal kingdom, Firth turned to humanity for help. Though sceptical of their relevance at first, he gradually began to uncover a growing number of documented cases in which people had willingly consented to being butchered and devoured by cannibal acquaintances. The first such case reported took place in Germany as far back as 2001, when cannibal Armin Meiwes was arrested after killing and eating part of 43-year-old computer engineer Bernd Jürgen Brandes, who he had met after placing an advert on the internet (Harding, 2004). As the years passed, reports of similar incidents became more and more common in the press (Miller, 2008; Scholes, 2016; Scholes, 2018).
On inspection, it soon became clear to Firth that one thing linked every single one of these cases: their sexual motivation. Eating and being eaten was a sexual act both for the cannibal and his victim. And having spotted this, the psychologist "could have kicked myself for not realising earlier. What else but the libido could successfully counteract an animal's natural instinct for survival?" (Firth in Douglas, 2025). Armed with this insight Firth prepared to work with a new batch of twenty of the engineered piglets, intent on appropriating their sex drives for his own ends.
It soon became apparent that there was an additional but at first overlooked advantage to his method. Because the pigs would not become sexually active until puberty - in the modified pigs this occurred between 7-9 months - their desire to be eaten would not kick in until this stage, a time which coincided perfectly with the ideal time of slaughter needed to produce the best meat. However, Firth's method also threw up new problems. While Pearce had been able to begin his attempts to link happiness with being eaten very early in the pigs' lives, the same was not true for Firth's attempts to mould the pigs' sexualities. To be successful, Firth believed, it was imperative not to begin too early, before their sexuality had begun to develop (although there was no way of knowing what effect this might have, his gut instinct was that it would not be positive), or too late, when their sexuality would be too fully formed to be properly sculpted. A fine line had to be drawn. Eventually it was decided not to interfere with the pigs' normal development - aside from the tuition necessary for the acquisition of language - for the first five months. It was hoped that starting just slightly before the outward signs of sexual development became evident would catch the pigs at just the right time.
The techniques Firth and his team decided on were similar in several ways to those used by his predecessor, apart from certain important differences. Books were no longer used, as he believed they were not immediate enough in their effect. Instead, the use of films was stepped up and the content of the films altered. While Pearce had employed narrative within his films, Firth believed this to be superfluous, even detrimental to the aim of the project. The films used by Firth consisted entirely of shots of pigs being killed and eaten. These were filmed from the perspective of the pig in order to encourage the piglets watching the film to identify with the consumed protagonist, and the human acting in the video would look straight into the camera as they described, lovingly, each stage of the process. The pig's death would be followed by a short cooking montage, and finally, the shot would cut to a camera pointed upwards from beneath a transparent plate covered in the cooked meat. As more and more of the pig-meat was consumed by the actor, the joyous expression on their masticating face would slowly become visible to the watching piglets.
The films were to be shown to the piglets, two to three times a day, from the age of five months. While they were played, pig pheromones would be released from vents surrounding the video monitors and the piglets would be sexually stimulated by workers at the facility. Each film had been made to last a little over twenty minutes - slightly longer than the average time taken for a boar to ejaculate - so the screening could be started shortly before the piglets' orgasms began, and finish at roughly the same time. Ideally, the moment of the on-screen pig's death would coincide exactly with the start of ejaculation. In this way, it was hoped, the piglets would masochistically identify with the pigs on the screen and the link between sexual arousal and consumption would be made.
As a result of this technique one further limitation came into play; because only male pigs would be constantly sexually active and only male pigs would be susceptible to stimulation in such a manner, female pigs could no longer be used on the project. Normal, unmodified sows would still be kept in order to bear the genetically modified embryos, but in future these would be screened for sex to eliminate female offspring.
Despite high hopes for Firth's new technique, the development of the piglets once again went badly wrong. The presence of pheromones proved insufficient to persuade the piglets to direct their attention to the films Firth had constructed, and notwithstanding the physical pleasure that stimulation by the staff could offer, they refused to cooperate, often violently, in this activity as well. After two weeks of failed attempts and numerous injuries sustained by staff of the facility it was acceded that restraints were necessary if the treatment was to continue, and harnesses capable of holding the piglets in place with head held forward, eyes forced open, and easy access to their genitals were hurriedly constructed. However, this use of force created an attitude of confrontation between the pigs and their carers which extended to all areas of interaction between them.
Restraints in place, the treatment continued, and soon enough daily exposure to the films and stimulation by the staff began to leave its mark on the piglets, although not in the way Firth had intended. About two months in they began to react nervously to the smallest of noises, woof, then stand rooted to the spot, squealing horribly if forced to move. Before long anything at all would elicit this reaction, even - it seemed to the staff - if it was imaginary. The pigs were becoming nervous wrecks: when they weren't frantically scanning the room they were rubbing themselves manically against any protruding objects - door handles, the edges of tables - that they could find in the sparse laboratory environment. In the end even these few corners had to be removed or cushioned so they could not break the piglets' skin. By the time they were ten months old, their state had deteriorated so much that Firth had no choice but one by one to pronounce them as failures, and send them to join their predecessors in the "pig asylum" (Lewis, 2025).
However, not all the piglets suffered this fate. If they had, perhaps the project's attempts might have ended there. This could have been the end of the story of the pig that wanted to be eaten. They didn't, though; it wasn't. Nineteen of the piglets went this way, and joined their 'parents' in the asylum, but one did not. This one single piglet responded to the treatment Firth had devised exactly as was hoped, developed a desire to be eaten while remaining stable enough to communicate with the outside world, and although the G----- team found it impossible to determine why one piglet would respond to the treatment and nineteen would not, this did not prevent the team and Firth from celebrating this as their ultimate victory.
Weke, weke! So cries a pig prepared to the spit.
I don't remember much of the first ten months of my life: the films; the 'stimulation'; my siblings. When I do it comes back to me in snatches, like a dream, and I'm left unsure if what I'm feeling is real at all, or just my imagination playing a particularly nasty trick. Now, of course, after I've written all this and found out what I have, I know it was real all along. But that makes no difference to my mind; it still feels as dreamlike as it ever did.
Part of the reason I remember so little of that time, I'm sure, is that there was so little to remember. We were expensive, important animals, and the last thing the scientists who had created us wanted was for us to pick up some infection, die on them, and spoil their plans. So we never left the cold, sterile white of the laboratory. There was always space to move around, and every day we'd have 'exercise' - we were being reared for our meat, after all - but every part of that building looked the same, and every part of it smelt of the same kind of disinfectant. It's no wonder my memories of it have all blurred into one. The few things that broke up the whiteness - the leather tang of the harnesses, the stale smell of the other pigs' fear - they're the only details that come back with anything approaching clarity.
It's funny how I can remember the smells of my siblings, but not what they look like. I don't even remember looking at them; looking them in the eye, I mean. Is that something only humans do? We kept ourselves to ourselves, I guess. We'd been given this great 'gift' - language - but I don't think any of us spoke a word to each other. Talking was just something you did with the staff of the facility; because they seemed to want you to, and because things would go better for you if you did and worse for you if you didn't. I don't think any of us even realised we could use what we were learning for ourselves. But even if we had, what would we have said?
My clearest memory of that time is of the blanket I slept on, probably because it was neither white nor disinfected. It was a dull, bluey red, heavily bobbled, and would tickle the underside of my belly if I grazed it, or scratch satisfyingly if held in place with a trotter and scraped along. It was miles away from the slippery, reflective surface of the laboratory floor. Thinking about it now, they probably had any number of blankets identical to that one, which they'd swap round at intervals so the ones that had been used could be washed. Back then, though, I had no idea about this. All I knew was that this thing I'd slowly become used to, I'd started to consider as part of me, would periodically and without warning become almost as alien to me as the rest of my surroundings. When that happened I'd be reluctant to lie down on it for a while, and I'd stand awkwardly in my pen, snuffling, until the urge to scratch myself on it grew stronger than the weirdness I felt. Either that or I'd chew on the bar until I was relaxed enough not to worry so much. Pretty soon the blanket would start to feel like mine again.
The films I don't remember at all, for whatever reason. I didn't find out about them until much later. Like I said, I can still remember the sour smell of the harness, where it bit into my skin and held me in place, but why they put me in it or what happened when they did, for a long time I had no idea. They must have stopped showing them to me just in time. I guess they saw what was happening to the other pigs, and after a while it didn't seem sensible to continue, even to them.
I don't think I started noticing the other pigs until they started taking them away. It was always the loudest ones that would go, the ones that never shut up squealing, so when they went they left a silence behind them that was louder than any of the noises they'd made, which had been so ever-present anyway they'd felt like part of the air. By the time I was the last one left - I guess that's when they realised the films weren't worth continuing with.
Once every day I'd be taken from my pen and led through to another room of the compound. There'd be a different blanket for me to sit on, and a man in white who'd point to himself and say, "John". He'd smile a lot, and talk to me, and I'd be given treats if I replied. I could understand most of what he said easily enough - he'd speak in slow, measured tones to make it easier - but then as now I found it more difficult to form words than to think them; my snout isn't a hundred percent piggish, but it's not ideally suited to talking, either. But I tried; the treats were good, and he seemed happy enough with what I could manage, which was mainly just single word answers: 'yes', and occasionally a 'no', although saying 'no' wasn't something that was really encouraged.
Sometimes, not every day but maybe once a week or so, he'd mention the word 'food', or talk about eating. When he did, a powerful sensation would rise up inside me and completely take me over. I'd start champing my jaws and grunting wildly. I'd get so excited I'd start foaming at the mouth. Hearing him talk about eating me turned me on so much that every muscle in my body would tense up. My skin would tingle where the harness had pressed into me and I'd just stand there; it was all I could do. He'd carry on talking, saying something, but what I had no idea; the blood would have rushed to my ears and I'd be deafened by the roar it would make. Oh, and one other thing: my 'pork sword' would rise to attention, and its corkscrew tip would throb with the same nervous energy as the rest of me. 'Pork sword': I came across that pretty euphemism in some less than literary fiction I read not so long ago, in an attempt to wean myself onto it. It didn't work, needless to say, but at least I got a laugh out of trying.
After I'd calmed down enough to hear him talk again, which usually took a good ten minutes or so, he'd tell me what I was doing wrong, while being careful not to mention anything that might make my desire flare back up. I would never, he told me, get what I wanted if I behaved like that. The sight of me in that state, rooted to the spot, legs quivering, saliva frothing from the sides of my snout was enough to put anyone off their... off what I was wanting them to do. I had to learn control, restraint. I had to walk in there calmly, politely tell them what I wanted and not get worked up. Practice, he told me, was the only way I would achieve this. Well, I wanted it, I wanted it bad, so I listened to what he told me. But it was hard; to be in with a chance of feeding this violent hunger I felt, I had to hide all evidence of its existence.
At some point I was moved to different living quarters. I wasn't complaining; they were a lot less laboratory like than the laboratory I'd come from. I even had a run, which meant I could go outside during the day to sun myself, though it was locked at night. I think it must have been August, maybe the start of September, because I can remember going outside a lot when I first moved in, and it was nice and warm. Pretty soon though it got colder, and even if I wanted to go outside I was discouraged from doing so.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was moved there so the team could start work on a new batch of piglets. After a second expensive failure they'd had a tough time convincing the management to pour more funds into the project, but they'd had a trump card to play - me - and they'd played it well. I found out later that the directors of the facility were invited to sit in on one of my sessions, ostensibly behind a one-way mirror. Then they were shown what was actually a video of Firth asking me if I wanted to be eaten, and me answering, cool as you like, 'Yes'. I don't know how they fell for the mock-up but the project was given the green light once again.
Since his treatment had worked in my case, Firth was convinced it didn't need much, if any, alteration to work on other pigs. It was just a matter, he thought, of getting the timing right. However, I might as well tell you now, though as our meat is not available in the supermarkets I'm sure you already know: it didn't work. Firth and his team were never able to find out why their method worked in my case but none of the others, and despite several iterations of the process - all of which ended up in the same 'pig asylum' as the first - they did not have a single further success. Finally, in 2031, funding for the project was withdrawn.
I saw John Firth every day, but only for an hour or so and not at all at weekends. Most of the day to day chores involved in looking after me were handled by people further down the G----- ladder. After the move, they were almost entirely looked after by an Albanian woman I'd not met before, who introduced herself in a thick accent that at first I struggled to understand. "Fatmire. But... most people call me Fatty." She lived up to her handle. There's something G.K. Chesterton once said of pigs that I think equally applies to her: "Pigs are very beautiful animals... There is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves." I took that from a book she gave me, almost a year later, the last time we saw each other. A battered up copy of a book that must have been twenty years old, The Quotable Pig, that she'd copied onto larger pages made of some kind of plastic. That way, with a bit of effort I could turn them myself, and they wouldn't rip.
When I think of Fatty now, I miss her. I realise something I didn't then: she was my only friend at the facility. She was the one who'd read me stories, and encourage me to read; she even brought in books of her own, not sanctioned by Firth. (The Three Little Pigs especially I found intensely erotic, apart from the disappointing ending.) In fact, Fatty was the only one who'd talk to me outside of what they wanted to get out of me at all. Back then, though, I didn't realise any of this, and just ignored her. I must have had some kind of sixth sense for hierarchy, I guess, because I knew it didn't really matter if I answered when she spoke to me. It's not that she didn't give me treats - she was always bringing me titbits of food - it's just that I got them whether I spoke to her or not.
So at first I ignored her. But soon enough - and I'm sure the Three Little Pigs had something to do with this - I started thinking about her in a different way. Hearing her say "I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow the house down"; that would send shivers down my spine. I'm sure she didn't know she was doing it - she might not even have known the aim of the project - but she'd mention eating, and food, a lot. And when she did I'd just sit staring at her and fantasise. I'd feast my eyes on those bulges in her flesh, the way they pressed up against the cotton of her clothes and stretched it. I'd lose myself where two of her garments didn't quite meet, and a rounded ridge of pinky-brown skin would protrude from between them. And I'd imagine what it would be like to enter that body of hers, to become part of its bulges, its flesh, to make it swell up even more. When she caught me looking at her like this, or saw the state of my 'piece of meat', she'd go even pinker than before and stop talking. But that would only make me want her - or want her to want me - even more.
Fatty left though, and didn't eat me, although towards the end I asked her to often enough. But whenever I did she'd just shake her head, pat mine, smile ruefully and say "No, Uncle, you don't want me to eat you, you're just confused", or something similar. I've never been sure why she left. I hope it wasn't anything to do with me. I was so overcome with desire for her in those last months we spent together that I couldn't have acted any differently, I'm sure, even if I'd realised I needed to. I got pretty insistent towards the end, it's true. But I like to think it wasn't me, that she had her own reasons for leaving. After all, she gave me that book, and she taught me to read.
By the time Fatty left I had learned to control myself enough so that when asked, I could reply "Yes, I'd love to be eaten, thank you" to a standard Firth found acceptable. I'd developed a tactic whereby I would pretend that the question meant something else that was completely uninteresting to me, and I would think of my reply simply as lines I had rehearsed without ever wondering at their meaning. But at the back of my mind I knew exactly what was being said, and it often happened I found it impossible to control the state of my 'spam javelin'. Apart from that, though, everything was up to scratch, and Firth was ready to show me to the world.
He organised a press conference for later that month. To solve the problem of my penis, a scaled down podium was constructed which would hide the lower part of my body while I was on stage. This would be coupled with a guide who would lead me on and off stage while staying at a strategically concealing position in relation to my body. All in all I would be on the stage for only a few minutes, to give me the least possible chance to mess up.
As the day approached I grew more and more excited. Practice runs left me in a frenzy of arousal. Fatty was gone, and I was sad, but I had done what Firth had told me and I was convinced that now I could control myself I would be being digested before the night was out. When the day came, as we prepared for the show backstage, I managed to put him the question. "So," I asked Firth, "after this... you'll... eat... me?" I had to check myself before I got too excited. "We'll see," was his reply.
Everything went according to plan. Firth did most of the talking. I was just wheeled out to answer the perennial question, "So you want to be eaten?", and that was it. In the end the podium, etc. turned out to be unnecessary; I had never seen so many people, and it was so hot in there, for some reason, and the lights and the flashes on their cameras terrified me so much there was no way I was getting hard. I just said my lines as best I could and got out.
Afterwards, though, backstage, I got incredibly worked up. I was sure this was it. As I listened to the muffled sound of Firth's speech, my anticipation grew: I was positive that as soon as it was over he'd come back and kill me, eat me, right there and then. I had never been so turned on in my life. My meetings with him and my fantasies of Fatty hadn't come close. The blood was boiling in my ears, my skin felt like icy fire where the harness had touched me; there was no way I could control myself. When the conference was over and he came backstage I practically launched myself at him, madly grunting the only word I could get out: "Now!"
But Firth just pushed me back, pressed his hands palm down on my shoulders, stood there facing me, holding me in place until I calmed down. It took a while. What he said next, even today, eight years later, I can still remember word for word.
"Look," he said, looking into my eyes. "You were good out there just now. Really good. A lot of very important people were very impressed. You've as good as guaranteed funding for the project for years." He paused. "But you've got to understand: you're a prototype. What we've done with you..." I still had no idea what they'd done with me. I thought I was just like any other pig, although I didn't know any other pigs. "...what we've done with you we need to learn to do faster and better. You see, you're a male pig. A boar. And male pigs, when they're more than a year old - and you're more than two years old - their meat gets something called 'boar taint'. It tastes horrible. No one's going to want to eat it." I could feel something rising inside me as he said this. "And the only way to get rid of this taint, or at least reduce it to more acceptable levels, is to castrate the pig - you - then leave it for six months before you kill it. But even that's something they only do in the third world." By now I was struggling to hear through the blood in my ears, and the fire on my skin. "And I couldn't even do that with you. You see, if I castrate you, you're going to lose your sex drive. And if you lose your sex drive, you're not going to want to be eaten. And if you don't want to be eaten, the law says I'm not allowed to kill you, so I'll be stuck with a pig that doesn't want to be eaten, and that's no use to me. At least until I start producing pigs like you more frequently, you're this project's mascot, and you're going to live."
I don't know why Firth told me this. Perhaps, after his successful press conference, he was on an adrenaline rush. Perhaps he thought it didn't matter, that I wouldn't care. Whatever, I lost it. I went mad. I lost about a year in fact, and when I finally woke up I was in the pig asylum with the rest, and that speech of his was the last thing I could remember. Not that I was asleep all that time; I wasn't. But whenever I try to get the nurses to tell me about it, about what I was like, it turns out to be too painful to hear, and I have to ask them to stop. I understand Firth was hospitalised, temporarily. But other than that I don't know.
I've been here seven years now, that I can remember. Every day is pretty much like the last. I get special treatment over the other pigs, because I can communicate a fair bit and I behave well. I have a separate room. When I first woke up I was in with the rest of them, and it was horrible; all of them locked right into themselves with no way out. And there are a lot more pigs now than when this place was set up, even though some of the first have begun to die off. But they haven't got any more space, they've just packed more of us in here. At least now I can pretty much avoid them. I have my pleasures, I guess. I've got a kind of computer they've had modified for me, and if I really want a book I can normally persuade one of the staff to get it and help me read it.
I still want to be eaten. I still think about it occasionally; it still turns me on. But I'm an old pig now and I know it's not going to happen. It's funny how your sex drive never lets up as you get older, you just get more resigned to it not being fulfilled. Or maybe it isn't. I don't know. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been castrated. Would I have stopped wanting to be eaten? Would that have been better for me? I don't know. Anyway, here we are. I've written this whole thing, this autobiography I guess, to try and understand myself, as a kind of therapy, to get to the bottom of who I am. I've set out the facts, but my feelings towards them are ambivalent. I understand the how, but not the why.
I was never given a name. Perhaps, in the end, that's all I can take from this: a name. The name of my ancestor: 'Salt'.
- Andalo, D 2005, "Creating a baby to save sibling is legal, rule lords", Guardian, 29 April.
- Day, R 2024, "Pig psychologist ends life", Guardian, 8 January.
- Douglas, F 2025, "Profile: John Firth", Guardian, 14 March.
- Edwards, N 2023, "PIG WORKER SQUEALS", Sun, 11 August.
- Fillis, D 2019, "Protests in Westminster as state pension abolished", Guardian, 10 August.
- Fowles, S 2023, "G----- project dragged over coals in court", Guardian, 21 November.
- Harding, L 2004, "Cannibal who fried victim in garlic is cleared of murder", Guardian, 31 January.
- Lewis, E 2023, "Corporation under fire as project details leaked", Guardian, 12 August.
- Lewis, E 2024, "Green Meat psychologist leaves suicide note", Guardian, 10 January.
- Lewis, E 2025, "G----- incurs further costs", Guardian, 7 June.
- Miller, H 2008, "First UK cannibal of victim: 'He wanted to die'" Guardian, 6 May.
- Sample, I. 2005, "UK breakthrough as human embryo cloned", Guardian, 20 May.
- Sample, I. 2009, "Patient 'stable' in first pig-heart transplant", Guardian, 17 November.
- Scholes, K 2016, "Cannibal ring discovered by police posing as willing victim", Guardian, 11 February.
- Scholes, K 2018, "AS ANOTHER CANNIBAL ESCAPES MURDER SENTENCE, WE ASK, 'HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE MEANT TO SWALLOW THIS?'", Daily Mirror, 12 October.
- Waterhouse, K 2023, "FRANKENSTEIN PIGS: FIRST THEY WERE TORTURED, NOW THEY WILL BE KILLED", Daily Mail, 11 August.
- Adams, D. 1981, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", A Barker, London.
- Baggini, J. 2005, "The Pig that Wants to be Eaten", Granta, London.
- Humphreys, J. 2003, "The Quotable Pig", Outwood Farm Press, Wakefield.
- Lane, R. 2011, "Escaping the Prison of Self", Bloomsbury, London.
- Picoult, J. 2005, "My Sister's Keeper", Hodder & Stoughton, London.
- "White Wilderness", 1958. Documentary film. USA: Disney.