Hogg Tales: Vegan sojourn in 'pigsty'

 LAROQUE-DES-ALBERES, France – Namua Rahesha’s lounge-room is a pigsty … literally. The British ex-pat has a full-grown pet porker named Dédé snoring loudly in a child-size bed in the living room.

 A gold star pentagon hanging above the animal is veiled in cobwebs, bringing to mind Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. In the book, the title character, a spider, spins messages in her web, such as “Some Pig” and “Humble”, aimed at saving Wilbur the pig from becoming a pork roast.

 At Namua’s permaculture farm in southern France, though, Dédé’s bacon is in no danger. Namua, who runs Al Quinta Forest Garden, an animal refuge in Laroque-des-Albères, in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, spared him the butcher’s knife.

 “This world is not a very nice place for little pigs,” Namua tells the Italian Insider. “Somebody would have eaten him while he was a baby. That’s what happens to all pigs.”

 Dédé was just two-and-a-half-months old when Namua, 66, took him in. A friend living in the nearby village of Ceret had bought a sow at a market, saving her from an untimely death. What was not evident at the time was that the young pig was pregnant. Dédé was a piglet from that litter.

 “Because (my friend) didn’t know what to do with them, she was giving them away. People were going to eat them,” she says. 

 More than 150 billion animals are slaughtered every year, according to ethical vegan animal rights organisation Animals Deserve Absolute Protection Today and Tomorrow (ADAPTT). Their website displays a Kill Counter, which calculates the number of animals killed globally by the meat, egg and dairy industries from the moment the web page is opened. The pig is the fourth most slaughtered animal on the planet behind marine animals, chickens and ducks.

 During our interview, Dédé awakens, following Namua into the kitchen, all the while making grunting noises. She lures the roughly 160-kilogram creature outside with one of his favourite treats, sunflower seeds, because “he knows we’re talking about him”.

 According to studies, pigs outshine three-year-old children in cognition tests. “In experiments with pigs and children, a young pig’s problem solving abilities are way beyond a two-year-olds. They’re up to the level of a three to a five-year-old human child,” she says. “So, they are pretty intelligent.”

 Dédé makes his way back inside, nudging Namua. It’s his not-so-subtle way of asking for more food. She invites him to demonstrate his intelligence by exiting. Believed to be a cross between a Vietnamese potbelly pig and a wild boar, Dédé responds by seemingly blowing a raspberry. 

 Unlike children, pigs apparently don’t move beyond the 'terrible twos'. 

 “They’re far more demanding than most dogs. They’re more like a child in their character. They want attention (but) they think about things … they reason things out,” Namua says. 

 “And then he got a little bit older and like a toddler, tested his limits. And you just have to be firm, but not aggressive. I’ve had dogs all my adult life and people say pigs are like dogs. They’re not.”

 Dédé was easier to house train than a dog, Namua maintains. “I told him once and he understood … just by making a very disapproving noise, picking him up and taking him outside,” she says. “And that was it … ok, we do that outside and never a problem.”

 Another misconception is that pigs are dirty, smelly creatures, but it’s not true, Namua says. However, Dédé is obsessed with making his bed, which consists of old sheets or clothes he tears to shreds. From outside he often adds sticks, grass and leaves, positioning each item carefully before hitting the hay.

 “That is the biggest mess he makes … bringing things in for his bed and rearranging (it),” she says. “Not all pigs have this obsession, but I understand it’s a pretty common one and, so, he takes a lot of time and a lot of effort over making his bed.” 

 All food at Al Quinta is strictly vegan. 

 At the heart of veganism is the conviction that no animal should be exploited in the process of producing food or other items, such as clothing and shoes. 

 Coined in 1944 by animal rights activist and co-founder of the Vegan Society, Donald Watson, Vegan describes vegetarians who don’t eat dairy, eggs or honey. 

 As a vegan pig, Dédé’s diet consists of brown rice and an abundance of fruit and vegetables.

 “But he didn’t know what fruit and veggies were, so I had to grate them all and mix them in with his rice to make them like cereal,” Namua says. “I must be the only person on the planet grating apples and carrots for a pig. I did it and he got used to it.”

 The hardest thing of all was Dédé’s reaction to visitors. Being registered with various volunteer organisations – such as Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), HelpStay and HelpX – people arrive from all over the world for a working holiday, lending a hand on the farm in exchange for accommodation and food. 

 “At the beginning, Dédé was very open natured, very loving, like a dog. Every time a new person came, he would run up to meet them and say hello, same as the dogs did. And, gradually, because of people’s reactions … they’d make a big fuss of the dogs and then they’d go ‘erhhh’ when they saw a pig. And he realised that people didn’t like him. Little by little, he stopped going up to greet people. It was very sad, really.”

 Earning as many bad reviews as good on the volunteering sites, one of Namua’s bugbears is when volunteers don’t fully read her profile.

 “They turn up because we’re the nearest place to the sea and they don’t even notice we’re vegan, let alone there’s a pig,” she says.

 But not all volunteers are repulsed by the snouted animalis non grata.

 Former WWOOFer Natasja Hellenthal was honoured to interact with the much-maligned creature. 

 “As a vegan, I try to live a compassionate lifestyle, but to actually live with an animal that is by the rest of the world so badly treated, and to realise what a loving, gentle creature it is, it’s a big privilege.”

 Originally from Hertfordshire, north of London, Namua and her family moved to France's Occitanie region in 1997. For her husband, archaeologist Shaun Lofthouse, who has since passed, the attraction was the cave art in the Pyrenees.

 While the widow has developed a unique rapport with her beastly but gentle housemate, she can't envisage rescuing another piglet. Dédé's nine. He could easily live to about 15. That takes me into my 70s. I would like to, but I don’t think I could commit to another 15 years after that,” Namua says. “And if you have an animal like that, nobody else is going to take it on. You’ve got to be responsible for the rest of its life.”