Moving to Tonga changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. By immersing myself into a new culture, my views on television, mainstream music, politics, and relationships became significantly altered. However, perhaps nothing has changed more than my outlook on food, which I attribute to the fact that I now coexist on an island where pigs and chickens roam freely. I had always been an animal lover and was vegetarian for five years, but living among these creatures showed me that these beings possess the same capacity for love as humans. Through my island experiences, I have realized that the same instinct that triggers our emotions—causing us to love and nurture our children—is also inherent in animals. Within months of living among what many refer to as “farmed animals,” any and all resistance that I had once possessed was completely eradicated from my mind. Here are the five most important lessons I have learned after opening up my heart (and my yard!) to the local animals that live among me.
1. Pigs are proud mamas
Nothing gets us out of bed faster than a black pig named Mo knocking on our front door at 5:30am. Even more shocking was the moment we realized that Mo was there to introduce us to her litter of piglets. Mo neatly color-coordinated her babies on the welcome mat for our viewing pleasure, which confirmed my suspicions that pigs are just as proud of their offspring as human parents.
2. Piglets rebel against their parents
Shortly after the babies were weaned, we noticed Mo’s piglets stopped coming around. Of course, we assumed the worst but were proven wrong when Marvin (Mo’s son) and seven of his young comrades came barreling through our gate without adult supervision. After that day, the little ones always arrived and left together. All signs pointed to the fact that these rebellious youngsters had organized their own gang of parent-hating piglets. Prior to this thought-provoking development, I truly believed that rebellion was limited to human teenagers!
3. Pigs can be spoiled brats
One day, to our astonishment, there were four newborn piglets standing on the welcome mat that couldn’t have been more than two days old … without a mother in sight. The piglets were too young to know how to eat on their own, so we hand-fed them bananas until they were able to venture on their own. Pinky the runt refused to root for his food, and the only way he would eat was when we hand-fed him. On the rare occasions when we tried to practice tough love (hoping he would eventually learn to root), he would stand on the welcome mat and scream until we gave him his favorite snacks. If your children are similar to Pinky, rest assured that you are not alone, as spoiled kids exist among all species.
4. Chickens delight in teaching their young
Surprisingly, hens are extremely attentive mothers. And because our yard is a safe haven for the neighborhood animals, one of our newly acquired hens eventually became a mommy. She proceeded to raise her chicks in the front yard among our other animal companions. She spent each day teaching her chicks how to scratch for food, climb up and down the stairs, cluck at the front door for a special treat, and ward off the pigs from stealing their food. After observing her superb mothering skills on a daily basis, it dawned on me that grooming our young is not limited to mankind.
5. Eggs are not meant for human consumption
The afternoon I witnessed a frantic hen running around our yard—screaming and crying because a pig had devoured her eggs—was the day I gave up omelets for good. The chicken did not stop searching until the next day, during which she began showing signs of depression. This experience made me realize that eggs were never meant for human (or pig) consumption, and on the occasion when those eggs don’t morph into chicks, they are literally just a chicken’s period.
Jennifer B. Niles is the author of My Yoga Transformation: One woman’s story of her healing yoga journey and 85 pound weight loss and Eating Vegan—On a Budget!
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