The French Pig (from salt to ham)

It's Complicated

I'm back at Camont after a few days of piggy mayhem in the Basque Country. I know everyone wants to know about the name. But it's complicated.

I think of myself as relatively well organized, a good communicator and "a people person" and Kate is triply so all those things. But even having Kate on my side on this project, my short-comings are laid bare. I realize what a dumbass I am. I really don't know anything. I am a city mouse in pig's clothing. But I am learning so much.

Every turn is a learning moment. If things were going smoothly I wouldn't be learning about the complexity and nuances of the system I am trying to document. So bear with me while I try to explain this.

I arrived on Tuesday and after an overnight at Camont, we set off for the Basque Country. We had cheese sandwiches while we drove, and arrived a little after lunch to the breeding farm in Lasse. There, the younger M. Guenard, Julian Guenard met us. He knew we wanted to see piglets. And this is where our education began.

First we saw the progress they had made in accordance with the new European mandate about sow housing. I have not read these mandates but basically it required breeding farms to change their practice from keeping sows in individual stalls to being kept in groups with room to walk around in each group's pen. That meant the downsizing of the sow population (because each pig needed more room) and the building of corrals. When we had visited in December they were just building the new pens. The senoir M. Guenard had worried at the expense and whether they would be able to support the farm with less sows. So by now, the first group of sows had been rehoused for a few weeks. Julian explained that at first there was conflict within the groups of about eight sows per corral. They establish a hierarchy and each one claimed a space in the pen that was her own. At one side of each corral were individual feeding stalls, each with it's own trough. They were happy, and except for the occasional scuffle, rather calm and perhaps even peaceful. 

 

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The first time I was in a confinement breeding farm (a farm where pigs are kept inside) the barn was filled with stall after stall of one sow each. The stalls were narrow in some cases they had a neck harness that restricted their movement. Friends, it wasn't pretty. When we entered and switched on the lights the under-stimulated pigs would panic and squeal and yell. Stress on the pigs, stress on the caregivers. Stress is not good for anyone's health.

Julian explained how it was hard at first, but now the pigs are happier. They aren't panicky. They are healthier. And calm, happy pigs make a farmer's life less stressful and so he is happy too. 

So then I asked my first stupid question: "What's up with the spray paint on the sows?"

It turns out they keep track of the weigh of each sow and mark the ones that are underweigh and overweigh. Remember these are expectant mothers. And even though there are 500 of them (at various stages of pregnancy) to the six people who staff the farm, the sows are each hand fed. As Julian put it: "This is not a robo-farm." Each pig is fed to it's needs to maintain the best possible health. A properly fed pig is less likely to be sick. She's more likely to have healthy piglets: not too big as to cause difficult delivery; not so small as to endanger the newborns' viability. 80% of the overhead of this kind of operation is pig feed. It's where many farms skimp. Cheap food. But if a pig is well nourished there is no need for medications. And healthy mothers mean healthy piglets.

  "Oh wow," I thought. Oh wow.

Next we went to the birthing sheds. 

Piglets Now!

We met Julian on Wednesday. Julian is the son of Jean Guenard, who breeds the piglets that become Ibaiona hams. He showed us around the improvements to the facility since we had been there in December. I will tell you about those improvements later. They are impressive. When Kate explained why we were there, he asked  the question that I couldn't quite get my head around until that moment. He asked the completely basic question I had been to ignorant to ask. "But how will we know which piglet will go to Eric; at birth is too early to tell."

Then he took us to the birthing rooms where the still pregnant sows were to deliver any time now. Some of the sows had already delivered a day or two early, one of them a week early. We left our phone number and he told us he would call tomorrow when they were giving birth. He would not be there in the morning, but Agnes, the pig mid-wife would be.

We checked into the hotel and hung our piggy clothes to air on the terrace. We took a little "internap" and said hello to our facebook friends. We went for a nice dinner and, encouraged by the Basque cider and jetlag, very quickly we were asleep.

The next morning (this morning) we went down to breakfast ready for action and wearing our piggy clothes. Kate went up to pick up her recharging phone, while I finished my coffee and mamia. Then she sent me the panicked text message:

"Piglets now! Julian just called."

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Many of the sows had given birth overnight. We missed the last delivery by minutes.

We entered a room with 11 sows most with newborn litters of 8 to 20 (yes, 20) piglets. Some were still passing the last of their placentas. And we met Agnés. 

Agnés, the pig midwife... 

What's in a Name?

So, tomorrow I go back to lurk around M. Guenard's breeding farm.  (Yes, the flight over was uneventful. Thank you for asking.)  Let's do a quick recap of what's happened so far.

 Trip 1:

We went to the source of the salt used to cure Jambon de Bayonne. I thought we'd be going to Bayonne — to the sea, for sea salt. But I was wrong. The salt comes by mandate from the ancient salt springs of Salies de Baern, the remains of a now subterranean prehistoric sea. Salt from before human time, harvested to preserve meat for the future. We met the ham maker, Eric Ospital whose supply chain we will follow from salt and piglet to sausage and ham.

Trip 2:

We went to see how piglets are conceived. But while we took lunch at the Taxidermy Cafe and followed the Pilgrims' trail, through some miscommunication, our breeder, M. Guenard was hard at work breeding. The next day, we got the full tour without the Al Green soundtrack. And that is how we met the two likely — now pregnant — mothers of our piglet. Pigs gestate for three months, three weeks and three days. Farmers can practically set their clocks to it. They inseminate on Tuesdays and deliver on Thursdays, or there abouts. When only a handful of people are responsible for 500 pregnant sows, it is handy to have a system and they do — an admirably efficient system.

We also visited the farm of American-born Basque animal scientist, farmer and cheese maker, Josette Arrayet. I will tell you her story later.

Trip 3 (Now) : 

So like I said, I'm back three months, three weeks and three days later. It's two in the morning and I am wide awake sitting in the dark, in bed in the "summer house" at Camont. Jet lagged. And Kate is also jetlagged from her return from Australia. But tomorrow we will drive from Camont to Lasse and see what we will see: the birth of two litters of piglets of which we will pick the biggest, healthiest, most ham-worthy male.

So, what's in a name?

Last week in preparation for the coming of my piglet, I polled you (my friends, my audience) . We compiled more than 60 names of which I added the most popular boy names in France this year (from a baby blog). I asked a smaller group of you to winnow the list down. You can vote for your favorite of these here. But I'm making all this up as I go. So, armed with your list and recommendations, I'll wait to see the pig before I choose a suitable name for him. I think that's what most parents do. And I might come up with a name that is not on our list. Because that is my perogative as an artist.

In our instant messages across several oceans, land masses and time zones, Kate has voiced an opinion that echoes others of you. "I think the name is less about a personality and a people name could be challenging for some at the slaughter and food stages...like eating Bob ham…sounds revolting." Some of you have told me privately that it is kind of disturbing to give the piglet, an animal we will eat, a human name. How can we eat parts of a being with the same name as people we know, members of our tribe? This is reflected in a certain proportion of your name suggestions which made light of the pig's final destiny. Names like Sausage, Hammy, Tasty Cakes and Bacona. But then again we often give names to babies to honor individuals we admire or to recognize our ancestors. Why should the animals we eat be different? 

The Name List — Round Two

 

I asked a handful of people I trust to help me winnow the 70+ names all of you submitted last week. Among them are artists, scholars, cooks, writers, farmers, butchers and curators. Some of them are parents and have named children; some of them have pets for which they have chosen names; and some of them have named boats, artworks and farms.

Here are the top 15 names: 

Asier
Baz
Darricusseq
Duchamp
Eric
Espelette
Francis Bacon
Françios
Hugo
Jules
Manex
Raphael
Selavy
Txerri
Xabi

A Few More of Your Pig Names and Some Thoughts

Okay, first I have to thank all of you. I really didn't expect this many responses or the amount of time or effort some of you put into coming up with suggestions.

I'm an artist, not a scientist or a journalist. I'm not going to pretend I have a rigorous plan; I'm making this up as I go. I don't know where the questions will lead me. I don't even really know what the questions I'm asking are. So yes, questions started to burble up as the list started to grow. People name their children, pets and ships. I asked my farmer friends if they name the animals they eat. Some of them answered on the project's Facebook page. They offered lovely, eloquent answers about why and how they name their animals. Some people advised you don't name the animals you eat.

Why do some names have the power of personification while others objectify? I want to give this little piggy a name that feels like a real name. I want to acknowledge this piggy's life.

How do we choose names for our children and pets? Children are often named for other family members, ancestors. I must admit that I have a naming bias. Both of my cats had human names. The first was named after a Jazz singer I admired. The second was given an old-fashioned name that had an obscure allusion that was important to me. This name happened to be shared by the woman who worked for and was the cause of much confusion at the work place. But when I was alone with the cats, I addressed my cats by nicknames that had no relation to their given names. (I am willing to whisper these names to you over a snifter or two of Armagnac.)

I'll decide in the morning what method to use to winnow the names down meanwhile, here are six more names. The rest of the names can be seen here.

Six More Names

Selavy — As in Rrose Selavy, a pseudonym of Marcel Duchamp. Probably a pun on "Eros, c'est la vie" or in English "Cupid, that's life."

Rooter Pequenino — Rooter is the key character in a book who goes from living being to hero tree in his third life. Their protagonists in this book are of Portuguese decent. While not quite Basque pretty close. better Jai Ali a sport I cannot spell.

le oink

EUBOULEUS — EUBOULEUS (or Eubulus) was the demi-god or hero of the sacred swine of the Eleusinian mysteries. He was probably also a demi-god of ploughing and the planting of the grain seed. His name was probably associated with the word bôlos, a clod of earth, and bôlostropheô, to turn up clods in ploughing. A more natural reading of the name, however, is "the good-counsellor" after the Greek euboulos.

Cenicero — Cenicero is a municipality in the autonomous community of La Rioja, Spain. The municipality is the home of the world famous "Bodegas Berberana" winery, which lies close to the River Ebro. (It also means 'ashtray')

Darrieussecq — To help you name your pig, I thought I would find a list of famous Basque women, then send you a masculine version of one that stood out as appropriate.
It would have been better if I had a running list of famous Basque women, but since I don't (yet) I made it a two-minute challenge. Here's what happened: The lists of famous Basque people didn't have so many women. The one name that jumped out at me? Well, she just happens to be writer and critic from Basque Country who's first novel is called "Pig Tales." I hate to quote Wiki but can't resist: As one critic ... observed, in reading this novel, "One laughs, yet in terror, for the metamorphosis of the narrator-as-pig reveals, in counterpoint, the aimless drifting of a society in which the pig is not always the pork.” — wikipedia
To properly recommend the name Darriessecq, I'd need to read the novels. And I will. Whatever you decide to name this pig, thanks for this. I'm absolutely going to read Marie Darrieussecq's Pig Tales. What an amazing find. Let me know if you want to do a book club. You'll be in charge of the food.

Pig Names: The Results for Day Two + Some Popular French Names

The question I asked in the form sent by direct email, Facebook, and twitter:

"What should should we name the French pig?"

Here are your responses as of 10pm March 18, 2014. You can see Day One's names here. Feel free to weigh in on these names by commenting below. But to get YOUR name on the nomination list you need to submit it through this form.

Here are 20 names submitted by you today

(plus some names I found on a baby name blog)

XABI — I liked the suggestion of Xavier, but like the Basque diminutive of XAVIER, Xabi, even better. It's going to be a baby, after all....

Mork — Because someday, you will be eating pork from Mork (My apologies - I like moderately obscure references and bad puns.)

BAZ — Has a suggestion of 'Basque' and just seems to me a good name for a pig, though Pigs I have Known would not be a long list. Short for Basil of course, but he doesn't need to know that - we don't want to encourage effeteness . . .

Benny Boo Boo — Nephews nick name

Harry Batasuna — From "Herri Batasuna" (Unity of the People) a Basque nationalist political party outlawed in Spain in 2003, after a contested court ruling declared proven that the party was financing ETA with public money. As an association and not as a political party, Batasuna had a minor presence in the French Basque country, where it remained legal as "Batasuna" until its self-dissolution in January 2013. (wikipedia)

Honor — In great Girrrl tradition it's fun, respectful and translates globally which helps strengthen the bond. BTW this is an amazing photo as it captures a piglet who still wearing it's birthing membrane coming to Mom's nose so she knows he's here.

Ouinker — Because he's a positive (oui), French (oui), pig (oinker).

Art Pig — (Short for Arthur Pig, but Art seems like a fitting nickname)

Smokey — or Efumé?

Tisket — because of the potential for basquet(te) in jingles

Sausage

Bacona — The pig will bear in the name a full embrace of his future as food.

Ramon — Ramon, the Jambon de Bayonne. That is a name destined for greatness and endless possibilities.

Oinkadoodle — Its funny

Cerdito Basquito — Means piglet from Basque country (almost)

Hamlette — So many puns: little pig, the tragedy of Hamlet, a play on Lacan's idea of the hommelette (the pre-oedipal non-subject) which is itself a play on omelette.

Polar Vortex — Because soon this idea - the polar vortex - will be lost to stories of santa ana's and tropical disturbances.

Jon Hamm — Because he's a handsome devil

Marcel Duchamp — Why not?

French Names From a Baby Name Blog 

Here are some popular French boys names trending in Paris this past year (according to nameberry.com)

Baptiste – Stylish in Paris though may feel a bit old-school religious for many outside of France.

Bastien – Sebastian has been in the Top 100 in the U.S. for over a decade, but Bastien both simplifies it and makes it newer.

Corentin – Corentin is an ancient saint’s name very popular in France but virtually unknown beyond.  Pronunciation is cor-en-TAN.

Jules – One of the simplest of the fashionable French names, Jules might be a newer way to say Julian.

Marius – Marius is one of those names that feels familiar and exotic at the same time.  Much chicer than Italian cousin Mario.

Mathis — Very popular in France and pronounced mah-TEES like the painter, this name may update or honor Matthew.

Maxime and Maxence – Looking for a fresh route to Max?  Consider one of these French long forms.

Thibault – Cool but pronunciation challenged: It’s tee-bo.

You can see yesterday's names here.

Pig Names: The Responses for Day One

The question I asked in the form sent by direct email, Facebook, and twitter:

"What should should we name the French pig?"

Here are your responses as of 10pm March 17, 2014. Feel free to weigh in on these names by commenting below. But to get your name on the nomination list you need to submit it through the form.

Eric — it's my ham maker's name

etiketa horia — I believe the basque pig should have a basque name, I like the yellow tag, so etiketa horia, fits.

Feast — Because thanks to this pig there will be a feast for many people to enjoy.

Guillaume du Montagne — A distinguished name which belies the origin of the piglet, and in English is the slang for Southerners, Hillbilly.

BOB — Call him both as in 'BOB' which would be 2152..figured on numerical value of the alphabet. Nobody calls anybody BOB anymore...see above note though

Asier ASIER m Basque — Means "the beginning" in Basque.

"c'est ça" = that's it — It is french and indicates that the pig is what it is and will be meet the end it will meet

Arnold Ziffel— The name of the pig in the TV show "green acres".

Stay with "French Piggy"

Pascal — Just have a feeling.

Francis Bacon — A Philosopher, an Artist, and a Pig. All with a particular connection to meat…

Do not know yet

Xavier — cause it rhymes with savior and sounds great in Spanish

Pierre — Its a good respectable name for a french man.

pig367 — because it sounds like an aol email address, and that is becoming for pigs, I believe.

Meridian Leeward — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4FbN3VVN4o&feature=kp

Pablo — Basque, Porky or Pinky would also be wonderful

Oink Basque Sally de Bearn — All of them should be named Oink and the other names should detail their life and after life on the way to ham.

Myolino — Because in Italian a little pig is maialino, so I thought I would I would phoenetic-ize it.

Yorick — Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rims at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? (Hamlet, V.i)

François — Truly the best representation of French ham is the Bayonne and for Francois to be truly French he must have the name that stems from the Latin meaning Frenchman. Could there be a better name? (Also in honor of my mentor and master. Charcutiere Francios Vecchio )

mr lucky

Porcelain — It is a pun, playing on the French for piglet (porcelet) and the French origin of the word. In French it is feminine -- porcelaine -- so without the e would be more appropriate.

Jambalaya — It is a cheery festive word, which matches the energy of a pig. A French word that sounds like "jambon" (and may include it), it is a Provençal word 'jambalaia', meaning a mish mash, or mixup. Provence borders the Basque region.

hugo — it's short and quite french. i like it. it could also be monsieur hugo.

Louis — rhymes with "piggy" as in "Louis, the French piggy."

Espelette — While french pigs of the Basque region are not protected by the AOC system, the famous franco-Basque pepper is, and naming your pig after it will root your little future cured ham deep in its ancestral geography. Dare we say terroir?

Hammy

Sparky — It seems to suit the one pictured and is a happy name for the time he is on the planet prior to dining on him.

number seems best — Unless I had a closer working relationship with the pig, tending it, feeding it, moving it from place to place, I can't imagine the best name. From this distance, at this time, he is a best know by his practical piggie number. I kind of think a name risks mocking the animal that will be serving us so well. And I trust mom sow knows him.

Monsieur Hubler — This was a real person, now a character in an adventure story that I have yet to finish writing. He was an old madman in a tough spot who was kind to me in Paris. He lent me 200 francs once. He let me draw his picture. He was a clochard, and my neighbor. He would scream about things in the night. He was quite an incredible pig, truly foul-smelling. His apartment was beyond the pale But he had a good soul. I'm glad we met.

Terry/Txerri — The name Terry is not gender specific, so whatever the piglet turns out to be, the name will suit. Also Txerri is Basque for Pig!

Kurt — I would make known my empathy for the poor little creature by donating my name.

Hamlet

Oh Oreo — Obviously (!) appears to be his god-given name. Also, good for him to have first and last, lest there be any confusion:)