This is an audio transcript of the FT Weekend podcast episode: The rich interior lives of pigs

(Clip of pig making sounds)

Lilah Raptopoulos
You’re hearing a pig greet a human at a pig research facility outside of Vienna, Austria.

(Clip of pig making sounds)

The facility belongs to the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, and it’s kind of like pig heaven. Pigs aren’t constrained in crates. They’re allowed to roam around, to build their own structures. They basically just get to hang out.

(Clip of pig making sounds)

Lilah Raptopoulos
These recordings are actually videos. In this one, three pigs are huddling together. My favourite recording is this one of a pig blowing bubbles into a puddle of water. (sound of bubbles) The idea is that these pigs get to live their best lives away from the constraints we usually put on them. And that’s because scientists want to see what pigs are really like without us.

Henry Mance
And the pigs sort of, they just sort of lollop around, you know, like . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
(laughter)

Henry Mance
Like a cow would, like a sheep would or a goat would. And it sort of it, it really did change my impression of pigs to see them move against the landscape because we’re just so unused to that, I think. We’re so used to them either being in very churned up mud or being in in sort of quite industrial surroundings.

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s my colleague Henry Mance talking to me from our London studio. I invited him on because last month he wrote a cover story for FT Weekend Magazine about pigs. It looks at some recent science that’s showing us what many already guessed, but most of us don’t want to admit: that pigs are far more sentient and complex than we give them credit for.

Henry Mance
I think basically the way we think about pigs is, we don’t think about pigs, because to think about pigs is really uncomfortable. And it’s, it’s really uncomfortable because we, a lot of people find them beautiful animals, find them cute animals. They’re some of the first animals we see in storybooks. And we don’t like to think of them suffering because we know those of us who have seen them up close, that they, they have abilities, they have awareness. And so I think we just fight to ourselves in various ways around hoping that they they’re given good lives.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Today I speak with Henry about all things pigs, because as we understand more about how pigs and other animals think and feel, we’re asking bigger questions about how we farm and eat them. Then we go back to the world of humans and the dwelling structures we build, specifically skyscrapers, pencil skyscrapers. This kind that are half a block wide, hundreds of feet tall, and have just a few very expensive units. I talk about them with the FT’s architecture critic Edwin Heathcote.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
This is FT Weekend. I’m Lilah Raptopoulos.

Henry Mance is the FT’s chief features writer. He’s also an animal lover, although he’s actually pretty sceptical of the term. He has a book out called How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World, and the premise is that we all say we love animals, but as a rule, we’re pretty bad at loving them.

Henry Mance
And the idea being that we all describe ourselves as animal lovers. You know, even Tucker Carlson, I think . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
(laughter)

Henry Mance
I’ve got a clip of him saying, “I love animals”. And it’s like, it’s part of what it means to be a good human. But we don’t actually follow through with that.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So the pig thing is part of a broader exploration for Henry, and it’s also part of a broader exploration for science, which for the past 30 years has been really interested in cognition. How do we think and feel?

Henry Mance
There has been like this whole cognitive turn in animal research over the past 30 years and like, one by one, species have had attention paid to them. One of the research groups I visited for this piece in Budapest, in Hungary, when they started off researching dogs in the 1990s, it was seen as something pretty crazy. I mean, it would seem like, why are you gonna bother looking at what dogs can do, how clever dogs are. And now sort of 20, 30 years on, it’s absolutely normal and accepted to go and do research with dogs, pigs, cats, you know, rats, goats. Until you can come to some tentative conclusions about, you know, what animals are aware of.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So now it’s the pigs’ turn. Henry thought he should check in on the latest in pig research. So in addition to Austria, he went to Budapest.

Henry Mance
In Budapest, what they’re doing is they’re trying to work out how domestication affects animals. So we know that dogs are particularly sensitive, for example, to the way that humans act. So if a human points that, a dog would tend to take note of that. And the question is, is that because as puppies, they’ve been brought up with human presence, and therefore, if you treated a pig in the same way, if you treat the pig with love and care, they would do the same thing.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Henry actually met some pigs living dog lives in Budapest. Here’s a recording of one named Pillow. She’s being asked to sit in Hungarian.

(Clip playing)

The researchers there are finding that pigs are entirely capable of learning all the same tricks as dogs. They sit, they beg for food. Pillow’s keeper, who’s a dog trainer by trade, actually said that pigs are faster at learning commands because they’re so food-motivated. Henry also spoke with a researcher in Copenhagen who’s categorising whether pigs’ grunts change based on their mood. It turns out they can sense stress and pass it on, just like humans.

You know, Henry, it’s, I was thinking about how we think about pigs culturally, and they get a really bad rap, you know, like, people think that pigs are dumb and they’re dirty and they’re sweaty and they’re lazy and dumb. And reading your piece, it’s like, OK, look, they’re not these things. They’re these, like, emotionally complex, collaborative. Definitely food motivated, but, you know, easy to teach, kind of sweet.

Henry Mance
Yeah. So let’s take some of those on because you mentioned that I mean, say . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah, let’s do it.

Henry Mance
Sweating like a pig. That isn’t a thing. I mean, pigs have very few sweat glands and they don’t really sweat at all. And the phrase sweating like a pig probably comes from pig iron, ie sort of the smelting of of a metal rather than anything to do with pigs. Pigs are dirty. Well, they like, they like rolling up because they can’t sweat they need to wallow in water. And so they, they’ll wallow in mud like a hippopotamus. But they’re actually clean animals. And one of the things one of the reasons you can keep pigs quite happily as a pet, potentially, is that they don’t like to go to the toilet where they eat. So they’re not . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
Oh, really?

Henry Mance
They’re not going to be messing up your apartment or your house. And actually, on farms, there’s been some kind of work to see whether you can have a separate area established, kind of a pig toilet. And it does seem to work and they do seem to respond to that. So they’re not, they’re not dirty.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah.

Henry Mance
The truth is, we have a slightly complicated view of pigs, because obviously George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm that, you know, the pigs were more equal than the others. The pigs effectively took charge. So there has been this idea of of intelligent pigs and there have been actually over history, I was sort of fascinated to learn, you know, examples of pigs being used for quite cognitive tasks that we associate with dogs, so as guard pigs, as herding pigs. And of course, you know, truffles, you know, pigs are . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s true.

Henry Mance
Have these incredible snouts. And actually it was so great to be up close with a few pig snouts, because you just see how they move, because they can move in all these different directions. And you see how excited they are by the different smells of your shoes or whatever.

Lilah Raptopoulos
So pigs have gotten a bad rap. How did this happen? The answer boils down to the fact that over the centuries we’ve put them in situations where they can’t help but be disgusting. We’ve put them in cages where they can’t move, so they seem lazy and where they act aggressively toward their young because they’re frustrated. But in a natural environment they are totally different.

Henry Mance
In the seventies they wondered basically, would pigs act like wild boar from which they were domesticated probably around 9,000 years ago? And so they put a group of pigs who’d been raised on farms into a semi-wild environment. And very quickly the pigs started acting like wild boar. So they started making nests, they started forming little groups. When the sows, or the females, were ready to give birth, they would go off from the group and build their own nest. And I think if you get the chance to see pigs in their kind of natural environment, it does alter our perspective.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
Humans kill about 1.5bn pigs a year. And of course, one of the big reasons to study them is because we eat them and because in recent years, there’s been a lot more focus on how we treat them. Pigs come from China, and traditionally they were kept in yards. They were confined to specific areas but able to move around. In the last 50 or so years though, we’ve been farming them in factories where they can’t exercise their bodies or their minds. So, for example, on factory farms, pigs can’t play with straw because straw gunks up the drainage and you need the drainage because in this scenario, pigs have to go to the bathroom inside their crates.

Henry Mance
So you’ll have some pigs which are kept inside their whole lives. And some of the mother pigs, the sows, may be kept in effectively cages, were called sow stalls or crates really, with steel bars on either side. And they’re sort of so small that they’re unable to turn round. The point of these stalls, which have been introduced really since the seventies, is that they make it very easy to keep large numbers of pigs in sheds, and they make it very easy for untrained stock people, ie people who work on the farms, to feed these pigs and they reduce the aggression. You know, they stop pigs fighting because they’re just in these confined areas, but they can’t turn round. Their bone health suffers. They’re assumed to be very, very frustrated. And pigs, which in the wild would spend sort of most of their time grazing or rooting around in the soil, just can’t do anything. And some of them sort of are biting the bars.

Lilah Raptopoulos
These gestational crates, the pens where the sows can’t move, they’re banned in Europe. In the US, people are trying to ban them, including billionaire investor Carl Icahn. He’s been publicly pressuring McDonald’s to completely stop using them. And, you know, it’s hard to write about the science of animals, especially animals that we eat, without running straight into ethical conversations about how we raise them and whether we should eat them at all. I should say that Henry is vegan himself, but he insists that he didn’t write the piece to make you vegan. I have to ask on behalf of — I’m sure there are sceptics out there, I saw a few below your piece — when you write this, is a goal of this piece for you to get people to stop eating meat?

Henry Mance
No, totally not. And I should say this piece wasn’t my idea. And, you know, when I spoke to these researchers, we weren’t really trying to focus on that question. We were, what they were trying to deal with and what I was trying to understand was, you know, how do you find out what goes on inside an animal’s mind? But then, time and time again when you ask those questions, you then look at some of the conditions on farms and you think, this is inconsistent with the way we treat other animals. And I think that that is often a very logical sort of move to go from, and some of the researchers I spoke to, they weren’t, I mean, I’ve no idea whether they eat meat or not, but they would describe their experiments and then they would say, you know, this is, it’s very difficult to justify keeping animals in some of the conditions they are.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
So if it’s about the science, here are some other scientific facts about pigs you may not know. They yawn sympathetically. If you yawn, they’ll likely yawn too. Pigs may be capable of lying. A pig that knows where the food is will lead a pig who doesn’t away from the food. (Sound of pigs) And a pig that makes a high-pitched squeal is likely in distress. Happy pigs produce deeper sounds. (Sound of pigs) So as you can see, the more you learn, the more you can identify with them.

So, Henry, I’m curious, like what you think we should be looking for as we start to re-evaluate our relationship with animals? You know, I know people who went on Netflix and watched My Octopus Teacher and then they totally gave up eating octopus but they eat all the other animals. Or like from your piece, you know, we eat pigs, but we don’t eat dogs. And so, like, what do you look for? What do we look for? Is it intelligence? Is it emotion?

Henry Mance
I think it’s I think there’s an element of irrationality that comes in here. And there are some animals who are so intelligent or charismatic or beautiful that it’s just very hard to imagine eating them if you really didn’t need to.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Right.

Henry Mance
I mean, that’s certainly how I feel about whales or octopuses, which, you know, we understand to be very intelligent, but also about I mean, just from an aesthetic point of view, I find it would find it quite difficult to eat a jaguar.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Right.

Henry Mance
And then there’s this question of, well, why don’t we eat our pets? And, you know, I think when you start getting to these kind of questions, you need to be really sure that these animals have had a good life and a fulfilling life and a satisfying life. Have these animals have the life in which they can take decisions over their own destiny? And the problem with that is that once you then have animals who are taking decisions, who are deciding their own path on Earth, well, then they start showing personalities and start showing themselves to be individuals. And then you feel . . . 

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah.

Henry Mance
Uncomfortable eating them for that reason. So I think there are lots of circles you can get into.

Lilah Raptopoulos
You know, it’s interesting with a piece like this because we’ve talked on the show about how it’s really hard to live like a fully ethical life. We had the author Dan Brooks on recently and came to the conclusion that it’s just impossible to do all good. And, you know, some people argue that almonds are worse than eggs and . . . I guess I’m curious where you land on that when as you’re, you know, extending beyond the piece.

Henry Mance
I think I’m kind of perhaps like hopelessly naive or optimistic or I’m someone who does believe individual action matters and who does believe that there are ways forward which are better than other ways. I think that if you do come to the conclusion that, it’s not the point of this piece, but if you do come to a conclusion that certain types of farming are wrong, then, you know, with every meal you have or don’t have, you make a choice and you send a signal. And that has produced huge change in the course of my lifetime, for example, in terms of keeping chickens in cages. You know, I spoke to Temple Grandin, who is a kind of pioneer of animal husbandry in the US and certainly not someone who doesn’t eat meat, you know, works with the meat industry. And what she would say is that there’s been a kind of aberration over the past 30, 40 years in some forms of farming which have just got too industrialised. You know, steel was so cheap that suddenly contractors were offering to build farmers, these kind of caged environments. And she says, you know, the best thing that might have happened to pigs is that the price of steel has gone up so much that it’s no longer viable to build these cages. And so I think it’s partly about realising that the systems we have are not the systems we always had, and they don’t have to be the systems that we will live with for years and years.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Henry, thank you so much for being on the show. This is great.

Henry Mance
Thanks a lot for having me.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
Over the past decade, there’s been a new style of skyscraper popping up along the New York City skyline. They don’t have the Art Deco grandeur of the Chrysler or the Empire State or the heft of One World Trade. They’re much thinner, like chopsticks or pencils poking out of the sky. And according to Edwin Heathcote, who’s our architecture and design correspondent, that likeness has given them all sorts of nicknames.

Edwin Heathcote
And that’s kind of what they’ve become colloquially known as: the pencil skyscrapers or the skinnyscrapers or the super skinny towers. You know, there are dozens of names for them.

Lilah Raptopoulos
These skinnyscrapers have shot up mostly along the southern edge of Central Park. It’s known as Billionaire’s Row, which should give you an idea of who’s living there, or at least who’s buying the units. Edwin wrote about these skinnyscrapers recently for FT Weekend. I’ve put the piece in the show notes. In it, he quotes a professor named David Madden.

Edwin Heathcote
He used this phrase when talking to me that these should be seen more as land-bound yachts than apartments. That they don’t address any kind of issue in the housing market, but rather they’re assets which are aimed at a class of footloose, high net-worth individuals. It’s a kind of trophy property rather than something that allows them to become part of the civic life of the city.

Lilah Raptopoulos
I invited Edwin on to tell us what these skinnyscrapers represent and how architecture can reflect the identity of a city.

I am really excited to talk to you about this because I live in New York and I feel like every once in a while I look up and the skyline has another of these extremely tall, extremely narrow skyscrapers, like poking up. And we’re all kind of annoyed by them, and we know not a lot of actual New Yorkers really live in them. But they are also architecturally kind of fascinating. What are they? Where did they come from?

Edwin Heathcote
They are a real departure, actually, for skyscrapers, because for most of the history of that type of building, it used to be commercial space, used to be offices. And in the last 20 years or so, real estate prices in the big cities have gone so crazy that it becomes economically worthwhile to build these extremely slim towers in a way that it wasn’t previously, and they would have made no financial sense.

Lilah Raptopoulos
And Edwin, before we talk about them in detail, I’m curious if these types of skyscrapers exist in cities outside of New York, like I’m thinking of Dubai or Shanghai.

Edwin Heathcote
It is a very New York thing, actually. They do exist. So there are very slender towers. There are some in Hong Kong and Singapore, but really nothing like as attenuated or kind of caricatured as they are in Manhattan.

Lilah Raptopoulos
When Edwin says caricatured, he’s talking about buildings that at their base take up about three brownstones worth of space, and then they shoot up more than a quarter of a mile into the sky. The newest one, 111 West 57th Street, is the thinnest skyscraper in the world. It has 84 floors and only 60 units. So in the tower, each condo has at least a floor to itself. They sell for between eight and $66mn. There are photos of some of these in Edwin’s piece.

In your piece, you go into detail about the newest skinnyscraper, 111 West 57th. Can you describe it? It seems like quite a feat.

Edwin Heathcote
It is a feat. I mean, it’s a truly remarkable building. It’s you know, I think maybe in my article, I compared it to a small stack of coffee stirrers that have been slightly, slightly kind of staggered, you know, maybe five or six that have been staggered. So at the top, there’s this kind of feathered effect. It doesn’t resemble anything else. You know, it’s so slim and so kind of new in a way, as a typology, that it needs its own kind of whole archetype.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Part of the reason these skinnyscrapers have appeared in Manhattan first is because in Manhattan there aren’t that many restrictions on how tall you can build. With a bit of manoeuvring developers can essentially go as high as the technology allows if it makes sense financially. I mean, you think of New York, you think of tall towers, right?

Edwin Heathcote
Part of the issue with these supertalls is what are they for. And one answer to that is they are to reinforce the city’s own idea of itself. New York has always been keen on height as a kind of tool for self-promotion and self-image. So, you know, we just need to think of the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building. They’re symbolic architectures which attempt to transform the skyline and make the skyline into an image. So I think in a way, this supertall phenomenon is a way for New York to recapture the kind of high ground in the skyscraper game. So I think a lot of it actually has to do with civic self-image as well as need. And I think you mentioned Dubai. It’s another city that has that same need. You know, so I think Dubai’s is a kind of in a way, an artificial city. It’s based on real estate value so you may well get skyscrapers which are taller or more extraordinary or more extravagant than they need to be, because they’re all part of Dubai’s image as a thrusting, innovative place where, you know, you go for incredible views and a kind of an emerging skyline for the global south.

Lilah Raptopoulos
A person in your piece uses this term “vertical suburbanism”, which is very weird to think about anything about Manhattan as suburban. What does that mean?

Edwin Heathcote
It’s a strange new way of looking at the skyscraper phenomenon. So we’re very used to sprawl being a horizontal phenomenon. You know that the suburbs sprawl out beyond the edges of the city and they get sparser and sparser as they reach further out. But you could argue and Samuel Stein, the sociologist and writer, calls it exactly that. He calls this vertical sprawl. So the way that the city gets sparser as it climbs towards the clouds. And it’s a very interesting way of re-conceptualising the city, that the kind of sparse level way, way up above 100 stories above the sidewalk becomes its own kind of suburb with these very exclusive residences surrounded by a lot of space. But I think the problem really is the gap between the aesthetics. You know, you can appreciate these things as pretty elegant buildings and extremely fine pieces of engineering and what they do to the city and how they make the people who encounter them feel, you know. There is a sense of common ownership, I think, with buildings like the Empire State Building. Everyone has a memory of going to the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre or going to the, you know, the old restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. And these new buildings are not that. These pencil skyscrapers are kind of super exclusive, and they are for the kind of 0.01%, the oligarchs. And I think that that disconnect has made them harder to love.

Lilah Raptopoulos
That really resonates with me. And when your piece came out, I was talking to my sister about it and she just was infuriated by them, you know, went on this sort of rant about, wealth inequality in the US and they are kind of the aesthetic expression of that. And I’m curious if you can talk about that. Like, what do you do in a city where there’s buildings that everybody hates?

Edwin Heathcote
(Laughter) Well, I think this is one of the issues which comes up again and again with the supertalls is that they are a very clever use of engineering. But you have to ask the question, who are they for? And is it worth it? So the impact they have on the city is so great visually, and yet the amount of housing they provide is so small. A kind of average eight-story Parisian apartment block would probably give you three times that many people. So in a way, it’s billed as a very efficient use of space on the ground, but it’s a very poor use of space as it rises. The contemporary city is becoming hollowed out as its prime real estate in the centre becomes completely dedicated to residential real estate. So it’s not just a New York phenomenon. It’s happening in Paris and Chicago, in London, in Rome, you know, even in Barcelona. And I think we need cities to be very strong. There has been in recent years, notably in London, but I think a lot of US cities as well, an abdication of responsibility by planners. So effectively, planning has been left to developers and the planners kind of respond to what the developers propose. So planning has become reactive rather than proactive. And in other cities, in say, Germany or Switzerland, that’s very much not the case. The plan is, plan the envelope and you have to build as an architect or an engineer, a developer, within that envelope that’s being given for you. And there are critics of both types of development. The critics of Germany will say, yeah, that’s fine. But then everything ends up looking like the dockside in Hamburg.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Mm-hmm.

Edwin Heathcote
But then the critics of the kind of more laissez faire planning approach of London will just ask you to look at the London skyline and, you know, no more needs to be said. It’s completely incoherent.

Lilah Raptopoulos
New York is one of the world’s financial capitals, so it’s natural that international buyers are investing here in these pied-à-terres. But in a city where rents continue to rise — this year, they rose by 33% — those sales come at a high price for New Yorkers. It’s easy in some ways to build something for 60 oligarchs who barely even spend time there. Why not build something for the rest of us? These new towers reflect that back at us in tangible brick and glass. And Edwin says that developers, urban planners and politicians need to be way more deliberate if we want to build a functional city for the future.

Edwin Heathcote
You know, I think we can give the developers and they are the high net-worth individuals their height, but there needs to be a payback then. And I think that’s what really hasn’t been thought through. If, for instance, the Russian oligarchs and you know, who’ve gone now but the Chinese super-rich or the European tax exiles or whoever it might be. If they disappear off the scene or, you know, they decide to land in a different city, what else can these buildings be used for? Can they be converted to, I don’t know, schools? Museums? Probably not. They’re super specific. They’re just built for one thing. So I think that’s, you know, we need to be building architecture now that is going to be flexible and adaptable for a completely unknown future.

Lilah Raptopoulos
Yeah. Edwin, this was so interesting. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Edwin Heathcote
Thank you so much, Lilah. Really nice talk to you.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Lilah Raptopoulos
That’s the show this week. Thank you for listening to FT Weekend, the podcast from the Financial Times. Next week we have an entire episode on the art market as it closes out its spring season. We’ll learn how it works from arts editor Jan Dalley and art market columnist Melanie Gerlis. And we also talk to Alex Rotter from Christie’s. He’s the head of their 20th and 21st century art and the auction houses had a banger of a season. If you like the show, I would love if you could share it with your friends or on your Twitter or on your Instagram story. That really helps people find us. Also, please keep in touch. As always, tell me all of your cultural interests at the moment. You can email us at ftweekendpodcast@FT.com. We’re on Twitter @FTWeekendPod, and you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @LilahRap. You can see behind the scenes podcast content on my Instagram. Links to everything mentioned here today are in the show notes alongside a link to the best offers available on a subscription to the FT, including 50% off a digital sub and a really great deal on FT Weekend in print every Saturday. Those offers are at ft.com/weekendpodcast. Make sure to use that link.

I am Lilah Raptopoulos and here is my talented team. Katya Kumkova is our senior producer, Lulu Smith is our assistant producer. Our sound engineers are Breen Turner and Sam Giovinco, with original music by Metaphor Music. Zoe Sullivan is our contributing producer and Topher Forhecz is our executive producer. And thanks go as always to Cheryl Brumley and Renee Kaplan. Please take care and we will find each other again next week.

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