Thursday, July 7, 2022

Have you seen the 3 little pigs in downtown Williamsburg? Here’s their story

Ryan Phillips takes his pig, Charlotte, around town to share his message about veganism. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Ryan Phillips takes his pig, Charlotte, around Williamsburg to share his message about veganism. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

When the sun’s out, you might find Ryan Phillips in Downtown Williamsburg, wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Eating animals is weird.”

With him are his three pigs: Charlotte, Pumpkin and Millie.

In Downtown Williamsburg on a recent day, the pigs were wearing pink tutus. They ate grass while children and families gathered around to pet them. With the attention they attract, it can take Phillips and his pigs as long as two hours to walk down Duke of Gloucester street.

“This way, it’s not just some crazy person on the corner holding a sign,” Phillips said. “It’s an animal with a message saying ‘I don’t want to die.’”

Hampton Roads has long been home to traditional Virginia pork products. Edwards Virginia Smokehouse is in Surry. Ham, sausage and BBQ feature prominently in the area’s culinary history and menus. 

Sam Edwards, owner of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, works to source the company’s meat from humane-certified farms, he said. While the animals are still being used in food consumption, they don’t spend their lives on commodity farms, where pigs can live in concrete spaces with no room for movement, Edwards said.

“We feel allowing pigs to roam large fields, makes for a happier pig which affects the flavor of the pork,” Edwards said. “Certified humanely-treated animals sure seem to taste better.”

Still, the Williamsburg area is where Phillips lives, and where he chooses to promote veganism.

He has participated in protests against the use of animals in food production, including demonstrations at Smithfield Foods Inc.

“It’s getting people to realize that at the end of the day we are all equal in sharing this planet,” Phillips said. “Just because we are humans doesn’t make us more entitled to anything.”

After a death, a lifestyle change

Phillips didn’t set out to become a vegan activist.

In 2009, his father died, at the age of 63. Phillips and his wife decided to adopt a healthier lifestyle for their family. They watched the documentary “Food, Inc.,” which is about the food industry, and were motivated to do something to stop animal abuse. They became vegans.

Ryan Phillips and his pigs garner a lot of attention as he walks around Colonial Williamsburg to spread his message about veganism. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Ryan Phillips and his pigs garner a lot of attention when they walk around Colonial Williamsburg. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

“If you’re going to say ‘I don’t want to hurt animals,’ the only way to keep that morally consistent is to refuse to consume anything that uses animals,” Phillips said.

Phillips and his family rescued their first pig, Pumpkin, in 2012, when a breeder could no longer care for her. Pumpkin came with her baby, Charlotte. Phillips adopted a third pig, Millie, a few years later.

Now, Phillips begins each morning by carrying his pigs down the stairs of his condo. Pumpkin, Charlotte, and Millie eat oats from his hand, as Emmie, the family Yorkie, watches.

“Smells like bacon”

In the beginning, Phillips found his message wasn’t necessarily well-received. 

“I had been standing on corners doing activism and people would shout death threats or charge at me,” Phillips said.

During a walk through Colonial Williamsburg on Wednesday, strangers made comments about his pigs.

Pumpkin, the largest of Phillips' three pigs, enjoys grazing around Colonial Williamsburg as visitors admire her sweater and pro-vegan buttons. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Pumpkin, the largest of Phillips’ three pigs, enjoys grazing around Colonial Williamsburg as visitors admire her sweater and pro-vegan buttons. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

One passerby shouted: “Smells like bacon.” 

Phillips doesn’t limit himself to appearances with his pigs, though.

He published a vegan children’s book in 2017 and he sells vegan-themed art on Facebook.

“I’ve always wanted to be a person who knew something was wrong and then took a stand against it,” Phillips said.

In his art, he portrays an array of subjects from animal love, with people hugging pigs and other animals, to what he views as hypocrisy in the food industry.

One work shows a person being artificially inseminated by a cow, to represent what Phillips said is the absurdity of societal views on animal treatment.

Part of Phillips’ message is to convey that a human life isn’t necessarily more important than an animal’s. His pigs are smart, he said, and they have the intellectual ability to be considered more than just food.

“Philosophically, I can’t justify why my life is more important than theirs,” Phillips said.

Charlotte and Millie travel with Phillips as far as California to participate in rights parades. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Charlotte and Millie are the family’s smaller pigs, but Phillips warns that pigs under fifty pounds are uncommon and potential owners shouldn’t expect to get pets this small. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

To see more of the pigs and learn more, visit Life with Pigs on Facebook.

To contact the reporter,

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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