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.’”
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.
“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.
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.
To see more of the pigs and learn more, visit Life with Pigs on Facebook.
To contact the reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org