Archive for the ‘San Antonio Rodeo’ Category

Oliver (the pig) and Johnnie Lee (the girl)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Before I tell you the story of Johnnie Lee and Oliver, the pig at the San Antonio Rodeo, I need to tell you a bit about where I’m coming from.

I like food. I’d even say that I’m a foodie. I cook a lot. I eat a lot of good food. I share food with the people that I love.

I’m also a city girl. When I visit the country, I’m just that–a visitor. Even though my parents have lived in a rural area for 13 years, that move happened after I left their home. I grew up in Dallas. I live in San Antonio now. But I do love being outside. And I appreciate some of the values that I see played out in small town, rural life, namely community and hard work. So there is an inward part of me that is drawn toward country life.

And I’m not a vegetarian. I eat meat. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do enjoy it.

I’m also a Christian, and being a Christian is changing the way I think about everything–even what and how I eat.
After watching the documentary, Food Inc. (which I highly, highly recommend), I’ve thought a whole lot more about where the food that I eat and that I serve my family comes from. You can click on the link under the movie’s title to get more information about it. As a result of watching the movie, I’ve started to consider the following question more and more: What happens when we produce and consume food in a way that prizes efficiency and cheapness above all else? Even though you may not end up agreeing with all aspects of this documentary, it will get you thinking.

Bottom line: I want to support food sources that treat people and animals with respect and gratitude. I don’t want to support food sources that treat people and animals with disrespect.
Is anyone still reading???

So all of these themes about food and people and animals were swirling in my head when my good friends, the Bowers family, asked me to photograph their daughters’ first national rodeo show in my backyard at the San Antonio Rodeo. The light was super, duper crappy, but I did my best with what I know now. I’ve blogged in the past about the Bowers family and how Emmie and I got to help take care of their pigs here. Katie and Johnnie Lee have both been raising pigs since this fall in NE Texas. Johnnie Lee (the younger sister) and Katie (the older sister) have been caring for these pigs non stop. They have fed them, bathed them, weighed them, and taught them to walk next to their side. They’ve gotten up early in the morning and visited the barn a couple of times a day. And when they arrived in San Antonio for the Rodeo, they waited in line in a car for 5 hours in the middle of the night just to get a good spot in the very crowded swine barn.

I know for certain that under Johnnie Lee’s care, Oliver was well taken care of and treated with respect.

The show is a bit like a wrestling match and a beauty pageant. Like wrestlers, the pigs are classified according to weight. If your pig is a very competitive pig, you will try to push them into a higher weight class. So how much you feed your pig is strategic. Upon arrival, your pig is weighed and you can’t let your pig fluctuate within 10 pounds of that number or you are disqualified. Like aspiring beauty queens, there are certain qualities that a judge is looking for in a pig. I’m not sure what these qualities are, but I think they relate to the proportions of a pig’s body.

When the pigs arrive at the rodeo, their ears are notched to indicate when they were born.

Unfortunately we missed Katie’s show the day before. We were able to make Johnnie Lee’s show. Her pig was very promising so she and her parents and ag coach decided to place Oliver in the heavy weight category. This placement meant that Johnnie Lee would show her pig alongside kids much older and more experienced then her. It ended up being a bit of a David and Goliath kind of story: an elementary aged first-timer up against the bigger, more experienced high school veterans.

The anxious minutes before the show were full of encouragement, pep talks, hair brushing and strategizing.

There were also goodbyes. I learned that immediately after the show, your pig goes on a truck with hundreds of other pigs, and you never see that pig again. This is the very pig that has become more like a pet or member of the family than a food source. I could tell that Oliver recognized Johnnie Lee and Johnnie Lee deeply cared for Oliver.

Even though the barn was jammed pack with animals and people and stink, it was a very lonely place at this moment:

Right before the show, the plastic pants come off to reveal the fancy jeans and belt buckle underneath.

Breeders were eyeing Oliver and were trying to persuade Johnnie Lee and her parents to take the pig “off her hands” for a price. The parents stuck to their guns and said no. They placed a greater value on their daughter having this life experience than on the money that they would have made.

It was time for the show. If your pig has a chance at all of placing in the top 10, they are “penned”. That means they don’t go on the truck right away. Instead, you and your pig go in a shoot. The gate opens and you show your pig in front of a judge. Johnnie Lee and Oliver got penned. Your pig is weighed one last time. And you spray your pig down with water to keep him or her cool and calm. I also wonder, if this helps calm down the human too because it give you something to do while you are waiting. . .

The gates open and you maneuver your pig through traffic. Your goals are to maintain eye contact with the judge and show him your pig’s best attributes. The judge is that guy in the blue ball cap.

You can see how crowded the ring was and how much older the competition was.

Johnnie Lee didn’t place, but she did get a firm handshake and a “job well done” from the judge.

And with that, it was all over. Oliver went to the truck. Johnnie Lee left the ring.
Katie, her big sister hopped over the barricades and ducked under the bleachers to comfort her sister. She had said a similar goodbye the day before.
I want my kids to support each other like this.

I couldn’t help but wonder how Johnnie Lee will tell this story to her friends and even kids one day. To me, it seems like it will be a real coming of age story in her life. I also hope that this story will remind her of the support her family gave her. And hopefully, she will look back on my photos and be able to show her kids what it looked and felt like.