Photograph by Betty Gillis, National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Betty Gillis, National Geographic Your Shot
The Plate

Raising a Barnyard in the Living Room

Humans have looked at animals as dinner since, well, we became humans. And before the grocery store separated us from what our food actually looks like, hunting was the primary method for getting a boar or fowl from the forest to the spit or chopping block.

But around 15,000 years ago, humans began the process of raising certain creatures to stay close, starting with canines, who were domesticated to aid in hunting down the other, still-wild meat sources. Domestication of animals like pigs, goats, and sheep soon followed, and that naturally made it much easier to attain diets richer in animals proteins, from meat to animal products like eggs and dairy. (You can learn some fascinating facts about the science and history of animal domestication in Taming the Wild. And our Future of Food series’ in-depth look at the evolution of the human diet is worth a read.)

It was inevitable, however, that social creatures like humans would take a shine to the animals they were working hard to keep alive, particularly once those goats and pigs (being particularly clever, after all), started following them around and just generally being cute and affectionate.

Today, people in pretty much every part of the globe keep animals as pets, including quite a few that are probably better suited to a farmyard than a living room. And, like all pet owners, champions of pet chickens, ducks, pigs, or goats have plenty of arguments for why it’s better to think of a chicken as a friend than a plate of wings and drumsticks.

You can take a look at some cuddly food animals people keep as pets in this week’s Your Shot gallery. But if these cute beasts inspire you to consider getting, say, a pig or duckling of your own, do not proceed without some thoughtful and serious research. All pets, but particularly animals that are traditionally raised for food, require very specific types of care and often have long life spans to boot. Not being prepared to make the appropriate commitment is cruel, and sanctuaries and shelters are full of animals that didn’t behave as the owners expected. Whether food or friend, all animals deserve respect and good care.