The author’s mother, Barbara Haspel, enjoys the front end of the porcine alchemy project. (Tamar Haspel for The Washington Post)

Editor’s note: As part of her Pig to Table Project, Haspel will regularly update readers on her porcine charges’ progress. You can read her earlier posts in the links below.

I’ve always thought Rumpelstiltskin got a bad rap. He’s the only one in that whole story who’s on the level. A miller tells the king that his daughter can turn straw into gold. The king locks the girl in a turret to see if she can. Rumpelstiltskin shows up and saves the day, asking only for the first-born as payment.

The miller’s a liar; the girl’s a milquetoast; and the king’s a greedy pig. My man Rumple simply believes, perfectly reasonably, that spinning straw into gold is worth a baby. For this, in some versions, he meets a gruesome death, while the liar, the milquetoast and the greedy pig live happily ever after. That the only guy in the history of mankind who could turn straw into gold was vilified in a children’s fairy tale tells us a lot about the lure of alchemy.

I’ve never dabbled in alchemy (the only intellectual edge I can claim over Isaac Newton). I’m plenty greedy enough, but I’m convinced it would be a waste of time. My livestock, though, are alchemists of the first order.

I’ve marveled at the way chickens turn carrot tops, cucumber peels and old crusty rice into eggs. Pigs, though, are even better alchemists — on both sides of the equation. Not only can they use a wider variety of foods as raw materials, they consume much more volume. And what you get at the other end is one of the finest foods on Earth. If there were a periodic table of meats, pork would be gold.

Now, I like an egg as much as the next person, but prosciutto it’s not.

One of the arguments against eating meat is that it takes several pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork, and we’d be better off just eating the grain in the first place and skipping the middle man. For animals raised strictly on feed, that’s true, at least from an ecological standpoint.

The equation changes for pigs that eat other things. Like grass. Or the waste whey from dairy plants. Or garbage.

Most of what our pigs eat is standard-issue swine feed — we get ours from Poulin Grain, a family-owned mill in Vermont. But we’re supplementing, not just with the fish skins we get in quantity from the Naked Oyster, a local restaurant, but also with odds and ends from our garden and dinner table, or scraps from our friends’ homes.

Although I’m reluctant to feed pigs anything that people can eat, our pigs are so fond of bread that I’m willing to give them anything that goes stale. They’ve had the soggy remains of green salads, pasta leftovers that no one’s in the mood to eat and anything that gets lost in the refrigerator long enough to be suspect. Last week, they ate all the bean vines we decommissioned, as well as the tops, skins and trimmings of the 70 pounds of tomatoes I turned into sauce.

And it’s not just our garbage. Friends and family save their garbage and bring it over. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched your mother hand-feed tortilla chips to your pig.

Rumpelstiltskin ain’t got nothing on Tiny.

Further reading:

* The Pig to Table Project: Off to a happy start

* String theory: Taking the measure of a pig

* Deep in the bowels of pig farming

* The swine flue: Pig snouts inhale only the good stuff

* Pigs, on a see-food diet

* And this little piggy had no cross-species friends