Good Reading : February 2010
50 goodreading ı FEBRUARY 2010 BOOKBITE Traditionally, pork is the staple meat of rural Galicia. It's a good, dependable food source. But dependable is the word. The pig does not evoke a sense of grandeur. It is an everyday sort of animal. And its meat is not generally considered to be glamorous or sexy.Think sexy meat and it's a big juicy fillet of beef winking up at you from the plate, next to it a decent bottle of Bordeaux. Think healthy meat, if you must, and it's a small portion of free-range chicken breast, served with a lolla rossa salad and a tumbler of ice cold Pellegrino. Whatever your criterion, there's always something outgunning pork for the top spot: aristocratic meat (venison, swan), cruel meat (dog, suckling anything), underrated (rabbit), overrated (veal), fashionable (ostrich), unfashionable (horse), nauseating (sheep's eyes), enticingly surreal (polecat chops). Commercially speaking, pork is just plain unattractive, with all the marketing dollars going on franchised beef patties and reconstituted chicken scrapings. And when did you last order pork in a restaurant? Probably that time you didn't feel up for a steak, or when there was nothing interesting like pheasant or jugged hare to get you all dribbly; it's the menu's relief pitcher, down there in the bullpen with chicken à la king and the vegetarian option. Pork is also much maligned for being high-chol and artery-choking, a food for fatties, for porkers; the world's best known pork chop fan is Homer Simpson. Then there's its reputation as carrier of the deadly pathogens, leading home cooks to cremate their pork steaks in the name of food safety.You know the situation: you inch up out of your seat until you're at a bashful crouch-stand, using your upper body weight to power downward with the blade of your knife on the oven- nuked slab of meat, dry and white and as impenetrable as marble. Despite all this, when we think about the animal itself, something happens to us. Pigs make a connection; they affect us. Consider the toy far myard of your childhood. Which animal did you imitate the most? Which one did you love, which one made your eyes light up when you saw one on TV, or in the flesh? It's not the cow (lumbering, docile), the sheep (courteous, decent, but generally unimaginative, an accountant of an animal), or the horse (too high-falutin'). It's the pig every time. The pig was the first animal to be domesticated, some nine or ten thousand years ago, and perhaps over the ensuing millennia we've grown closer to this descendant of the wild boar than we like to think. Just look at how we imitate its oink. Nor mally, we use onomatopoeia to describe animal sounds. The sound of a buzzing honeybee, for example, is pretty much the same around the world: bzz (Finnish), bzzz (French), bzzz (Hungarian), boon boon (Japanese), zhzh- zh (Russian). Same with our friend the cow, who goes ammuu in Finnish, meuh in French, mau mau in Japanese, et cetera. When it comes to the pig's nasal snort, you'd think that every culture had its own different subspecies, each with a radically different oink apparatus.Thus: nšff (Finnish), groin groin (French), reuf-reuf (Hungarian), boo boo (Japanese, where pigs apparently sound like bees), hrgu-hrgu (Russian), kwik (Polish).To cap it all, in Mandarin pigs go hulu and in Cantonese they say god. These noises are not onomatopoeia. They're markers of our fondness for a grunty animal so close to us that we see a little of ourselves in him: the almost human-like pink hue to the skin, the penchant for potatoes, the amiable way he's got of going quietly about his business, like a deaf old uncle pottering in the garden, oblivious to those watching him. In Orwell's Animal Farm pigs stand in place for man. The novel is about a pack of Bolshevik pigs that overthrow human rule, only to play out the (very human) tragedy of a fallen utopia.Why not sheep? Why did Orwell choose pigs? Did he see them as a naked analogue of ourselves? Is the drama played out in Orwell's far myard so powerful and moving precisely because we know how closely the pig resembles us? Then there's the matter of transfor mation. In Homer's Odyssey, Circe tur ns the ship's crew into swine after tempting them to eat like, well, like pigs. So, they stuff their faces wildly, then become the very animal we associate with greed. It's as if such a transformation is a natural one, that we are separated from the porcine by the smallest of margins, and sur rendering to our deepest, instinctive impulses can tur n us instantly into our piglike true selves. The roll call of pig comparisons with humans is a long and varied one.We call each other greedy pigs, fat pigs, lazy, smelly, and ugly pigs, untidy and dirty pigs.This reputation for being dirty is wholly undeserved, and when it comes to eating its own waste, the pig only does it when there's nothing else to hand. In any case, hens also slurp on their own droppings, yet no one's choking on their McNuggets or devising cruel metaphors. When they're starving, pigs will occasionally eat each other, but so do we when our airplanes crash in inhospitable places. As for rolling in their mess, pigs have no sweat glands, so their auto-scat is a very efficient for m of temperature regulation. They prefer to roll in mud, but we tend to keep them in shit-strewn pens, so they have little choice. In any case, you'd roll around in the first effluent you came across if I ripped out your sweat glands and you had no other means of cooling down. Needs must, even for a pig. everything but the squeal by John Barlow In Galicia, Spain, the people revere and consume every part of the pig. Over the course of one year, JOHN BARLOW tries the patience of his vegetarian wife as he vows to eat ‘everything but the squeal’. In this extract he looks at humans’ symbolic relationship with the pig.
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