Two books about our relationship with pigs

GRAMElfriede Jelinek’s work “Lärm. See blind. The blind see!” In Frank Castorf’s production, a live pig also enters the scene; the review of the premiere in the Viennese newspaper “Der Standard” was published in September 2021 with the title: “Die Liebe zum Schwein”; another critic spoke of the “hog gallop towards postmodernism”. A few months later, in early 2022, the sensational news of the first successful pig heart transplant in Baltimore spread around the world, despite the fact that the patient survived the operation for only two months.

Cem Özdemir has now presented a concept for a five-stage state label for animal welfare labeling in food. According to the Federal Minister for Agriculture, the obligation should initially apply to pork. The message is clear: pigs are “awesome” and “a bit like us.” This is also the title of a “Story about the pig” by the Norwegian historian and journalist Kristoffer Hatteland Endresen.

Between report and field report

But even the first chapter of the book contrasts with the eminent visibility of the pigs on stage or in the operating room: in it the author recounts his difficulties in entering a slaughterhouse. Endresen summarizes the amount of pork eaten in Norway, supplemented by statistics from Germany, and then asks, “How can an industry of this scale, based on live animals of this size, be completely invisible to us?”

Kristoffer Hatteland Endresen:


Kristoffer Hatteland Endresen: “Cursed and a bit like us.” A story about the pig.
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Image: Westend Verlag

Referring to John Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?”, he decides to look pigs in the eye before beginning to write about them. The narration develops logically in the alternation between reportage and experience story. Sometimes imagination and reality are closely intertwined, for example when Endresen associates the birth of a piglet with “Alice in Wonderland”, albeit in the opposite direction: while Alice holds a baby in her arms suddenly he turns into a little pig, he is a little pig that looks like a baby to the author and father-to-be. But the literary reference is quickly limited as soon as a foreman comments that pigs are industrial animals, not stuffed animals.

In the end you’re bound to be blunted

The frequent change of perspective is one of the favorite stylistic devices of the book. The author not only professes his sympathy for piglets, but also his fondness for pork: “Although I gorge myself on industrial pigs in some form almost every day, my worldview has long been shaped by worldviews. who speak against this way of life. the chapters take us into early history, dealing with Palaeolithic cave paintings, but also with the processes of domestication; other chapters deal with the well-known Middle Eastern pig taboos, appetite and aversion, and the breeding of new breeds of pigs.

Furthermore, Endresen describes his daily life as a pig farmer, making no secret of his own apathy: “Pigs have become objects, they are no longer individuals and they are certainly not sentient creatures.” The book ends with a depressing chapter on the slaughter and an epilogue. than “zoonoses”, the transmission of pathogens through our farm animals. The history of the pigs, the author remarks, is always a history of the people.

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