Two books on the relationship between pigs and humans

GElfriede Jelinek’s play “Lärm. Blind sighted. The blind see! ”. In Frank Castorf’s production, a live pig also comes on stage; the review of the premiere of the Viennese daily “Der Standard” was published in September 2021 under the title: “Die Liebe zum Schwein”; another reviewer spoke of “pig galloping into postmodernism”. A few months later, in early 2022, sweeping news swept about the first successful pig heart transplant in the Baltimore world, even though the patient only survived the operation for two months.

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

Between reportage 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 talks about his difficulties in entering a slaughterhouse. Endresen summarizes how much pork is eaten in Norway, supplemented by the statistics for 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: “For heck and a little like us”. A story about the pig.
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Photo: Westend Verlag

Referring to John Berger’s essay “Why Look at Animals?”, He decides to look pigs in the eye before starting to write about them. The narrative unfolds logically in the alternation between reportage and experience report. Sometimes fantasy and reality are closely linked, for example when Endresen connects the birth of a piglet with “Alice in Wonderland”, but in the opposite direction: While Alice holds a baby in her arms, which suddenly turns into a piglet, it is a piglet that acts as a baby for the author and the future father. But the literary reference quickly becomes limited as soon as a foreman notices that pigs are industrial animals, not pets.

In the end, you have to be blunted

The frequent change of perspective is one of the book’s favorite stylistic devices. The author confesses not only his sympathy for piglets, but also his penchant for pork: “Although I stuff myself with industrial pigs in some form almost every day, my worldview has long been shaped by views that speak against this lifestyle.” Some chapters lead us into the early history, dealing with Paleolithic rock paintings, but also about domestication processes; other chapters tell about the well-known pork taboos in the Middle East, about appetite and aversion and about breeding new pig breeds.

In addition, Endresen describes his everyday life as a pig breeder, without hiding his own apathy: “The pigs have become objects, they are no longer individuals and certainly not sensitive creatures.” The book ends with a depressing chapter on slaughter and an epilogue. that “zoonoses”, the transmission of pathogens through our domestic animals. The story of the pigs, the author notes, is always a story of humans.

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