A wild pig lives for up to 25 years.
A domestic pig lives for 10-15 years.
A pig slaughtered for its meat lives for about 6 months.
The excellent dj and composer Matthew Herbert made a piece recently which consisted entirely of the sounds of a pig, raised for slaughter, which he had recorded intermittently throughout its short life. These sounds were transformed and played by a band of musicians who triggered the sounds from various instruments, including the Sty Harp. This beautiful machine, invented by Yann Seznec, looks actually more like a boxing ring than a sty, with posts at four corners, and a pair of horizontal wires forming the perimeter. The sounds are triggered by pulling on the wires, the speed and direction of the pull affecting the pitch and timbre of the sound. It’s made out of customised Gametraks, a failed pro-motion controller which became obsolete about ten minutes after it was invented in 2003.
The musicians were dressed in white lab coats – butchers/technicians – and played with great aplomb, particularly Seznec himself roaming around in his own Sty Harp. The music was fierce, unsettling and touching, an elegy for a life lived entirely for the benefit of human beings. The climax came with all the musicians playing the Sty Harp as the pig is (sonically) butchered.
We went to hear it at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, and were confronted by a group of local animal rights activists who had misunderstood the intention of the event. They were particularly provoked by the fact that a local chef was cooking up pork chops during the show. Matthew had apparently invited the activists into the theatre, but they had refused. He had already had a run-in with Jobst Eggert, the editor-in-chief of Peta in Germany, who as the papers reported ‘has a beef’ about Matthew’s position. Which is, in fact, that ‘we should treat animals with the utmost respect.’
In his interview with Jobst Eggert, Matthew reveals that the mother of ‘his’ pig killed one of her piglets by throwing it across the sty, breaking its jaw and leaving it unable to feed. Matthew used this behaviour as an argument against sentimentalising the animal kingdom. Perhaps it explains George Orwell’s on-the-face-of-it curious decision to make pigs the villains in Animal Farm.
Our friends Liz and Boyd, wonderful home cooks, gave me for my birthday an eye-opening book, Pig 05049, by the artist Christien Meindertsma. It simply shows 150-odd uses of the pig: in pork scratchings, gloves, glue, collagen, liquorice, tiramisu, ice cream, wine, paper, bullets, bone meal, matches, sandpaper, shoes, train brakes, mortadella, chorizo, torteloni, sausages, pet food, insulin, heart valves, tambourines, cigarettes, bio diesel, soap, paint, candles, foundation, fertiliser, paint brushes...... each is represented by a single image, and a summary of the route from pig to artefact. The nose-to-tail eating after the slaughter of a pig in a village is superseded by the nose-to-tail consumption of pig products in the global market. The frugality is the same but the morality is new.
My friend Emma made the mistake, when in her early twenties, of marrying a feckless hippie. They went to live in the middle of nowhere in Wales. She woke up on her birthday to find that her husband had already left the house, and having not seen him all day, finally decided to go to bed. She was woken up by a knock at the door. I’ve got your present, he said. He was evidently very pleased with himself. It was a pig, already slaughtered. So faithfully, the next day, she helped him butcher it and make sausages. The sausages where hung on the wooden clothes rack above the bath. Blood dripped into the bath, making it temporarily unusable. The house stank. It became clear that the pig was diseased. The contaminated meat and sausages had to be thrown away; and so had the marriage.
She is now married to a successful satirist.
We’ve published a book of Orlando’s recipes full of similar tales. For more about Orlando Gough Recipe Journal click here.