‘Seeking to be here, doing this’: Po-Essaying into Agro-ecological Thinking

By and | 31 October 2021

Missy the pig.




Turn: We take a wrong turn and travel several kilometres in the wrong direction. A speeding car on our tail forces us onward, but we spot a wide driveway up ahead, indicate, slow and veer off.

Pig: I don’t eat pork. Dislike its taste and texture. Perhaps this is because my mother is a terrible cook, her meats always tough and dry. Her roast pork is particularly terrible, grey and rough on the teeth. Many times, she would say ‘I’m making pork for dinner’ and I would reply ‘I don’t eat pork, Mum’.

Turn: I grew up around these lands but still, we lazily rely on satellites to guide our turns; at one point, the Google avatar tells us to take the fifth exit at a roundabout, where only four roads meet.

Pig: It is difficult to gift someone with the likeness of a pig – via knick knack, figurine, toy, mug, pencil topper, t-shirt. Fat pig. Greedy pig. ‘Pig’ has swerved through language into rough territory. ‘I thought of you and bought you this pig’.

Turn: Left onto an unsealed road, we are running late. I am anxious – I don’t like to keep people waiting. A sign up ahead indicates Jonai Farms. I know Tammi Jonas from my days at Melbourne Uni in the mid-2000s; we were both in the PhD program and involved in a casual poetry reading and writing group with other students. I remember Tammi as a commanding presence, never shy of tongue. I do not want to be late for Tammi.

Pig: Piglet was my favourite character from Winnie-the-Pooh. Regularly depicted with a hand clapped against each cheek and his eyebrows furrowed, his anxiety was clearly out of control. It’s possible that I identify more with Piglet now than when I was a child. My eyebrows are sparse and oddly shaped because I pull the hairs out one by one. I do not realise that I am doing this until I am significantly less capable of facial expression.

Turn: I read on the website that Jonai Farms does many things, including: raising ‘happy, tasty, heritage-breed Large Black pigs on pasture’; enacting ‘food sovereignty, which asserts everyone’s right to culturally appropriate nutritious and delicious food grown in ecologically-sound and ethical ways’; ‘living a life in common with nature’; diverting organic waste from landfill to feed pigs; and delivering ‘a full nose to tail no-waste offering,’ as pigs are used for cured meat, pate, bone stock, soap and bone char fertiliser.

Pig: My mother uses the word ‘pigsty’ to describe an untidy house. My mother despairs at my pigsty. I, too, despair. I tell her that I am too busy at work and too depressed to tidy my house.

Turn: We park the car and wander around a shed, past a large wooden crate filled with lemons. Winter, the mud is slick on pathways carved by footwork into grassy patches. We are unsure where exactly to present ourselves, but a woman in a vegetable garden recognises our befuddlement and shepherds us through a door into a kitchen – this is, it turns out, the main house. Tammi is in the kitchen frying almonds for a salad. It has been several years since we’ve seen each other, perhaps eight or nine. When her youngest child breezes into the room in a rustic poncho – he’s a head taller than me and now seventeen – I recalculate the reunion at closer to eleven years.

Pig: Homer Simpson doesn’t believe his daughter’s claim that bacon, ham and pork chops all come from the same animal. His ‘BBBQ’ pig-on-a-spit ends up flying a significant distance.

Turn: A friend of mine used to be (still is?) mad on cheap meats; he would stock his freezer with plastic-wrapped, marked-down cuts of steak and chops. This always puzzled me because he had a very well-paid job, could surely afford and enjoy a full-priced rack of lamb or eye fillet. And yet, part of me also appreciated that at least those meats did not wind up in a skip out the back of a supermarket, on the way to landfill.

Pig: There’s an ad on TV where a piglet, supported by a cast of other factory farm pigs and chickens, sings ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. Tammi says that Cheap meats are not cheap when you look at the impacts of that food.

Turn: I am guilty, of course I am, of buying too many foods in plastic packaging; of ill-considered air travel; of lazy comforts; too many clothes; too little time outdoors; of turning away from the earth. But guilt alone is not particularly productive.

Pig: A few years back, I meet my grandparents and parents at a small-town art show; we have scones and tea and drift past works on paper, canvas, wood. For the most part, the art is amateur and unremarkable. But there is one piece that draws me in, a big sow standing under cover of trees, a corner of hopeful blue sky in the left-hand corner. The artist has called it ‘Piggly Wiggly’, and I pay sixty-five dollars to take it home and mount it above my mantlepiece.

Turn: Tammi and I catch up on years existing beyond one another’s radar by piecing together the puzzle of common acquaintances and their activities. The picture we construct together is far-flung, multi-scened and speculative.

Pig: In high school a teacher showed us a video of animal testing, and one ‘test’ saw a team of men lift a piglet onto a table and then torch its skin while it writhed in agony. I remember nothing of the rest of the video. Perhaps because I puzzled over their intentions with this activity for days. The similarity between human and pig skin renders them prime candidates for biomedical research, yes, but of course a pig will burn if you set it on fire.

Turn: We are welcomed to a large table with many faces, enjoy pho, bread, cheese, butter and tea with milk and honey and lemon cake—all food made from ingredients gleaned from the farm. A table of fleshy faces is overwhelming in the wake of more than a year of pandemic isolation in Victoria. Tammi passes around a recent newspaper article with a headline characterising this place as an ‘abstract farm’. The whole table laughs.

Pig: When I first spot her in a patch of cavorting piglets she does not have a name, but my eyes home in, my mouth turns down like a sad fish. She is half the size of her siblings, perhaps smaller. Instantly, she is my favourite. We walk on to see other pigs in other paddocks, a couple of boars, some cattle. I want to circle back to the little runt, to maybe give her a pat on the head.

Turn: A recent dream: I am driving my father’s very old Mercedes. It is night, and although I am driving slowly, I am unable to fully control the vehicle. When I veer off the road the car begins to turn over until I am upside down.

Pig: I am assuming from Tammi’s matter-of-factness about the runt of a litter that this is a what-will-be-will-be situation. And here I am, elevating an animal above others for its cuteness. For a brief moment, I think about the yard at the front of my house, how it might become a home for a tiny pig. I know this is the kind of thinking that gets baby animals under Christmas trees and then tossed out for adoption when they grow too big. But, back at the first paddock, the runt now standing alone and shivering in the mud with her head lowered, I begin to squeal.

Turn: Later that night, I receive a text—a photo of Betty snuggled in a box with blankets. Tammi had lifted her out of the paddock and leapt over the electric fence as the big mother sow barrelled towards us, screaming her heft along the fence-line. I don’t think this is the usual way, that all strugglers are swaddled and hand-raised until strong-enough for paddock life.

Pig: Betty will not be saved, will not become ‘pet’. Betty will grow big and strong and enjoy her pig life in wide open spaces. She will nose around in dirt and grind grubs between her teeth. And one day, she will become: meat, pate, bone stock, soap, bone char fertiliser.

Turn: It’s been a particularly tough few months at work; everyone is strung-out, exhausted. Full days in front of a screen, the meetings and tasks are endless. I fantasise about all the things I can do with my pay check – a deluxe holiday that’s nothing but supremely comfortable; a new cardigan that is hand-knitted by a talented old lady and sourced by a boutique in Sydney; a box of expensive cheese delivered from Melbourne; a meal at some over-priced restaurant when we’re out of lockdown. Excess and fear dangle a carrot at the limit point of extreme discomfort.

Pig: I read on the World Animal Protection website that pigs have a very good sense of direction and are capable of finding their way home across considerable distances.

Yesterday, I pushed back from my computer and got down on all fours. I could see cat hairs trapped in the carpet, little clumps of dirt, bits of stuff that had fallen from bodies. I started to shake, too energetic at first, but then I got it down to a slow, rhythmic sway. And after that, I was able to stop completely, and figure out my next move.

Betty gets snuggled.

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