Wednesday, May 16, 2012

specimens of the literature of sweden - Johan Jönson

128. I'll tell you.  The slaughter-van came every Thursday morning at ten o'clock.

129. She listens.

130.  The first muck-out was at six. There were kind of chutes behind the stalls. You sweated. The dust-mask itched.

131. The first feed was at seven. You went with a large feed wagon in the corridors between the stalls and dispensed some sort of pig feed into the feed-chutes. It was mixed with vitamins and antibiotics. Your throat became dry from the dust that whirled up. You sweated. The dust-mask itched. Pigs who were going to be slaughtered that day weren’t fed. Their stalls were marked with a green symbol.

132. Around eight, a couple of hours before the slaughter-van came, all the pigs started screaming. They had worked out when it was coming. You needed ear protection. It was a different cry from when the sows gave birth. Then the boars roared continuously with aggressive voices. They stood with their front legs on the top rail of their pens as if inciting the sows to bite to death the newborn piglets that were not immediately sucking on teats.

133.  You use a special electrified rod to paralyze the sow and prevent this wastage of the farrow. Then you put the runts in piglet pens, under heat-lamps.

134. Piglets that weren’t going to be be fed on-site or sold to other breeders were gassed in gas chambers. Then the carcasses were sold, mainly to cat- and dog-food producers.

135. I think that all newborn pigs should be kept alive.

136. After the slaughter-van came, you needed both ear-plugs and ear-muffs. Mostly, the pigs went into the pens like they were meant to. Any who were stubborn you held their hind legs and shoved them, like heavy, heavy wheelbarrows, up the gangplank and into the slaughter-van. You sweated. When the door had closed, the holding pens had been put away and the slaughter-van had gone, then the pigs that remained in the stalls would shut up. You could then take off the ear-muffs.

137.  During the lunch-hour we slept on feed-sacks inside the warehouse.

138.  Before the visit of an animal-welfare inspector or a major buyer, if it was in spring or summer, the pigs were released into outdoor paddocks. They ran around and jumped and poked in the mud. In the sunlight they shifted colour from beige gray, dust gray, to brilliant pink, for a few minutes. When the signal for feeding sounded, the pigs rushed back into the stalls, and the doors closed.

139. The second feed was at one. You went with a large feed wagon in the corridors between the stalls and dispensed pig feed, mixed with antibiotics and vitamins, into the feed-chutes. Your mouth and throat went dry from the dust that whirled up. It stuck a little in the eyes. You sweated. The dust-mask itched. Through the protectors you heard pigs’ noises when they ate and drank.

140. She says: What did it sound like?

141.  I say: Like beings. Like animals. That crawl about. That emit sounds: gurgling, swallowing.

142. She says: Are they so helpless?

143. Well, they're looking forward.

144. No way back!

145. Not that there's any way forward, either...

146. I laugh.

 (from Johan Jönson's Restaktivitet (2007)).


Nearly all of the extracted passage uses impersonal passives and the neutral preposition “man”, which is here mainly rendered as “you”.

Jönson’s account of intensive pig farming is intentionally impressionistic and elemental. (It forms part of a much larger sequence on work, automatism and despair. Restaktivitet means "Residual activity".)

So he does not e.g. distinguish between batch pens, gestation crates*, and farrowing crates.  He uses the single word “stia” which means “sty”, but in the UK this always refers to outdoor housing. 

I may have missed the point of the joke at the end. (Thanks to Irene and Sam for help with this translation.)  

You can read a lot more about Johan Jönson in various Montevidayo pieces by Johannes Göransson, e.g. this one from a couple of days ago:

*Gestation crates, aka sow stalls, are banned in Sweden (1994), the UK (1999), and some US states, and by McDonalds. These are the confined cages in which, under this system, breeding sows spend most of their adult lives, more or less like bottles in a wine-rack.

The EU is imposing a restriction from 1/1/2013 meaning that sows can only be confined in the crates for the first 4 weeks of each 16-week gestation. (It has been reported that many EU member states won't be compliant in time).  UK readers please note: unless you buy the more expensive products clearly labelled as "British Pork", then it's probably from a farm somewhere in Europe that uses gestation crates.

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