The growing concern for the world’s environment (hotly debated last month in Copenhagen) has inspired people to question the origins of the things they consume, leading to trends like the slow food and fair trade movements, and films like Food, Inc. A similar curiosity led the Dutch artist/designer Christien Meindertsma to track all the products made from “05049,” an actual pig selected at random from a commercial farm in the Netherlands. After its slaughter, Meindertsma discovered that the single pig was used in 185 different products, all of which are pictured in her book. PIG 05049, a collaboration between Meindertsma and the graphic designer Julie Joliat, is a visual catalog of the “afterlife” of one animal that reveals the complexity of the meat-processing industry and of our manmade world.
Utilizing every last bit of animals in non-food products is nothing new; ancient books were made from vellum, a specially prepared sheep skin, and Native Americans were famous for finding a practical use for every ounce of the buffalo. What Meindertsma and Joliat so elegantly illustrate is the level of disconnect, physically and psychologically, consumers have from the production of objects we use on a daily basis. Who would have thought pig products went into making toothpaste? Instead of a strident polemic against meat eating, the designers have given us an homage to a sapient, individual creature, memorialized in the wildly divergent products that are born from 05049’s death.
Awareness-raising works like PIG 05049, now in MoMA’s collection, reveal the difficulty of attempting to live in harmony with nature. Indeed, merely abstaining from pork would not have saved 05049, as illustrated by the dozens of non-food objects in the book. But like the Copenhagen conference (which will not magically halt climate change), PIG 05049 represents a renewed desire to grapple with difficult issues.