Category Archives: animal metaphors

Strump it!

in the neighbourhoodWhen I go out walking with our dog we go past a sign out the front of a block of units saying ‘Pick up your dog shit you selfish pigs’. Someone has gone to some effort to make this sign permanent: it is stuck in the ground with two metal poles and the words are composed of those block letter stickers, which are stuck onto a plastic board that is held to the poles with black plastic bracelets. It’s an affront to read the sign every time we walk past but quite amusing when our dog does a poo right in front of it. The ‘shit’ is not so offensive as the ‘pigs’ and I wonder at why they’ve chosen the word ‘selfish’ to preface it, aside from the fact that ‘selfish pigs’ are two words that are often put together. This persistent linking of a negative human trait to a particular non-human animal makes me wonder: 1) are pigs really selfish? 2) why do we invoke pigs when we are really describing humans? 3) has anyone even seen a pig in the suburbs? 4) why is it so offensive to be called a pig?

At some point during the US election campaign Hillary Clinton described Trump as a pig. This was after the recording came out of him talking about how he can’t stop himself around beautiful women. We all had to reach deep into the recesses of our vocabularies to come up with an insult that could capture just how repugnant it was. ‘Pig’ was the word we all reached for, even Hillary, who otherwise was able to refrain from direct insults most of the time, though no doubt the temptation was ever present. ‘Pig’ seemed to capture the full misogyny of the man (remember when men used to be called ‘chauvinist pigs’?). It also seemed to convey how deeply unattractive Trump is – which is not to say that pigs are not attractive – and how dare such an ugly man think he can ‘just start kissing’ women he finds beautiful? (He also said something about when you’re famous and rich women find you irresistible – bleurgh.)

A few posters on the Women’s March took up the theme: Humans vs. Trump; Trump is an offense to human dignity; Dog whistle politics don’t speak to me; and the reminder that Women are people, as if Trump has relegated us to the status of non-people or, perhaps, non-humans. The intention behind the posters I think was to say it is not only women that oppose Trump’s sexism and racism, but the effect is to say that Trump is not human, that there is some kind of animality that envelops him which is repellent to the rest of humanity and which we dissociate ourselves from. But we are all animals (the human and the non-human). Here we are using the metaphor of the animal to say that humans are a special kind of animal, a superior type of animal, and if you don’t live up to the rest of humanity’s expectation you are dropped down into the cesspit that is animality.

But Trump is human, all too human. He is one of us and, as much as we try with our imaginative slurs to disown him from the human species, we cannot get away from the fact that everything he does and says are things that humans do and say. Do we really think male pigs go around saying, ‘I’m going to move on that sow like a bitch’? Trump himself uses animal metaphors to describe his disgusting behaviour, as if the part of himself that does and says those racist and sexist things isn’t actually him but an alter-animal self that he cannot keep at bay.

Last year during the days of activism highlighting violence against women, an Australian anti-DV campaigner was quoted as saying something to the effect of ‘men are not always animals’. The focus of her campaigning is that violent men need help to change their behaviour, that it is not something inherent in their characters, or that it is ‘natural’, to be violent. This is an incredibly important point. Yet, when we use animal terms to describe the worst of men’s behaviour, we are buying into the same misogynist ideology we are trying to call out. By calling men ‘animals’, we disown violence as something that humans are capable of and we say that only animals are capable of violence. This is because animals are supposedly driven by instinct and have no ‘culture’ or respect for their fellow animal beings. Whatever they do is ‘natural’. When we say a man is animal, we are saying that he has lost his ‘human’ culture and etiquette; he has devolved into his natural state. But this gives a rationale for the behaviour: I cannot help my nature. Tackling violence against women is all about changing violent behaviour. How can we hope to change behaviour when we call men animals and perpetuate the idea that violence is somehow natural?

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The wild and the free

‘I used to think I was wild.’

One of the narrators in Helen Humphreys’ Wild Dogs felt wild when motorcycling through empty streets early in the morning. Alone, independent and free.

Mrs Lomez used to think she was wild when she stayed up late and purposefully deprived herself of sleep, did not change out of her clothes and did not shower, ate only coffee. Trying to find a natural state without the things that surround you in abundance. Ah, student days. We grow up and realise not that we have grown into domestication but that these little quirks and gestures were never signs of wildness.

When we talk about wildness, we invoke independence, rebellion, passion. For humans maybe and for some animals too: often we talk about wild wolves, wild foxes, wild boars and all sorts of other wild ‘life’. Badgers are not a species we’d associate with wildness, though perhaps with the more politically correct ‘free living’.

Politically correct it may be but it also gives false ideas about how much these animals are allowed to keep to themselves. Take British badgers, for example, going about their lives and then one day, with the passing of new legislation, humans are shooting guns at them. As a good badger friend of Mrs Lomez once said, ‘life in the wild is tough enough without some wanker with a gun trying to hunt you down’. Wild animals also have homes, families, responsibilities, patterns of behaviour; they do not live in isolation.

The reason for the shooting, supposedly, is that these free-living creatures pose a threat to domesticated cattle in the form of bovine tuberculosis. Mrs Lomez won’t go into why this is a load of crock here – all that information is available for those who care to look for it, dairy farmers and government ministers included – but it shows how the domesticated is perceived to be more valuable than the wild. These cows are someone’s property, they are the symbol of someone’s livelihood. And human livelihoods always win out over other animals’. And because badgers are not especially forthcoming in their affection toward humans, being nocturnal and shy, they are expendable.

You wouldn’t think it would be such a big deal, sticking up for badgers in the face of a massacre by stealth. This is not loaded with class connotations as fox hunting is. But the badger cull has been obscured into nationalistic solidarity with dairy farmers against a benign and unsuspecting little furry animal. Never mind that the cause of bovine TB could very well be found in intensive farming practices, nor that the British public has already unwittingly been eating cows infected by TB and still declared safe by the Food Standards Agency. It is difficult to see what British dairy farming or the UK government could stand to gain from killing badgers.

So it was that on June 1 thousands of people dressed in black and white marched on London town, from Millbank to St James’s Park, in support of badgers’ right to life, a free life. Just days earlier a report into the decline of British wildlife, State of Nature, had been published, showing a concerning drop in populations of wild animals and plants. The preplanned route of the march was diverted by police trying to appease the English Defence League, which had organised an impromptu rally. Mrs Lomez wonders who the police thought posed the bigger threat: a right-wing, anti-migrant group, or a bunch of animal advocates. The badger march was peaceful, would you believe: so many thousands of animal activists showing non-violent solidarity with a species that cannot vocalise its own defence. One domesticated species standing up for the wild.

Like Kinsey’s spectrum of sexuality, perhaps all animals, human and otherwise, exist on a continuum of wildness at one end and domestication at the other, and we move along this scale in both directions throughout our lives. Wild spirits are meant to be prized. The free-living are meant to be protected. The narrator in Wild Dogs lives with a dog who decides to join a wild pack. A dog that chooses a life in the wild over domestication. These wild spirits get a reputation for being uncontrollable and dangerous. And they are hunted down.

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When the cat’s away / sh*t that vegans eat

When Dr Sin has the run of the house, the steak comes out and the only rule of co-habitation, to not cook meat, is temporarily broken. When Dr Sin is away, Mrs Lomez pulls out all sorts of incredible food combinations that Dr Sin just cannot stomach. Tahini and marmite. Tahini, marmite and tomato paste. Marmite and avocado. Marmite on just about everything. Tahini on pizza. Tahini on baked beans. Marmite on toast topped with baked beans smothered in tahini. Banana, tahini and soy yoghurt smoothie. Mmm-hmmm.

Omnivores and vegans alike may be surprised at the cheese-like qualities of tahini. Under a grill, it bubbles, just like a cheese toastie (or cheesie) does. On a pizza, it adds a drooly quality, much like mozzarella would. Mixed with yeast extract and tomato paste, it creates a cheesy pasta sauce. It can also be added to avocado and lemon juice – great spread on sourdough with a spatter of rocket (that one’s courtesy of Ray’s café in Melbourne, c. 2009). Or with soy sauce, sesame oil and some warm water, a viscous sauce emerges to accompany stir fried veg (that one imparted by the Skinny Bitches).

Yeast extract, otherwise known as marmite, vegemite or simply ‘yeast extract, with no added salt’, is not only a vegan staple but an affirmation of national pride. (Whaddaya know, vegans are nationalists just like the people that eat little lambs.) Great on toast as a base for just about every savoury topping: avo, tomatoes, baked beans (with tahini on top, smaak lekker!). As a child, Mrs Lomez (unmarried back then, of course) rued the days she was given vegemite and cheese sandwiches for school lunch. Wholly inedible for one so young. But yeast extract, like beer and wine, is alive, just as you are, and will one day be the object of your warm affections.

How did these unexpected pairings come about? In the vegan travails of Mrs Lomez, it has been the necessity and the knowing how to create a nutrient-rich dish from which has arisen such ensemble. Tahini is great for calcium and protein, being pretty much solely composed of sesame seeds. Yeast extract also helps with protein and B vitamins: marmite even has added B12 (though not vegemite). And both their flavours are a savoury delight.

Dr Sin believes Mrs Lomez has no sense of foods that go well together. But then they have very different approaches to eating food. While Mrs Lomez will spread salad over her roasted vegetables, Dr Sin keeps the salad in a separate bowl and only partakes once all the veg have disappeared from the plate. Some say not to mix hot and cold foods. Some take no notice of this advice and mix everything into a melange of flavour so a different taste or texture assails you at every bite. That, or the techni-coloured mushy glub takes on an other, wholly unrecognisable tone.

There’s a great mushroom pie recipe on a veggie site somewhere that avails itself of dark ale and yeast extract. Only a teaspoon, mind. The problem with vegans, Dr Sin might say, is that they develop a tolerance to marmite and use so much of it, any other flavour in the dish is overwhelmed. Mrs Lomez can’t disagree with this.

When the cat’s away, the mice come out to play. It’s not about breaking rules, but not having to modify your behaviour for the benefit of someone else (or your own self-preservation). This is not to say that all cats are controlling, domineering, homicidal felines; nor that in the Sin-Lomez household, every day is a matter of life and death. When the cat’s away, there is no need to compromise.

What unlikely food combos have you dared to whip up in the cat’s absence?

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