The Visibility And Invisibility Of Pigs, Part One: Pigs In The City
By Brett Mizelle, Ph.D. (guest blogger)
I have long been interested in “how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in modern society,” as Timothy Pachirat has succinctly put it in the introduction to his important ethnographic study of the modern industrial cattle slaughterhouse.  Although the relationship between visibility and power can be tracked in a number of realms of American life, including the quiet development of the “carceral state” (more than six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S.), it may perhaps be seen most clearly in the largely unacknowledged lives and deaths of food animals (more than 8.5 billion animals are slaughtered annually in the United States). The production of meat is accordingly an aspect of the human-animal relationship where, as Anat Pick notes, “relations of power operate in their exemplary purity (that is, operate with the fewest moral or material obstacles).” 
The invisibility of modern industrialized slaughter is well known to most animal activists. After all, we often point out, using a phrase attributed to but surely not originating from Sir Paul McCartney, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” In fact, the visibility and invisibility of animal slaughter (and of many food animals themselves, raised in confinement facilities that distance them from the public eye) has been a persistent theme in the story of human-animal relationships in the modern world.
As a cultural historian who has been thinking and writing about pigs for the past several years, I would like to look at a few moments of animal visibility, ones noteworthy in part because they are literally unimaginable today. In this post, the first of two focused on the visibility and invisibility of pigs, I will examine the disappearance of pigs from American cities. While pigs were once ubiquitous in urban spaces, central to subsistence economies, the environment, and everyday life, they were increasingly seen as nuisances that generated tons of waste and injured people and property when loose. The removal of pigs from urban spaces had profound consequences for humans, animals, and the urban environment. Today, we are only likely to see pigs in our cities as meat in shops and restaurants and as representations, often as nostalgic and cute images of pigs in paint, fiberglass and bronze that ultimately work to obscure the killing and consumption of millions of animals.
Foreign travelers noted that American cities were remarkable for the presence of non-human animals, especially hogs and pigs. Visiting New York in 1842, the novelist Charles Dickens wrote of pigs in New York “roaming towards bed by scores” in the evening, “eating their way to the last” along Broadway. He urged his readers to “take care of the pigs,” noting that these “gentlemen hogs” were “mingling with the best society, on an equal, if not superior footing, for every one makes way when he appears, and the haughtiest give him the wall, if he prefer it.”
Pigs were easy to keep in towns and cities because they did not require much space, could be turned out to wander (and be counted on to find their way home), and, most importantly, find their own food in the large amounts of garbage generated by humans, thereby helping to clean the streets. Pigs efficiently converted garbage to meat, making them an important animal in the lives of working-class and immigrant city dwellers, who often kept a pig or two for domestic consumption or for sale. Yet these pigs, kept in piggeries at night and turned out into the streets during the day by both individual owners and butchers, proved an incredible public nuisance. New York City passed its first law prohibiting hogs from running in the streets in 1648, inaugurating what John Duffy called a long “losing war with the pigs” that continued until 1860.
The effort to control the pig population in New York was deeply entangled with the politics of class and race amidst urbanization and modernization. In a precursor to contemporary interest in multispecies justice and urban ecologies, working-class New Yorkers vigorously protested the city’s efforts to confiscate their pigs, both in the courts and in popular demonstrations and riots against the hogcarts in the 1820s and 1830s. The press seldom came to the defense of these marginal New Yorkers, instead blaming the hogs for the poor condition of the city’s streets and for the spread of disease. In the wake of a cholera epidemic in 1849 the city began a more effective crackdown, culminating in the attack on piggeries in the area known as Hog Town (between 50th and 59th streets from Fifth to Eighth Avenues) in 1859. Over 3,000 hogs were captured in this raid and many hog pens were destroyed, with the paradoxical effect that the city had to spend much more money on the removal of offal and garbage than before. By 1860 pigs were removed to north of 86th Street and the era of free-ranging hogs in New York City, at least, was over.
By the turn of the twentieth century, pigs had largely (if unevenly) vanished from most U.S. towns and cities, as the killing of pigs and the production of meat moved further and further away from the point of pork consumption. Other than as meat and as representations on signs for restaurants and grocery stores, pigs are now absent from American urban spaces. Increasingly, urban residents can find representations of pigs in the form of sculptures that mark the sites of markets and shopping districts, including Eric Berg’s “Philbert,” the mascot of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, and “Rachel,” who plays the same role at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. These life-sized bronze piggy banks (donations go to local food-oriented charities) are celebrity animals, appearing in thousands of tourist photographs. While reminding us of the real animal behind the meat, they reflect the ambivalence in our relationships with non-human animals, and are situated away from the actual butcher’s counter. In contrast, the bicycle rack (1996) created by Louis Molina outside Los Angeles’s Grand Central Market features a pair of pig heads cast in steel from ones originally purchased in the market. These pig heads refuse to be cute, serving as a rare and surly reminder of the once living animal’s conversion into meat.
Molina’s sculpture contrasts with the recent explosion of decorated fiberglass pigs. The use of decorated animals as public art and civic boosterism began with a fiberglass cow exhibit in Zurich in 1998 and a similar CowParade(™) staged in Chicago in 1999. While the painted cows have appeared in over fifty cities, it was Cincinnati that pioneered the “pig parade” with its “Big Pig Gig” in the summer of 2000. Sponsors and artists collaborated on the design and the naming of the almost 400 pigs that appeared on the streets of the city formerly known as “Porkopolis,” attracting locals and tourists alike. In 2007 the Pike Place Market mascot “Rachel” inspired Seattle’s “Pigs on Parade” event, while the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood of Cleveland saw the installation of 40 pigs in its “Year of the Pig” public art campaign.
While these charitable projects are undeniably popular with the public, the decorated fiberglass animals also reflect our tremendous distance from actual living pigs, which are for the most part raised in horrifying conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We are attracted to the symbolic pig, but forget the more than 110 million hogs that are slaughtered in the United States each year. That industry depends, of course, on our unwillingness to confront the contradictions in our relationships with pigs, taking advantage of the radical distance between humans and most nonhuman animals (pets being a significant exception). This partial replacement of the living animal with its representation marks both the repression of the complicated history of human-pig interactions and our radical distance from most non-human animals in late modernity.
Endnotes: Timothy Pachirat, Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight (Yale, 2011), 3.  Anat Pick, Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film (Columbia, 2011), 1.  This attribution seems to be based on McCartney’s narration of the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) film Glass Walls, available at www.meat.org.  See Brett Mizelle, Pig (Reaktion Books, 2011).  Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1842), 34-35.  John A. Duffy, The History of Public Health in New York City, 1625-1866 (New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 1968), 11, 29-30.  Paul A. Gilje, The Road to Mobocracy: Popular Disorder in New York City, 1763-1834 (Chapel Hill & London, University of North Carolina Press, 1987), 224-232; Hendrik Hartog, “Pigs and Positivism,” Wisconsin Law Review (1985), 899-935.  Duffy, 383-386. Small pigsties with no more than three pigs were still allowed in the city, however.  Karen Sandstrom, “Going whole hog for public art: Painted pigs invade Cleveland,” The Plain Dealer, June 13, 2007. http://laughingsquid.com/pigs-on-parade-celebrating-100-years-of-seattle-pike-place-market/  An estimated 112,920,000 head will be commercially slaughtered in 2012. Ron Plain, “December Quarterly Hogs & Pigs Report Summary,” December 27, 2011, http://agebb.missouri.edu/mkt/bull8c.htm.
Brett Mizelle is Professor of History and Director of the American Studies Program at
California State University Long Beach. His publications include articles, book chapters,
and reviews in the fields of nineteenth-century American history and the history of human-
animal relationships. His most recent article tells the story of James Capen ‘Grizzly’ Adams
and his role in both the construction of knowledge about and the destruction of grizzly
bears in California and the American West. His book Pig (Reaktion Books, 2011) charts how humans have shaped the pig and how the pig has shaped us, focusing on the unresolved contradictions between the fiction and the reality of our relationships with pigs. He is
also a co-founder and current editor of the H-Animal Discussion Network and the recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ “Animals and Society Course Award” for his class “Animals in American Culture.” He can be reached at [email protected].