Put the corn cob into the boiling water and watch the kernels turn golden. Meanwhile, put a dollop of freshly churned butter into a pan and, fry the bacon strips that you bought from the butcher down the road. Take in the buttery aroma and the sizzle of the bacon. Once crispy and red, take ‘em out of the pan, sprinkle some seasoning and shift them onto a plate. Take out the boiled corn on a cob, rub some salt, butter and lemon on it for taste and put that on the plate too. Finish your wholesome meal with a glass of fresh creamy farm milk that Bessie gave in the morning. Remember to put two cubes of manufactured sugar you bought from the market to enhance the taste. Don’t forget to put the whisky aside for the night.
With the media going crazy over the election of Trump as the new “leader of the free world”, Orwellian literature is making a return in popular culture. Various media houses allege that Orwell in his most popular works – Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949), predicted our dearest, Donald Trump.
As analysts, researchers, political thinkers and even mundane and completely-isolated-from-politics-people like me, wonder about the consequence of this debacle by the superpower of the world, one of the thoughts that comes to the mind of a glutton such as yours truly, is about the food. The United States at the moment stands as the largest exporter of food products around the world. And here’s a scary afterthought that Henry Kissinger articulates well — “If you control the food supply, you control the people.” Kissinger uttered this in the 1970s in the context of USA’s bid to control the global grain-and-food market, and in 1974, in his “National Security Study Memorandum 200” report, Kissinger goes as far as speaking of the utility of targeted overseas food aid as an “instrument of national power.”
Besides helping you discover the melancholic fact that here’s another instrument of destruction and power that Trump wields, this article also asserts the accurate representation of contemporary society in Orwell’s Animal Farm. So yes, I agree that Orwell predicted this godforsaken apocalypse, but as the facts suggest, this article orients itself in a very specific way, drawing from a place of severe importance for me, that is Food, friends, Food.
What happens when a pig controls all the food supplies of a society and ultimately, controls the constituent members of that society?
In Orwell’s anti-Stalin, allegorical satire where animals have taken over the farm after banishing the humans that dared control them through a revolution brought on by the mistreatment they suffered, pigs control the post-human agrarian society, as they stand the smartest.
And smart they are, for from the very first instance of the pails of the milk vanishing for the use of the pigs just days into the revolution, to the not-so-intelligent, not-so-equal common animals being convinced into believing that they have more than enough, rather much-much more than they had under the rule of their human masters, even though they grow thinner and weaker and their new “comrades” grow fatter and pinker. (Well, doesn’t that sound familiar?)
In the garb of democracy people are giving up rights, privileges and resources for the sake of their country and because it’s a democracy, the ‘people’ still rule, all while a certain class of animals — I meant ‘people’ — continue to enjoy that privilege. The image that Orwell paints in Animal Farm does make the pain in some sore spots, quite profound.
Apart from being a representation of the contemporary social politics surrounding food, the food as a trope in the novel is also used by Orwell to highlight multiple contrasts. The most prominent contrast, highlighted in the first paragraph itself, is that of animals versus humans.
However, aren’t we animals too? Apparently not, as Orwell chooses to show how we grew away from being animals as we developed more complex and supposedly, smarter systems of governance and then, chose to tame the rest of our fellow animals to establish ourselves as the “superior beings” much like the Pigs. They grow from animals into, “animals who are more equal than others.”
The first paragraph of the novel has Mr. Jones (human) of the Manor Farm (later called, Animal Farm until reinstated as Manor Farm) stumbling in, “ too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes,” an image that shows us his obvious, if you would allow me, “human-ness”.
Alcohol as a concoction is primarily consumed by the Homo sapiens of the animal kingdom. While other members might choose to indulge in the same from time to time and mostly, by accident, none of the other species have reported an addiction problem and most definitely, not a running consumerist-capitalist-economic system, based on the same.
Besides alcohol, Orwell introduces another “human” attribute of Mr. Jones, as he forgets to shut the pop holes. This is done, not just to show his forgetfulness (a folly most Homo Sapiens and other animals are often guilty of) but to show – as it is a Human that decides to rear, tame and control other species of the animal kingdom – the failure of his responsibility to take care of them. It is because of this failure, along with various other human reasons (as Old Major the Pig stresses) that the animals decide to revolt. Old Major, in his address to the animals before the death, highlights some key contrasts between humans and animals, and in doing so instructs the animals of the farm that in “fighting against Man, we must not come to resemble him”.
Ironically, at the end of the Animal Farm, having traced the journey of how the pigs have established their “pigocracy” (as critics have remarked) and, grown more “human” as they begin to walk and consume alcohol, Orwell articulates the position of the new master in place of man thus, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which”. Moreover, as history repeats itself, it is already impossible to say which is which, all over again.
In his speech accusing Man of being the tyrant, Major begins the revolutionary speech that inspires a rebellion with a poignant recap of the condition of the animals. How they are born and given only enough food to keep them alive as the rest is taken by man. How they are slaughtered with hideous cruelty and the produce of their labour is also stolen by man. In a remarkable and true assertion, Major remarks, “Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. He is lord of all animals.”
Hence, to inspire rebellion and not become a man (which is, as mentioned above, a mission that fails), Major forbids the animals from adopting the vices of man such as alcohol, tobacco, “touch money, or engage in trade…also, above all, no animal must ever tyrannise over his own kind.” Animals of the story engage in a revolution that becomes stale and dry which is an imagery the food itself embodies in the later parts of the book as animals eat dry grass in a cold hard winter, while Pigs enjoy whisky inside the house.
Besides being the centre of the revolution and the politics that prevail in the Animal Farm, food also, is the epicenter of everything. The major reason behind the revolution is primarily the malnourished condition of the animals, which in turn could be attributed to Mr Jones’ drinking problem. Post the success of the revolution, one of the concerns of the animals is that they might starve to death without their master as there would be no one to feed them. But Napolean, after the dismissal of Mr. Jones, takes all the animals to the store shed where he, “served out a double ration of corn to everybody with two biscuits for each dog,” thereby indicating that times were going to change.
One of the major politics attached to food is that of the politics of identity. The manner in which a person provides for their sustenance, dictates much of their self-respect, based on whether they are earning their bread and butter or being served on a silver platter or worse, are dependent on someone else for your meal and hence, your life. The animals much like many other traits and attributes of humans, represent this one too.
What pleases them most is the barley, wheat, and apples, which they grow and which belongs to them through their own labour. They are finally free of the human manacles and their stomachs are full because of their hard-earned bread. This feeling of community that earning your own bread creates among animals is thoroughly milked by the Pigs. When food runs scarce and the animals have far less than they ever had while the pigs enjoy their milk and apples and whisky, it is the portrayal of yet another divide between the classes created amongst animals through food.
The Pigs’ taking to alcohol and human food can be seen as a betrayal of the principles of the revolution and Animalism. However, this is not the first time in the book that food represents betrayal. The first question that Mollie, the white mare asks after the revolution is, “Will there still be sugar after the Rebellion?” for which she is shunned by the rest of the animals, especially the hypocritical pigs who see sugar as a form of human civility, much like the ribbons Mollie also wants. Ultimately, it is for sugar, a luxury that civilisation allows, that Mollie betrays her comrades and no one speaks of her again.
Food, hence, also represents civilisation in the book as is seen in the rumours circulating about the Animal Farm. The farm is barbarous according to the rumour that the animals in the farm practice cannibalism. At the end of the book, when Pigs clink glasses with humans and sit around the table with them as equals, “their struggles and difficulties were one.”
As a strategy for coping with the hard times that the animals are facing on the farm, Moses the raven (Ah, Orwell, you magician) preaches of a New Land called “Sugar Candy Mountain”. As the name itself indicates, the centrality of food imagery as symbolising relief and comfort is evident. The new place boasts of, “everlasting fields of clover and the linseed cake and lump sugar growing on the hedges”. As the animals themselves reasoned, their lives were, “hungry and laborious” and, the Promised Land proposed a place, however fantastical, where better lives are led.
Much like the representation of the failure of the revolution, the pigs’ “evolution into man”, replacement of one form of tyranny into another and, the power play rampant in the society – food as a trope in Animal Farm has been used constantly and continuously by Orwell to take one violent bite of the apple after another – to break the politics into pieces, either more easily digestible ones or more choke-worthy ones, depending on the reader’s perception.
Animal Farm locates human society and everything that governs it in the simplistic world of the animals and it is within this that he brings in all the complexities, one at a time such that the reader processes not just the complex nature of the problem, but also the hows and whys of its coming into being.
It is like a recipe, and we as readers understand and judge it better because we are presented with the finished product that tastes horrible post the heat of the cooking process and are taken through the recipe, step by step, from its raw form to the finished product.
While time does not allow me to elaborate on multiple other instances of brilliant food imagery that Animal Farm uses, I do urge you to make a detour to the classic and spot them for yourself. Seeing that you are a member of our cursed race and, consume and don’t produce anything besides ideas — read the book, and save yourself from becoming a pig.
God knows, we have enough of them already.
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.
Written by Devika
Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Stuti Pachisia