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January 23, 2021

1919 Ad Postcard for “Le Cochon Prodigue”, a Brand of Auvergne Sausage

While the Fairbanks postcard draws attention to the death of the pig as a necessary step to obtain meat products, a 1919 chromo promoting Good sausages from the PRODIGAL PIG features a very alive pig slashing himself into neat sausage rounds, like a streamlined version of the earlier Machine-Cochon. The vivid colors, bright illumination, caricatural mode, and snappy advertising copy all suggest forced light-heartedness in an attempt to obscure grisly subject matter with humor.

On mange avec plaisir et . . . sans fatigue: les “bons saucissons du COCHON PRODIGUE”! (“We eat with pleasure and . . . without fatigue: Good Sausages from THE PRODIGAL PIG”!)

This advertisement for mass-produced sausage from Auvergne, with its familiar claim of “purity” to allay fears about processed meat content, offers a tellingly obfuscatory vision of industrial meat production. In contrast to rationalized slaughter’s ruthless logic, the image defies the laws of physics and biology: the bisected pig remains standing; it performs deft knife work without hands; like the three small sausage rounds, the heavy blade seems suspended in midair; and the large platform-like disks have no explicable provenance.

Rather than real blood and innards displayed in tue-cochon cards, the sausage rounds and pig’s insides are made of the same composite material, a bright, festive shade of red interspersed with gold and silver flecks, like a colorful confetti mix. All the slicing is done, as if by magic, without bloodshed or apparent pain or suffering for the animal.

The image’s graphic qualities, particularly its dark outlines, recall Japanese prints so influential in French art circles over the preceding half century, and the pig’s self-immolation is reminiscent of Japanese seppuku (also known informally as hara-kiri), a custom that already fascinated western observers at the time. As the jolly pig becomes a brave samurai, we glimpse two emblematically divergent perspectives: his death gets redeemed as an honorable, meaningful one, with seppuku standing in for the sacrificial ritual of the tue-cochon; or his exotic cultural practice casts him as a foreigner, undoing the period’s pervasive identification of pigs with Frenchman, and figuring instead the growing alienation of the French from the pigs they ate, as from the ways the meat was processed.

Pigs abounded on French postcards in the medium’s golden age, ca. 1900–1914. Pig postcards are a remarkably lively, compelling, but largely forgotten feature of the Belle Époque’s richly varied, rapidly evolving visual culture. These cards offer up for study a fortuitous and suggestive conjunction: the commonest of farm animals with a long history as an indispensable food source, represented massively on a new medium that became ubiquitous and influential, precisely at a time when the pig’s role in French culture and agriculture was starting to shift significantly. Scrutinizing pig postcards can thus reveal a good deal not only about the surprising scope and impact of visual media during this period, but also about changes in pork production that were characteristic not only of the French but also of the broader Western food system’s incipient modernization.


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