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TEDGlobal 2010

Christien Meindertsma: How pig parts make the world turn

July 9, 2010

Christien Meindertsma, author of "Pig 05049" looks at the astonishing afterlife of the ordinary pig, parts of which make their way into at least 185 non-pork products, from bullets to artificial hearts.

Christien Meindertsma - Artist
Christien Meindertsma uses art (and craft) to expose the hidden processes and connections of our modern life. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Hello. I would like to start my talk
00:16
with actually two questions, and the first one is:
00:18
How many people here actually eat pig meat?
00:20
Please raise your hand --
00:23
oh, that's a lot.
00:25
And how many people have actually seen
00:27
a live pig producing this meat?
00:29
In the last year?
00:31
In the Netherlands -- where I come from --
00:34
you actually never see a pig, which is really strange,
00:36
because, on a population of 16 million people,
00:39
we have 12 million pigs.
00:41
And well, of course, the Dutch can't eat all these pigs.
00:44
They eat about one-third, and the rest is exported
00:46
to all kinds of countries in Europe and the rest of the world.
00:49
A lot goes to the U.K., Germany.
00:52
And what I was curious about --
00:54
because historically, the whole pig would be used up until the last bit
00:56
so nothing would be wasted --
00:59
and I was curious to find out
01:01
if this was actually still the case.
01:03
And I spent about three years researching.
01:05
And I followed this one pig
01:07
with number "05049,"
01:09
all the way up until the end
01:11
and to what products it's made of.
01:13
And in these years, I met all kinds people
01:15
like, for instance, farmers and butchers, which seems logical.
01:17
But I also met aluminum mold makers,
01:20
ammunition producers
01:23
and all kinds of people.
01:25
And what was striking to me
01:27
is that the farmers actually had no clue
01:29
what was made of their pigs,
01:31
but the consumers -- as in us --
01:33
had also no idea
01:36
of the pigs being in all these products.
01:38
So what I did is,
01:40
I took all this research
01:42
and I made it into a -- well, basically it's a product catalog of this one pig,
01:44
and it carries a duplicate of his ear tag
01:47
on the back.
01:50
And it consists of seven chapters --
01:52
the chapters are skin, bones, meat, internal organs,
01:55
blood, fat and miscellaneous.
01:57
(Laughter)
02:00
In total,
02:02
they weigh 103.7 kilograms.
02:04
And to show you how often you actually
02:06
meet part of this pig in a regular day,
02:09
I want to show you some images of the book.
02:11
You probably start the day with a shower.
02:15
So, in soap, fatty acids
02:17
made from boiling pork bone fat
02:19
are used as a hardening agent,
02:21
but also for giving it a pearl-like effect.
02:23
Then if you look around you in the bathroom,
02:26
you see lots more products
02:28
like shampoo, conditioner,
02:30
anti-wrinkle cream, body lotion,
02:32
but also toothpaste.
02:35
Then, so, before breakfast,
02:37
you've already met the pig so many times.
02:39
Then, at breakfast, the pig that I followed,
02:42
the hairs off the pig or proteins from the hairs off the pig
02:44
were used as an improver of dough.
02:47
(Laughter)
02:50
Well, that's what the producer says: it's "improving the dough,
02:52
of course."
02:54
In low-fat butter, or actually in many low-fat products,
02:57
when you take the fat out, you actually take the taste and the texture out.
02:59
So what they do is they put gelatin back in,
03:02
in order to retain the texture.
03:05
Well, when you're off to work, under the road or under the buildings that you see,
03:09
there might very well be cellular concrete,
03:12
which is a very light kind of concrete
03:14
that's actually got proteins from bones inside
03:16
and it's also fully reusable.
03:19
In the train brakes -- at least in the German train brakes --
03:22
there's this part of the brake
03:24
that's made of bone ash.
03:26
And in cheesecake and all kinds of desserts,
03:28
like chocolate mousse, tiramisu, vanilla pudding,
03:31
everything that's cooled in the supermarket,
03:33
there's gelatin to make it look good.
03:35
Fine bone china -- this is a real classic.
03:38
Of course, the bone in fine-bone china
03:40
gives it its translucency
03:42
and also its strength,
03:44
in order to make these really fine shapes,
03:46
like this deer.
03:48
In interior decorating, the pig's actually quite there.
03:51
It's used in paint for the texture,
03:54
but also for the glossiness.
03:57
In sandpaper, bone glue
03:59
is actually the glue between the sand and the paper.
04:01
And then in paintbrushes,
04:05
hairs are used because, apparently, they're very suitable for making paintbrushes
04:07
because of their hard-wearing nature.
04:10
I was not planning on showing you any meat
04:13
because, of course, half the book's meat
04:15
and you probably all know what meats they are.
04:17
But I didn't want you to miss out on this one,
04:19
because this, well, it's called "portion-controlled meat cuts."
04:21
And this is actually sold
04:24
in the frozen area of the supermarket.
04:26
And what it is -- it's actually steak.
04:28
So, this is sold as cow,
04:30
but what happens when you slaughter a cow --
04:32
at least in industrial factory farming --
04:34
they have all these little bits of steak left
04:37
that they can't actually sell as steak,
04:39
so what they do is they glue them all together
04:41
with fibrin from pig blood
04:44
into this really large sausage,
04:46
then freeze the sausage, cut it in little slices
04:48
and sell those as steak again.
04:51
And this also actually happens with tuna and scallops.
04:54
So, with the steak, you might drink a beer.
05:00
In the brewing process, there's lots of cloudy elements in the beer,
05:02
so to get rid of these cloudy elements,
05:05
what some companies do
05:07
is they pour the beer through a sort of gelatin sieve
05:09
in order to get rid of that cloudiness.
05:11
This actually also goes for wine as well as fruit juice.
05:14
There's actually a company in Greece
05:19
that produces these cigarettes
05:21
that actually contain hemoglobin from pigs in the filter.
05:23
And according to them,
05:26
this creates an artificial lung in the filter.
05:28
(Laughter)
05:30
So, this is actually a healthier cigarette.
05:32
(Laughter)
05:35
Injectable collagen -- or, since the '70s, collagen from pigs --
05:37
has been used for injecting into wrinkles.
05:40
And the reason for this is that pigs are actually quite close to human beings,
05:42
so the collagen is as well.
05:45
Well, this must be the strangest thing I found.
05:49
This is a bullet coming from
05:52
a very large ammunition company in the United States.
05:54
And while I was making the book,
05:57
I contacted all the producers of products
05:59
because I wanted them to send me the real samples
06:01
and the real specimens.
06:03
So I sent this company an email
06:06
saying, "Hello. I'm Christien. I'm doing this research.
06:08
And can you send me a bullet?"
06:10
(Laughter)
06:12
And well, I didn't expect them to even answer my email.
06:14
But they answered
06:16
and they said, "Why, thank you for your email. What an interesting story.
06:18
Are you in anyway related to the Dutch government?"
06:21
I thought that was really weird,
06:24
as if the Dutch government sends emails to anyone.
06:26
(Laughter)
06:28
So, the most beautiful thing I found --
06:33
at least what I think is the most beautiful -- in the book, is this heart valve.
06:36
It's actually a very low-tech
06:39
and very high-tech product at the same time.
06:41
The low-tech bit is that it's literally a pig's heart valve
06:43
mounted in the high-tech bit,
06:46
which is a memory metal casing.
06:48
And what happens is this can be implanted into a human heart
06:50
without open heart surgery.
06:53
And once it's in the right spot,
06:55
they remove the outer shell,
06:57
and the heart valve, well, it gets this shape
06:59
and at that moment it starts beating, instantly.
07:01
It's really a sort of magical moment.
07:04
So this is actually a Dutch company,
07:07
so I called them up, and I asked,
07:09
"Can I borrow a heart valve from you?"
07:11
And the makers of this thing were really enthusiastic.
07:14
So they were like, "Okay, we'll put it in a jar for you with formalin,
07:16
and you can borrow it."
07:19
Great -- and then I didn't hear from them for weeks,
07:21
so I called,
07:24
and I asked, "What's going on with the heart valve?"
07:26
And they said, "Well the director of the company
07:28
decided not to let you borrow this heart valve,
07:31
because want his product
07:33
to be associated with pigs."
07:35
(Laughter)
07:38
Well, the last product from the book that I'm showing you is renewable energy --
07:41
actually, to show that my first question,
07:44
if pigs are still used up until the last bit, was still true.
07:46
Well it is, because everything that can't be used for anything else
07:49
is made into a fuel
07:52
that can be used as renewable energy source.
07:54
In total, I found 185 products.
07:58
And what they showed me
08:01
is that, well, firstly,
08:03
it's at least to say odd
08:05
that we don't treat these pigs
08:07
as absolute kings and queens.
08:09
And the second, is that we actually don't have a clue
08:12
of what all these products that surround us are made of.
08:15
And you might think I'm very fond of pigs,
08:18
but actually -- well, I am a little bit --
08:21
but I'm more fond
08:23
of raw materials in general.
08:25
And I think that, in order to take better care
08:27
of what's behind our products --
08:30
so, the livestock, the crops, the plants,
08:32
the non-renewable materials,
08:35
but also the people that produce these products --
08:37
the first step would actually be to know that they are there.
08:40
Thank you very much.
08:43
(Applause)
08:45

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Christien Meindertsma - Artist
Christien Meindertsma uses art (and craft) to expose the hidden processes and connections of our modern life.

Why you should listen

Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma explores raw materials in thoughtful ways, making simple books and products that lay bare complex and once-hidden processes. For her first book, Checked Baggage, she purchased a container filled with a week's worth of objects confiscated at security checkpoints at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport after 9/11. She meticulously categorized all 3,267 items and photographed them on a white seamless background. Her second book, PIG 05049, documents the astounding array of products that different parts of a pig named 05049 could support -- revealing the lines that link raw materials with producers, products and consumers that have become so invisible in an increasingly globalized world. PIG 05049 was acquired by New York's Museum of Modern Art this winter.

With her product designs, Meindertsma plays with ancient, natural materials and processes. In a project for the Nature Conservancy last year, she made the sensuous Idaho rug, knitted from inch-thick felted wool yarn from the fleece of sheep at Lava Lake Ranch in Idaho. Each panel of the massive rug was knitted (on giant wooden needles) from the fleece of one sheep, using a different stitch per animal to display the personalities that make up a flock.

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