Seleggt and the Porcopolis

quori theodor



*still from egg cuber tutorial
“Seleggt and the Porcopolis,” was published in Active Cultures’ Digest, Issue 11, April 2022 (edited by quori theodor).


Images: “70s Tech: Savor the Flavor of Square...Eggs” [video]. Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Florida Moving Image Archives, Miami Dade College. 

The endocrinological detection machine https://www.seleggt.com/seleggt-process/.

Self-described Seleggt process. 

Pigeon eggs from our friend Pat. Photo courtesy of the artist.

__

quori theodor / adore is an invitation to self, unlearning as insubordination. their work addresses questions of capital disobedience and the politics of vulnerability through the media of food and by-kids-for-kids programming. they are a founding member of Spiral Theory Test Kitchen and Circle Time School. they have shown work internationally, most recently with the Aspen Art Museum and have a forthcoming children’s cookbook with Mishou Magazine. they are based in NYC on unceded Lenape territory.


Human speciesism is coming to a crossroads— how will the world of food respond?


When I first heard of the premise of Fahim Amir’s book, Being & Swine: The End of Nature (As We Knew It), a Marxist-informed approach to animals as political agents, my reaction was: finally! Something beyond the pathos of rendering animals victims. They’re cute as hell, don’t get me wrong, but it strikes me as being wildly human-speceist, and parallel to a long line of white supremacist structures, to swing between animals as part of nature to be feared or part of nature to be saved. Being & Swine asks us not to isolate this romantic notion of the animal, but to acknowledge that animals have also been with us this whole time, acting, shaping, and reworking histories of resistance. Whether it be the way the Fordist conveyor belt started as a result of slaughterhouse efficiency practices (an attempt to manage an unmanageable animal body: “Even in death, the pig resisted the machine.”)1, or whether it be the bird species actually benefiting from cattle hormone runoff with longer and stronger songs, these animals are being shaped by and shaping the consumer in the Porcopolis.

Snout to tail, capital yield

Porcopolis is the name given to Chicago for its profit-turning capitalization on meat processing, at long-last transforming this agrarian skill into a global industry. It’s important to note that Chicago’s meat industry tipped these scales of profitability in the 1860s not just with the mechanization of butchery (with the invention of the assembly line, or rather the disassembly line), nor merely by centralizing animal processing—but rather by making use of the ‘unusable parts’ of the pig body (to be used as soap, dog food, the newly invented canned meat, among others). In Amir’s words: “What people nowadays like to hold up as the contrast of the throwaway society—the use of every last part of the animal in small-scale Indigenous societies—turns out on closer inspection to be the logic of capitalist industry itself, which from its beginnings became lucrative via indirect profits from the large-scale exploitation of waste.”2 Butchering pigs is not profitable on its own. Only a few cuts of meat are consumable by people. However, the grounds for Chicago’s wealth rests on this logic of salvage.

When am I you and you are me aka Horseboy

Growing up, my relationship to animals was intense. I was full-blown horse-obsessed and living in a vegetarian no-being-harmed buddhist home, a real spider-in-the-cup lifestyle. As a result, I accrued an overdeveloped sense of empathy. Pathos and projection drove my relationship with animals. I remember watching fixated and disturbed as my neighbour Sharon Fenton cut a carrot, thinking: what if it feels as other living beings feel? This familial patterning also came with endless compromises like feeding our cats cat food ~ sanctity is never so simple in practice. I still live as a non-meat eater tied to a muddied sense of ethics, but for me a question remains: what about eggs? What about them...In my child logic, eggs do not harm the chicken (at least physically). It’s almost parody at this point, thinking about ultra-organic, nostalgically-informed, small-farm marketing images—how loved and cared for these chickens could be, every one named Bessie or Donna Haraway. Nostalgia certainly serves as a bandaid, to be able to look back to a time when chickens lived as chickens should, to assuage the guilt. Turning back to a history that never was, where the chicken was joyous and free.

Unnatural Selection

In 1999 and 2000, my dad sat on the National Board for GMO-Labeling to present a case in front of the Canadian Parliament. Twenty-three years later, the US passed this requirement, introducing a new national labeling standard. When I looked at this new label, I thought, the USDA has really outdone itself. Essentially it snagged the look of the EU “bio” government label, and even rebranded the name “GMO” to “bioengineered” (key signifier being “bio”). If you grew up in health food stores like I did or, as Amir calls them, “the shaggy brother of the supermarket,” you’d recognize the EU “bio” label as a fancy imported good of higher governmental standard than our North American organic designations. 90’s kids will remember. Again, seeing a nostalgically informed marketing strategy traversing bipartisan politics. In simplified terms, the left is gesturing right towards small farming and its values and the right is gesturing left in the marketing of bioengineered food, echoing Amir’s keynote remark that “the left turns right when it comes to animals.”

Pathos becomes me

I love eggs and eat them most days. Despite what seems like a traumatic and emotionally taxing egg bearing cycle for hens, I even enjoy the conceptual play of eating embryos. But, what they aren’t outlining on the recyclable packaging is culling. Maybe you already know this, or maybe you don’t want to know this. Fair enough. But did you ever wonder why the ratio of hens to roosters is so disproportionate? Well, after chicks are born, farmers throw all the chicks assigned male into a grinder—apologies for the sentimental emphasis—alive: “300 million male chicks of the egg-laying breeds are killed in the EU alone because they do not lay eggs and it is uneconomical to fatten them.”3 Egg farming is on some Valerie Solanis shit.

Bypassing the First Noble Truth

Enter Seleggt. Hailing from Germany, this company has developed a technology to address culling. It works on the premise of running the fertilized eggs through an endocrinological detection machine and aborting the ones that aren’t hens (the chicks assigned male). Abortion eggs. Genius. Lasers are used to extract a tiny amount of amniotic fluid through an incision on Day 9 of fertilization, before, as stated on their website, there is a chance of the being feeling pain. The website reads like a theoretical text addressing ethical, philosophical, and practical questions for both farmers and consumers alike. Although thorough, the website skirts the glaring question of its proximity to eugenics, a topic that can’t be ignored given the company’s country of origin. As Amir points out in his book, Mein Kampf was (literally) written “on the paper of the Wagner family, where vegetarianism was embraced as the superior morality of a master race,” an extreme that needs to be taken into account, especially given the popular association of vegetarianism with some kind of leftist politics, or at least, with liberals. The lineage of vegetarianism follows a complex web of politicized allegiances and new developments like Seleggt land in multiple of these histories at once.

*the endocrinological detection machine

Collapsing Anthropomorphic Time

Seleggt simultaneously takes us towards futurity in its research & development and towards the past in ethical consumption’s magnetism towards nostalgia. Morality here is selectively deployed, saved for baby animals, without questioning the ontological category of the animal where humans have a place.4 The ethical issues that this company raise are therefore not reserved for chickens, not in the sense that transpeceism makes us interchangeable, but rather in the ways this technology is received in the present cannot be disentangled from our very human politics. Racialized biological violence finds its echo here, but it does not find any direct address. Instead, technologies such as this one prioritize the falsely pure, falsely simple notion of “Save the Animals”—leaving behind how much our makings are and always have been interdependent.

Embodied Transpecieism

I’ve often felt like a lab rat in matters of my medical transition. Early in this process, I would ask my extremely trans-literate doctor direct questions about specific health outcomes in intersections like T and cholesterol levels and she would always say: Well this is my experience but we don’t have data on that. We don't have data on that. Maybe it’s not so much about speculating where an animal’s agency lies in Seleggt, but rather seeing the solidarity in deploying pharmapornagraphic technologies for our own ends in ways that might defy the developers’ intentions. Animal agency in the age of techno-farming is not just a topic for chickens & eggs. What that might mean for unnatural seleggtion is unclear to me but for the animals interacting with this machine, their story is already in motion. I can’t help to feel akin, not to the product, but to chickens going through endocrinological testing and species’ alteration.

*Self-described Seleggt process

Feeding good

The implications of Amir’s work on food–born out of food, of food–are far reaching. Most of the shifts we see over time and how we understand animals obviously has a very direct link to what we eat. Pity, glorification, obfuscation, nostalgia, mechanization all play into how we engage with animals as beings and the products derived from their bodies. Amir’s move away from the sentimental language of veganism and reductive language of animals as only meat sources (even within Marxism itself), reasserts animals into the language of decolonialism and resistance.

Live action role play

Despite the fact that my politics are interconnected with animals—my resistance in solidarity with the struggle of the non-human subaltern—when faced with decisions at a grocery store, I am still subject to the same relational morality that I always have been. What should I buy and how does it make me feel? Conditioned into pathos and capitalism, or a pathos of capitalism, I am still compelled by the uncanny, and I make ethical claims in my decisions even if I reject the notion of a consumer ethics. As Amir points out, “All the vegetarians and vegans haven’t saved a single animal from unnecessary death.”5  Instead, I buy things just to fuck with my personal family history. Golf-ball-sized genetically-altered grapes? Sure, why not.

Wherein lies animal agency in Seleggt?

In terms of resistance, we can see the development of Seleggt technology as a response, the animal body unmade convenient for consumption and upturning the whole category of “ethical” consumption. Chickens continue to be born in ways that require a high level of endocrinological effort if animal death is undesirable. Seleggt also tells me something about global markets: that the suffering of chicks is bad for sales or, expressed another way, there is a market in the food industry for eggs that avoid the culling practice. Hell, I’m that market. Part of me, a very young part, wants an impossible pain-free existence for all beings, calmed by the assurance of pasture-raised chickens and not soothed, although intrigued, by the sci-fi endocrinological machine. And another part of me wants the abortion eggs to sweep the industry, if only for the unanswerable questions they raise.

*pigeon eggs from our friend Pat

(1) Amir, Fahim. Being and Swine: The End of Nature (As We Knew It). Translated by Geoffrey C. Howes and Corvin Russell, Between the Lines, 2020, p. 80
(2)  Ibid., 76-77.
(3)  https://www.seleggt.com/
(4)  Jackson, Zakkiyah Iman. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York University Press, 2020.
(5)  Amir, Fahim. Being and Swine: The End of Nature (As We Knew It), 161.




Active Cultures is a cultural organization that explores the convergence of food and art in contemporary life.