black background 
black background 



The story I want to tell begins in a generic shed in a picturesque Faroese coastal village. It is a story about a glitch in a dysfunctional global food system - a glimpse of hope for those struggling to find real alternatives to the messed up trajectory we are moving on.

For me it all started with a sheep-slaughtering. And don’t fear - this is not a text about morality. But what I want to share with you is how this encounter pointed towards a way of multi-species productivity we all can learn a lot from.

On that day - when the Faroese farmers turned around 70 sheep into abstract food objects - I got a glimpse into a way of producing food in which all involved agents (human or non-human) had their own place and their respective agency: From the microbes in the gushing sea wind that cure the meat, over the sheep that not only hold nutritional value but also the essence of a whole society in their DNA, to the grass on the steep cliffs that determines the amount of mutton, to finally the humans that have developed a precise understanding of their place in this complex assemblage.

I got to experience an intricate ecosystem of what others would call man, machine and nature. But what it was much more was a framework of powerful agents coming together in a productive symbioses challenging the prevalent anthropocentric understanding of agriculture.

The amount of thoughts going through my head during the week prior to the day was unusually high. My most immediate concern was my digestive system. I mean what could be more embarrassing  than a city boy with a weak stomach at a sheep slaughtering. And as my stomach has proven itself as one of the weak spots in my otherwise rather resilient body my concerns seemed quite real to me.

The other thought bouncing back and forth in my mind was concerned with the way this moment would influence my position towards meat in the future. Not an immediate future - but the chances are high that I might look back at this day at some point in my life and would call it a starting point for fundamental change. But this is not to say as of now.

* To contextualize the time frame a little, I have to say that it is the day after the ‚slaughtering’. Whilst the experience feels still very immediate the spatial condition has taken an abrupt change:  
I am writing these words in a beautiful cafe that could not be further away from the rawness of the slaughterhouse - atmospherically speaking. I would suggest that the only thing the two spaces have in common is that the people inside of them behave without a doubt that their behavior is as banal as it could be - both in the cafe and the slaughterhouse.
What is to say though is that all my worries were blown away in the second in which I entered the shed with the green aluminum roof that seemed to be completely misplaced in the beautiful little village on the coast of the Faroe Islands.

Blown away not by a rush of adrenaline (as I had anticipated) but by a wave of calmness. Not a fatal calmness that would let you accept the most cruel actions in the light of the pointlessness of our lives. But a calmness that radiated from the faces of all the fourteen people in the room directly into every fiber of my body. There was nothing unnatural about the scene that was unfolding in front of my eyes. At least that was what their body language and especially their concentrated looks would tell.

I do believe that I will never forget the image of a guy in my age smiling to me as a gesture of welcoming whilst fixating the twitching body of a sheep that had died just seconds ago. The sheep had died from a bolt that was shot through its skull directly into its brain. A swift procedure.

But as the consciousness of the sheep was annihilated in the matter of a split second the body and the muscles needed at least a good minute until they would accept the fact that their time had come to let go. And this struggle on the verge between a living sheep and a piece of meat could only be tamed by a firm elbow holding the deceasing body in place.

The rest of the scene was also emanating an air of respect towards the things that needed to be done. Everyone knew what was to do. People helped each other. The single hand grips weaved into each other to form a concert of an effective act of craftsmanship. Every move, every cut, every careful check was executed in a way that had been passed down from generation to generation. You could see the kids in the room absorb every bit of knowledge that they could get.

You could see the young men and women using that knowledge with pride and respect to the trade that they were perfecting with every new year. And you could see the older men going about what had to be done with a certain instinctiveness that spoke volumes about the fact that it was the muscle memory of decades that was in charge here.

The single steps of turning a living animal into a carcass and a number of other organic elements (that all have their distinctive purpose) does not feel necessary for me to describe. But the fact that this transformation or rather abstraction was taking place in a linear space that was not even 3 meters long gave rise to something inside me on a profound level that is quite hard to put in words. Somewhere between the twitching body with a slid up throat and the carcass lying on a special table without its feet and head, the sheep stopped being a sheep. There was not a distinct point that I could name where this happened but it was rather a process that took place with the help of a few skilled hands.

Two other things that influenced the experience quite a bit on a sensual level was the radiating body heat of the carcasses and the smell. 

The heat was visible in the air through faint steam rising up towards the low ceiling but it was also to feel immediately upon entering the space. The skinned bodies gave off all the warmth that was left in them. It felt like the essence of warmth that radiated through the room.

Never ever have I experienced body heat in such an intense way. You did not even need to be close to them. Already from a meter away it was overwhelming. The Star Wars reference is almost too obvious to make. The heat was incredibly ephemeral though. When the last lamb was hung from a piece of shiny steel suspended between two of its achilles tendons the room turned cold. Not cold actually. The bodies of the people moving around and starting to clean up the place rather crudely still gave off a distinct warmth. But the difference was severe.
The smell on the other hand is unbelievably persistent. It’s still in my clothes, in my hair, in my mind. The smell stays. Even though I had a shower first thing this morning which reminded me a lot of the uncountable movie scenes where protagonists try to wash off the stains of trauma together with the smell of death.

Just as with the heat that had some kind of ‚essence‘ character around it the smell was also what I would call ‚condensed‘ in some form. It seemed at the same time familiar and strange. Familiar in its character but strange in its intensity. I would even use the word crisp to describe it. It was not a smell that was one of many but it took up the whole room. It overpowered the other senses and forced its way into the sensory system to make a lasting imprint.

Time in the slaughterhouse was cut into portions of three to four minutes by the sound of the bolt gun. It was a rather anonymous sound and also not a very loud one. But it was to hear for everyone in the room and the implications that came with it had a certain kind of gravitas. It was a reminder and an indicator of another living being that had lost its life. Forever. For me this sound was violent. It was violent in its banality. There was not a scream, nor a bang, nor a struggle for life. It was an anonymous sound and the gap between its articulation and its meaning was probably what shocked me the most on that day.

After a good half an hour being in the middle of the scene as an observer I had to go for some fresh air. Just above the slaughterhouse was the Hjallur (a particular Faroese drying shed for meat) that I wanted to see as well. A less vivid but nevertheless vital part of the whole process. The Hjallur is built upon a concrete or stone foundation but is entirely constructed from wood. The slats that are its walls are detailed in a way that there is a small gap between them. This gap in the construction is the secret to the process of fermenting meat in the history of the local food culture. It allows the wind that contains a high amount of salt from the sea to penetrate into the small building and flow through it. The salt and the somehow stable temperature that is created by the Gulf Stream shape the conditions for the sheep carcasses to ferment without turning bad.

So there I was opening the door to a shed that was filled with more than ten dozens of dead sheep. But here the transformation that had taken place was almost invisible. The abstraction had already taken place and the shed was filled with plain food. A lot of it and with the same distinctive smell but there was no remanence of the process that was going on just a few meters away from it.

Meanwhile in the slaughterhouse the atmosphere was loosening up. The concentration and hard work of hours slowly fell off. The rhythm of the bolt had stopped. And with the national football game on the radio, a few cigarettes smoking from some mouths and the first few beers a day of demanding physical labor was slowly coming to an end. Though the day was still to be rounded off by a meal and a celebration. ‚Out of respect towards the sheep that had died today‘ was how one of the young men described it to me.

On that day we were invited as guests for dinner in the beautiful house looking over the picturesque landscape. And as the sun was slowly going down the people changed from busy workers in the slaughterhouse to a group of friends and family around a big table. You could feel how the tension of the day was falling off from each and everyone of them. Leaving them with exhausted bodies but lively minds.

From here on the focus was on what was being served and said.