Out of the eater

This past weekend, at our blogger conclave, I brought up the subject of positive valuations of female avoirdupois in country blues songs from the 20s and 30s. Since apparently the phrase “pigmeat mama” isn’t as widely known as it should be, I decided to Google it and came up with the following. Sexology and ethnography are always funnier in German – especially if, like me, you don’t actually know German.

Die Figur der Big Fat Mama ist dem oriental-afrikanischen Schönheitsideal entlehnt. Damit war keineswegs eine formlose und anerotisch-fettleibige Frau gemeint, sondern eher eine groíŸe, deren weibliche Kurven bis an die Grenze der Ertrí¤glichkeit ausgebildet waren. GroíŸer, schwingender Busen, ausgebildeter Bauchtí¤nzerinnen-Hüftspeck, breit ausladende, gebí¤rfreudige Hüften, massiv-pralle Schenkel, groíŸe FüíŸe und einen provokativ aufreizenden Gang. Tommy Johnson besang diesen Frauentyp folgenderart: “Big Fat Mama, meat shakin’ on her bones and everytime she shake it, some skinny girl goin’ lose the home”. Blind Lemon Jefferson singt von einer “Heavy Hip Mama”, die die Mí¤nner so lange ausnahm, bis ihr alles in der Nachbarschaft gehörte, wí¤hrend Ed Bell, ein Alabama-Bluesman von einer Frau berichtet: “She makes the blind man see and the dumb man call his name”. Auch Prediger und Geistliche waren vor der Unwiderstehlichkeit stramm-üppiger Weiblichkeit nicht gefeit: “She makes the preacher put his bible down” und Son House sang: “I got me religion on this very day, but womens and whisky would’nt let me pray”….

Die manchmal respektlosen Bezeichnungen, die man Frauen zudachte, hatten oft mit ihrer Stellung in der lí¤ndlichen Gesellschaftsstruktur zu tun und waren nicht immer abwertend gemeint. Beginnt man mit der “Milkcow”, wie sie durch Kokomo Arnold, Big Bill Broonzy, oder Son House besungen wird, beschreibt durchaus eine Art von existentieller Wichtigkeit. “…ain’t had no milk an butter, since my cow been gone”, oder “…if you see my milkcow, please drive her home”. Milk and Butter konnte eine Sexmetapher sein, aber auch Liebe und persönliche Obsorge. Doch es hieíŸ auch “Strange bull in the pasture.”, wenn Gefahr von einem Rivalen drohte, oder die Angetraute im Verdacht stand, fremdzugehen. Ehemuffel, die sich bloíŸ auf den GenuíŸ erotischer Abenteuer beschrí¤nken wollten, meinten lakonisch: “Why buy a cow, if I can get milk under the fence”. Frauen, die eher nymphomanischen Charakter hatten, waren bloíŸ “Pigmeat”, Schweinefleisch. Aber was bedeutete die “Pigmeat Mama” bei Blind Lemon, wenn er sang:” I got a call this mornin’, my pigmeat mama was dead.” Lemon ruft den Doktor, aber der sagt, daíŸ sein Pigmeat ganz gesund sei, aber “…she done gone dead on you”, also ihre Liebe war gestorben. In einem anderen Lied stellt Blind Lemon fest:” I love my baby, just like a farmer loves his jersey cow…”, wohl eine Reizzeile für moderne Emanzen. Wer setzt da eine Kuh mit dem Wert und der Würde einer Frau gleich. Die Kuh war oft das Einzige, was ein armer Pí¤chter besaíŸ und eine Frau war oft leichter zu bekommen, als eine Kuh. Ob es Liebe im höheren Sinne gab, kann ich nicht sagen, denn das Leben war für die Schwarzen so hart, daíŸ sie mit dem Existenzkampf und dem Damoklesschwert des Rassismus soviel Probleme hatten, daíŸ der Alltag nur rudimentí¤r-primitives Denken zulieíŸ.

Here’s a translation by Babelfish. (The robot assumes that the entire text is German; thus, the quotes in English are also “translated” to the best of its ability.)

The figure of the Big Fat mummy is taken to the oriental African ideal of beauty. Thus by any means an informal and anerotisch fettleibige woman was not meant, but rather a large, whose female curves to to the border of the bearableness were trained. More largely, swinging bosom, trained Bauchtaenzerinnen Hueftspeck, broadly unloading, bear-joyful hips, substantial-solid thighs, large feet and a provocatively up-provoking course. Tommy Johnson besang this woman Mrs. the following following: “Big Fat mummy, meat shakin ‘ on ago bones and everytime she shake it, some skinny girl goin ‘ draws the home”. Blindly Lemon Jefferson sings from a “Heavy Hip mummy”, who excluded the men so for a long time, until you belonged everything in the neighbourhood, during OD Bell, a Alabama Bluesman reported of a woman: “She makes the blindly one lake and the dumb one call his name”. Also prediger and clergyman were not protected before the irresistibleness of stramm sumptuous femaleness: “She of makes the preacher PUT his bible down” and Son House sang: “I got ME religion on this very day, but womens and whisky would’nt let ME pray”….

The sometimes irreverent designations, which one zudachte women, had to do often with their position in the rural social structure and were not always devaluing meant. If one begins with the “Milkcow”, like her by Kokomo Arnold, Big Bill Broonzy, or Son House besungen become, a kind of vital importance quite describes. “… ain’t had NO milk at butter, since my cow been gone”, or “… if you lake my milkcow, please drive ago home”. Milk and butter could be a Sexmetapher, in addition, love and personal Obsorge. But it was called also “strand bulletin into the pasture.”, if danger of a rival threatened, or the Angetraute in the suspicion to foreignhappen. Ehemuffel, which wanted to be only limited to the benefit of erotischer adventures, meant laconic: “Why buy A cow, if I CAN GET milk more under the fence”. Women, who had a rather nymphomanischen character, were only “Pigmeat”, schweinefleisch. But which meant the “Pigmeat mummy” with blindly Lemon, if he sang: ” I got A call this mornin ‘, my pigmeat mummy which DEAD.” Lemon calls the doctor, but it says that its Pigmeat is completely healthy had thus died, but “… she done gone DEAD on you”, their love. In another song blindly Lemon determines: ” I love my baby, just like A more farmer loves his jersey cow… “, probably an attraction line for modern Emanzen. Who sets there a cow with the value and that became for a woman directly. The cow was often the only one, which a poor tenant possessed and a woman was often more easily to get, than a cow whether it to love in the higher sense gave, cannot I not say, because the life was for the black ones so hard that they had problems with the struggle for existence and the Damoklesschwert of the racingism as much that the everyday life permitted only rudimentary-primitive thinking.

Setting aside the question of whether characterizing a vital folk tradition as “rudimentary-primitive thinking” itself constitutes “racingism,” here’s another unintentionally humorous passage for the sake of contrast. It’s an excerpt from an excerpt of Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, included in Cooking, Eating, Thinking: Transformative Philosophies of Food, Deane W. Curtin and Lisa M. Heldke, eds. (Indiana University Press, 1992):

There are some incontrovertible assumptions that determine our approach to life: Stories have endings, meals have meat. Let us explore whether these statements are interchangeable – stories have meat, that is, meaning, and meals have endings. When vegetarians take meat out of the meal, they take the ending out of the story of meat. Vegetarians become caught within a structure they attempt to eliminate. Our experience of meat eating cannot be separated from our feelings about stories.

This last strikes me as a highly debatable and culturally biased assertion. The bias becomes even stronger in the next paragraph, where universality is assigned to Western storytelling conventions:

We are the species who tell stories. Through narrative we confer meaning upon life. Our histories are structured as stories that postulate beginnings, crises, resolutions; dramas and fictions animate our imagination with stories that obviously have a beginning and an end. Narrative, by definition, moves forward toward resolution…Often meaning can only be apprehended once the story is complete…

Meat eating is story applied to animals, it gives meaning to animals’ existence….Animals’ lives and bodies become material fit to receive humans’ stories: the word becomes flesh….

Vegetarians see themselves as providing an alternative ending, veggie burgers instead of hamburgers, but they are actually eviscerating the entire narrative. From the dominant perspective, vegetarianism is not only about something that is inconsequential, which lacks “meat,” and which fails to find closure through meat, but is a story about the acceptance of passivity, of that which has no meaning, of endorsing a “vegetable” way of living. In this it appears to be a feminist story that goes nowhere and accepts nothing.

Alternately, of course, it may appear to be bullshit. Which is, of course, entirely “vegetable” in origin. As are we, according to that most patriarchal of texts, the King James Bible: All flesh is grass.

In vernacular cultures the world over, the boundaries between bodies are never very clear-cut. It may be true, as I wrote yesterday, that every being is a slow fire. But we are also, potentially, food – a statement that can be seen as either tragic (the vegetarian assumption) or comic (the Rabelaisian position). In a new essay at Wild Thoughts, Hank Green has a great little essay about the experience of being tongue-kissed by a gray wolf. It begins:

As humans we have the capacity to be both predator and prey. Vegetarian or not, I promise you, get a good hunger started in your belly and cute and fuzzy things will look much less like companions and much more like corndogs. I’ve looked at squirrels that way and they can tell. Generally they are indifferent or curious, but when I’m real hungry…they keep back.

Just as animals that were once our prey can see my hunger and my intent in my eyes, we can see the same in animals that were once our competitors or our predators.

I remember my first time face to face with a lion. At one moment the gigantic thing was obviously concentrating very hard on a nearby leaf that had fluttered across his vision. They are, after all, still cats, still curious and cute. The next moment the lion locked eyes with me and my knees weakened. I knew what the squirrel felt like under my hungry gaze; to that lion, I was the corndog.

A coherent philosophy of food would have to take account of predation, sex, sacrifice, gathering, hunting, cultivation, and diverse methods of food production, including those that involve animal and fungal helpers (dairy products, honey, beer, yeast bread, etc.). It would have to develop aesthetic systems for all five senses. Why has Western philosophy so limited itself to the world perceived by the mind’s eye? “The sage is for the belly, not for the eye,” says the Daodejing. That’s because “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing,” as Qoheleth observed. But the belly – the belly knows its limits. It’s not a question of narratives and endings, really, but of emptiness and fullness. Or as Memphis Minnie put it, “Keep on eating, baby, till you get enough.”

For more in this vein, see Our booty, ourselves.

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