The Jungle is a series of photographs by Todd R. Forsgren that reflect on the consumption of meat. The images recognize the human consumption of meet and the ecological, ethical, and emotional response to this, offering more of a reflection upon rather than a resolution to these issues.
The Frozen Black Chick
In between the pheasant and the quail in the Korean market’s frozen poultry section, I noticed a sign that read “Frozen Black Chick – $8.99/lb.”Despite this very unfortunate translation, I was curious, so I picked up the small plastic-wrapped creature and put it into my cart.The bird was a silkie, a breed of chicken with black skin and fluffy white plumage. They are friendly birds, renowned as great brooders and in traditional Chinese medicine it is believed they have curative properties. Mine weighed a bit over a pound; she cost $11.86.
For a few months, she sat in my freezer. When I did finally defrost her, I had to peel off a layer of plastic, discard a Styrofoam tray, and then peel off another layer of plastic. Beneath this maze of packaging, I was surprised to find that her head and feet where still attached, with five toes on each foot instead of a bird’s usual four, which is a side-effect of the extensive artificial selection that created the breed. Those five toes made the feet look oddly like human hands; my mind raced back to the name: “Frozen Black Chick.” Instead of cooking her, I photographed her. The first image I made for this project.
Connecting Chickens and Nuggets
Growing up in suburban mid-western America in the 1980’s and 1990’s, chicken most often came in nugget form. Chicken nuggets strike me as a strange peak of modernist abstraction, a weird spin-off of Brancusi’s Bird in Space / Pasarea in vazduh / L’Oiseau dans l’Espace (there are sixteen versions of the sculpture, in bronze as well as white and black marble). . At this height of industrialized food, my personal experience of eating meat was so far removed from the creatures that provided me with that sustenance.
Raising my daughter thirty years later, we’ve seen the boom of slow, organic, and local food. Food culture is so much more diverse, but the nugget persists. My daughter is named after a small marsh bird called a Sora. Soras are shy birds and they look quite a bit like little chickens, to the untrained eye. They’re a species of rail, with fluffy feathers but tiny bodies, they can effortlessly squeeze between marsh grasses. Skinny as a rail.
When Sora was 18-months-old and just starting to talk, I was feeding her chicken breast… She took a bite and said, “cock-a-doodle-doo.” I was surprised (though chicken was one of her favorite foods, and we had been working on our animal sounds). My little girl was connecting dots: taste, sound, image, and language. Through these images, I hope to create a similar sort of connection in your mind.
The earliest artworks we know of are paintings in caves scattered around the world. The most ancient are over 35,000 years old. Similar sites have been found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. And paintings in this tradition are still being made by some contemporary tribal peoples. Across the globe, the theme of these paintings is remarkably consistent: images of animals. Today, the reasons they were painted can only be surmised, though it has been widely hypothesized that they recount the hunt. Ritualized tales of how humans caught their food.
Today, walking through the aisles of the grocery store, staring at the beef in particular, I think of these ancient paintings. From cheap and homogenous lean finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) to the delicate marbling of wagyu beef, I see the cultures and values of the peoples who eat these animals reflected in the surface of this beef. Each of these four images is roughly a pound of highly stylized and processed beef.
Loafs and Fishes
Like many in the 21st century, I get most of my food from the grocery store or a market (and that is where I went to find subjects of this series). Though I’ve never been hunting, I have been fishing, often as a boy with my grandpa on Lake Erie. Afterwards, we’d clean the fish and grandma would crust our perch fillets with potato chips and fry them up. From flopping around on a line to crispy in less than an hour.
I didn’t eat sushi or sashimi until I was 18-years-old. It just wasn’t widely available in the Midwest in the 80’s and 90’s. When I went off to college on the East Coast, Dave’s family took me to a sushi restaurant and I ordered 18-pieces of tuna sashimi. I knew I liked tuna fish, after all, as I’d had it many times out of little tin cans that said, “the chicken of the sea.” It wasn’t at all what I expected.
Sashimi continues to defy my expectations about food preparation. In some ways, sashimi is certainly one of the least processed of meats: raw wild fish. But in others, sushi is among the most complicated of today’s global food industry. A wide variety of species, some of them quite ecologically threatened, are shipped around the world, intensely refrigerated, and carefully cut by highly-trained professionals.
All images 2018 and text © Todd Forsgren
By Todd Forsgren