Food and Savagery

They tried holding the whole carcass on a stake over the fire, but the stake burnt more quickly than the pig roasted. In the end they skewered bits of meat on branches and held them in the flames: and even then almost as much boy was roasted as meat. (William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Food can bring out the best in humans: creativity (experimenting with new dishes and ingredients); generosity (feeding others); open-mindedness and tolerance (trying foods from other cultures) and civilized behaviour (table manners).

But it can also bring out the worst in us. We judge other people’s diets, are overly picky about what we eat, overeat or binge diet when so many people in this world don’t have enough to eat.

In William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies a group of schoolboys are stranded on a tropical island after an unspecified military incident. Left to their own devices, the boys descend quickly and shockingly into a state of savagery.  And food is one of the ways Golding uses to mark this descent.

When the boys first arrive on the island their immediate source of food is ‘the acres of fruit trees, where the least energetic could find an easy if unsatisfying meal‘. The so-called ‘littluns‘ – ‘those aged about six‘ pick any fruit they can reach, ‘not particular about ripeness and quality‘, becoming accustomed to ‘stomach-aches and a sort of chronic diarrhoea‘ in the meantime. On occasion the boys’ diet is supplemented by ‘nuts, with an odd crab or fish‘ but these are occasional treats.

But from the outset meat is what the boys want. And hunting will be the way to get it. Jack, who ends up becoming the central figure of savagery in the novel, articulates the connection between food and hunting in the first chapter: ‘”We’ll get food,” cried Jack. “Hunt. Catch things…”‘ However, on an initial tour of the island with Ralph – who has been elected leader by the boys – and Simon, a gentle character who ends up a victim of Jack’s savagery, Jack fails to take the chance to kill ‘a piglet caught in a curtain of creepers‘ . Whilst he defends his hesitation as owing to the fact he was ‘choosing a place … just waiting for a moment to decide where to stab him‘, the narrator comments that all the boys knew that Jack’s hesitation was ‘because of the enormity of the knife descending and cutting into living flesh; because of the unbearable blood‘. Killing a living animal will require the boys to take a step into a hitherto unknown world of violence and brutality – and they are not quite ready.

But it doesn’t take long. By the beginning of chapter 3 Jack is beginning to hunt: crawling through the undergrowth, he is described as ‘dog-like‘ and overtaken by ‘the compulsion to track down and kill.’

Jack’s obsession begins to cause a rift between him and Ralph, the figure of ‘civilization’ in the novel. Whilst Jack becomes increasingly fixated on the idea of killing a pig, Ralph focuses on building shelters for the boys, keeping the signal fire alight and holding on to the hope they will be rescued, an idea that is becoming increasingly alien to Jack – ‘Jack had to think for a moment before he could remember what rescue was‘.

Things come to a head when Jack and his hunters, who have been charged with keeping the fire lit, neglect their duties whilst on a successful hunt and the fire goes out. And the timing could not be worse, as it is the one occasion when a ship sails past the island.

Whilst Ralph and many of the other boys are distraught at missing their chance of rescue, Jack and his fellow hunters can only celebrate their success: ‘[Jack’s] mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
He spread his arms wide.
“You should have seen the blood.“‘

Once the pig has been roasted over the fire and everyone begins to eat it there is an uneasy – and temporary – truce between the boys. But the killing of the pig, and the hunters’ prioritising of that act over being rescued, marks a turning point in the novel. Now the descent to savagery – which will engulf nearly all the boys – becomes inevitable.

Thinking about what kind of pork dish would best represent this literary episode, I struck upon the idea of combining pork with fruit – to mark the two main foodstuffs provided by the island. Pineapple seemed to be an ideal ‘tropical island’ fruit, and whilst the combination of gammon and pineapple might smack of the 1970s I thought there must be scope for some kind of 21st century twist on this meat/ fruit combination. After doing some research I decided a pork and pineapple stirfry would hit the mark. And cooking the pineapple along with the pork would also reflect the warning Piggy, the most intelligent boy, but one prone to being bullied on account of his size, issues to the boys when, early on in the book, the signal fire goes out of control: ‘Now you been and set the whole island on fire. Won’t you look funny if the whole island burns up? Cooked fruit, that’s what we’ll have to eat, and roast pork.’

Ingredients (per person):
1 boneless pork chop or steak, diced
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
½ bell pepper, deseeded and diced
1 spring onion, sliced finely
100g pineapple (ideally fresh) cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

For the marinade:
1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped fineliy
1 teaspoon grated fresh root ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon groundnut oil
1 teaspoon cornflour

Begin by making the marinade for the pork. Mix together the marinade ingredients in a jug or cup, and then pour over the diced pork which you have placed in a bowl. Make sure the pork is thoroughly covered by the marinade mixture and leave it at room temperature whilst you get on with the rest of the stir-fry.

Warm the groundnut oil in a large frying pan or wok (if you have one) over a fairly high heat. Begin by stir-frying the spring onions and pepper for 3-5 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.

Add the pork and marinade mixture and stir-fry until cooked through (approximately 3 minutes).

Then add the pineapple, coriander, soy sauce and sugar and cook for another 3 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with rice or noodles, as you prefer.


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