Thursday, March 29, 2007

Change at Burger King

Andrew Martin had an article in yesterday's New York Times about Burger King's decision to begin buying eggs and pork from producers that do not confine their animals. The immediate goal is for 10% of the fast food chain's pork to come from hog farmers who don't use gestation crates (2% of its eggs will come from "cage free" hens). The company expects these percentages to rise over time; in fact, they hope to have 20% of their pork sourced in this manner by the end of 2007. The lack of a greater supply of meat and eggs produced without confinement testifies to how much of the industry is dedicated to an industrial model of food production.

Apparently these changes were made after consultations with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), although the company notes that it was ultimately an internal decision. You can find the HSUS and PETA reactions here and here. Burger King's announcement follows that of Wolfgang Puck a week or so ago, although the former is expected to have much more of an impact on producers' practices. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story involves the contrast between Burger King's current marketing (think of their tv commercials linking manhood and meat consumption, for example) and this animal welfare initiative. As a corporate spokesman noted, it is not likely that the company will trumpet this decision: “I don’t think it’s something that goes to our core business.” I agree: I'd imagine that Burger King's customers generally don't think much about animal welfare as they are chomping into their "Enormous Omelet Sandwich" (above), which contains two slices of cheese, two eggs, three strips of bacon, and a sausage patty.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nippon Ham Fighters

As the start of baseball season is approaching, I figured it was time to find out something about the Nippon Ham Fighters, a Japanese professional baseball team. Unlike many Americans, I was at least aware that the team is the Fighters, not Ham Fighters, although that could be cool. The team is owned by Nippon Meat Packers, Inc. and now plays in Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido, having moved from Tokyo for the 2004 season. Nippon Ham took over the team in 1973 and named the team "Fighters" after a public contest (they had been the "Flyers"). The current Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters (official website here) are managed by American Trey Hillman. Their mascot is a bear. Unfortunately, they never had a mascot or logo that had anything to do with pigs or pork, although one article I found on the team claimed that the old mascot "Flighty" was a bright pink pterodactyl, whose head resembled a giant leg of ham. Hmm. There's an interesting 2003 NYT article about the re-branding of the team here that charts the history of their new logo (above).

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Energy Hog

Josh Levin has an interesting slide show on Slate today called "Smokey Bear Nation" (here) about the uses of animals to teach children. The site has some nice images and film clips, including Disney's 1944 poster for the U.S. Forest Service featuring characters from Bambi (1942) and the 1952 Federal Civil Defense Administration "Duck and Cover" campaign featuring Bert the Turtle, although you won't get much in-depth analysis of how and why images of animals have been used at different moments in history. Levin does argue that "for Smokey Bear and his animal friends, life is harder now that it was 20 years ago" as a result of the end of compulsory public service announcements that brought widespread public awareness of characters such as Smokey the Bear or Woodsy Owl. Perhaps a sign of how much has changed is the Energy Hog campaign, which creates a villain to loathe rather than a character to emulate. This energy efficiency campaign, launched in 2004 by the Ad Council, The Alliance to Save Energy, and a host of other groups, including Home Depot, is targeted at kids, who are encouraged to play on-line games to defeat the Energy Hog (left) and become a "Hog Buster." You can try to play the game "Hog and Seek" for yourself here. There are also tips for adults about energy conservation at the main site, It's a rather odd campaign, one that plays off all the worst stereotypes about sus scrofa. It might just be me, but there's also something vaguely creepy about the way they've anthropomorphized the pig to create the Energy Hog, who seems vaguely ethnic. Weird.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

National Pork Industry Forum

Two weeks ago (March 1-3, 2007) I attended the National Pork Industry Forum, the annual business meeting of American pork producers, as it was held nearby at the Anaheim Hilton. Pork Act Delegates are producers or importers that are nominated by their state associations then appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture. 154 producers and 8 importers were appointed for 2006; these delegates, representing the 70,000 U.S. pork producers, in turn make nominations for the National Pork Board, make decisions about the Pork Checkoff program, and adopt resolutions that provide direction to the National Pork Board. As you might imagine, the meeting looked like one of Congress, with delegates apportioned by states depending upon the amount of checkoff dollars collected from the state they represent. The biggest delegation came from Iowa, for example, which produces more pork than any other state.

I found the meeting incredibly interesting. It began with a series of presentations to the producers about the industry's failure to defeat Proposition 204 in Arizona and the rise of public concern about corporate responsibility (or, more exactly, the perception of a lack thereof) in agriculture. Much discussion took place around the question of sow housing in the wake of Smithfield's decision to phase out its use of gestation crates, as there were presentations about various European models and an experiment with group sow housing at one large production facility in the U.S. While there were other industry issues addressed, especially the question of corn prices with the recent push for more ethanol production, animal welfare issues were at the fore. Friday's presentations centered around the meeting's theme: "Accountability, Trust, and Social Responsibility: Defining Pork Production in the 21st Century." To make a long series of provocative presentations and discussions short, the delegates ultimately decided to encourage all producers to participate in PQA Plus, a certification program that includes an animal well-being component. You can find information about PQA Plus here via the National Pork Board site.

As part of the discussions about the breakdown in trust between the industry and its customers, Steve Murphy, CEO of the National Pork Board, noted that the industry traditionally falls back to scientific rationales when customers express concern about whether they are doing the right thing. By the end of the weekend's deliberations, 87% of the delegates supported the addition of "doing the right thing" to their science-based standards for animal welfare. While the main showpiece of the meeting was the approval of PQA Plus, there were some other resolutions adopted, including a call for more research on porcine circovirus and feed costs and swine diets, and support for the pork racing program.

I met some great people and learned a lot at the National Pork Industry Forum. I left feeling sympathetic towards today's pork producers, who are increasingly caught between a popular fantasy that pigs are raised on a slightly larger yet still idyllic version of Old McDonald's farm and the modern reality of intensive, confinement-based production systems. The NPB is doing a lot of work to convince the public of producers' concern for their animals--an interest in their pigs' well-being that is quite genuine, by the way--but the public is increasingly demanding a different version of the human-pig relationship. All you need to do is refer to yesterday's post about the op-ed in the New York Times, where Nicolette Niman notes that more and more Americans want livestock to be treated in ways similar to their dogs and cats. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that these broader changes in Americans' ideas about their companion animals will increasingly cause problems for the meat industry.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New York Times Op-Ed on Pig Confinement Systems

Today's New York Times contained an op-ed piece critical of confinement systems called "Pig Out" by Nicolette Hahn Niman. As you might have guessed from her last name, she's married to Bill Niman of Niman Ranch fame, a fact she doesn't try to hide in her editorial. While there isn't really any new information in her piece--she makes all the usual arguments against confinement systems and gestation crates, including the resulting use of antibiotics, environmental issues related to animal waste, and animal welfare concerns--her essay may mark the emergence of this issue on the national political stage. As Niman writes:

Such sentiment ["that Americans believe all animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment"] was behind the widely supported Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, which sought to improve treatment of cattle and hogs at slaughterhouses. But it's clear that Americans expect more--they want animals to be humanely treated throughout their lives, not just at slaughter. To ensure this, Congress should ban gestation crates altogether and mandate that animal-cruelty laws be applied to farm animals.

I have yet to blog about my weekend at the National Pork Industry Forum in Anaheim, but in brief, speakers and industry officials were clearly worried about further legislation at the state and federal level concerning confinement systems in the wake of recent legislative defeats in Florida and Arizona. I'll post more later about that meeting and about the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program unveiled at Anaheim, partly in an attempt to be proactive and forestall legislative action.

By the way, today's illustration by Jonathon Rosen accompanied the NYT op-ed.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hawthorne on Pigs

I was taking a look at Hawthorne's Lost Notebook, 1835-1841 the other day, tracking down some of his comments on the circus, when I saw this meditation on pigs from his journal of June 15, 1835:
Returning by the almshouse, I stopt a good while to look at the pigs--a great herd--who seemed to be just finishing their suppers. They surely are types of unmitigated sensuality;--some standing in the trough, in the midst of their own and others victuals;--some thrusting their noses deep into the filth;--some rubbing their hinder-ends against a post;--some huddled together, between sleeping and waking, breathing hard;--all wallowing in each other's defilement;--a great boar swaggering about, with lewd actions;--a big-bellied sow, waddling along, with her swag-paunch. Notwithstanding the unspeakable filth with which these strange sensualists sauce all their food, they seem to have a quick and delicate sense of smell.--What strange and ridiculous looking animals! Swift himself could not have imagined anything nastier than they practise by the mere impulse of natural genius. Yet the Shakers keep their pigs very clean; and with good advantage.
N.B.--The legion of devils in the herd of swine--what a queer scene it must have been!
Hawthorne kept this notebook in Salem before his marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842. It contains lots of notes and ideas for stories and articles and some journalistic observations about public events, such as the circus mentioned above, the public activities of the Fourth of July, 1838, and a show of wax figures. I knew that this notebook would be of use to my work on antebellum popular culture, but to find some comments about pigs, ones that reflect the general contemporary disdain for what was seen as a "dirty" animal, was a pleasant surprise.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

The Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America

In what appears to be a case of real life imitating The Simpsons, the McDonald's corporation had its advertising agency create a fake organization, The Boneless Pig Farmers Association of America, as part of an effort to get the public to petition to save the McRib sandwich. As you may recall, in the episode "I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can," Krusty Burger released a "Ribwich" sandwich, but only on a temporary basis:
Krusty: Listen, about the Ribwich. We won't be making them anymore. The animal we made them from is now extinct.
Homer: The pig?
Otto: The cow?
Krusty: You're way off. Think smaller...think more legs.
The farewell tour for the fictional (and presumably insect-derived) Ribwich was 'borrowed' by McDonald's for its viral marketing campaign to create buzz about the McRib. It was a surprise to me to learn that the McRib sandwich, with its pressed-on 'bones', really does seem to have a cult-like following. There's a pretty interesting article in the Columbia Missourian (here) speculating about what's in the McRib and addressing its mysterious appearance and disappearance, in case you want to know more. A blogger "deconstructs" the McRib here, with photos and ingredient lists. Finally, if you are really bored, the BPFAA has a myspace page, with suspiciously few friends. Perhaps the McRib isn't really all that popular, or, alternatively, its consumers aren't online all that much. I, of course, can't believe I just spent fifteen minutes of my life writing about the McRib...

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Scratch-and-Sniff Pig Stamp?

Mr. Sidetable sent me an article by Peter Leo from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that attempted to verify whether the Chinese government had actually released a scratch-and-sniff stamp to celebrate the Year of the Pig. As rumors on the interweb have it, the stamp to the left supposedly smells like sweet-and-sour pork when you scratch it. As the article points out, many nations have released stamps that smell in the past, but there is no verification of the odor, if any, of this stamp just yet. I'll let you know if I hear (I mean smell) something on this front. It's a story that certainly sounds too good to be true...

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Draw A Pig

Over 1.3 million people have drawn a pig as part of a "personality test" found here. Alas, you have to draw your own pig to get a password to look at all of the others, some of which are considered "Top Oinkers." The connection between the way one draws a pig and one's personality seems rather arbitrary. For example, if your pig faces left, you believe in tradition, but if it faces right, you are innovative. If, like in the above image, your pig faces forward, you are a direct person. Other aspects of personality are supposedly linked to how many legs are showing, how detailed your pig is, the size of the ears and, of course, the length of the tail. The Draw a Pig site was created by the UK-based Communications Group.


Friday, March 09, 2007

The Simpsons & Pigs: "A Wonderful, Magical Animal"

Pigs appear rather frequently in the greatest of all American television programs: The Simpsons. In "Homer Goes to College" (1993), for example, the Springfield A&M mascot is a pig in a letterman's sweater. In "Lisa's Wedding" (1995), Homer gives Hugh Parkfield, Lisa's fiancé, the same pig bride-and-groom cuff-links to wear that he had been given by his father on his wedding day. There is also a suckling pig on a spit at the Renaissance Faire where the fortune teller kicks off the episode. Speaking of edible pigs, in "All's Fair in Oven War" (2004) Brandine creates the festive holiday Alcohog, a recipe that involves pouring whisky down a hog's mouth and garnishing the beast with candy canes." In "Simple Simpson" (2004), Homer is intrigued by a television commercial announcing that the finder of a golden ticket will get a trip to Farmer Billy's Bacon Factory. After buying a ton of bacon at the Kwik-E-Mart he only finds a silver ticket, which permits him to serve as a pig judge at the fair .

"Simpsons Bible Stories" from 1999 features the Pig of Eden, which exists to provide a never-ending supply of pork, wisdom, and droll remarks, including this bit of dialogue:
Pig of Eden: Today I'm featuring mouth-watering pork ribs. Tuck in, then!
(Homer digs into the pig's side and comes up with a side of ribs. He looks at them).
Homer (as Adam): Oh, I gave a rib to Eve and now she's gone forever!
Pig of Eden: One whole rib and still standing. Oh, aren't you the plucky one, sir.
In the classic "Lisa the Vegetarian" (1995), Homer hosts a barbeque featuring roast pig. Enraged, Lisa climbs aboard a riding mower, and drives away with the roast pig in tow. Homer and Bart chase after her, but she pushes the pig off a slope. The pig rolls through bushes, into the river, and is shot into the air by a hydroelectic dam's suction. Meanwhile, Mr. Burns is about to sign a million-dollar check for a donation to a local charity. He says that he will sign it when pigs fly -- just then, the roast pig flies into view. Burns is utterly shocked, but, of course, still refuses to donate the money. This episode features some great pigmeat related dialogue:
Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Lisa, honey, are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
Homer: [Chuckles] Yeah, right Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
Pigs are used metaphorically as well in The Simpsons, especially when discussing Homer's behavior and hygiene. In "Some Enchanted Evening" (1990) Homer has this conversation with at Moe's Tavern:
Moe: Hey, you can level with me. You got a domestic situation?
Homer: You might say that. My wife's gonna leave me 'cause she thinks I'm a pig.
Moe: Homer...
Homer: What?
Moe: Marge is right. You are a pig. You can ask anyone in this bar.
Barney: You're no more of a pig than I am. [belches]
Homer: Oh, no!
Moe: See? You're a pig. Barney's a pig. Larry's a pig. We're all pigs. Except for one difference: Once in a while, we can crawl out of the slop, hose ourselves off, and act like human beings.
I'm sure there are many more references to pigs than these. It looks like pigs play a major role in this summer's The Simpsons Movie, at least from the trailers I have seen. The most recent trailer implies that Homer has started raising pigs at home, as there is a silo in the backyard reading "Pig Crap." Marge asks him to dispose of the waste properly, and there is a cut to a scene with Homer and a pig driving to illegally dump the waste in a lake. I guess we'll have to wait until this summer to figure out the whole story.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pearls Before Swine

Pearls Before Swine is a comic by Stephan Pastis that appears in many American newspapers. The title Pearls Before Swine refers to the admonition "Neither cast ye your pearls before swine" that Jesus Christ delivers to Peter according to Matthew 7:6 in the Bible. In Pastis's comic strip, Rat, who has a heightened assessment of his own intelligence, must cast his 'wisdom' before the Pig, who is, to say the least, a bit slow. You can find the current strip and and the last thirty days worth at the comic's official site here. I recommend a daily visit, esp. for those of you who don't get it in your local paper. I also like quite a bit of the merchandise at Cafe Press. I'll have to see if I can get Pastis to let me use an image of Pig in my book... Thanks to Liz Stone for turning me on to this back in the day...

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)

I've been reading Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913) today, surprised that I don't remember it from my childhood given how much I know my mom loves the Peter Rabbit stories. In the picture to the left, Pigling Bland is being given a license permitting him and his brother Alexander to go to the market in Lancashire. To make a long story (well, not really--it's a children's book) short, Pigling Bland loses his brother, winds up in the wrong county, meets a "lovely little black Berkshire pig" named Pig-Wig and escapes with her from Mr. Piperson's kitchen. While trying to get back to the bridge that marks the county boundary, the pair are stopped by a grocer, who realizes there is a reward posted for Pig-Wig's disappearance. This grocer figures that a pig with a walking stick can't escape very quickly, but while he goes to consult with a local ploughman the two pigs run like mad for the bridge and safety. It's a strange story, to say the least, one that Alison Lurie has argued (in Don't Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children's Literature (1990)) serves to stand in for Potter's own marriage and move to the country over her parents' objections in 1913.

You can find a host of Pigling Bland related merchandise, etc. on the interweb. One of the more interesting sites I found concerned the effort to turn The Tale of Pigling Bland into a musical last year. It appeared at the Toronto Fringe Festival, directed by Marc Richard with a book and lyrics by Suzy Conn and music by Mitchell Kitz. You can read about the production here. I wish I'd seen it...

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Tiger Lillies "Learned Pig"

In their 2003 collaboration with the artist Edward Gorey and the Kronos Quartet, the English avant-cabaret trio The Tiger Lillies recorded a song about the wonderful pig of knowledge. You can find it on their cd The Gorey End. The lyrics are as follows, though you've really got to hear their music...

The Learned Pig

At the turn of the last century an unusual pig was reared.
While others wallowed in the mud on vans' letters he peered,
While others wallowed he taught himself to read
From an abandoned library edition the works of Regera Dowdy.
To escape the usual fate of pigs he fled to London town,
He lived off garbage here and there and read every poster found.
One day he answered the rhetorical question of a passing boy,
Now in the fairground his skills they are employed.
He was put to sit on a bucket in front of a banner
To answer stupid questions in a profound manner.
Soon he'd heard each question, each question before,
So now in the fairground he's starting to get bored.
One day in mid-answer passed a troupe of festive pigs,
He got down, got run over and now no longer lives.
He's up there in pig heaven, up there in the sky,
He reads to all the other pigs, the other pigs who have died.

Thanks to Josh Peralta for turning me on to this band and their homage to the pig of knowledge. I'm headed down to Anaheim later today for the National Pork Industry Forum. More about that later...