Happy Bacon and Sad Pigs: The Cultural Contradictions on a Restaurant Sign
March 4, 2012 7 Comments
There’s a marquee-type sign outside a neighborhood cafe here in Austin that, on one side, reads “I love happy bacon.” On the other side is this: “dog friendly.” I’m certain that the owners were not trying to be paradoxical. To the contrary, they were almost surely appealing to the inner desires (and wallets) of consumers. It’s considered perfectly normal, after all, to love eating pigs as it is to adore dogs. Of course, anyone who takes just a fraction of a step outside “normal,” and looks at the matter from this slightly refreshed angle will see that it is sheer lunacy to think that it’s okay to kill pigs for food but not dogs. Nothing could be more contradictory.
Pointing out this contradiction is easy–it’s all around us. The more difficult task is to understand how our collective cultural thought came to tolerate this state of confusion. I often read and hear vegan advocates lash out at people for being both pro-bacon and pro-dog. Yes, there is thoughtlessness involved in eating bacon while loving Fido. But eating bacon while loving Fido is more an indication of an unthinking decision than it is a reflection of stupidity or maliciousness. To some extent, even if only a small extent, pig-eating dog lovers can claim a modicum of innocence. The dots have not been connected in the public sphere in a powerful enough way to excoriate such a paradox. In part, the task of vegan advocates is to figure out exactly how to do this in an effective manner. How do we make what’s hidden in plain sight plainly visible?
That’s easier said than done. The issue of human-animal relations has been so fragmented by so many forces for so long that the dots connecting bacon and Fido have been secreted into the most obscure and inaccessible corners of our cultural consciousness. At least a century of branding and propagandizing, undertaken by many interested parties, has ensured that mainstream consumers of animals almost instinctively fail to juxtapose the messages displayed on opposite sides of a single sign. Why?
Now there’s a question. I suppose volumes could be filled explaining the underlying processes creating the disconnect between our feelings for pigs and dogs. I’ve no idea how to pin down this insidious phenomenon. Still, language is certainly a key aspect of it: we speak of “happy bacon” to obscure the sad pig. Just about a mile from my neighborhood cafe with its “happy bacon” sign lived, until yesterday, a sweet pot bellied pig. It was the loving companion of a neighbor and the big guy’s name was Thomas. Every time I saw Thomas he made me smile, no matter how down my mood. His personality was big. He died yesterday. The neighborhood list-serv was filled with tender outpourings of sincere regret.
I wonder how many of those kind sentiments came from people who had bacon for breakfast. And I wonder how they would feel if the local sign read “happy bacon from Thomas the pig.” And I wonder how long it will take for mainstream consumers to see that we cannot continue to have it both ways.