Happy Bacon and Sad Pigs: The Cultural Contradictions on a Restaurant Sign

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.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

7 Responses to Happy Bacon and Sad Pigs: The Cultural Contradictions on a Restaurant Sign

  1. Terra says:

    We can obviously have it both ways… we do. Your preferences are just that: preferences. Mine are different than yours. I don’t really have any problem eating dogs other than that they aren’t easily accessible. In some countries they are eaten every day. The fact that it could be someone’s pet would not phase me if I needed meat and nothing else were available. People have pigs for pets, too.

    The disconnect here is I think you misunderstand the way people think. The ‘issue’ you are fighting here isn’t people not realizing that a pig and a dog are the same, but more that people don’t make emotional attachments to what they are going to eat. It’s really just that simple. People raise pet rabbits (which they love and would never eat) and meat rabbits in the same building with no qualms.

    This is the same sort of sentiment as someone being more tactfully honest with someone they care about versus more bluntly honest with someone for which they have no feelings.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I must say, though, that it serves as proof positive that what I’m writing about in my post is a genuine problem.

  3. cosmycmomcy says:

    Great post and great comment. thanks.

  4. CQ says:

    Jack in the Box has a radio ad in which a young man “loves” the bacon so much he wants to marry it. I gather he doesn’t want to marry the pig from whose body the bacon was taken.

    Terra, you refer to “someone for which.” Interesting that you don’t write “someone for whom,” which would indicate that you see animals as individuals with feelings, even if you have no feelings for them. It sounds like you really meant to write “something for which they have no feelings,” given that you apparently regard dogs and pigs as non-sentient products to be used for your pleasure. There is no “need” to eat meat in our nation today. I think people DO “make emotional attachments” to the flesh they are about to eat: “lust” and “gluttony” and “greed.”

  5. Terra says:

    “Terra, you refer to “someone for which.” Interesting that you don’t write “someone for whom,” which would indicate that you see animals as individuals with feelings, even if you have no feelings for them.”

    Or it indicates that I have poor grammar… take your pick. I was talking about human beings when I wrote the line you’re picking over, not animals.

    Technically, there was never any ‘need’ to eat meat. Just like there’s no *need* to drink water. I mean, you can get your fluids from milk, orange juice, coffee and even soda- but that doesn’t mean it will be as efficient or as good for you. Animal products are whole proteins. Unless you buy something (usually something quite expensive) that is specifically made whole, it’s not easy to get all of the amino acids necessary for a complete diet, especially for people who can’t tolerate soy products.

  6. Provoked says:

    Hi Terra – It seems kind of strange to be concerned with getting “whole proteins” from one choice doesn’t it? I mean today with the 4 and 5 courses to every plate – I don’t understand the point of trying to get all our nourishment out of one part of the meal.

    And I don’t know where most people get the idea that vegans exist exclusively on soy either… I eat soy products once or twice a month – If that.

    And to James – I’m so sorry for the loss of sweet Thomas – I hope the memory of this cool guy will continue to bring those smiles he inspired while alive. The idea of eating him… Or worse yet, killing him in order to do so is just ghastly.

    • CQ says:

      That was rude of me to not offer my sincere condolences to Thomas’ friends and family. Thank goodness Provoked helped me remember my manners — and tap into my heart, which is a more positive act than fussing over another’s choice of words. I send a smile to Thomas, and sigh with relief that he passed away knowing only love, joy, and peace.

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