Among the many hundreds of things that piss me off on a daily basis, food advertising is high on my list, particularly when animals are assigned personalities to sell the very product that required their confinement, exploitation and early death to produce in the first place. When I recently saw the one-minute ad for The Laughing Cow cheese brand, I wanted to find the nearest light socket and stick my tongue in it. The ad is stupid, sure, and most people can see that it’s bullshit. But to have cartoon cows and one bull running around laughing and making cheese like it’s the greatest moment of their lives makes me all kinds of ragey. Even if people know intellectually that it’s bullshit, an ad with laughing farm animals having a great ol’ time still works to feed the public’s apathy about how their food actually does get made. The disconnect between plate and palate remains a distant but comfortable concept. Laughing cartoon animals can be written off as an exaggeration as opposed to the farthest fucking thing from reality for a real cow trapped on a dairy farm.
The other day while checking a restaurant’s location for my boss, their website advertised right on the homepage: “Our cows have attitude!” and all their burger names and descriptions made it sound as though the cows themselves wrote the bios. Which of course they couldn’t have because they’re dead.
Mucho Burrito, one of my favourite burrito places to eat with great options for vegans, has this unfortunate slogan printed on their employees’ shirts: “Any fresher and you’d hear clucking from our kitchen.” Well, I’m not sure it would be clucking so much as gasping and squawking for air as you slit the chicken’s throat but hey, who said anything about truth in advertising when it comes to our food.
We are encouraged to embrace chickens, pigs, cows, ducks, lobsters and any other “food” animal when they are presented as cute, cuddly, funny or in animated form. Advertisers know this and use that technique regularly. If they show a grinning cow or a dancing fish or a laughing pig on behalf of a product or restaurant, we the public are getting the message that not only is this animal okay to eat, but this animal is so happy about it, they’ve made themselves the mascot. It sounds stupid and implausible when you think about it like that but that is exactly what is happening. It seems too simple but…it works.
And yet when you try to assign actual, real life personality traits of “food” animals to show that they are in fact living, breathing beings with needs and desires (e.g., chickens like to take dust baths, cows will jump when they are happy and pigs will “sing” to their young), people don’t want to hear it. Actually, that’s not true – people don’t mind hearing that. What they don’t want to hear is that animals farmed for food get to do NONE of those things while trapped in the systematic cycle of hell that is today’s factory farming. That’s when they whip out the rationalization of how we were meant to eat certain animals or if it was really that bad, the government wouldn’t allow it and blah, blah, blah. That’s when they want the Laughing Cow to lull them back to sleep, wrapped in a warm fantasy blanket of denial so they can still enjoy their chicken tenders and sirloin steak.
I understand that I currently live in a world that, as Peter Singer puts it, “…rather than having one unified attitude to animals…has two conflicting attitudes that co-exist, carefully segregated so that the inherent contradiction between them rarely causes trouble,” but I do wish using animals in commercials – real or animated – would stop, particularly to sell their flesh for something to eat. You want to describe a burger on a menu? Fine. Describe it as ground beef with lettuce and tomato on a bun (which is bad enough since it should really be described as dead cow with lettuce and tomato on a bun). But don’t tell me that your “beef” has attitude or your “poultry” has pizzazz or your “pork” likes to have a good time. You are selling and serving dead animals who never had a chance to express any aspect of their personality from birth to death – don’t insult them further by projecting one onto them after their slaughter.