by Eric Greene
Marketing bacon and hot dogs with coffins? Sometimes we’re tempted to say that certain things just don’t warrant comment. However, students of popular culture, animal studies and/or death studies may find this post particularly useful when illustrating cultural values and ideas about animals, food, death and humor.
Below are two examples of businesses mixing the accoutrements of human funerals with meat; by so doing, they focus our attention on the particular products they sell – bacon and hot dogs – and the bodies they come from. The unexamined words, images and materials that we use and encounter shape our cultural values, experiences and understanding of the world, and can sometimes create great distance among people, as well as between humans and other species.
Just before April 1 (a.k.a., April Fool’s Day), a news item about a new bacon-themed coffin received a fair amount of media attention with many respondents inquiring if it was “real” or a hoax. It was created and marketed by Seattle-based J&D Foods (although more accurately, the coffin markets them). They explain that it was created for “the bacon fan who loves bacon to death.” (see video below)
The “coffin” is made of 18-gauge steel and is described by its makers as “a high-end coffin.” It’s painted with a bacon motif and comes with a bacon-scented air freshener inside. The irony which most can immediately recognize is that, for the “bacon fan,” the overconsumption of bacon will likely expedite one’s passage into their coffin. What many may not recognize, however, are the lives and deaths of all those pigs whose bellies were cut into strips of bacon (unless they’ve adopted a pot-bellied pig or are vegetarian).
This juxtaposition is relevant to how we think about other animals, especially those we embrace as family. Regarding the “bacon coffin” – the grave of the consumed pig is within the remains of the deceased person, entombed in a metal coffin with a design that refers back to the pig’s remains, and severs both from the natural world.
A second business mixing funeral with meat deals with animal death more directly. Dead Dogs Ltd. sells hot dogs from a metal coffin shuttled about in a hearse. Unlike the “bacon coffin,” this coffin is not intended for human bodies, but for the bodies of animals: it was repurposed to cook hot dogs (which commonly include pork). Some onlookers were initially confused when they saw the company name on the hearse, assuming that it was a dog cremation company.
This confusion begs the question: how did ‘hot dogs’ get this name? These sausages likely originated in Germany or Austria, and there is some evidence that points to a rise in eating actual dogs in Germany in the early 20th century,[i] as well as in the U.S. in the mid to late 19th century (when hot dogs in a bun were introduced in the U.S.).[ii] The possibility of eating dog meat has long been a source of personal and social anxiety, and sausages, often an economical mix of cheaper meats, have long been subject to such speculation. While there is also anxiety about eating pork among those whose dietary laws prohibit the eating of pigs, such anxiety is likely to be about moral contamination whereas eating dog meat may be more closely akin to eating those who could have been family or friend. What fascinates me is the fact that, despite the cultural taboo of eating dogs, the name ‘hot dog’ has stuck!
Another question arises: while we can readily speak of funerals and bereavement for animals regarded as ‘pets,’ is it possible to do the same for those regularly killed for human consumption? The distinctions begin to become blurred when considering individual animals, especially among those with pet pigs, goats, lambs, chickens, horses, rabbits, turkeys, etc. Since the launch of the Green Pet-Burial Society, these folk have reached out to us to describe their wonderful relationships with their companion animals, and to support the goals of the Society.
Living with Pigs
Last year I had the good fortune of meeting my friends’ black pot-bellied pig – the first time I ever met a pig! Adopted several years ago, she quickly became a cherished member of the family, and I was likewise charmed by her. Extremely independent, she heartily ate the carrots and apples I offered, and let me brush her coarse hair. I’m not sure which one of us was the more grateful.
Pot-bellied pigs were especially popular as pets in the U.S. during the 1980s and ‘90s. From a 1997 study, at the height of this phenomenon, varying estimates of the number of pot-bellied pigs kept as ‘pets’ in the U.S. ranged from 250,000 to 1 million (although 485 slaughterhouses were contacted with 4,047 requests to slaughter their ‘pets’ within the 18-month period examined).[iii]
Among those of us who haven’t lived with companion pigs, there may be a curiosity about the animals who are culturally significant yet unknown. Three years ago, British actor and corporate communications consultant, Richard da Costa, set out to have a deeper understanding of pigs. For four days he lived with 10 pigs in their concrete pen; all were being raised for slaughter. In the process, he discovered how intelligent, social, and individualistic each pig was – something scientists and those who have adopted pot-bellied pigs have long known.
Coincidentally, while gathering this information this past week, I learned that it was when Jews traditionally study the 11th chapter of Leviticus, which introduces criteria and lists of animals prohibited to be eaten (such as pigs) and those which were accommodated (it also gives codes of contamination when coming into contact with dead bodies). These are part of the Jewish dietary laws (i.e., Kashruth or “keeping Kosher”), which are also observed by some Seventh Day Adventists (when foregoing their traditionally proscribed vegetarian diet), and some Eastern Christian denominations such as the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Similarly, pigs are also forbidden (haram) for Muslims. Yet globally, people eat more pork than any other meat.[iv] Why some animals are allowed to be eaten while others are forbidden is fodder for another discussion. Food or family – our lives with pigs, as with many other animals, are riddled with complexity and contradictions.
[A day after adding this post, I learned that this is the 60th anniversary of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. "Terrific"!]
For more information:
Pig by Brett Mizelle. 2011. Reaktion Books. “This book explores human kinship with pigs in the worlds of art, literature and entertainment, but also the history of the development of modern industrial pork production. Pig shows how humans have shaped the pig; and how the pig has shaped us in its turn.” www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/book.html?id=459
Dr. Francoise Wemelsfelder, Scottish Agricultural College, Animal & Veterinary Sicence Research Group. Much of the scientific information we have about pigs and other farmed animals comes from the scientists linked to agricultural schools. Such is the case of Dr. Francoise Wemelsfelder, whose research interest is in “the development of scientific approaches for the study of animals as whole sentient beings (i.e. as subjects rather than objects), bringing insights from philosophy of mind into the study of animal emotion.” www.sac.ac.uk/research/groups/animalhealth/teams/behaviourwelfare/francoisewemelsfelder/
Pigs as pets
- Best Friends Animal Society (www.bestfriends.org/theanimals/petcare/pigs.cfm)
- Pigs 4 Ever (www.pigs4ever.com)
“Words to the Wise” in Take our word for it. Issue 49. Published 8/9/99 (modified 12/05). Accessed 4/25/12. www.takeourword.com/Issue049.html
[iii] Lord LK; Wittum TE. 1997. Survey of humane organizations and slaughter plants regarding experiences with Vietnamese potbellied pigs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Vol. 211, no. 5. (September 1): 562. (IF: 1.773) (see article: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/potpigs.htm)
[iv] “Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade.” Circular Series, Foreign Agricultural Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Published 4/12. Accessed 4/25/12. www.fas.usda.gov/dlp/circular/2012/livestock_0412.pdf
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