Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for March, 2008

‘Top Chef’ Serves Human-Animal Studies on a Platter

Posted by lisagbrown on March 22, 2008

Top ChefTop chef is a bravo reality show that has America’s most promising chefs competing in entertaining challenges. In the March 19th episode, competitors drew straws to see what they’d be cooking. In true top chef style, these “straws” took the form of butcher knives that contestants pulled from a butcher’s block. Each knife had an ingredient written in large letters on its blade. The first ingredient, vulture, sent the chefs into a tizzy. What can you do with vulture meat? The second knife, bear, seemed slightly more accessible, but was still a delicacy that most chefs did not have experience with. The third knife, lion, elicited confused reactions from the chefs. When the fourth knife was drawn, gorilla, one chef noted that she knew you can’t eat gorilla — and she was right. The chefs would not be cooking the meat of each animal, but rather creating a menu that was inspired by each animal’s diet. The Top Chef contestants would be catering an event for the Chicago zoo, and each team created a menu based on the diet of one of the four animals.

What was notable in this segment was the glaring distinction between edible and non-edible animals. Top Chef is a show that enjoys challenging its contestants to cook unusual meats. Not much is off limits in their kitchen, so introducing lion and gorilla in a realm where these ‘meats’ could conceivably be included, highlighted the artificial distinctions we create around animals. It forced the audience and the contestants to wonder why these animals are not ingredients the way other animals are. It was a wonderful example of human-animal studies in action — a practical application of how to draw people into dialogue about what they classify as food, and why. It lasted only a moment, and the reflection among contestants was superficial at best. But there was tremendous potential for further exploration of the topic. These moments are a gold mine for human-animal studies scholars to take advantage of conversation generated by those outside of the field.

Further still, I’m sure that anyone even remotely aware of the plight of wild gorillas could not help but think of the devastating effects of the bushmeat trade. Certainly the site of a knife with the word gorilla on it could bring little else to mind, especially in the context of a kitchen. Top Chef missed an opportunity to expose this intolerable practice to a wide audience. In fact, given their use of imagery, it was irresponsible not to point out that gorilla meat is a delicacy in some areas of the world, and that gorilla populations are suffering because of it. By introducing audiences to the concept of gorillas as food (even if the chefs did not ultimately use them as such,) Top Chef had a responsibility to explain that the slaughter of gorillas does in fact happen, is routinely done so, and is illegal.

Ironically, the group that was supposed to create a menu based on the gorilla diet was incapable of creating vegetarian dishes. (Gorillas are, after all, primarily vegetarians.) Instead, the team incorporated fish and crab into the menu, an inconsistency that was pointed out by a zookeeper who attended the event. The judges, however, did not seem troubled by the group’s inability to follow this simple guideline. Though the gorilla team ultimately lost the challenge, it was because the food wasn’t good, not because they couldn’t follow the gorilla diet.
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Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Food Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Television | Leave a Comment »

Julie Zickefoose and Charlie the Parrot

Posted by lisagbrown on March 16, 2008

Julie Zickefoose and CharlieThere was a wonderful story on NPR last week about a woman and her relationship with her parrot. You can read or listen to the piece here:

A Delightful, Awful Marriage to a Pet Parrot

Writer Julie Zickefoose provides a great education about how pet parenting is not a job to be undertaken lightly, particularly in the case of an animal that lives a very long time. Her relationship with Charlie is loving, intimate, and devoted, and she has all the scars to prove it. Literally. Her honesty over the trials and tribulations of parenting an exotic bird is already bringing her kudos from rescuers who try to warn people away from adopting or purchasing animals that don’t make the best companions. Yet, her devotion to Charlie (despite behavior that would typically be incompatible with most people) is admirable.

You can read more about Julie and her thoughts on birds at her blog, Julie Zickefoose.

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Radio | 1 Comment »

Kudos to HBO’s ‘The Wire’

Posted by lisagbrown on March 7, 2008

The Wire
SPOILER ALERT: This blog entry reveals key plot developments from the final season of The Wire.

HBO’s “The Wire” doesn’t often delve into animal-related topics. But on February 24th, The Wire drew from scholarly work that has reported links between violence against animals and violence against people. (According one study, men who abuse animals are five times more likely than men of similar age, race and economic status who have not abused animals to commit violence against humans. And it’s becoming increasingly well-known that there is a correlation between childhood acts of cruelty to animals and extreme violence in adulthood.) In the 58th episode of The Wire, Kenard, a recurring (minor) character, is seen dousing a cat in a fire accelerant. He and a group of children his own age (all seemingly under 12) pour the fluid all over the cat’s body. Though the rest of the children scatter when well-known street thug Omar walks by, Kenard continues to struggle with the lighter to complete the gorey act. Ultimately, I’m not sure about the fate of the cat (though I’ve read on a fan site that you can see the cat running away in the background of a later scene). Kenard, however, continues his streak of violence by following Omar into a store and shooting him in the back of the head.

The culture depicted in The Wire is a violent one, and certainly Kenard has learned his behavior from the adults around him (including Omar himself, and even the prevailing law enforcement, on occasion.) But kudos to The Wire for succinctly, harshly and artfully exposing the connections between animal abuse and violence against people. Many viewers were disappointed by Omar’s death — not because he died, but how he died. Omar, a violent, ruthless killer, had become a fan favorite, and the audience was expecting a show-down of epic proportions between Omar and his nemesis, Marlow. But personally, I think Omar’s death was perfect. What better way to show the cycle of violence, the effects of city-wide corruption, and the depth of brutality than to have Baltimore’s most notorious killer be murdered in cold blood by a child? And there was no better way to foreshadow the true capabilities of Kenard’s burgeoning tendencies than by having him display them on a cat.

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Posted in Animals, Television | 3 Comments »

Saying Goodbye to Y: The Last Man

Posted by lisagbrown on March 4, 2008

Spoiler Alert: This blog entry reveals major plot points from the final installment of Y: The Last Man.

The Last Man, Saying GoodbyeIn February 2008, the popular comic series Y: The Last Man came to a crushing, emotional end. The series, created by veteran comic writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra, tells the story of a modern apocalypse. The world is struck by an inexplicable plague that kills every male — human and non — on earth. Every male, that is, except Yorick and his capuchin monkey Ampersand. What follows over a 60-issue story arc is an adventure story of epic proportions.

There is much to say about Y: The Last Man. For those of us who were fans of the comic and have been following the story since its inception, the conclusion of the series was a sad goodbye. But in particular, I want to use this space to pay homage to Ampersand, whose life ended along with the series. Ampersand is introduced in the first issue as a monkey who has come to Yorick because, “A group in Boston was looking for people to train the things,” and Yorick has volunteered to raise (and train) the monkey. It should be mentioned that this hypothetical organization is based on a real life Boston-based organization called Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled. At the time that Y premiered in 2002, I was, in fact, an employee of this organization, and I trained monkeys (like the hypothetical Ampersand) to help men and women with severe disabilities. Given my preternatural love of comic books (and the obvious added interest of a monkey helper,) I was hooked.

A new issue of Y came out about every month, and with each comic, Ampersand’s personality was fleshed out with increasing depth. With astonishing accuracy, Guerra captured in her drawings the movements and postures of a capuchin. Vaughan gave him a range of emotions and behaviors. The representation of Ampersand wasn’t always 100% true to capuchin behavior as I know it, but it was closer than any fictional capuchin I’ve ever seen. Ampersand was created with sensitivity and knowledge, and it is perhaps for this very reason that I grew to love him as much as I did. Given how much I know about monkeys, and the skill with which Ampersand’s character was developed, it was not hard for me to think of him as a real being, just as Yorick and other characters in the series were so three-dimensional that I could imagine them as real people. Monkeys, like so many other animals, are simply small people. They experience the dramas, emotions, joys, fears, preferences, passions and feelings that we do — perhaps not in exactly the same way, but in a way that is more dynamic and significant that they’re usually given credit for. But it was clear to me that Vaughan and Guerra had done their homework. They developed Ampersand not only as a monkey, but as a character as well.

Through my experiences at Helping Hands, I came to know many monkeys as friends. One in particular, I consider a part of my family. Over the years I’ve experienced such incredible joy in these relationships — so different from the interactions I’ve had with dogs and cats, yet still unlike my relationships with humans. The tragedy is that because of all the amazingly wonderful things that I shared in my friendships with capuchins, each and every monkey death that I’ve endured has been gut-wrenching. Such is the case with love — the more devoted you are, the more devastation you experience when it ends.

And so, when Ampersand died, I had certain knowledge of what this meant to Yorick. Everyone has known death in some form. But to go through the death of a monkey — it’s such a specific and unique experience of death. I could not help but see Yorick’s grief and feel it as my own, to remember the pain of monkey deaths from my past. Worst of all, I could not help but realize my own fear of monkey deaths yet to come. Ampersand’s death made sense in the context of the plot; it had to happen to further the storyline; but most devastating of all, this is a death that simply had to happen, because it would have happened in real life.

Farewell, dear Ampersand.

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Comics, Human-Animal Bond, Primates | 1 Comment »

Thank you for supporting Animal Inventory.

Posted by lisagbrown on March 3, 2008

Several very generous readers have asked how they can support Animal Inventory. This site is a labor of love, so your support is greatly appreciated, as is your readership. I’ve created two methods by which you can donate to Animal Inventory:

Click the “Make a donation” button below to donate the monetary amount of your choosing via Paypal:

Or, click on the “Wishlist” button below to contribute to the Animal Inventory library via

Thank you, again, for your kind encouragement.

 (For future reference, these links can be found at the “Support” page, listed above.)

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