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Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Food Animals’ Category

Public Health and Agriculture: An Ongoing Debate

Posted by lisagbrown on August 28, 2009

pig-factory-farmsFor 2 1/2 years, a highly diverse group of experts from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) (a project from the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) studied the practices of industrial farm agriculture, and came to the conclusion that the abundant use of antibiotics in farm animals has a detrimental impact on both humans and animals. Recent health scares like the Swine Flu and various salmonella outbreaks have forced the general public to look at how their food is produced, and most people seem to agree: there are fundamental problems with our agricultural system.  Americans are growing smarter about how their food is made. Time Magazine’s recent article Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food, the documentary Food, Inc and the success of similarly themed media suggest an increasing concern among consumers about what they are putting into their bodies and how it is made, not to mention the welfare of the animals that are sacrificed in the process. In response, the Obama administration is taking steps to reform the industrial farming industry, with a proposed banning of unnecessary antibiotics in farm animals.

All of this sounds like significant progress, except for a fly in the ointment: the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a response to the PCIFAP’s report, and makes the claim that antibiotic use in farm animals poses a possible risk, not a probable risk. The AVMA says  “We are concerned the Pew’s fear-invoking assertions are going to have an equivalent outcome to the ‘Y2K’ crisis that never happened on January 1, 2000.” They further go on to claim that the Pew’s report contains “major deviations from science and reality.” The AVMA sarcastically calls the Pew Commission’s report “grandiose” and accuses the panel of experts of being biased. With language that borders on slanderous, and a tone that is — at best — unprofessional, the AVMA takes on the Pew’s report as if it were an indictment of the practice of veterinary medicine itself. It most certainly is not, but it leads one to wonder why the AVMA is taking this so personally.

HSUS Vegetarian Eating Guide05I don’t think this will have much of an impact on the movement towards healthier, more sustainable and more humanely raised food. But I DO think that this will impact the way Americans view the AVMA. People who live with animals look to their vets as a source of knowledge and compassion about animals, and it is likely that most people assume the AVMA represents the overarching ideals of their own vets. Sadly, the notion that the AVMA represents the interests of animal lovers and individual vets appears to be as outdated as the AVMA’s perspective on industrial farming. And as a result, many veterinarians are actively and loudly voicing their disapproval of the AVMA’s stance.

With its response, the AVMA believes that it is revealing inadequacies in the Pew’s report, but I believe that it has unintentionally revealed something altogether different. What is now clear is that, rather than looking out for the health and well-being of humans and other animals, the organization is protecting the interests of big agribusiness — an industry that acquires its antibiotics from … veterinarians who work for the lucrative agribusiness. By framing their response as a rebuttal rather than a companion report, they come off looking like a lobbying group on behalf of industrial farm agriculture. Ultimately, if the AVMA’s response gains more attention, I suspect that they will have a PR nightmare on their hands. Shouldn’t an organization that has a mission to “improve animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession” want to distance itself from an industry that contributes to significant animal suffering and endangers the environment and human health?

Click here to read the Pew’s report and the AVMA’s response in full and to visit Center for a Livable Future. While there, please also read a fantastic response to the AVMA by Ralph Loglisci.

 *Update* 08/31/09 Please view this insightful response from Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States entitled “Talk Back: Veterinary Conflict of Interest” , who highlights the AVMA’s inherent conflict of interest in its criticism of the Pew’s report. Pacelle also posts responses by individual veterinarians, whose criticism of the AVMA is especially heartening, and supports my belief that the AVMA does not represent the ideals of the average veterinarian. (Also see Pacelle’s original posting, AVMA: Off course from veterinarian’s oath.)


Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Barack Obama, Ethics, Food Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Japan’s Dolphin Massacre: The Cove in Taiji

Posted by lisagbrown on August 7, 2009


Dolphins have been massacred by the thousands in the town of Taiji, Japan, but until now, not many people knew about it. Thanks to the dedicated team behind the new movie, The Cove, the cruel, ongoing practice of dolphin slaughtering has been exposed. The horrifying truth is that most people in Japan don’t even know this is happening in their own country and — even worse — they don’t know that some of the fish they eat is dolphin meat. They are purposefully being deceived in order to sustain a lucrative and dishonest industry that provides “show” dolphins to aquariums and “swim-with-dolphins” programs worldwide.

As the film opens, director Louis Psihoyos explains, “we tried to do this film legally.” With this one line, Psihoyos sets up the espionage, intrigue and drama of a film that has Hitchcock-worthy, rapid-fire pacing. The Cove stands as a meticulous documentary whose important contribution to animal welfare is only outshone by its contribution to the medium of guerrilla-style documentary film-making. This is storytelling at its most profound, where structure and content intertwine seamlessly to create a narrative that is as exciting as it is informative.

The Cove traces the story of Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the 1960’s television show Flipper, who feels responsible for contributing to the captivity of dolphins. During brief interludes, O’Barry shares his profound attachment to Kathy, one of the dolphins who played Flipper. She brought him to a greater understanding of why these beings ought not to be in captivity. O’Barry’s perspective is integrated with information from scientists, divers and others who share personal and professional knowledge, creating a holistic portrait of dolphins as sentient, self-aware beings whose suffering is unjustifiable.

As is the case with most thrillers, there are good guys and bad guys, corrupt government schemers, and a genuine danger of being caught. All these pieces provide the framework, but the dolphins and their plight remain at the heart of every wrenching scene, giving the drama a pulsating urgency that fictional thrillers lack.

I’ve heard that some people are fearful of seeing the film because they think they won’t be able to handle the upsetting nature of its content. I hope to dissuade people of this fear. It’s true that there are things that happen in this movie that are incredibly sad to see and even worse to think about, but it would be such a disservice to yourself — and the dophins — if you allow this fear to overtake you. This film won’t destroy you. It doesn’t show you anything you can’t handle. But it will provoke attention and outrage, and it will very likely incite you to take action. In the same way that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth inspired moviegoers to go beyond the passive experience of movies — and participate in the experience long after the film has ended — The Cove will inspire everyday people to champion on behalf of the dolphins.

What is happening in Taiji deserves scrutiny. It warrants our attention. And it needs to end.

To take action, visit

To find a screening in your city, visit The Cove‘s website









Dolphins performing in Taiji.                                                                                      The filmmakers with two covert filming tools.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations | 1 Comment »

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Birds, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »

Eqypt Orders Mass Pig Slaughter to Prevent Swine Flu

Posted by lisagbrown on April 30, 2009


According to MSNBC, the Egyptian government has ordered the slaughter of the country’s 300,000 pigs, in order to prevent an outbreak of the swine flu. Many farmers are refusing to carry out the proposed slaughter, at least until the goverment develops a plan of compensation for losing their livelihood.

“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” said Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pig farmer in another part of Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”

However, the government issued a statement saying that farmers are permitted to sell the meat of the slaughtered animals, so no compensation is necessary. Egypt was among the hardest hit nations during the recent Avian flu pandemic. The country’s extreme reaction to the swine flu is likely a result of lingering memories of the bird flu’s impact.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Food Animals, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!


Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Cats, Comics, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Music, Photography, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Religion, Representations, Television, Theory | 3 Comments »

Review of “Our Daily Bread,” by Guest Blogger Mike Civille

Posted by lisagbrown on November 12, 2008

ourdailybread1I’m pleased to introduce Animal Inventory’s first guest blogger, Mike Civille. Civille is an independent filmmaker who has taught film studies at Boston College since 1999. He is currently a candidate for PhD in American Studies at Boston University. Read his review of the film Our Daily Bread, below.

*  *  *

Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread is a film that captures the banal and repetitive nature of mass food production. Through a unique combination of static shots and slow moving cameras, the film tiptoes from the production of one food to another, lulling the viewer into desensitized complacency. Geyrhalter forces the viewer to sit through much of the process uninterrupted, a feature that is sometimes boring and sometimes horrifying. The first third of the film is devoid of any shocking imagery, which gives it the mechanical quality of a museum installation piece. Workers pick fruit, feed poultry, and spray insecticides, while one particularly surreal sequence shows live chicks being fired from a machine into bins, like chirping tennis balls. After a while, the workers processing the food begin to resemble the machines they’re assisting, absent of any reaction, arms moving as programmed. Geyrhalter’s meticulously rhythmic depiction of the process turns the audience into a mechanism as well, a voyeuristic witness with little emotional attachment — that is, until the last half hour, when the pigs, cows, chickens, and fish begin their unfortunate path to the market. By now, the viewers are a part of the machinery, and they must witness this unedited nasty routine as accomplices, their mass desire for bacon, burgers, buffalo wings and seafood the cause of all of this gutting and hacking. If you can make it through the monotonous first half, Our Daily Bread recovers as an effective, beautifully framed and carefully constructed wakeup call about nature, machines, and humans’ place in between. (Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films)
(Mike Civille)

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Ethics, Film, Food Animals, Guest Blogger, Public Policy | 1 Comment »

Oprah: How We Treat the Animals We Eat

Posted by lisagbrown on October 16, 2008

Yesterday, Oprah did a show about the current treatment of farm animals in American agriculture. You can view the Concious Choices slideshow on her website, which recaps the episode’s most critical points. I strongly encourage readers to check out this educational slideshow. Many people are hesitant to learn about the reality of farm animal welfare because it feels easier not to know. However, Oprah (through correspondant Lisa Ling) manages to accurately document farm animal life without resorting to graphic imagery, sensationalism, or scare tactics. The slideshow is a sobering statement on the reality of farm animal welfare, but it also leaves viewers feeling empowered about the choices they make in what they eat. There are some very simple, accessible ways to support humane treatment of farm animals, even if you are a meat eater — namely, vote to ban the tiny crates that house pregnant pigs, veal calves, and chickens; purchase humanely raised meat and eggs; and support farmers who strive to create a more animal-friendly, sustainable business.

Check out the Concious Choices slideshow on

Photo: Oprah shows the crates that pigs, calves and chickens live in for all or part of their lives.

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Food Animals, Public Policy, Television | Leave a Comment »

Can Animals Think?

Posted by lisagbrown on May 3, 2008

A conversation I had the other day began with this question: Can animals think? When I answered yes, the conversation continued in the way these discussions often do, with the other person asking me: how do you know?

Animals think. Perhaps not in the way that you or I do, but they think. It’s important to remember that there are ways of thinking that are foreign to many people, but are no less valid or genuine; autistic and mentally disabled men and women have a unique way of processing the world, but that has no impact on whether or not they do think, only how they think. This is not to suggest that people with impairments are in any way like animals, but rather that “thinking” is not uniform. It’s an ability that is not black and white — it has nuances.

Apes have been taught sign language, and can communicate preferences for food, objects and people. They can describe feelings like anger and excitement. They have been witnessed signing to themselves when alone (like a person talking to him or herself). Some apes have even recounted personal stories of being captured in the wild, and have described watching a parent die at the hands of poachers. This suggests not only thinking, but long-term memory, as well.

When I go on a diatribe about apes and monkeys (which I’ll admit, is not infrequent) inevitably a person will counter my arguments by saying “but they are primates, like us. Other animals can’t do those things.” That may be true. But other animals do different things to make their thoughts transparent.

Elephants hold funerals for their dead, with each member of the group tracing their trunk along the body of their dead counterpart. They apparently return to the site of the burial (yes, they bury them, too) one year later to mourn. Milking cows howl in grief when their calves are taken from them, and cattle scream in terror on their way to slaughter. We need only look as far as our own homes for evidence of animals thinking. My parents’ dogs have a basket full of stuffed animals and rubber squeaky toys, which they routinely dig through to find a particular object — an example of an animal choosing something, or thinking about and acting upon a preference.

When I had a conversation about animal intelligence with a friend once, he tried to tell me that cats are the only intelligent, thoughtful animals. “Cats are special,” he said. I realized that he only believes this because cats are the only animals he has ever had personal relationships with. So I asked him — isn’t it a bit of a coincidence that the only animals you’ve ever known personally happen to be the only smart ones?

There are demonstrations of animal thinking all over the animal kingdom, so the problem is not in finding examples. The challenge lies in convincing people that these are not special cases. In these instances I try to remind people that a significant portion of human communication occurs through body language, so why is it such a stretch to acknowledge, validate and believe in the nonverbal communication we read in other animals? The cross-species divide is a chasm that many people find difficult to jump across. This is true for a lot of reasons, but there are two that stand out:

  1. Accepting that animals feel, think and emote challenges the status quo of how we treat them. If a cow mourns the loss of her calf, it might force us to reflect upon a dairy industry that routinely causes such distress. If cattle scream when they know they’re about to die, or apes vividly remember their own abduction from the wild, it may cause us to wonder if we are supporting industries of extreme torture ever time we eat hamburgers or take medication that was tested on apes.
  2. Accepting that animals feel, think and emote means we are not as special as we once thought we were. It reveals that our dominion over other animals is not justified simply because we are intelligent. Everything we thought was unique about ourselves reflects the differences between us and other animals, just as much as it reflect the similarities. While we are unique, we may not be more unique than any other species.

My point is not necessarily to condemn anyone for eating meat or taking pharmaceuticals. I myself do both things on occasion. But I do think that we are long overdue to take a serious look at the animals among us, and to wonder what makes it so hard to accept that animals can think. Not long ago, general consensus was that animals can not feel physical pain. While there are some people who do still believe this, most people see that perspective as terribly misinformed. My hope is that in a matter of decades, the capacity of animals to feel emotion and to think will be common and accepted knowledge.

(Rudi Dog Woof cartoon above is from the Sandoval Signpost Newsmagazine)

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Identity, Primates, Theory | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Inventory of the Day

Posted by lisagbrown on April 21, 2008

This blog entry continues some of the themes explored in the blog entry Animalities.

Today I have created a true inventory of animals. I noted every animal I encountered from morning till night. These included animals that are living or dead, visual representations of animals, and even the sounds of animals.


4:13 AM Am awoken to the sound of a bird outside my window, cooing the same song over and over again. The repetition prevents me from falling back to sleep.

4:45 AM I finally give in to wakefulness and join my cat on the couch. I watch TV while he sleeps.

6:26 AM Am watching an episode of Angel in which the vampire battles a human-sized praying mantis monster.

6:41 AM Simon begins to tap on his food bowl in the next room to let me know that I’ve woken him up, and he wants his breakfast.


8:13 AM On a neighbor’s porch, there’s a sculpture of a stone terrier with a welcome sign around its neck.

8:17 AM Just barely hidden in a garden behind a house, I can see the silhouette of a garden sculpture in the shape of a crane.

8:23 AM On the bus, we pass the White Hen Pantry, whose logo is a fat white hen.

8:26 AM Just a few streets down, we drive past the Swan cleaners, whose logo is an elegant white swan.

8:31 AM Just ahead of the bus, I see the bloody remains of roadkill. It is fresh, but so mangled that it is unidentifiable. Probably a squirrel, but it may have been a cat. It is easily the most gruesome roadkill I’ve seen in a long time. The animal’s flesh reminds me of the boiled chicken I ate for dinner last night and I’m immediately nauseated.

8:56 Got off the bus downtown in front of a 10-foot poster in a bank window of a woman holding a fluffy white terrier dog. A second poster, in the adjacent window, shows a man holding a child in a similar pose. I’m intrigued that the dog and the child seem to be given equal prominence.


10:32 AM A photo of two Wheaton Terriers hangs on a bulletin board in a coworkers cubicle.

11:25 AM As I pass through a sea of cubicles on my way to the water fountain, I catch glimpses of animals: a gorilla stuffed animal holding a banana lounges on a file cabinet, a wolf figurine howls silently, a painting of some sheep hangs on the wall.

11:57 AM A brown cow looks out from behind the Stonyfield Farm logo on my yogurt container.

1:03 PM I overhear a coworker discussing how medieval armor was lined with horsehair.

1:28 PM I eat a salad with chicken slices from the deli counter.

3:13 PM I realize that my black sweater is covered in Yoshi’s white fur.

3:40 PM From the 11th floor, I watch a pigeon wing its way between the buildings.


5:01 PM At the bus stop, I see a woman feeding birdseed to a single pigeon, while dozens of pigeons and seagulls fly 10 stories above.

5:13 PM On the bus, we pass a sculpture of a man and his dog, and a block later I see a teenager walking a calico pit bull.

5:14 PM A deli has an ad for Boars Head Ham prominently displayed in the window.

5:22 PM On the Mass Pike, we pass a billboard with the Red Sox’s Green monster on it, a creature that is definitely not human, but not quite animal either. Less than 30 seconds later, we pass another billboard with Elmo on it, a similarly indefinable being.

5:27 PM The Stockyard Steakhouse uses a large red bull’s head to lure commuters in for an evening steak.

5:30 PM I notice an advertisement above my head for the Walk for Kidney Health, with an incongruous image of kids with faces painted like tigers.

5:32 PM I see a Massachusetts “I’m animal friendly” license plate, with the silhouette of a dog and a cat on it. The car owners have a dog beanie baby in the window.

5:34 PM A woman on the bus is reading A Walk in the Woods. It has a photo of a brown bear on the cover.

5:40 PM There’s an ad at one of the bus stops that reads ‘is your dog licensed? 87% of licensed dogs who get lost are returned home.’ There’s a photo of an adorable Golden Lab puppy on the ad.

5:41 PM We pass a bar whose logo is the image of two Falcons, back to back.

5:44 PM Walking home, I see a white ceramic garden sculpture of two frogs smiling.

5:45 PM A squirrel crosses the street in front of me, just as a very happy Jack Russell terrier is being walked around the corner.

5:46 PM As a father walks past me with his baby, I notice there are colorful stuffed fish hanging from a mobile on the baby’s stroller.

5:48 PM Yoshi greets me at the door, and both he and Simon are ready for dinner.

Posted in Advertising, Animal Behavior, Animals, Art, Food Animals, Representations, Television | Leave a Comment »

‘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 »