Commentary: Pig on a poster

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Diners patronizing the upscale Publican restaurant in Chicago’s meatpacking district may be surprised when they spot a billboard across the street from a popular meat-themed restaurant, according to a story reported by NBC affiliate TV 5 News.

That’s because PETA paid for a billboard next to the restaurant and across the street from its butcher shop in a trendy neighborhood just southwest of downtown.

The billboard ( displays a picture of a pig, with a tagline stating, “You can live without those ribs. I can’t.”

Actually, it’s pretty tame by PETA standards. The pig isn’t wrapped in plastic, covered in blood and jammed into some sort of steel cage as is usually the case with their imagery. The photo looked more like that friendly GEICO pig who rides in cars, travels by plane and attends football games wrapped in a blanket.

But my problem wasn’t the billboard, it was the way the media slanted its coverage.

In the video clip, after a requisite shot of the billboard, we hear from a couple of (alleged) passers-by.

“[It’s a] pretty bold choice to put that kind of a sign in the meatpacking district,” a man in his 30s tells the reporter. “If it opens up dialogue, then it’s only a good thing. After all, there is a lot of bad farming practice done in this country and around the world, I’m guessing.”

Next, a young woman looks up at the billboard and says, “It’s just about eating right and thinking about where your food comes from.”

Funny how in a fairly busy commercial district the only two people in the street who made it on camera just happened to be mouthing PETA talking points. What are the odds?

The story then continues by interviewing Cosmo Goss, the sous chef and head butcher at Publican, which specializes in “hand-selected and sustainably-raised fish, seafood and pork,” according to its website. Goss earnestly confesses that he’s puzzled by the billboard.

“We didn’t know what was happening,” he tells the reporter. “We don’t use anything that we don’t believe is humanely, beautifully raised; nothing comes through this door that’s not like that. We didn’t know if it was directed at us.”

Lemme help you out, Cosmo.

It was.

Delusional thinking

Of course, a PETA spokesperson then comes on camera to deny that hatred of anyone connected with the meat industry had anything to do with the group’s choosing a location right across the street from a restaurant specializing in animal foods and located in an area devoted to meatpacking.

Oh no, insisted PETA’s photogenic spokesperson, one Alicia Woemper, who says that the billboard is merely part of a nationwide Go Vegan campaign and is “not meant to target any business in particular.”

“We’re hoping we can reach those trendsetters who are frequenting that area and ask them to think about what they’re eating and try vegan food,” she said.

Oh, I get it. The billboard location wasn’t provocative. It was merely targeting hipsters, the cognoscenti of Chicago’s restaurant scene, so they can “open up a dialogue” and “think about what they’re eating.”

Here’s a newsflash: At the prices Publican charges for its humanely handled, lovingly raised, extra-special handcrafted meat products, I’m confident its patrons know exactly what they’re eating.

The irony here is that everyone who appeared on camera in this non-news story was thoroughly disingenuous at best.

PETA people, of course, are the ultimate merchants of hypocrisy. Even as they preach a message of love and tolerance for animals, virtually every word out of every employee’s mouth is dripping with animosity and contempt for anyone who doesn’t buy into their self-righteous rhetoric about the necessity of living on processed soy and imported produce.

The restaurant chef, sincere as he sounded, acted as if sourcing and selling highly expensive specialty meat products somehow obviates the challenge of maintaining a food production system that simultaneously delivers availability and affordability.

And the “ordinary people” who caught some time on camera came across as paid shills echoing the “just go veggie, and the world’s problems are solved” sound bite.

Look, we can “dialogue” ’til the sun goes down, and the world’s farmers and producers will still be faced with feeding more than seven billion people on a fixed amount of acreage with limitations on resources and energy and with urban population growth eating up farmland at alarming rates in every country on earth.

As Americans, we delude ourselves if we believe that because we’ve got the luxury to buy what we want and eat what we like that we have license to pretend our lifestyles are part of the solution.

Maybe we ought to think about that while we’re eating.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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kansas  |  January, 24, 2014 at 05:03 PM

Go Dan! Apparently someone in PETA has begun to see that they've "jumped the shark" with their juvenile sexist self-parodying methods to-date. Perhaps they've reverse-recruited some of the HSUS staff who abandoned them for those reasons? Whatever the cause, this simply renews & improves their status as a legitimate enemy whose lies and deceits continue to draw in the gullible - and their money. Exploiting the ignorance of urbanites, especially the young "socially conscious", i.e. wealthy preening fashionistas, who need to feel morally superior & "liked", is their game. Call them out often and loudly, and don't hold back on the scorn & ridicule they so richly deserve.

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