Thoughtful dialogue is far from the standard response to the provocative billboards and print campaigns paid for by PETA. The animal rights group is rarely nonconfrontational with its images and messages, not shying from disturbing depictions of animal testing, livestock confinement, and other abuses.
A new billboard posted in Chicago’s meatpacking district is no different: The suckling pig shown on the poster says, “You can live without those ribs. I can't. Try vegan."
Across the street, another pig motif hangs above the sidewalk: the hog-bearing sign of the meat-centric restaurant Publican, which is next door to its sister store, Publican Quality Meats, a butcher shop. While PETA tells the Chicago Sun Times the broader neighborhood, with its meat-eating associations, led the group to pick that location, it appears that Publican, which purchases the whole animals it works with from small Midwestern farms—animals raised in optimal conditions and slaughtered as humanely as possible—is the target.
Not that any of those caveats would matter to a group such as PETA, which takes a militant anti-meat stance. Still, the folks at Publican took the new billboard as an opportunity for a debate (albeit between two employees) about the ways in which meat is raised and consumed.
A post on the Publican Quality Meats Facebook page makes it clear that the store doesn’t see PETA as an adversary.
We respect any serious and intelligent personal philosophy and admire PETA's knack for provocation and creative chutzpah. We are, and this might seem odd to say unless you really think about it, also people who are for the ethical treatment of animals with one gigantic difference: We do choose to eat animal flesh. We also choose not to ignore the reality of the choice.
What follows is a conversation between Cosmo, a sous-chef and butcher at Publican Quality Meats, and D, the manager. D goes so far as to suggest that PETA and Publican could be allies in a sense: “When I saw the billboard I thought, perversely, that we actually kinda line up with these guys in most regards...with, you know, one glaring exception.”
Cosmo recounts his own experience of slaughtering a lamb on a small farm, and how the very idea of the death that predicates the ingredients he works with inspires the almost radical economy kitchens like Publican exercise. “We waste NOTHING. We use 100% of the animal. With pigs we use the skin, we make head cheese, we make stock from the bones, the tails end up in the Bolognese at Publican,” he says. “We waste Nothing. That's how we honor the animal. We don't throw any of its Life away.”
The rendering truck, which picks up animal scraps for other restaurants, never has to stop by Publican, D notes.
The post ends with two pleas: “Don't make fun of PETA. Support the Livestock Conservancy.” The latter group works to protect heritage breeds—types of livestock that have fallen out of favor with the majority of farmers over the years, in many cases because they’re ill suited for the violent intensity of factory farming.
“They're salvaging disappearing heritage breeds of animals and are addressing the seeming contradiction—if we don't eat these breeds they'll cease to exist,” as D puts it. “It's pretty much 'Eat the Pig, Save the Breed,' and I thought about that when I saw the billboard too.”