Banksy: Think Twice about What You Eat | Civil Eats

Banksy: Think Twice about What You Eat

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Few contemporary artists have been the subject of quite so many rumors as Banksy. Depending on what you believe, the anonymous, larger-than-life British graffiti artist is not one man, but a collective of people. He participates in social media–or not. His identity has been revealed several time–or not. Oh and he’s might actually be a she.*

And now this: “Banksy used to work in a butcher shop.” This latest rumor has surfaced after the artist commissioned a slaughterhouse delivery truck to drive dozens of children’s stuffed animals around the New York City. The piece, called Sirens of the Lambs, confronted passers by with sounds of squeeling and crying and is part of a month long, outdoor exhibition appearing throughout the streets of New York.

Then, on Wednesday, Banksy followed the truck with a second rather overt comment on the food system. The piece, called “Shoeshine,” depicts Ronald McDonald “waiting impassively as his ridiculously oversized clown shoes are buffed to a fine shine,” according to the accompanying audio recording on the Banksy Web site. The sculpture appeared first in the South Bronx, but will be outside of a different McDonald’s in New York every day for a week.

The recording depicts Ronald as “the most sculpted figure in history after Christ” and describes his statuesque pose as “indicative of how corporations have become the historical figures of our era.” Indeed, the artwork is as much a critique of the ubiquity and power of mega-corporations as it is about fast food specifically. But it probably won’t be lost on most viewers that food corporation are some of the biggest and most powerful corporations in today’s world.

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Although this fact isn’t mentioned on the artist’s site, the piece may also have been inspired by the fast-food worker walkouts that took place this summer, as it made its first appearance on the strike lines in Los Angeles in August.

This isn’t the first Banksy work to comment on Big Food food either. Take this piece of graffiti, which shows a coyote dragging the head of Colonel Sanders, or the elaborate installation called “Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill,” which featured fish sticks and hot dogs in cages where animals would normally be found. Ronald McDonald has also appeared in several other pieces. In all this work, the world of food provides a visceral window onto larger questions of power, violence, and manipulation in a way that has the power to cut through the fog of rumor and stand on its own.

*Okay, I made that last one up. But I can’t be the first person to wonder.

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Twilight Greenaway is Civil Eats' senior editor and former managing editor. Her articles about food and farming have appeared in The New York Times, NPR.org, The Guardian, Food and Wine, Gastronomica, and Grist, among other. See more at TwilightGreenaway.com. Follow her on Twitter. Read more >

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  1. Aside from the Ronald McDonald part of the art piece, I'd like to just comment on the slaughterhouse transit truck which seems to have captured the most attention. I think it is mistaken to frame this as a BIG FOOD vs SMALL FOOD issue. We know that the same farmer's who market themselves as "small," "local," "organic," "pastured" and "family-owned" hire the same transport services to carry animals on the same terrifying, long journeys to the same industrial slaughterhouses where so-called BIG FOOD animals are sent, exposing them to temperature extremes, depriving them of food and water in their last hours of life, using electric prods to get those too sick to move and often forcing them to stand/lie in their own waste. In my own experience as as someone who has rescued many chickens from so-called "humane" farms, I have seen the same misery in transport and storefront slaughterhouses where chickens are hauled in from neighboring farms at 6 to 7 weeks of age, still chirping and making sad cries, like babies do, yet fattened into adult bodies. On the last visit to a live poultry market that touted "fresh," "local" and "responsibly-raised" buzz words to its customers, I documented my experience so people could see the truth of the abject suffering, chaos and terror that exists in the back room where the caged chickens are slaughtered. Here is the short video I produced from that visit: http://freefromharm.org/videos/farm-animal-investigations/my-visit-to-a-local-live-poultry-market/.
  2. Robert, I think your experiences of unfair and cruel treatment of animals in both organic and non-organic, or as you say small or big, farms should be exposed and discussed. I also think that the it is important to address the complexity of why this is happening and look at what the available butchering options are for farms, and focus on the potential lack of alternatives as a key factor in such unwanted choices being a really hard part of farmers' decicion-making when looking to process their animals. I don't know any larger farms that name all their animals, but I know at least 10 small-scale farmers in my area of Downeast Maine that have names for each one of their pigs, or cows, and I'm not sure about birds, but I think mostly all birds in my area are slaughtered on farm, sometimes as a community effort. I will pay more attention to this issue, and maybe go visit the slaughterhouse nearest to me soon. Until then, thank you for your comment.

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