Photos by Nate Miller
Some tours of LA stop in a sketchy industrial area called Vernon to show people the bucolic murals on the walls of a Farmer John pork-processing compound called Clougherty Packing Co. This is where the famous Dodger Dogs come from. They also convert pigs into stuff like morning sausage and sliced ham for various West Coast grocery-store chains.
When you see it from your car, the mural is a shock to the system. It’s clearly a slaughterhouse and covered with artwork that looks like the painted backgrounds from Hee Haw. Which is partly because the piece is an incomplete work called “Hog Heaven” by the TV-set painter Les Grimes, who died in a fall while finishing it in the 1960s. It has since been completed and retouched by painter Arno Jordan and other visionaries through the years at the request of Hormel Foods Corporation. It has also gone off the rails, sanity-wise.
These cartoony pigs are pretty close together, as I assume they really are on the other side of that wall. Though I'd imagine the 7,000 real pigs inside that building are probably smiling a lot less.
One of the many painters who's taken a crack at the mural over the years had a tendency to make their faces much too human. Like this terrifying lil' guy.
In fact, you could tell which parts had been done by different painters, as they each seemed to have their own signature style. This painter's style was "birth defects."
This guy's was "scary robots."
This guy's was "cannibalism." Cute!
The clumsiness of the artwork tells unintended stories. Here we see a guy in a pig-catching contest. It took me quite some time to realize it wasn't a guy wearing an ascot and a miniskirt, ramming a ladle up a pig’s ass.
When you’re admiring the mural, you can easily walk too far around one corner, and get surprised by the stench venting out of this wall. This building must be where the really unseemly stuff happens: it smelled like the diarrhea of a person who eats nothing but pennies and sushi.
Most of the time you’re near the plant, though, it just smells like hot dogs, which calls to mind pleasant associations with the Fourth of July and the ballpark for maybe the first fifteen minutes. Then it gets nauseating after about a half hour.
Is this OK? It’s just a kid. Why do I feel like this is not OK?
Perhaps the creepiest part is that, on the high wall of the house where hot dogs are cured, the mural features the souls of the pigs ascending to heaven.
I think what offends animal rights' protesters the most (and animal rights' protesters are really into hating this mural) is when the 1950s mentality of the original artist really clashes with even the most conventional modern attitudes about the treatment of animals.
Even meat eaters know it’s not an E. B. White book in there, and no one likes being patronized. Meanwhile, factory-farm conditions are such a well-publicized travesty that sheer contrast with the mural makes Hormel Food Corporation seem even more flippant and ghoulish than they need to.
So who is this for?
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