The internet was up in arms—sorry, paws—yesterday over a New Zealand pizza chain erecting a billboard plastered with hundreds of real rabbit pelts.
Hell Pizza in Wellington thought they'd try and sell their Easter special—a frankly delicious-sounding smoked rabbit pizza with pine nuts, cream cheese, and rosemary—with the line, "Made from real rabbit. Like this billboard." They say the hides for the billboard were procured from a "professional animal tanning company," who sourced them—like most hide companies—from "a local meat processing facility where the skins are "a regular byproduct." The meat itself came from wild rabbits from nearby Southland and Otago.
The chain has posted a series of Facebook updates defending the use of rabbit meat against such vitriol as, "Your company is a total disgrace, unethical and desperate to use such a vile form of advertising in dead rabbits," but, while Hell Pizza might have an atrocious track record of schoolyard-like controversy baiting, including advertising something called a "Lust Pizza" with condoms, this is pretty tame in comparison.
If you're in the same camp as the pro-rabbit commenters, you may also be the kind of person who petitioned to have this Suffolk butcher's window display taken down in the UK. Someone like Ben Mowles, who wrote into the local paper to say just how bloody inconsiderate he found a butcher displaying what he sold in his shop. He claimed he'd been forced to circumvent a walk with his 12-year-old daughter to a sweet shop nearby because he would "rather not look at bloody severed pigs' heads when buying sweets."
You can't help but admire the gallance, the selflessness in shielding his daughter's pure, precious vision from the "mutilated carcasses," those same carcasses that are a proud display of provenance, a tangible reminder of what actually goes into sausages, let alone the reality of the "chicken" that goes into chicken nuggets or the "beef" that finds its way into burgers. And so he rushed, into the sweet shop, to calm her down with a handful of refined sugar.
Another man wrote in to say, "Everyone knows animals are killed to get meat but you don't need it shoved in your face like this." But I think we do. Unless you're a vegetarian who is unable to differentiate between pet and meal—which is fine, as much as being non-vegetarian is fine—if you eat meat, you should be able to look at the original product without feeling like some awful, satanic scene has been thrust upon you. If an animal has died for your consumption, you should really be able to look it in its cold, dead eyes—theoretically speaking—and tell it you're okay with that.
In the case of the Hell Pizza controversy it cannot be ignored that, like several parts of the world, New Zealand is overrun with rabbits. They might be cute and wrinkle their noses up like Thumper, but they can also be tiny, native ecosystem-ruining machines. As Hell Pizza boss Ben Cumming says, in New Zealand, "eating rabbit meat isn't just environmentally sustainable—it's actually helping to reduce pests." Also, rabbit is one of the most lean, healthy meats (other than venison) that you could eat.
It's also worth remembering that it wasn't too long ago when everyone lost their shit over the silent whinny of horsemeat in their supermarket lasagnes. If there's one thing that can be said for an upside-down pig, or, in this case, a rabbit pelt, at least you know where what you are eating, or might be eating, came from. Are we really that willing to be so disconnected with reality that the association with a live, breathing animal and our stomachs causes this much offence?
Hell Pizza's billboard might be like a silly, high-concept school art project, but it's not offensive. There's nothing surreptitious hiding in a rabbit pelt and, if you're going to eat the meat, you sure as hell shouldn't be squeamish about its previous coat.