America’s most beloved sport being sponsored by a brand that markets itself as meat lover’s fantasy shows terrifying truth about American’s eating habits.
In the summer of 2018, Pizza Hut was struggling. They’d lost their title of America’s biggest pizza chain to Domino’s, and their same-store sales growth had been negative for five of the last eight quarters. But on September 6th, the first day of the NFL season, everything changed for the cheesy, meaty powerhouse: Pizza Hut became the league’s official pizza sponsor, a coup reportedly made possible by former sponsor Papa John’s jingoistic opposition to pro-racial-justice NFL protestors like Colin Kaepernick. It was the beginning of what the troubled brand hoped would become a turnaround.
Super Bowl 2019 broke sales records for Pizza Hut – they served six million wings on the day, along with 10 million ounces of cheese. The partnership was, shall we say, a game-changer for the company. Marianne Radley, Pizza Hut’s Chief Brand Officer told Forbes that it “absolutely” generated new customers adding that, “partnering with the NFL has helped us increase awareness and reach more fans across the country.”
Pizza Hut helps to create the economic and cultural logic that says killing any number of animals is fine, as long as they’re the right kind of animals.
Pizza Hut upped the ante with Super Bowl 2020. In their pre-game press release, Pizza Hut announced, “mouthwatering ads for the fan-favourite Meat Lover’s® Pizza will be running on repeat to remind fans to order their game day grub before kickoff.” They offered the pies, each laden with over a pound of meat and cheese, at a 30% percent discount. Paul R. La Monica, a business correspondent for CNN, called the Pizza Hut-NFL deal a “sales and profit touchdown.” While Pizza Hut never completely cleared their financial struggles – in February 2020, Bloomberg reported that Pizza Hut’s largest franchisee, NPC International, was considering bankruptcy – for a time, it looked like the NFL would be the Hail Mary the pizza brand needed.
According to OECD data, United States residents eat more meat per capita than residents of any other country. They consume 40% more meat than the European Union average and 2.8 times the world average. Pizza Hut’s Meat Lover’s Pizza tells us not to mourn these animals’ deaths but to celebrate them. Pizza Hut helps to create the economic and cultural logic that says killing any number of animals is fine, as long as they’re the right kind of animals and you don’t derive pleasure from watching the violence unfold.
And yet Pizza Hut isn’t the face of animal cruelty in the NFL: That’s Michael Vick. Vick, a quarterback, was a first-round draft pick, a wunderkind, a talent so unmatched that if you played Playstation’s football game Madden as Vick, you’d chosen a “human cheat code.”
He pled guilty to felony dogfighting charges in 2007, served 18 months behind bars, and returned to the league, to the surprise of most, as an even more talented athlete, breaking league-wide records for yards thrown and rushed in a single game, before retiring in 2017.
In November 2019, the NFL chose Michael Vick as one of four 2020 Pro Bowl “Legends Captains,” selecting him to serve as an honorary mentor for the league’s best players. This decision sparked outrage. More than 800,000 people signed a Change.org petition calling for Vick’s removal as Legend Captain, saying that it was “unacceptable” for the NFL to “honour a man who had zero regards for animals.” The controversy was covered by CNN, CBS, the Washington Post, and the LA Times. Joanna Lind, the petition’s creator, wrote:
Calling out as many NFL sponsors as possible! [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell may have made his decision but sponsors need to know that there are 600,000+ of their consumers who don’t want Vick to be a part of the Pro Bowl.
Those sponsors, of course, include not only Pizza Hut, progenitor of the Meat Lover’s Pizza, but also Dairy Management, Inc., the masterminds behind “Got Milk?”, and Dannon, who reportedly continued the inhumane practice of dehorning cows for five years after admitting the practice was cruel (in 2019, Dannon updated their website with a statement encouraging their suppliers not to engage in dehorning).
Even within the cruel world of factory farming, Pizza Hut’s treatment of animals is particularly bad. In World Animal Protection’s 2018 Pecking Order report, which ranked major fast-food companies with operations in the United Kingdom, Pizza Hut earned a grade of “Very Poor,” below companies like Burger King, Starbucks, and Subway who’ve made stronger commitments globally on humane slaughter, the close confinement of chickens, and the provision of meaningful environments to animals.
So if we’re asking the NFL to show some regard for animals, why target Michael Vick, in lieu of the sponsors themselves? These are the corporations who use their NFL advertising relationships to promote more consumption of meat and dairy.
What happens to the roosters liberated from cockfighting in Virginia? Routinely, the state euthanises them, a hint that despite the long prison sentences, the value placed on poultry lives is in fact minimal.
Over the past twenty years, Congress, state legislators, and law enforcement officials have cracked down on some narrowly defined forms of animal cruelty, particularly dogfighting and cockfighting, and the mutilation and animal murder that often accompany these blood sports. Over the same time period, 11 states passed “ag gag” laws to penalise whistleblowers who expose abuses on factory farms, although these laws were struck down as unconstitutional in four states, and litigation is pending in two.
The problem with how America thinks about animal cruelty goes deeper than just speciesism: the fact that many people feel empathy with dogs, but not with chickens or pigs. In Michael Vick’s home state of Virginia, cockfighting is a felony, with prison sentences for recently convicted cockfighters ranging from six to 24 months. In 2016, the U.S. sentencing commission voted to increase the recommended prison sentence for animal fighting from 6–12 months to 21–27 months (the crime is federal when it involves interstate travel). But what happens to the roosters liberated from cockfighting in Virginia? Routinely, the state euthanises them, a hint that despite the long prison sentences, the value placed on poultry lives is in fact minimal.
At the same time, the state hosts chicken processing plants from companies like Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods, where workers are paid low wages to do the dangerous work required to bring chickens to American’s table. (Pilgrim’s Pride supplies KFC, a sister company of Pizza Hut, also a part of Yum! Brands.) Farming and animal slaughter are exempted from Virginia’s animal cruelty law, and while cows and pigs are offered some minimal protection from the federal Humane Slaughter Law – when the law is enforced – chickens are not.
This distance lets white Americans who buy animal products interpret animal abuse as a criminal pathology derived from Black and Latino culture, instead of something they’re just as guilty of perpetrating.
In 2016, when Compassion Over Killing released video of Tyson Foods’ facilities showing chickens crammed into cages and crushed under vehicles, the company blamed low-level employees for allegedly ignoring their training, rather than admitting that to sell chickens wholesale for $2.50 each, cruelty has to be a part of the business model. Multinational corporations are given free rein to profit from their mistreatment of chickens: Effectively all forms of mistreatment are legal when you’re commercially raising a chicken, as long as they don’t also pose a threat to food safety.
Violence remains at the centre of mainstream American culture: Consider football itself, which more than pantomimes at violence. 100 million Americans watched the 2020 Super Bowl, despite the fact that we now know that the repeated traumatic brain injuries many football players experiences are the likely culprit of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease whose symptoms include forgetfulness and violent behaviour.
But while many Americans continue to crave the taste of meat and the thrill of the tackle, most would prefer not to dirty their own hands, a distancing that capitalism makes possible. This distance lets white Americans who buy animal products interpret animal abuse as a criminal pathology derived from Black and Latino culture, instead of something they’re just as guilty of perpetrating.
Does combating blood sports like dogfighting and cockfighting get us closer to or further from the goal of dismantling the industrial meat economy?
It’s hard to imagine Roger Goodell will wake up tomorrow and decide that the NFL should ditch Pizza Hut, Dairy Management, Inc., and Dannon as sponsors. The real question, then, for animal rights activists is this: does combating blood sports like dogfighting and cockfighting get us closer to or further from the goal of dismantling the industrial meat economy?
Vick allegedly slammed, and hung, and beat his dogs to death, atrocities for which there is no justification (he pled not guilty to these charges of animal abuse, and instead was convicted on the charges that he bankrolled a dogfighting conspiracy). Since serving his time and being released from prison more than a decade ago, Michael Vick has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States, lobbied for state and federal anti-animal cruelty legislation, and attended anti-dogfighting forums at his own expense. Perhaps his next move as an advocate for animals could be to convince the NFL to stop allowing ads for the Meat Lover’s Pizza.
Original source: https://medium.com