Tiny cardboard boxes of Barnum's Animal Crackers first appeared on store shelves in 1902, and each one was decorated with pictures of some of the animals that audiences could see at P.T. Barnum's own Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. With the exception of some of the illustrated animals, the packaging has remained mostly unchanged for the last century — at least until the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) got involved.
It took them more than 100 years, but PETA finally noticed that each box looked like a little train's boxcar, and each of the two-dimensional animals looked like they were in equally two-dimensional cages. That's not the case any more: PETA wrote a strongly worded letter to cracker-maker Nabisco's parent company, Mondelez, and now those animals will be TOTALLY UNCAGED.
"Given the egregious cruelty inherent in circuses that use animals and the public's swelling opposition to the exploitation of animals used for entertainment, we urge Nabisco to update its packaging in order to show animals who are free to roam in their natural habitats," PETA wrote, according to the Associated Press.
Mondelez seems to be unafraid of the consequences of putting uncaged lions and polar bears in the same small space with koalas and giraffes. (And it DEFINITELY hasn't considered what happens if one of the tigers gets loose and mauls a family of Teddy Grahams). As of right now, all packages of Barnum's Animal Crackers are getting a redesign.
"Throughout our history, we have leveraged and evolved our classic design to drive awareness around key animal and environmental issues," a Mondelez spokesperson told The New York Times. "To continue to make the brand relevant for years to come, we felt this was the right time for the next evolution in our design, now showing the animals in a natural habitat."
The key word in that sentence is "relevant." Mondelez may or may not have a strong opinion about cartoon animals in cartoon cages, but this is a fantastic way to remind people that Barnum's Animal Crackers are still a thing. (And who knows, maybe they'll start poking holes in the boxes so the animals can breathe too.)
Obviously, PETA is delighted. "The new box for Barnum's Animal Crackers perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates the caging and chaining of wild animals for circus shows," PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman told USA Today. "PETA is celebrating this redesign, just as we've celebrated the end of Ringling Bros. circus and the introduction of animal-circus bans across the U.S." (PETA was also instrumental in Ringling Bros. decision to cease operations in May 2017.)
The new box is a lovely gesture — it really is — but that doesn't change the completely inhumane way that most of us eat animal crackers. "What do people like about animal crackers? Biting off the heads!" a Nabisco product manager said in 1995, when the company released a limited-edition Endangered Species edition of the crackers. "Our hope was that children will line [the animals] up, match them up with the names on the box, learn about them and then decapitate them."
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