There have long been food-themed toys — such as the Easy-Bake Oven, which allowed kids to bake tiny cakes using only a lightbulb, and Victorian tea sets that encouraged them to stage afternoon parties with their dolls and Power Rangers. These toys permitted children to mimic adult food rituals in a context that assisted them in becoming socialized adults.
But the Age of Foodism has generated stranger playthings, such as the wooden sushi play set, disappointingly including non-sustainable seafood choices.
Now consider Pop the Pig, a toy merchandised by a company called Goliath. A plastic molded pig — profoundly obese, even for a pig — sits up in a human posture, wearing a flattened toque. A belt encircles his stomach, but otherwise the costume is pure chef, with checked blue trousers and white tunic. Oven mitts cover his human hands and he waves a Teflon spatula. His tongue lolls out grotesquely, and he seems to be pleading, “Please make me fatter.”
Around him stand an array of 12 colored and numbered plastic burgers. The object of the game is to feed the burgers to the swine — shoving one in his mouth and then pounding on the head the number of times specified on the burger until it disappears down the pig’s gullet.
One parental blog, kidsaintcheap.com, reported that the tendency of young kids is to shove all the burgers into the pig’s mouth immediately, without tapping on the head, leading to an esophageal logjam, causing the toy to fail. It goes on to say that pushing on the pig’s toque is too hard for kids five and younger, forcing them to pound frantically on the head without results.
As the pig is force fed, foie-gras-goose style, his stomach begins to bulge. It bulges more and more. Eventually, it bursts, or rather the belt pops open, and hilarity ensues. Here are some pros and cons of Pig Goes Pop:
Pro: The toy functions as an allegory of the relationship between fast food and obesity. The size of the belly is roughly proportional to the number of hamburgers eaten. Presumably, this is a good lesson for children to learn.
Con: The children want the pig to grow fat, implying that fatness is a desirable goal.
Con: The toy reduces the entire human diet to burgers.
Pro: The toy teaches young children counting skills as they read the number on the bottom of the burger and pound an appropriate number of times.
Con: Unfortunately, the youngest children are incapable of pressing the toque with enough force.
Con: Encouraging children to hit anyone on the head, pig or not, is probably not a good idea, since we now know that such battery invariably leads to dementia later in life.
Con: The name of the toy is “Pig Goes Pop,” not “Belt Goes Pop.” The image summoned by the name is of a pig actually exploding, shooting guts into the air. The popping of the belt thus implies something more grotesque than a simple wardrobe failure.
Con: The toy makes fun of the obese. This is not a good thing to teach children.
Pro: The toy might encourage diminishing one’s food intake. “Don’t eat too much,” is one lesson you might take from Chef Pig.
Con: The toy teaches kids to take pleasure in torturing farm animals.
Pro or con: The corpulent barnyard mammal is dressed as a chef, maybe illustrating the adage “Never trust a skinny chef.”
Pro or con: The pig might be actually lampooning chefs, suggesting all chefs are fat buffoons, or even figurative pigs. Chefs should not be too happy about this toy’s iconography.
Pro or con: So here’s the ideological takeaway: Chefs are pigs wielding spatulas who can best be tormented by smashing their toques and throwing plastic burgers in their mouths, causing them to explode. Children can assist in this process.
The meaning of the toy is ultimately ambiguous, but just think what a great gift it will be for your friends in the restaurant industry, whether they’re chefs or those who work with them!