Bring home the binangkal
The people who speak for PETA know how to start a conversation.
They used to send the newsroom press releases that included posters or photographs of celebrities wearing strategically placed cabbage leaves and other vegetables. I don’t know how many people these images persuaded to become vegetarians or to give up all animal products, including leather, entirely. More risqué versions of these ads have provoked feminists to ask PETA why they couldn’t avoid sexism while they campaigned to end cruelty to animals.
Last week, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) sparked another debate when they urged people to avoid using “meatbased idioms” because these “trivialize cruelty to animals.” This caused less controversy last September, when PETA President Ingrid Newkirk first suggested in The New Statesman that people say “there’s more than one way to peel a potato,” instead of the more gruesome “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
Newkirk wrote: “Words have the power to change lives, both human and non-human. We should let them.”
Last week’s examples, though, provoked plenty of ridicule on social media. PETA recommended, for instance, that we all avoid the idiom “to bring home the bacon” and to say “bring home the bagels” instead. I was tempted to suggest replacing bagels with binangkal, which would be local and, as a bonus, more authentic and culturally appropriate. Alas, bagels and binangkal share a flaw: both require eggs and, thus, are not cruelty-free at all. (At least by PETA’s standards, which are loftier than what my bacon-and-chicharron-loving soul can support.)
I do love the idea of helping our language evolve “as our understanding of social justice evolves.” And I appreciate that the reminder arrived in the same week as President Rodrigo Duterte’s latest example of how not to speak from a position of power and leadership, when he bellyached (yet again) against some bishops and said that they were useless fools who deserved to be killed. Rappler reported that the President first professed his belief in God, then followed that with: “Pero itong mga obispo ninyo, patayin ninyo, walang silbi ‘yang mga gagong ‘yan (But these bishops of yours, kill them, these fools are good for nothing).” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told ABS-CBN that the statement was simply “for dramatic effect.”
Yet there is a way to speak dramatically without being reckless, just as there is a way to avoid cruelty in our expressions without sounding ridiculous. I can agree with PETA that it’s time we put to rest the idea of “killing two birds with one stone.” But I’m not going to replace it with “feeding two birds with one scone.” Why encourage an idea that abets littering and places birds at risk of diabetes?
All this kerfuffle has done is veil PETA’s success on other fronts, such as in convincing clothes designers to avoid using fur; persuading cosmetics and pharmaceutical companies to stop testing their products on animals; and putting pressure on restaurants and fast-food chains to source their meat only from suppliers that treat animals well.
In urging people to say “feed a fed horse” instead of “beat a dead horse,” an organization with an otherwise decent track record has missed an opportunity to remind us to speak plainly. To give timeworn expressions a rest not because these encourage “speciesism,” but because these rein in language’s power to surprise us. PETA is right in encouraging us to avoid cruelty in the ways we express ourselves; that is a useful reminder in these days when some people often mistake vulgarity for honesty.
Where it misses the mark is in encouraging us to use silly expressions instead. “Taking the flower by the thorns” sounds no better than “taking the bull by the horns.” At some point, we all must learn to face a difficult situation without flinching, which is what the expression means. The more clearly we can talk about it, the more useful the story can become.