For several years now, the wife and I have had a running joke about the Pollo Campero mascot, this extremely giddy chicken who, with wings wide apart in welcome, appears to beseech us to enter his restaurant and eat all his little friends. We amuse ourselves, we really do.

But now, in the latest issue of Gastronomica, writer Mark Morton serves up a brilliant essay on the very subject. Here’s the nut graf of the piece (which is regrettably not online):

This notion that the natural world is not antagonistic to humans—-“nature, red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson put it three centuries later—-but rather that it willingly bends itself to comply with human desire, is a version of what literary critics call the pathetic fallacy. Sometimes dismissed as jejune, the pathetic fallacy can, at its best, offer us a vision of a world where humans and their environment coexist in harmony. But at its worst, the pathetic fallacy can become a grotesque fantasy of self-indulgence. In the culinary world, that began to happen about a century ago in print advertisements that depicted animals perversely and gleefully seeking their own slaughter—-all in a bid to satisfy human consumption.

Morton’s article singles out a number of companies/advisory boards that have used animal characters to peddle their products: The Laughing Cow, Charlie the Tuna, and the California Raisins, among others. These cartoonish creations all encourage us to eat them or the products they make, a fact that, when you think about it, has sort of Jeffrey Dahmer overtones to it, particularly if you buy into this idea that food is the new sex.

If you haven’t seen it already, there’s also a Web site dedicated to the subject, Suicide Food, which posts pictures of lesser-known animal mascots who desperately want us to nibble on their flesh. The examples are so abundant, throughout so many difficult cultures, that I do have to think that, on some level, humans must feel guilty about eating animal flesh.

Image by Flickr user Daquella manera