SAN FRANCISCO — Wild parrots are known to forage around San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill, but just a few blocks from that feathered, feral flock, one soon-to-open business is advertising the birds as potential meals through a window display.
PETA and animal lovers can relax — the meat within the metal isn’t real; the cans are (of course) part of a new art installation by graphic designer and filmmaker Brady Baltezore, one of six partners who co-own the store. Named Terrific Street, the shop set to open by the year’s end and will exist, as Baltezore cryptically told us, as “a place to get interested in lifestuff.” Still, as Hoodline first reported, the controversial cans are stirring anger from locals who don’t notice — or appreciate — what Baltezore says is his critique of certain obsessive tendencies some people have toward the source of their meals.
The parody at play is pretty obvious: the canned goods are stacked behind the glass-fronted façade (which, as an interesting aside, features the store’s name in Lawrence Weiner-esque typeface) and boast not one, but two varieties of parrot: “CHERRY CONURES IN THEIR OWN SYRUP” and “BOILED PARROT IN GRAVY.” Baltezore designed and printed the labels, both types of which feature illustrations of the red-headed, green-bodied bird — the exact same breed squawking on Telegraph Hill. The syrupy versions claim that their contents are “wild caught,” “local & organic,” and “free range”; the gravy-based ones label the supposedly canned psittacidae as “colorful sky rats.” Each also has a printed description that notes, “our tasty birds are wild caught in San Francisco’s North Beach District, cooked and flash-canned at the source. We strive to bring the best from our family’s table to yours.” Next to the stacks, a sign prices each can at $2.99 — just slightly more than your average 12 oz. can of spam — and also exclaims, “LOCAL!” When one considers the display as a whole, it’s hard to not immediately think of Portlandia’s famous local chicken skit.
“It’s an artistic comment on trends around ‘hyperlocal,’ etc., but also a play on food sourcing in general,” Baltezore told Hyperallergic in an email. “For instance, I think it’s preposterous to take any more offense to this project than you might to the plight of chickens in the US, who lead nasty, short, brutal lives so that we can all enjoy 99-cent chicken bits at the slightest whim. I don’t see a gradient when it comes to values placed on different creatures… I feel it’s important to know that the thing you’re eating died in order for you to do so. If you’re comfortable with that, then bon appetit.
“I honestly find it baffling that anyone would be more or less offended by this than a walk through their local grocery store,” he wrote.
The offended reactions of some passersby illustrate his point: local Julie Herrod told Hoodline she considered the installment “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in North Beach in the 25 years I’ve lived here.” She also left Terrific Street a letter that reads, “Your window display is a disgrace. Not at all funny, if that’s what you think it is. You’re in the wrong neighborhood. Shame on you.” (Herrod received an anonymous note in return, as ABC7 reported: “The jackass who wrote this note is what’s destroying America. Will shop here in principle from now on.”)
One passerby told ABC7 that the cans are “in poor taste”; another, Sherry Manning, offered the possibility that the birds are merely “pining for the fjords,” saying, “I mean, this could be one of those things when you open a can and a parrot flies out. You don’t know.”
Baltezore clarifies that the cans aren’t empty, claiming that they contain “the same material that’s in the suitcase in Pulp Fiction — they sell it in bulk.” Of course, they probably just contain beans or soup, and only Terrific Street’s owners know if those are locally sourced.