On Bipeds & Brutes

National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Tag Archives: Halloween

The Dark History of Black Cats

Trio of black cats. Click for source.

Trio of black cats. Click for source.

During the Halloween season, we are bombarded with images of black cats on the heels of wart-nosed witches. Not only are black cats an essential part of Halloween decor and costuming, but they are present in almost all popular depictions of Halloween in film and television.

In many parts of the world, the black cat is a symbol of wealth and prosperity, but not so in the Anglo-American world.

As far back as the fourteenth century, the cat became closely associated with the Devil, in part due to its more-than-keen senses, silent walking, glowing eyes, and mysterious nature, all of which were seen as otherworldly. For a time, cats in general suffered at the hands of superstition, and thousands of cats were burned to death in England for allegedly being demons or witches’ familiars. This resulted in an increased rat population, which in turn led to the spread of the bubonic plague. After the plague tore through England, the role of cats as rodent control was acknowledged, and their reputation was mostly restored.

But for black cats, the association has lingered far into modern times. The black cat’s reputation has remained forever tarnished, probably because of its sleek shiny coat and the association of the color black with evil and demonic practices. The early American settlers took to accusing owners of black cats of witchcraft and sorcery, and black cats themselves were viewed as witch’s companions or spells conjured up to do ill deeds. This has led to the more modern superstition that black cats bring about general bad luck.

According to some myths, Halloween is the day of the year when the boundaries thin between our world and the next. Black cats, with their mystical association, become highly visible. Traditionally, the black cat was sought after as a semi-magical entity in order to aid in Halloween rituals — sometimes with cruel and unfortunate results.

While most modern Americans perpetuate the bad luck association for tradition’s sake and nothing more, some take the enigma surrounding the black cat very seriously. Many cat shelters refuse to adopt out black cats during the Halloween season. Cat owners are also often advised to keep their cats indoors for similar reasons.

While these rituals are few and far between, the fact remains that black cats are a misunderstood creature, especially as one of Halloween’s most visible representatives. And even where superstition is not a problem, it is a good idea, in general, to protect one’s cats by keeping them indoors and locked away. Cats are easily stressed by strangers and change, and hundreds of children roaming the night, asking for candy, dressed as ghouls and witches, certainly spells bad luck for them!

Monday DIY: Vegan Candy Corn

We’re starting a new series here on Bipeds & Brutes: Monday DIY, where we’ll feature animal-friendly recipes, crafts, and other fun stuff you can do and make at home yourself! Today being Halloween, it’s only appropriate that we start off with a recipe for a homemade, animal product-free version of a popular sugary sweet.

This recipe for Vegan Lemon Candy Corn comes to us from DJ Karma over at VegSpinz. She has graciously given us permission to reprint her excellent home-crafted adaptation of this Halloween favorite which dates back to the 1880s. Although the conventional candy corn you get at the store contains honey, egg whites, and various and sundry food dyes, this version is free of animal products and artificial coloring, and can be made any flavor you want!

Vegan Lemon Candy Corn

Note: To make traditional vanilla-flavored candy corn, just omit the lemon. Experiment with other extracts to make variations of your own.

Ingredients:
1/4 cup Earth Balance Margarine*
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon juice
2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup soymilk powder
1/4 tsp salt

For coloring:
Yellow: 1/4 tsp tumeric
Orange: 1/4 tsp tumeric + 2 tsp beet juice (from canned beets)

You can make these any size you like, and if you get tired of making candy corn, it makes a good fondant for cupcakes or to make other shapes (a lot like playdoh).
*These turned out a little on the soft side, so next time I might reduce the amount of margarine.  For fondant, it’s perfect.
I’m pretty sure this makes over a pound of candy — pretty time consuming by yourself, so make it a fun project to do with friends or kids!

Sift together the powdered sugar, soymilk powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Heat margarine, sugar, brown rice syrup, extracts, and lemon juice in a saucepan, and stir until boiling and frothy.

Take saucepan off the heat, and add the dry mixture until well incorporated (a few lumps are ok).

Using separate bowls, divide the mixture into half, then divide one of the halves into half (to make three dough balls, one twice as large as the others).  Note: You can make equal parts if you like, but you’ll need to adjust the coloring.  Into the large dough ball, add the beet juice and tumeric to make it orange.  It won’t be bright orange, so if you want more vibrant color, add food coloring if you must.  Also add 1-2 Tbsp of additional powdered sugar.  To one of the smaller dough balls, add tumeric to make it yellow (don’t worry, you won’t taste any of these). When cooled enough to handle, knead each one until smooth and color is even.  If it’s too sticky, you can add a little powdered sugar, but not so much that it won’t stick at all. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of water.

Now you’re ready to roll!  Spread a VERY light layer of powdered sugar onto your flat work surface.  Make ropes of equal thickness of the white and yellow, and a larger rope of the orange (for the middle).  Press the ropes together gently, then lightly roll the top with a rolling pin to flatten a bit and to further press together.  Then cut into triangles as shown above.

Finally, mold corners with fingers if desired.  Place them in a single layer on parchment or wax paper, and let dry.  DO NOT pile them up until they’re dry, or they will stick together! These were deliciously lemony, with a good chewy texture and shiny outer shell.

That’s all there is to it! Thanks again to DJ Karma of VegSpinz for allowing us to share her awesome recipe. We hope you all have a happy, safe, and animal-friendly Halloween! If you’ve got a vegan recipe, craft, or do-at-home project you’d like to see on the Monday DIY, feel free to email caroline@museumofanimals.org.

10 Animal-Themed Horror Movies

Image via MovieGoods.

Image via MovieGoods.

With Halloween fast approaching, are you looking for some scary movies to put some fright into your night? We’re here to help! Animals have played an important part in our ghost stories since time immemorial, and they’ve been a fixture in our horror films since the invention of the genre. Here are ten scary movies – from the spooky, to the silly, to the downright terrifying – that feature animals in some way, shape or form.

Island of Lost Souls (1932)
This first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1896 science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau stars Charles Laughton as a mad scientist bent on controlling the powers of evolution by transforming animals into humans.

King Kong (1933)
This seminal adventure film stars Kong, the quintessential movie monster, an ape of gigantic proportions who unforgettably scales the Empire State Building in the movie’s oft-parodied climax.

The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as the prototypical movie werewolf in this Universal horror film, which was recently remade in 2010 starring Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro. That version won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Cat People (1942)
This eerie film noir thriller tells the story of a woman who believes she will transform into a black panther if aroused to passion. Produced by the legendary Val Lewton, there’s also a 1944 sequel, Curse of the Cat People.

The Killer Shrews (1959)
If you’re looking for something a bit on the lighter side, this B-grade scifi picture featuring clumsily-costumed dogs in the titular roles should do the trick.

The Birds (1963)
This brilliant Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Tippi Hedren shows just what happens when birds stop being nice.

Night of the Lepus (1972)
A plot to control the pest population in a small town goes hideously awry, causing widespread destruction and the death of dozens of townsfolk – by giant, mutated bunny rabbits.

Jaws (1975)
The film that’s most likely single-handedly responsible for the public’s current misunderstanding and fear of sharks, nevertheless, is a well-made and thrilling Steven Spielberg production.

Frankenweenie (1984)
Something that the whole family can enjoy, this short and sweet Tim Burton-directed homage to Frankenstein tells the story of a young boy who will do anything to get his dog back – including resurrecting him from the dead.

The Fly (1986)
This gruesome remake of a 1958 film of the same name stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who accidentally merges his DNA with that of a common housefly, with terrifying (and often stomach-turning) results.

This is of course just a small sampling of the movies out there which use animals to bring out our deepest human fears, or just to scare us silly. What are some of your favorites?

Halloween Can Be Scary — For Orangutans?

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

For most of us, Halloween is the only time of the year when we actually encourage our children to knock on strangers’ doors and beg for candy. With the month of October driving our consumption of chocolate and sugar to dizzying new heights, it can be easy to forget that even if a certain treat is free of vegan no-nos like dairy, eggs, gelatin, and honey, that doesn’t mean its production was necessarily harm-free to animals. The increasing demand in particular for palm oil, a cholesterol-free vegetable fat derived from the fruit of palm trees, has led to widespread habitat destruction and is a major contributing factor in the mounting threat of extinction for endangered orangutans.

Due to recent climbing health concerns over trans fats in food, over 33 million metric tons of low-cost palm oil are produced yearly in Indonesia and Malaysia. It has become the world’s most widely-produced edible oil. In order to grow the crop, millions of acres of forest have to be cleared and burned to make way for agricultural palm trees. The vast majority of these plantations are in Borneo and Sumatra – which just so happen to be the only two places in the world where wild orangutans still reside. A devastating fire caused by an overzealous peat-clearing attempt in 1997 wiped out 8,000 wild orangutans in Borneo alone. Furthermore, the ever-expanding plantations are pushing this species to the very brink of extinction. If sustainable methods aren’t adopted, scientists estimate that orangutans will go extinct in ten to fifteen years.

It can be nearly impossible to avoid palm oil; it’s present in everything from sweet and salty snacks to frozen meals to cosmetics. It’s even being tested as an alternative fuel for automobiles. But there are many ways you can send a message to palm oil companies to increase the sustainability of their crops. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness page is chock full of resources, consumer shopping guides, and ideas on how to help end the palm oil crisis and save orangutans from further decimation. You can make a difference for wild orangutans – Cheyenne Mountain will show you how.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

“Well, great,” you may be thinking. “Here I was, all excited to stuff my face with candy this October 31st, and you’ve gone and ruined my plans with the sad plight of orangutans in Borneo.” Never fear! Cheyenne Mountain has you covered there, too. Check out their awesome Orangutan-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide (PDF) to learn the good news: due to environmentalist pressures, many companies have joined the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), making the commitment to only use oil which is certified sustainable. Chances are, most of your favorite candies are on the list, including Snickers, Twix, Butterfingers, M&M’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Skittles. Now that should make for a Happy Halloween indeed!

For more information on making ethical candy choices this Halloween, check out the Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List, which highlights vegan candy bars sourced from slavery-free areas.