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After 116 Years, Animal Crackers Have Been Freed From Their Circus Cages

A new redesign of the iconic treats shows animals walking across a savanna

The iconic Barnum's Animals crackers are getting a redesign, thanks to PETA. (AP Images)
smithsonian.com

For more than a century, kids have been munching on Barnum’s Animals crackers, which are instantly recognizable by their iconic packaging: a red and yellow box topped with a handle and decorated with illustrations of animals behind the bars of a circus boxcar. But thanks to a push from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Barnum’s Animals have been freed from captivity, Matthew Haag reports for the New York Times.

A redesign of the crackers’ packaging, which will make its debut in stores this week, no longer shows the animals in cages. Instead, a zebra, a lion, an elephant, a giraffe and a gorilla can be seen walking across the savanna with tufts of grass on the ground and trees in the distance.

The crackers’ new look was spurred by PETA. In 2016, the activist group reached out to Mondelez International, the parent company of Barnum’s Animals manufacturer Nabisco, with suggestions for a new design that would show animals free in their natural habitat.

“[W]e saw this as another great opportunity to continue to keep this brand modern and contemporary,” Jason Levine, Mondelez’s chief marketing officer for North America, said in a statement.

There are a number of American manufacturers that make animal crackers, but Nabisco’s Barnum’s are the most popular. Nabisco began producing the treats in 1902, naming them after the famed showman P.T. Barnum, who exhibited exotic animals in menageries that accompanied his circuses. The crackers’ colorful box, which looked like a circus car filled with animals, came with a string on top and was originally intended to serve as a Christmas ornament once the crackers inside were gobbled up.

When they were first created at the dawn of the 20th century, Barnum’s Animals were capitalizing on the burgeoning popularity of the circus, writes Sherri Machlin in American Food by the Decades. But times—and attitudes about using captive animals for entertainment—have changed. In 2016, following years of criticism from animal rights groups like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus removed elephants from its shows. Ticket sales had already been declining, and the circus closed for good in May of 2017. According to Animal Defenders International, more than 80 jurisdictions in 31 states have taken steps to restrict wild animal acts.

Over the past two decades, Nabsico has issued several limited edition Barnum’s Animals boxes that depicted creatures outside of cages—like its marine animals collection, or the brand’s collaboration with fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer, which raised money for tiger conservation, reports Dee-Ann Durbin of the Associated Press. But until the recent redesign, these changes were temporary.

“The new box for Barnum’s Animals perfectly reflects that our society no longer tolerates caging and chaining exotic animals for circus shows,” PETA said in a statement.

Though they look different on the outside, the snacks inside the Barnum’s Animals box still have the “same great taste,” according to red lettering on the new design. So yes, you can continue to have fun, swallowing (cracker) animals one by one.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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