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The wrap-up: A meaty cover tale

How a vegetarian ended up holding the beef.

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Every cover tells a story, and this month we give you a behind-the-scenes look at a recent effort: the May 2006 "Too red too long?" cover about the MAP meat controversy.

First a little background to how we produce the covers, which are hopefully as well received as they are conceived and produced. There's certainly a lot of thinking, discussion, and effort that goes into each cover.

Our covers are done by committee, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. The committee is led by a "quarterback" editor who champions the project start to finish. Generally, each editor gets his or her chance to be the quarterback on a rotating basis. For the benefit of the predominately Chicago area staff, two editors with strong Wisconsin ties typically make overt reference to a certain favorite team of theirs whose name has a packaging connotation.

Once the cover concept is hatched, discussed, and finessed into a workable format—and sometimes even before that—the quarterback hands the project off to art director Dave Bacho, who deftly runs with it from there.

Among many of Dave's notable efforts was the January 2005 Biota bottle-made-from-corn cover; I mention that one because Dave ended up tracking down an area feed store to procure 10 lbs of maize, or corn, that helped serve as the backdrop. That had turned out to be little more difficult than expected, even here in Illinois. Other cover prop searches have included checking local stores for a trunk that could be used as a treasure chest (our March 2004 FPA cover).

Which brings us back to the May cover that showed a person holding a sealed case-ready tray of ground beef. The photographer did such a great job with lighting that the meat packaging appears so clear that it's as if there's no film sealing the tray, though some credit must be given the anti-fog film. The hands holding the package belong to our very own assistant art director Jen Babiarz, who is a vegetarian. How did a vegetarian end up on our cover holding a tray of fresh meat? Jen responds in her own words in the following Q&A.

Why were you selected?

I’d like to think I was chosen for my stunning good looks, but since my head was cropped out of the photo, I would guess I was selected because I was the cheapest model available—I'm free.

How was the experience?

It was fun. I pretty much had to stand really still and hold the same position. So, it wasn’t too challenging. But I got to help pick out some of the background props, that was kind of neat.

Had you ever done anything like this before?

No, I was pretty much a nobody until I was featured on the cover. Raw talent, I guess you could say.

Considering the ground beef, raw is an appropriate choice of words. Did anyone know you were vegetarian before they asked you to do this?

They sure did. I think that’s part of the reason I got asked. What could be more amusing than having the only vegetarian in the office having to pose with meat for the cover?

Was it uncomfortable to get so close to raw meat?

It was no big deal, really. As long as I didn’t have to take a bite out of a hamburger, I was okay.

What kind of feedback did you receive from family or friends?

My parents and friends thought it was great. They all wanted copies of the magazine.

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