The simple breakfast plate of ham and eggs (or bacon and eggs) has become the motivational story of “The Chicken and the Pig.” Both the chicken and the pig look on at a family eating breakfast. The chicken comments how a chicken’s eggs allows it to participate (or involve) itself to help others. The pig then comments on the bacon/ham; pigs aren’t just “participating” or “involved”—they’re totally committed!
The story is cited in print from at least 1950 (in a syndicated column by author Bennett Cerf) and appears in many motivational books published in the 2000s.
Wikipedia: The Chicken and the Pig
The fable of The Chicken and the Pig is about commitment to a project or cause.
There are several variants as to how the Chicken and the Pig meet and the level of the relationship between the two.
However, in every variant, the Chicken suggests that the two involve themselves in a scheme involving ham (or bacon) and eggs (some suggest a breakfast, others suggest a restaurant). In reply, the Pig always notes that, for the Chicken, only a contribution is required (as a chicken can simply lay an egg and then resume normal activities), while for the Pig a “total commitment” (or total sacrifice) is needed (as in order to make ham or bacon, the pig must be slaughtered).
Interpretation and lessons
This fable is commonly referenced to illustrate two types of project members: pigs, who are totally committed to the project and accountable for its outcome, and chickens, who consult on the project and are informed of its progress. By extension, a rooster, or gamecock, can be defined as a person who struts around offering uninformed, unhelpful opinions.
A successful project needs both chickens and pigs (roosters are seen as unproductive). However, given the sacrifice required of being a pig—forswearing other projects and opportunities - they can be difficult to collect. Thus, the construction of a successful project-team must ensure that the project has sufficient “pigs” - and ensure that they are empowered to drive the project in return for committing to and taking accountability for it.
The Chicken & the Pig Go To Breakfast
Perhaps you remember the story about the chicken being involved in breakfast because she laid an egg but the pig was committed because he supplied the bacon.
13 June 1950, Titusville (PA) Herald, “Try and Stop Me” by Bennett Cerf, pg. 4, col. 4:
A HEN and a pig were sauntering down the main street of an Indiana town (yes, this is another shaggy dog story!) when they passed a restaurant that advertised “Delicious ham and eggs: 75 cents.” “Sounds like a bargain,” approved the hen. “That owner obviously know how to run his business. “It’s all very well for you to be so pleased about the dish in quiestion,” observed the pig with some resentment. “For you it is all in the day’s work. Let me point out, however, that on my part it represents a genuine sacrifice.”
17 October 1956, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. 11, col. 4:
Apropos the current community fund drive I make you a suggestion via this little story: Among a farmer’s barnyard full of animals were a little pig and a white hen, who were firm friends.
One afternoon while taking a walk, they came to a restaurant which advertised ham and eggs. When the pig saw the sign he began to cry. “Don’t cry, little pig,” said the chicken. “It isn’t that bad.” The pig tearfully replied, “No it isn’t for you because you make a contribution, while I make a sacrifice.”
12 October 1958, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), “Ivy Baker Priest Honored by Women’s National Press Club,” pg. 18W, col. 4:
Speaking to the group of women who make a career of writing, the first-time author told them the situation reminded her of a discussion between a pig and a chicken concerning ham and eggs: “It’s all in a day’s work for you,” Mrs. Priest said, “but it represents a big sacrifice for me.”
20 May 1961, Danville (VA) Bee, “Edson in Washington” by Peter Edson (NEA Washington Correspondent), pg. 6, cols. 6-7:
Democratic National Committee Chairman John M. Bailey, who was Fall Guy before the Saints and Sinners luncheon here the other day, told the story of the pig and the chicken that walked down the street together.
Every restaurant they passed had signs in the window advertising, “Ham and Eggs.”
“See,” said the chicken, “We’re famous.”
The pig grunted. “For you,” he said, “a plate of ham and eggs is just a cackle. For me it’s the supreme sacrifice.”
27 January 1966, Modesto (CA) Bee, “Beautification Themes Garden Club Meeting” by Dee Mabley, pg. B1, col. 4:
Inspired by the Governor’s Conference on California Beauty in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Mrs. Lawrence A. Winship of San Francisco, state president and a special guest at the meeting, praised the work of the members in their goal of keeping California beautiful and green.
She cited the story of the chicken and pig looking at a picture of two eggs and a slice of ham. In answer to the chicken’s comment of how beautiful it was, the pig replied: “Eggs are only a little part of your life but that ham is my whole committment!”
15 June 1967, Salisbury (MD) Daily Times, “Containment Of Plans” editorial, pg. 4, col.1:
With the Vietnam War grinding on and the close call in the Middle East fresh in mind, there is a good deal of discussion going on about the U.S. policy of commitment.
A story that has made the rounds tells of a chicken and a pig peering through the dining room window at a family having a breakfast of ham and eggs.
“Doesn’t it make you feel good to know that you can make a contribution to the happiness and well being of a family like that?” the chicken asked.
Making a wry face, the pig replied, “For you it is a contribution, but for me it is total commitment.”
Proceedings of the National Conference on Power Transmission;
By Illinois Institute of Technology
Published by National Conference on Power Transmission
Since you have had breakfast, probably bacon and eggs, look at it this way: The chicken was involved - but the pig was totally committed!
Instructional Innovations: Ideals, Issues, Impediments
By National League for Nursing Council of Diploma Programs
Published by National League for Nursing
...that ham and eggs for the chicken involved only a contribution, while for the pig it meant a total commitment.
By Royal College of Nursing Society of Occupational Health Nursing
Published by Reed Business Information Ltd., 1977
Item notes: v.29 1977
‘If you think of the traditional English breakfast of bacon and eggs, the chicken is involved in it, but the pig is committed.”
31 August 1982, Tyrone (PA) Daily Herald, pg. 2, col. 4:
She (tennis star Martina Navratilova—ed.) told Newsweek magazine, “I’m not just involved in tennis but committed. Do you know the difference between involvement and committment? Think of ham and eggs. The chicken is involved. The pig is committed.”
Personnel: Managing Human Resources
By Arthur A. Sloane
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
But the difference between being merely involved and being genuinely committed can be as substantial as the difference between eggs and bacon. The chicken, in this well-worn saga, was involved, but the pig was committed.
Published by , 1984
Item notes: v.124 (no.741-746 1984)
...explains the difference between involvement and commitment. “When you look at a plate of ham and eggs, you know the chicken was involved. But the pig was committed.”
Tim Blair in San Diego Union
5 October 1985, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. D3, col. 2:
When you sit down for ham and eggs, the coach (Howard Schnellenberger—ed.) has said, the chicken is involved but the pig is committed.
8 November 1989, Daily Sitka Sentinel, pg. 15, col. 5:
“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is as simple as ‘ham’ and ‘eggs’,” writes a client. “The chicken is ‘involved’. The pig is ‘committed’.”
17 October 1992, Miami (FL) Herald, pg. 19A:
“For those of you who don’t know the difference, in an egg-and-bacon breakfast, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed.”
6 April 1999, Washington (DC) Post, “China Trade Moves Encourage U.S. Firms” by Paul Blustein:
“You know the line about the bacon and egg breakfasts, about how the chicken was a participant, but the pig was committed?”
New York (NY) Times
THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING; Speakers at a Four A’s meeting urge agencies to meet competition from management consultants.
By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: April 26, 1999
THE 81st annual meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which concluded here on Saturday, closed with exhortations to the estimated 350 attendees to tackle enthusiastically the challenges confronting the industry.
‘’We have serious issues; the world is changing,’’ said Shelly Lazarus, the chairwoman of the association for 1999-2000 who is also chairwoman and chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York, part of WPP Group P.L.C. ‘’Are we going to lead or are we going to follow?
‘’We need to lead, we need to be active and we need to be committed,’’ she added, not just ‘’sort of involved.’’
Recounting the humorous definition of the difference between ‘’involvement’’ and ‘’commitment’’—in a ham-and-eggs breakfast, ‘’the chicken was involved but the pig was committed’’—Ms. Lazarus declared: ‘’We live and die by this industry. In this instance, I align with the pig. So let’s get on with it.’’
And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker
By Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans and Andrew Frothingham
New York, NY: Macmillan
Sometimes we think we’re committed but we aren’t. The chicken and the pig were discussing the matter through the barnyard fence. The chicken said proudly, “I give eggs every single morning—I’m committed.”
“Giving eggs isn’t commitement, it’s participation,” countered the pig. “Giving ham is commitment!”