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Suicide Food

The Meaning of Meat That's Eager to Be Eaten

Suicide Food

Drew McKenzie

"'Suicide food' is any depiction of animals that act as though they wish to be consumed," explains Ben Grossblatt in the mission statement of Suicide Food (suicidefood.blogspot.com), his blog and mild ethical obsession. "Suicide food actively participates in or celebrates its own demise. Suicide food identifies with the oppressor. Suicide food is a bellwether of our decadent society. Suicide food is not funny."

However sincere his message, Grossblatt's analysis is funny, in a horrifying way: Each entry—depicting, say, a barbecue joint's maniacally self-basting pig, or a sexy lobster entreating New Englanders to douse her in butter and eat her shapely hips—is dissected, categorized, and stamped with any number of nooses, from one ("Mildly troubling") to five ("Ye gods! I must go wash out my eyeballs!").

Grossblatt turned to vegetarianism in 1993 and went full-on vegan in 1994, thanks largely to John Robbins's 1989 bestseller, Diet for a New America. Grossblatt's wife is vegan, as is his 5-year-old son, Gus. I am not. The daughter of a nurse, I grew up in a household comfortable with flesh and viscera. I can watch surgery on TV. I can empty a mousetrap. I eat meat with pleasure. Still, I can understand the vegetarian impulse. I recognize it in myself when hesitating to squish a spider (because what about its spider wife, waiting, worrying, in an empty web?). Animals are people too, or something. Delicious people. Obviously I have a lot to learn. And Grossblatt—intimidatingly smart, reassuringly funny—has plenty to teach when I pick him up from his Central District house for a guided tour of Seattle's suicide food.

Our first stop is Ezell's Fried Chicken. Ezell's logo is a chicken running at breakneck speed in either desperation or glee, feathers flying. Above the chicken's head is a halo. From its mouth emerges a speech bubble: "I'M FRESH, GOOD, AND FAST!"

Grossblatt begins his suicide food exegesis. This chicken, he explains, is dead, and running eagerly toward the afterlife. I ask if it couldn't actually be a mad dash away from the deep fryer. No. It's definitely dead. Didn't I see the halo? Heaven is this chicken's final reward for being so delicious. "This is why he was hatched," Grossblatt says. "Look how much pride he takes. The fact that he's fresh for you—he takes a lot of pride in that."

We go inside and I purchase a single chicken leg—its spiritual counterpart no doubt sprinting toward some poultry pearly gates. It seems like bad form to eat the chicken leg in front of Grossblatt, so I toss it in the backseat of my car (soon to become my traveling suicide-food stockyard). I feel a little bit sorry for the cartoon chicken sign and its eternal humiliation.

The point of suicide food, in Grossblatt's mind, is to distance carnivorous diners from the cruelty and death that seasons their dinners. "Even though nobody takes these images literally, the suggestion is that eating meat is okay. This kind of imagery is one thing that keeps people from questioning their habits. It's everywhere. It's like the Muzak of the meat-eating world. I don't understand why this is so common. And it's everywhere. What makes it so effective? It should horrify people."

We pull up in front of Floyd's Place in lower Queen Anne. Floyd's display is more than a sign; it's a carnival ride. A cow and a pig, limbs splayed, mouths agape, rotate very slowly on a pedestal above the door. "It's not exactly dancing a lively jig," Grossblatt begins. "They're clearly suicidal, because they're saying, 'Look at our lives! We want you to experience the joy that we experience!' But the hollow eyes and the funereal pace reveal that this is not a happy suicide like the chicken at Ezell's—she couldn't wait to die, but these two just can't wait to stop living." He pauses. "Now let's eat!" Inside, it smells of meat and bleach, and I buy a half pound of ribs and toss it in the back seat.

As we drive north, I ask Grossblatt if he's troubled by fruit stands with murals of smiling, anthropomorphized bananas. He acts like it's a dumb question, and maybe it is. Oranges, unlike pigs, don't have moms and dads. They can't feel afraid. But, he says, that doesn't make them suicidal. "Write down that I don't think an orange wants to be eaten," Grossblatt says.

Next stop is Willy's BBQ on Lake City Way. The Willy's pig is an example of what Grossblatt calls "the surrogate animal." He sits at a table in front of a rack of ribs, wearing a bib (he doesn't want to spill himself on himself?), knife and fork in hand. "He is intoxicated with the idea of eating pig ribs. It's the ultimate in narcissism. I think he's thinking these are his own ribs, and he's delicious." Small white droplets, which I interpret as sweat, fly from his piggy brow. Grossblatt's take: "I'm not saying it's ejaculate, but those are some good ribs."

We get back in the car and Grossblatt gives me a vegan Twinkie he brought back from New York. It is basically indistinguishable from a regular Twinkie. "Honestly, I think the site is funny; I'm trying to be funny, but I am saying something serious. I am sincere. I think this imagery is sick, with an undercurrent at least of mockery and disrespect. I don't think you have to be vegan to recognize that it's poor sportsmanship." Fair enough. I totally agree. I am opposed to cruelty, and the sentiment behind suicide food is cruel and bizarre.

Still, I feel a sort of ideological defensiveness over the evolutionary rights of humans. Part of relating to chickens and pigs as fellow animals is recognizing ourselves as predators, no matter how disassociated we've become from active predation. The fact that I couldn't bring myself to physically kill a chicken is, to me, irrelevant. It's just one of a million unpleasant tasks I am privileged to avoid as part of an industrialized society. "That's right," Grossblatt stresses, "You're privileged." Yes. That's right. I'm privileged.

"I have heard people say that if you are in favor of animal rights, then you have a duty to eat meat," Grossblatt says. "Because if you don't, then the meat industry is left to the unethical meat producers. To me, that's like saying, 'If you are against slavery, it is your duty to own slaves, because if you don't, then slavery is left to the pro-slavery crowd. And they're a rough bunch.'" I sympathize, but disagree. Grossblatt is obviously not obligated to eat meat, but for me—who doesn't believe that killing animals for food is wrong—environmental sustainability is a more ethically precise goal than vegetarianism.

As for suicide food, isn't it actually less cruel to want to imagine these animals as happy, content, or at least fuzzily ignorant of their tasty, roasted fates? I am way more uncomfortable with the thought of a human relishing their dinner's suffering, even if that is more honest.

After I drop Grossblatt off, I unload my piles of suicide pig ribs and suicide chicken legs and suicide buns and suicide coleslaw, and spread them across my dining-room table. Even though I haven't eaten since breakfast, I can only force down a few bites. If I'm going to be a meat-eater, it's my responsibility to be aware of my privilege and my decisions, and the ramifications of that slice of animal steaming on my plate. Strangely enough, with a long day of careful ethical examination congealing in my throat, I find this pile of lukewarm suicide meat difficult to enjoy. Nausea persists for the next two days, and the cartons of suicide food skip eagerly, gleefully, into the garbage. What a waste. recommended

 

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1
Just as "suicide food" is one process by which meat-eaters pull the ideological wool over their own eyes, this very article is an exercise in denial and self-delusion, one that begs to be deconstructed. For example, Lindy West says she recognizes the vegetarian impulse when she worries about squishing a spider. No, she doesn't; she (willfully?) refuses to understand that cows and pigs are sentient, whereas insects (in all likelihood) and vegetables (certainly) are not. She says, "I can watch surgery on TV", as if that solves any ethical dilemma about killing and eating animals. She "relates" to her "fellow animals" by treating them as prey. (Does she love them to death, or merely respect them to death?) Environmental sustainability is "more ethically precise" (whatever that means) than vegetarianism. But meat production is the single biggest threat to the world's environment.
Posted by mijnheer on September 14, 2008 at 3:12 PM · Report this
2
Well mijnheer, you say that animals are sentient while vegetables are not. Interesting. How do you know?. Did an animal ever tell you that it was?. Did a vegetable ever tell you that it was not?. My guess is no, and no. So it may be fair to say that you only assume that one is and the other is not. You do not really know. If you attack and wound an animal it will either turn and attack you to get you to stop, or it will turn and run. Either way, that proves it wants to live. If you attack and wound a plant, it just stands there, well, rooted to the spot. Does that prove that it does not want to live?. Not at all. That plant will harness all the biochemical processes at it's disposal to heal the damage. That proves it knows it has been damaged and the healing process proves that it wants to live. Each and every cell in that plant wants to continue it's life. So if you want to eat to continue your own life, you must take away the life of something else that wants desperately to live. We are all murderers in that respect. None of us, even vegans, are absolved of guilt. Let me leave you with this thought mijnheer: when you take that nice, juicy, sweet, crunchy, delicious, raw carrot out of the frige and eat it with lunch, you are eating a living being. If you were to save the top and put it in a dish of water, it would grow into another carrot. At least meat eaters have the common human decency to kill their food before they eat it.
Posted by Art on September 17, 2008 at 11:45 AM · Report this
3
Art, you're awesome.
Posted by Amy on September 25, 2008 at 4:27 PM · Report this
4
Thanks Amy, I do my best.
Posted by Art on September 26, 2008 at 12:06 PM · Report this
5
Humans were never meant to be vegans. Our closet relatives in the animal kindom, chimpanzees, are omnivores. Vegitarianism can be sustained if you eat the right legues and seeds in combination so your body can build proteins, but unless you get vitamin b12 injections, you can start to develop really nasty nuerological problems if you are vegan for a long period of time.

I have a natural tendancy towards annemia. I saw a nutritionist who told me that if I ever became a vegitarian it would have an adverse affect on my health. My ancestors evolved eating meat, and I will continue to do so without guilt and I think the self-righteous vegans who talk about "specisism" are pretentious.

I think it's important to be more honest about where meat comes from, and start demanding as consumers that meat producers be more ethical--but you know what, I'm more concerned about the environment impact of a pig shit lagoon and the rights of immigrant meat packing workers.

This is what the article means by environmental stability is a better goal than vegitarianism. The way meat is produced to day has negative impacts we all need to be aware of and address but eating animals isn't wrong. Animals, including humans, eat each other in nature. Get over it.
Posted by Nat on October 3, 2008 at 2:04 PM · Report this
6
you guys all have valid points, but i am vegan cause i think eating meat and their biproducts is gross. not to ad, the digestive benefits i recieve by being vegan. i mean, why wouldn't you want to eat a diet where you get to fart more!?! seriously though, being vegan is so feirce and eating meat is gross to the max!
Posted by gamebredlambofchrist on October 6, 2008 at 3:13 PM · Report this
7
I'm sorry Art, but you're wrong. Instead of random speculating amongst all parties here, why don't we actually consult the scientific facts. We do know that pigs are sentient and plants are not because these topics have been thoroughly researched. We can look at the brain, nerves, and "pain" receptors (pain includes the emotional response as well as the physical response, they are actually called nocioceptors) in a pig, measure it's neurotransmitters and recognize that it detects and responds to noxious stimuli. While a plant has no nervous tissue and no "pain" receptors meaning that we currently do not know of a mechanism for plants to detect or respond to painful stimuli. This is why if you had a pot bellied pig as a pet and it were to need surgery it would receive pain medication like you or I would, but we do not give pain medication to plants.

And to Nat- most people will not need injections of B12 to maintain their levels and oral B12 supplements will work fine. However in certain medical conditions, pernicious anemia in particular, higher amounts of B12 may be needed or even injections of B12 may be necessary regardless of diet.

-a vegetarian medical student
Posted by ~S on October 8, 2008 at 9:47 PM · Report this
8
Hi there, vegetarian medical student. PhD candidate in Plant Biology here. I agree, let's "consult the scientific facts."

The idea that plant responses are in ANY WAY thoroughly understood is laughable. Work on plant defense volatiles indicates plants can "scream" for help when under attack- they just use olfactory and not auditory cues. Search for induced plant defenses. Plants respond quickly and decisively to their environment because locomotion is not an option: they have to stay and fight it out.

No neurons, you say? Of course not, all living cells in a plant body share one continuous membrane (look up plasmodesmata). There are, however, traveling membrane potentials and certainly many compounds that act as neurotransmitters in animals are present in plants (acetylcholine, seratonin, adrenaline... sound familiar?) and guess what? We have no idea what they're doing, except we suspect they're conveying information. Neurons aren't the only way to get information moving.

As for no nocioceptors... that's what they told me when I vivisected a cockroach as an undergrad. Does that mean vivisection is less traumatic even when the insect curls around to "lick" its own oozing leg-stumps? Who can prove that nocioceptors are the only method of pain recognition? Can you tell me what you mean by "emotion" in your definition of pain? How do you measure that in a pig? How about a cockroach? I notice those don't get much sympathy, but they're still animals. Just not cute ones.

As an aside, I teach quite a few premeds these days and I can vouch for the paucity of plant-related information most of them absorb. If you really want to "consult the scientific facts" please do so, and without the sanctimonious reference to your intended profession. While noble, it's irrelevant to your claims about the plant kingdom.

/Science Rant. Condescension not directed toward the general commenting population, just that one self-righteous med student.

Everyone else, here's my take: Something dies so you can live. Eat what you want. Don't eat what you don't want to eat. Move on with life.
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Posted by ~M on October 11, 2008 at 12:45 AM · Report this
9
we all kil to live, from the microbes devistated by our imune systems to the chiken a killed and ate last week. All animals kill to live, we have to, at ealst untill we learn photosynthais.
that beeing said, the beef and dary industry are increadably damaging to the enviroment, so I would remid concerend people that there is a huge diference between the enviromental impact of a big mac and the impact of my chiken soup.
yeah, if you want hambergers every day, its gonna polute, especialy if you want them cheap, but a chiken once a week or so, and a lamb or two a year, per family is not gonna destroy the world. it certenly does not match the impact of growing all that soy (how many vegens really know what goes into soy farming and processing)
Posted by SaraH on October 14, 2008 at 1:11 AM · Report this
10
~M, thank you for your excellent reply to ~S. I wrote several paragraphs last week but ran out of time and couldn't save it, and have not had time 'till now to reply. But you have responded better than I ever could. Your last paragraph is my point exactly, thanks.
And now because I can't resist responding to gamebredlambofchrist, I must say that while I wholeheartedly support your choosing veganism for the way it makes you feel, I just want to leave you with this thought, dude. The next time you take that luscious, ripe, sweet, delicious tomato out of the fridge and eat it with lunch, you are actually eating that tomato's placenta. All those little seeds in the pulp?. Embryos. What, you chewed and swallowed them?. You just aborted hundreds of tomato fetuses. Now that's gross. Bon apetite.
Posted by Art on October 14, 2008 at 12:12 PM · Report this
11
gamebred your retarted.Your diet is affecting your thought prosses.
Posted by yo mama on October 20, 2008 at 3:51 PM · Report this
12
This is an interesting article-- moreso for the level of self-reflection in the last three paragraphs. I'm an interesting breed- and I probably have a slightly different perspective on this than most, because I am a vegetarian who is not opposed to the idea of eating meat.

On one hand, I think it's natural. Our intincts tell us to do it. And we are, after all, at the top of the food chain. The food chain itself is based upon organisms consuming eachother.

But if one is going to eat meat- one should do so with a certain level of awareness and with respect for the animal one is consuming. You are, after all, killing a creature that doesn't want to die. My cat does it every other week. But the difference between my cat and most people who eat meat is the process.

Most people don't want to know anything about what they are doing-- they don't want to know that they are consuming a former sentient being, that this animal probably lived in terrible conditions and suffered at the end-- they want to pretend it's just a smiling cartoon pig, or a nifty burger wrapped in plastic with a smiling clown on the box.

I remember a funny moment when a bunch of my friends went fishing. They were perfectly happy to catch the fish and throw them in the cooler- but I was the only person there willing to gut and clean them for a bbq. (everyone else thought it was too 'gross'). Of course, I was also the only one not eating the fish later.

I'm not saying you shouldn't eat animals. But be aware of the process behind your meal. Personally, I choose not to participate in that process because it's also detirimental to the environment, abusive to workers, etc-- and besides, if you don't have to- why be part of it? But for everyone else- that's a personal choice. It's your right to make your own decisions.

Just don't act so offended when someone tells you the truth!
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Posted by Lena on October 21, 2008 at 11:23 AM · Report this
13
you people are truly feakin' nuts.

Hey - you wanna be vegan or veggietarian - go for it.

But so help me God if you ever try and tell me that "meat is murder" and not to wear "fur" I promise you that if you ever even come within a breath of me I will KYTFO! (Knock You The Fuck Out).
Posted by MeatEaterNLovinIt on December 1, 2008 at 9:26 PM · Report this
14
Such a great blog! I think Mr. Grossblatt has captured the subtle irony incredibly well, and I like the way his humor makes it easy for us to make up our own minds rather than preaching to us.
Posted by Delish Tofulish on December 2, 2008 at 11:59 AM · Report this
15
You guys can argue all you want about the ethical and philosophical considerations of eating meat or being vegan, but mijnheer had it right about meat production being one of the most significant threats to the environment. Eating meat on a regular basis is irresponsible in the same way that driving a hummer is irresponsible.

And SaraH, what the hell do you think those animals eat? Vegetarians are well aware of what goes into plant agriculture. The majority (around 70%) of wheat, corn, and soy grown in the US goes to feed the animals we eat, and it is a huge part of why many people are vegetarian.
Posted by Abbie on December 2, 2008 at 12:07 PM · Report this
16
~M, can you provide scientific journals which support the idea of plants 'screaming' in their own ways, aside from the Tompkins and Bird studies which have never been replicated? I'm sure a PhD in plant biology can give me at least a few independently replicated studies, yes?

The rest of Ms post seems to be purely speculative. We know that plants can firm up their defence against insects. That's a far cry from sentience, however, and certainly a leap-year cry from the type of intelligence high order animals like pigs and cows exhibit.

We, on the other hand, know that animals do feel pain; it's not a speculation. Suggesting that eating plants OR animals is the same thing seems laughable.
Posted by DP on December 2, 2008 at 4:47 PM · Report this
17
MeatEaterNLovinIt...

But... it seems fairly obvious, that meat IS murder. "Fur" IS fur.

I apologize if this information forces you to come out of denial. Though I'm sure you'll find a nice, ignorant, blissful place to hide within it instead, like the majority of the population.
Posted by L on December 3, 2008 at 6:08 PM · Report this
18
We are omnivores but the amount of meat in our diet should realistically be about 20-30%. Our diet is not supposed to be a piece of meat with maybe some vegetables on the side, but a lot of vegatables and fruits etc and barely any meat. Animal fat is not good for us, red meat is very unhealthy. Since we need so little meat and its relatively easy to obtain food and nutrients here(as opposed to an impoverished area) its very easy to have a well rounded diet with no meat. Not to mention enviromental impacts and the grotesque farm industry. The way our body evolved is much more adapted for plants. Our nails or not sharp to dig into prey, our teeth or not the kind that can kill but grind and chew like other apes. We cannot eat meat raw or whole as other carnivores can. Carnivores long intestine is much shorter in comparison to ours because raw meats propensity to bacteria, which is why we have to cook all our meat or we get sick. And honestly whats more appealing a fresh fruit, or a raw steak or something? Hopefully the fruit. Not arguing that we AREN'T biologically supposed to eat meat but we certainly dont have to and if you do it is not nearly at the rate that people consume it.
-MC
Posted by MC on December 5, 2008 at 12:14 AM · Report this
19
So, I have no problem with killing my own food. Where does that put me on the ethical scale? We are naturally bred for a certain amount of hunting. Would it be OK if I hunted my food?
Posted by caustic meatloaf on December 5, 2008 at 3:47 PM · Report this
20
"environmental sustainability is a more ethically precise goal than vegetarianism."

Exactly.
Posted by shameless on December 11, 2008 at 10:30 AM · Report this

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