Foodies once found it satisfying enough to connect to their food by visiting the farm where it grew, or by knowing their grower by name.
Today, that’s not enough. Now they’re seeking reverence in the act of killing the pasture-raised bird, pig or goat themselves.
Photographer Jaime Fritsch, founder of the event series Death for Food, wants to look his livestock in the eye before it’s slaughtered, and he wants you to have that experience too.
Fritsch organized Death for Food in the name of providing “educational and thought-provoking” dinners, one of which was scheduled for Nov. 23 at the family-run Suzie’s Farm. Participants would pay anywhere from $150 to $300 for the opportunity to kill and process their own turkey or chicken.
The event was abruptly canceled by Suzie’s Farm this week after lawyer and vocal animal activist Bryan Pease launched a Change.org petition that drew nearly 2,500 signatures to put the kibosh on the dinner.
Robin Taylor, owner of Suzie’s Farm told Voice of San Diego he couldn’t risk being sued.
“The reason we canceled the event after all this went down is that I don’t want to jeopardize my farm. If this had been a random person doing it, and not Pease, I wouldn’t have canceled, but I didn’t want to deal with a deep-pocketed lawyer,” Taylor said. Pease is a well-known public interest attorney, who’s championed animal rights for some time.
“We weren’t really doing this event anyways. We were just renting the space,” Taylor said. “I’m surprised it blew up like this. The cycle of life on a farm includes death. It’s just what happens. It’s very disappointing people don’t want to know where their food is from.”
San Diego Magazine food writer Troy Johnson, who was scheduled to speak at the event, was outraged, roasting Pease on Facebook.
Pease, a vegan for 20 years, said he agrees with many of the goals of the organizers, but maintained that promoting humanely raised meat isn’t the answer.
“My position is, what do the animals being slaughtered think about this, and what do the people who support Suzie’s Farm think about this?” Pease said. “This is a niche event for the folks doing it. They don’t have evil motives. I just disagree with them. I don’t think they should be slaughtering animals at all. It’s not about attacking Suzie’s Farm – just the idea of having an event where animals are slaughtered at an organic farm that vegetarians and vegans support should at least be discussed.”
Fritsch said a public discussion with Pease is currently in the works, but declined to share further details.
There’s a disconnect between Fritsch’s stated goals and how he is running his event. Fritsch has pitched “Death for Food” as a way for people to better understand where their food comes from – a kind of transparency in the food system that you don’t get when you buy packaged meat at the grocery store. But Fritsch isn’t being transparent about the source of the livestock he’d planned to slaughter for his event. He would not answer questions about where the livestock came from, who paid for or donated the animals, where they are now or whether the dinner would be moved to a new location.
Fritsch said he still sees value in the experience he’s offering willing participants and says the dinner is not simply a novelty. “People are crying and hugging and thanking me afterwards, and contacting me weeks later telling me it’s changed their life, that they’ll never eat meat the same way,” he said. “It’s okay if they’re already on the path.”