Eat Me Please! Charting the rise of "suicide food"

14 August 2013

We're fascinated by blogger Ben Grossblatt’s thoughts on "suicide food" – cartoon images of farm animals that look delighted at the prospect of being eaten. Here, we explore how this bizarre trend may be undermining our relationship with food.

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When you open your eyes, you’ll notice them everywhere. Logos, signs, posters, food packages, websites, menus and commercials adorned with images of farm animals looking excited at the fate that awaits them – their slaughter, to fill our bellies.

Grossblatt defines this darkly ironic advertising technique in his blog as "any depiction of animals that act as though they wish to be consumed". And, true to form, the animals always seem to be smiling, and are often standing amid the flames that will grill them or wielding the cutlery that will cut them up. These strangely self-effacing animals possess a distinctly caricatural, humorous quality, and are usually created using a playful primary-colour palette. They couldn’t be less real if they tried.

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Stop and stare

There are many who push this peculiar strain of black-comedy branding. In fact, suicide food imagery is so ubiquitous, you may never even have stopped to think about it.

But we’re very glad Grossblatt did. For five years, the Internet scribe fastidiously chronicled the most jaw-dropping examples of "suicide food" in his insightful blog. What he does is to expose a deeply entrenched food-branding tactic that serves to lure diners and also, in some way, absolve them of all responsibility in the slaughter of the animal they are about to consume.

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Mind the gap: the farm-to-fork disconnect

In the Western world, there is a vast knowledge gap between people and the food they eat – particularly meat. The rearing and killing of animals remains a distant and apparently irrelevant event in the lives of many; in short, there is a farm-to-fork disconnect. And factory farming, which "processes" billions of animals every year behind closed doors and reduces them to mere commodities, is largely to blame.

What suicide food does is to perpetuate and widen this already-significant gap. By depicting farm animals as comical caricatures who are keen to make a hungry human happy, people are allowed to believe the animal would like to die for them.

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As the National Museum of Animals & Society says in its exhibition Uncooped: Deconstructing the Domesticated Chicken: "...suicide food’s plethora of images elucidate the ways in which fast food advertising seeks to disguise and distance consumers from the lived experience of the animals they eat."

A symptom of consumerist society, these brash, banal adverts devalue animal life. They enforce a clever and creepy myth designed by humans, to serve humans. And it’s amazing how much is out there.

What do you think about suicide food?  Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or on our Facebook page.

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