The Il Vinaio Mediterranean restaurant and wine bistro in Mesa, located east of Phoenix, has come under fire from animal-rights activists for serving African lion meat as part of a special World Cup celebration recently. An Il Vinaio spokesperson, told Associated Content by email last week that the owner of Il Vinaio, Cameron Selogie, indeed purchased several pounds of lion meat from a restaurant supplier in Phoenix. The meat was served in burgers, with chips and corn on the side.
Il Vinaio’s owner, Cameron Selogie, was in the press last week explaining the lion meat that Gourmet Imports-Wild Game provided him came from a “free-range” lion farm in Illinois, and that the operation was “humane ” and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, it has since been determined that there are major problems with that explanation. Firstly, the USDA does not oversee or regulate lion meat for consumption. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with that task, however, and they say lion meat does in fact qualify as “game meat”.
What about that “free-range” lion farm in Illinois? Not so much. Il Vinaio lion meat supplier, Gourmet Imports-Wild Game, apparently got the lion meat from a nearly-century old wild game butcher outfit, Czimer’s Game and Sea Foods, based in Home Glen, Illinois. Richard Czimer, who runs Czimer’s Game and Sea Foods, told CNN he won’t reveal the original source of the lion meat, and he himself doesn’t even know where it really came from.
What is known is Richard Czimer was sentenced to six months in jail in 1993 after profiting from the sale of meat that did come from federally protected lions, tigers, leopards and a liger. Apparently, the judge wasn’t buying any “free-range lion farm” claims then, either.
What about Il Vinaio, though? Did they do anything wrong by serving African lion meat as a two-night special? Lion meat has never been a part of any permanent menu at Il Vinaio, and the restaurant told Associated Content by email following service last week that they have no plans on running the lion meat burger special again. “This was a one time deal for our adventurous customers,” the Il Vinaio spokesperson explained. “The reaction tonight was very positive; we sold out both nights very quickly.”
Though many Il Vinaio customers see nothing wrong with sampling lion meat burgers, fully embracing the “meat is meat” theory as long as the animal isn’t endangered, Il Vinaio has experienced some backlash over their decision. “I think it’s appalling,” said animal activist Susan Cooper in an ABC15 interview. “I didn’t even know you could eat a lion. It’s just wrong.”
Susan Cooper was on the email list for an Il Vinaio restaurant newsletter, which is where she learned of the lion meat special being offered. She then took the story to the local ABC affiliate, who covered the story here. Il Vinaio had bigger problems last week than bad press, though; the restaurant has drawn not only national media scrutiny, but hundreds of emails and phone calls from protestors. Il Vinaio has even reportedly received a bomb threat in the wake of the lion meat controversy.
Il Vinaio spokesperson and owner, Cameron Selogie, told Jennifer Waite of Associated Content by another email Sunday that the restaurant does not regret serving lion, but they don’t want to be branded “animal haters”. “We have stated before we are animal lovers, and we have made another donation to www.azrescue.org,” the email from Selogie stated. “We did not go to the press with this; Susan Cooper did. But we will take the momentary notoriety to try and help a worthy cause.”
As for popular opinion on the topic, an informal Facebook poll conducted for this article found that roughly half of people asked didn’t have a problem with the idea of an American restaurant serving lion meat. Demetrius M. of San Francisco stated, “It’s just an animal like any other. Pigs are smarter than lions, and we eat them every day.” Diana G. of Tucson expressed similar sentiments to AC, “I would try it as long as it was disease-free. I’m up for new and exotic things.”
The original email response from Il Vinaio restaurant said Il Vinaio served the lion meat in “1/3 pound burgers with homemade chips and fresh roasted corn on the cob”, as a special two-night event only. The price of the Il Vinaio lion meat plate was quoted at $21 each.
Interviews – Il Vinaio spokesperson