Thursday, August 9, 2007

Counter Attack

I got a call today from a former classmate of mine who’s currently working at a restaurant in Philadelphia.

I asked him if he had any contact with the protesters fighting the Foie Gras Battle Royal. He chuckled and said .."you know when I first saw those Hugs For Puppies *Expletive Deleted* I thought, hey cute name.. now all I want to do is (mess) with them."

I took that as a yes.

Luckily the restaurant he works at has gone relatively unscathed, say for a few sidewalk protests.

The conversation took an amusing turn when he mentioned some of the crafty ways Chefs are both passively and actively fighting back.

During one protest in the city one chef was kind enough to send the busy protesters some complimentary hor'dorves during dinner service, complete with server and silver tray.

Another neat thing allot of the cooks of these establishments have been doing is "Infiltrating" ( I won’t tell you how because I don’t want to be responsible for the system getting screwed up..ever seen 50 angry cooks? not pretty) the organizations that protest and tracking their protests to stay a foot ahead.

One story that really amused me and strengthens the point I have previously made about the reason why the Foie Fight is such a tough one for chefs. The uninformed public in general has no idea what Foie Gras really is, how it’s farmed, and what the details are. Along comes PETA and Pals and suddenly we find ourselves staring down angry customers..why? because PETA and Pals tell them all the "Horrible and Inhuman" things we do to get Foie Gras. The uninformed are being led to believe in half truths and allot of times lies.

So how do you counter act it? well my friend explained to me they had a very long term customer call and demanded to speak with someone in the kitchen. The Sous Chef took the call only to hear "...If you continue to serve Foie Gras I will no longer be returning my business to your restaurant."

After an apparent 30 minute phone conversation the Sous chef explained the process of making Foie Gras, the fact he had personally visited the location where they buy the Foie to ensure no cruelty, and other interesting Foie facts.. to which the customer replied "oh, I had no idea.. I look forward to my next meal in your restaurant".

Sometimes it just takes a little talking to work through your differences...

Hugs for Puppies, how bout a hug for a chef?


Sean said...

Having stumbled upon your blog from ruhlman and bob del grasso's blogs I can certainly sense the widespread contempt for the efforts of animal rights activists among chefs; or so it appears. Yet I still have a hard time seeing where this anger originates.

Are you angry that these activists are harrasing customers on your doorstep which if done with restraint and respect, they have every right to do? Are you angry that they use inflammatory language or grotesque images/video to persuade the public? You might be getting your foie from Old McDonald down the lane who give his mallards hand jobs between force feedings but the vast majority of it is produced in conditions and according to practices that PETA and others describe accurately. Does the hypocrisy of focusing on this one niche dish among all the comparatively more cruel offerings most restaurants serve bother you? Foie like veal represents low hanging fruit for the animal welfarist movement, things that appear so obviously cruel that they advocate for themselves. However to chide activists because they are currently putting more emphasis on foie over say battery chickens would be like criticizing Oxfam for not giving enough money to Indonesian flood victims since their primary focus are the starving millions in Africa.

I personally am not a member of any of these welfarist organizations though I am not opposed to what they do. As an ethical vegan I don't believe anyone should be consuming any animal product and I tend to point my own activist efforts towards convincing people of that rather than arguing that 50 square centimeters of space is so much better for laying hens than 40 or less they are accustomed to now. While there is certainly more humane foie, and these geese may enjoy lives far better than some of their factory farmed brethern, don't fool yourself into thinking that gavage in any form is a pleasant experience or that these animals are raised for anything but their inevitable slaughter.

The Foodist said...


First I want to say please dont take my posts as contempt for animal rights activists. I have the upmost respect for the great changes they have brought into effect in regards to how we treat the animals that give us life and allow us to enjoy food.

I also want to be clear when I say I have absolutly no problem with anyone, and I do mean anyone, activily using their rights as a US citizen or a human being by commited to a peaceful protest.

What I DO have an issue with are the extremists. Those individuals and groups of individuals who have no restraint or respect for the rights of those they seek to protest. Graffiti, Concreting Sewage lines, Environmental Terrorism.. only a few examples of the extreme left(or right depending on your view) of that niche of activism.

What I have a problem with most of all is half truths and lies. Both sides are guilty of it, and I will not be pulled into a debate of how one side is more wrong then the other. The ends do not justify the means.

Giving out only part of the information and using politics to persuide ones judgement on a topic is something that will never change, that doesnt mean I have to agree with it.

If your wondering why exactly I make a point of posting on the Foie fight Ill give you two good reasons:

1- The activists ARE making headway, and by doing so are removing a piece of culinary history. If the times dictate change so be it, but do not force change on the fact that you(in a general sense) think its "Evil". The information about Foie Gras you can get from any source may only be half of the whole information. The only thing I ask is that people do the research and judge for themselves.

2- Because it is a hot topic issue right now. Its something that is close to my heart, food, and it is a big change in the industry. I cant say for certain, but as the world around us changes so does the way we eat. with that being said whos to say something as old as Foie would not die out in a few years anyway? How often do you come across a restaurant that still does traditional French Grande Buffet? never... because times dictated a change without force.

You may be wrong about gavage though, these animals naturaly commit the act every year before migration, though not the the extent that we allow them to when farming Foie. It has become a system yes, and in doing so does lose a sense of humanity in many aspects.

Allow me to give a glimpse of my viewpoint before I sign off on this.

I am a human, I am currently the top species of my food chain. In this fact I will and do eat animal flesh. But that does NOT mean I in anyway disrespect nor pay tribute to the sacrifice that animal has made to give me what my body needs.
I treat the ingredients I work with with the upmost respect, wether it be a cut of veal or a pound of flour. The earth has given those items to me to use, and man has found ways of making wonderful, incredible items from those items. By treating those ingredients well, and remembering in the back of my mind that an animal has sacrificed to give this to me I feel I show my upmost appreciate when I enjoy what I do and what I eat.

I could go on and go back and forth with you forever on this topic and solve nothing. I do see your view, and I hope in the end you do see mine. I will never question the way you live your life, and I only ask that respect mine.

Thank you for your comment and good eating.

Sean said...

Thank you for responding so graciously and thoughtfully to my comment.

I do understand your position both rationally and from having been an enthusiastic ominvore for many years before going vegan. I agree that extremists among the animal welfare/rights movement who destroy personal property and endager the lives of people are at the very least misguided. These individuals seem to have forgotten in their zealotry that veganism is an ideology of peace, of abolishing exploitation and oppression in all its forms whether they concern "animals" or people themselves.

As for your reasons for posting on foie, I agree it is a hot topic right now in the culinary world though I am somewhat confused by the notion that activists are imposing their ethics on the public. Animal activists are a vanishingly small, albeit vocal, minority among the general public so I always raise an eyebrow to the suggestion that omnivores are being victimized by what amounts to pictures and a lot of yelling (again discounting for the moment the reprehensible actions of an even smaller minority who go much farther). It took the long struggle of a minority to shift the public attitude towards slavery. Does the fact that the human abolition movement was initially small diminish its message or eventual success?

I also wonder about the importance foie has in what you call culinary history. Being relatively young and never having worked in the industry, I can't speak to that as I'm sure you can. However, it does seem to be a Euro-centered, imperialist idea that the culinary landscape is defined by the french experience. I'm not critiquing you but it seems from casual observance that so much of what is considered haute cuisine originated and is steeped in french culinary tradition.

While we probably won't ever agree on the fundemental question of our right to use animals, I appreciate your thoughts. I wish more chefs were vocal, or able to be, about these issues and making decisions to use more humanely raised animal products. Bringing back awareness about our food, its origins, its production, and its consequences, is a positive step I think we can all agree on.

tyronebcookin said...

BRAVO! A discussion I can read without wasting time on expletives and hostile verbal assault...

Good Job.

The Foodist said...


First let me thank you for commenting in a polite and professional manor. It is refreshing to see because most of the time it seems that its a matter of who can insult the hardest.

I would like to enlighten you if I can about culinary history for a second. The biggest reason that "Classic Cuisine" is based on the French standpoint is because that is where the Culinary Revolution took place if you will. The first signs of houses being run as buisiness for the production of food was in france as well as large scale kitchens under a guiding higheracrhy formed here.

The trial and error of countless years in these kitchens under watchful eye of school-of-hard-knock chefs are what created modern cuisine into what it is today. The processes have waxed and wained with fads and social taste, as to be expected, but the basics.. the ideas taught in culinary schools remain the same today. If its not broke, dont fix it is the mentality.

as for the activists.. I agree they are still very much a minority. But they are organized and very vocal about their views, which counteracts their small numbers.
Their almost relentless stance on whatever their beliefs are make them a force to be reckoned with.

Allow me if I can to shed some light on why activists are such a sore spots for chefs and food industry professionals. In this field there are a few things that can and will kill your restaurant.

1-Bad Reviews. People are ten times more likely to speak poorly of something youve done badly then something youve done well. When they become vocal about it, negative news spreads faster then positive.

2-Social Concern. If the society in which you operate becomes concerned with any peice or part of what your doing then they become fearful. This is why health inspections, ecoli outbreaks, fingers in food, etc etc are so played upon by the media. One bad event can ruin a very well established location.

3-Comfort. If a customer does not feel comfortable dining in your place of buisiness, chances are not many will patron you. Eating is unique in this way that , say shopping for clothes you feel slightly uncomfortable about the store, but not many people would leave... this is not true with restaurants.

If people feel at all uncomfortable then they will leave and never come back, probably giving a bad review along with it.

So you see, when a customer goes to eat at a place and sees PETA and Pals protesting with signs, chants, and graphic photos people will flee...

Its hard enough keeping your head above water in the industry as it is, activists out to remove one small item from menus arent only succeding in removing that item.. they very well may be removing the establishment all together.

If you feel strongly about something a restaurant is doing, here are some suggestions.

Start a petition. Get people to sign it and mail a copy to the location with a letter of intent. Public opinion DOES work for restaurants.

Our goal is to please our public, not piss them off. If the majority seeks a change, and the owner/chef is smart and not egotistical and sees youve reespected his buisiness chances are he will respect the wants and needs of the public he is serving.

My main concern in this fight for Foie is for the lifeblood, the sweat and tears of those who have sacrificed to make a dream come true. Its one aspect that alot of activists dont get to see.