Should Restaurants Serve Controversial Foods?

Should restaurants serve foods that a subset of the population finds distasteful? Animal rights activists think not, especially with regard to foie gras, that supposed delicacy made from the fattened livers of geese and ducks. To be fair, activists don’t just find foie gras distasteful, they think it’s unethical — though the ethical framework from which they draw that conclusion is far from uncontroversial itself. So, are they justified in pressuring restaurants to stop serving it? And more importantly, what methods are they justified in using to do so?

From the Ottawa Citizen: Out of the frying pan: Beckta bows to foie gras protest

One of Ottawa’s most celebrated restaurateurs swore off serving foie gras Wednesday following a targeted campaign by animal rights activists who aim to erase the controversial delicacy from menus across the city.

After months of finding himself on the receiving end of protests, dozens of abusive phone calls and hundreds of e-mails — many of them aggressive and even threatening — Stephen Beckta told the Ottawa Animal Defense League he would no longer serve foie gras once his supply runs out.

“It was a personal rather than a business decision because it didn’t really hurt our business,” said the owner of Beckta Dining & Wine and of the three-month-old Play Food & Wine. “In my mind, this is as much a story about intimidation and harassment as it is about animal cruelty….”

Though Beckta was the immediate target, the activists hope other restaurants will get the message. As one of them put it, apparently without irony, “I hope that the compassionate vibe will just catch fire and they’ll take it off voluntarily.” Of course, there’s no evidence that compassion has anything to do with this (or any other) restaurant’s decision, in the face of bullying.

(Here’s the Wikipedia article on Foie Gras, which includes a section on the controversy.)

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(p.s. for the record, though this is technically irrelevant, I personally don’t eat foie gras, or meat in general, but that’s mostly because I think the farming practices involved are ugly, not unethical.)

8 comments so far

  1. jpbauer on

    Or going one step further, should retail stores stock controversial merchandise for sale to the general public?

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    JP:

    Yes, exactly, that’s the right question to ask next.

    And then add the question about what tactics are permissible to get the store to stop.

    So, a good question for the animal-rights activists in this story: would it be OK for a group opposed to THEIR activities to protest in front of a bookstore that sells how-to books for protesting, monkey-wrenching, confronting riot police, freeing laboratory animals, etc.? I mean, you could probably get a bookstore to stop selling such controversial books if you really bullied them.
    Are the practices illustrated in the fois gras story acceptable, if generalized?

    Chris.

  3. G on

    I think it’s great to hear that restaurants are removing foie gras from their menus. What you didn’t mention is that another restaurant in Ottawa removed foie gras after learning how it was produced.

    Also, smoking used to be acceptable, but a bunch of moralizing, bullying people have made smoking into a marginalized practice. And for good reason. Looking back on the foie gras arguments (and all factory or intensive farming) will we still think of this as bullying?

    ps. I’m pretty sure the correct spelling is “foie gras”, not “fois gras.”

  4. Chris MacDonald on

    G:

    Thanks for catching the spelling error. Fixed.

    I’m glad about the result, too; I’m just not glad about the tactics.

    I recall debate over smoking in restaurants; I don’t recall bullying. But I may be under-informed on that.

    And just to be clear (in case anyone thinks what you said sounded like an accusation) I “didn’t mention” the other restaurant because I didn’t know about it. I don’t see it in the story I was commenting on. I actually find it pretty hard to believe that there’s a chef serving foie gras who doesn’t know how it’s made. If you have a link to back that up, I’d appreciate if you’d post it.

    Thanks,

    Chris.

  5. G on

    Here’s a link to the story about another restaurant removing foie gras from the menu:
    http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/omnivore/archive/2009/05/09/luxe-bistro-capitulates-to-foie-gras-protestors.aspx?CommentPosted=true#commentmessage

    One of the ardent defenders of foie gras in my city hadn’t ever visited a foie gras farm until people started protesting outside of his restaurant. So I think it’s more common than we would like to think that the people we entrust with knowing about food production don’t know the full story.

    I work with a couple of people who were involved in anti-smoking campaigns 20 years ago – the same accusations were leveled against them of intimidation and harassment. I don’t have urls handy to back that up, just the stories they’ve told me.

    Thanks for addressing this issue.

    It would be interesting to hear what would be a positive method to try to stop the practice of force-feeding (and other cruelties)? Considering Canada’s animal cruelty laws haven’t been updated in over a century and don’t apply to animals on farms, I don’t think legislative action would be of any real use. How much awareness would be raised about the issue if there weren’t any controversy with the methods of the protesters? Would anyone have written a story about it? Likely not.

  6. Chris MacDonald on

    My only suggestion regarding methods is that threats and intimidation are illegitimate. They’re not consistent with the kind of society we want to be. Work to get the law changed. Again, I urge people to ask themselves, “What methods I would want <>other<> people to use, in advancing some cause that I myself don’t support?”

    Chris.

  7. […] are not infrequently the targets of protests, boycotts, and other forms of activism. But what about business as a form of […]

  8. […] d’envergure au Canada pour une question de souffrance animale (les activiste d’Ottawa ont déjà réussi à faire retirer le foie gras d’un restaurant coté de la région, le Bekta). On peut saluer l’exploit de l’Ottawa Animal Defence League qui a réussi, avec ses […]


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