It seems in the past few years, Louisville has been getting a lot of national attention for a burgeoning food culture, complimented by devoted food literacy projects and great local small family farms. So what happens when our appetites are challenged by our ethics?
A new local restaurant called Game has recently been under such pressure. Two local animal rights activists Loyd Coy and Samuel Hartman have been organizing a protest to the existence of the controversial menu item, foie gras, on Game’s menu this Saturday March 8th, at 6 pm. This will be the second protest in what may be a series according to the activists. Foie Gras, if you aren’t aware, is the fattened liver of a goose or a duck. It’s a popular gourmet and novelty item on menus all over the country, but controversial because of the process needed to create the product. Foie Gras requires gavage (force feeding), to produce the fattened liver. In California, foie gras and force-feeding have been banned. However, in Chicago, due to the popularity of the product, the ban has been repealed.
Game Restaurant has only been open since February but is already very popular. Expect to wait for a seat if you go during peak dining times. The interior is small and cozy with lots of polished wood. The servers wear plaid shirts adding to the rustic feel. The menu hosts a nice variety of items, but is predictably meat heavy. Regardless, there are creative and enticing vegetarian items as well.
So why take a stand against a popular local establishment that’s menu can’t be any more egregious than the many other Louisville restaurants selling copious amounts of CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) meats? Animal rights activist Loyd Coy explained;
With the young ‘hip’ demographic of Game and their pricing introducing this cruel dish as well as others (lamb heart burger??) to people previously not very exposed to these types of culinary nightmares, it just made sense to take a stand against it and do our best to inform people of the fact that they are consuming diseased, factory farmed organs of an animal that lived a short life full of suffering and pain.
Loyd’s partner organizer, Samuel Hartman reached out to Game prior to these protests to talk about the impacts of foie gras from Hudson Valley Farms, which includes environmental infractions on top of animal cruelty issues. The Facebook invite for the protest is peppered with articles and videos about the farm; one link to lawyersandsettlements.com shared that Hudson Valley Farm was fined $30,000 in 2007 for environmental violations. Another post provided links to a Youtube video uploaded in 2008 which visually displayed ducks in crates being grabbed and force fed, and hung upside down before slaughter. In contrast, Hudson Valley has posted various media on Youtube and their website stating that their practices have changed. In those videos, there is footage of ducks happily roaming freely in a large barn, however, to the farm’s credit, they are also transparent about the process. In the same video there is footage of a worker stuffing a sizable tube down a ducks throat during feeding. Adam Burress, chef and part owner of Game restaurant, said after his meeting with Samuel he did his own research on the farm and found their modern practices satisfactory.
I did my research on Hudson Valley Farm. When you look for something positive in research you find it, when you look for something negative you find it. I looked for both. I didn't want to lack in any integrity. No mass farming is a positive thing. After my research, I honestly felt better about the source. The operation is cage-free, they are force fed for the last 26 days.
It wouldn't break my heart to get rid of it, but I want to get rid of it because I decide to. Not because someone is jumping down my throat.
Adam followed this statement with his thoughts on organizations like PETA and animal activism;
I personally love PETA because they create a balance. They make sure that people don't get away with a lack of balance in where they source their meat. If they didn't exist, there would be some serious problems in the meat and animal world. I see where they are coming from.
Adam further explained that while he has a soft spot for animals and animal welfare, he also was given a talent to cook proteins well. This is his craft and career. While Adam himself has a largely vegetarian diet, he expressed an interest in trying to provide our community with the best product possible in a time when meat eating is still prolific in our culture. Adam expressed that he wasn’t batting a blind eye to the consequences of living in that world.
Any meat, there is a slaughtering process. Even if I were to raise my own cattle, there is a time when it gets gross. That's part of the process. There is a point when it gets nasty. I grew up in a family full of hunters; I've seen the process.
Factory farming is one of the worst things I have seen. The people who produce this, they don't care about the quality of the food and just want to make money. I'm a hypocrite. I can't kill anything but I can definitely eat meat. We use as local as possible of products at Hammerheads in beef, cheese, anything I can get.
Activist Samuel Hartman had more to add about the ethics of locally sourced food;
I've seen the criticism you speak of online, that there is a "local" element to Game, and that somehow, by protesting a local business, we are being inherently unfair to them (or their profits) when larger targets exist like McDonalds or KFC.
Loyd and I, along with countless other activists, have, and will continue to protest chain restaurants that engage in animal cruelty such as KFC. There is a long-standing campaign against KFC for their torturous use of electrocuting chickens while other suppliers have found more humane methods. We don't ignore those issues and you can quickly search WDRB or WHAS11's website to find protests and demos of all kinds by PETA, Mercy for Animals, and the Louisville Vegetarian Initiative.
As Loyd alluded to, Game is new, and therefore on our radar, along with the radar of its patrons. Just because it is a small, local restaurant does not mean that they should somehow be held to a higher or lower ethical standard on food. In a similar vein, it is often the local restaurants that have much more control over their menu, supply chain, and ethical decisions. We wouldn't expect the KFC in the Highlands to suddenly start getting their chicken from Grasshoppers, Inc. But we can expect - and demand - Game to stop buying foie gras from the notoriously cruel Hudson Valley Farms. We've presented a wealth of evidence that this particular animal product is cruel, from inception to slaughter, and an unnecessary "luxury" that only benefits customers who eat it 800 miles away. It is the ducks who suffer for this "delicacy," every single time.
Both sides have folks rallying in support of their endeavors. On a Facebook group League of Kentucky Sportsmen, Ed Morris asked for folks to come out in support of the restaurant by enjoying a meal there on Saturday. On the protest invite, folks lamented not being able to attend, encouraging the activist's efforts. Though there is some occasional quality civil discourse, there is also a lot of biting comments from both sides, questioning the ethics of each other. Overall, the message from both fronts; do your research, vote with your dollar.
For more information about the protest, go here.
For more information on Game, go here.