From seals to squirrels, the Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) has been racking up an impressive record of victories for animals since Bryan Pease and Kath Rogers founded the San Diego-based non-profit seven years ago. Their latest win is persuading yet another local restaurant to remove foie gras from its menu. After Kath announced that they had convinced Bernard’O Restaurant to forgo foie gras, I asked her to share with other activists how APRL managed to get the restaurant to stop serving this cruel delicacy, which is produced by force-feeding ducks and geese until their livers become diseased (foie gras is French for “fatty liver”).
Kath told me much of the credit goes to Christina Tacoronti, APRL’s campaigns coordinator, and Lisa Osborne, a tireless volunteer at the vanguard of the foie gras restaurant campaign. “These two powerhouse ladies run the show on the anti-foie gras front here in San Diego,” Kath says. “Approximately 25 restaurants have removed foie gras in the past few months due to our campaign. Three pulled it from their menus this week alone!”
Christina was kind enough to walk me through APRL’s anti-foie gras campaign. Not surprisingly, they’ve taken a page from the Henry Spira playbook (in fact, Christina is in the process of creating an anti-foie gras manual for activists). She says they had a Valentine’s Day protest scheduled for another restaurant in the neighborhood, El Bizcocho, when they discovered Bernard’O was also serving foie gras. “Since the restaurants were less than a mile away from each other, we decided that we could easily target both of the restaurants on such a special day,” she says.
Christina’s first action was to call Bernard’O and ask if they would remove foie gras from their menu. “I explained to the owner how the product is made, that the sale and production of foie gras will be banned in California in 2012 and that the City of San Diego commends restaurants that remove the product before the ban goes into effect. After hearing all of this, the owner said he would consider removing foie gras. Generally, when a restaurant says they will ‘consider’ removing foie gras, it means that they will not remove foie gras and they are not taking you very seriously.” So Christina called back the next day to see if he had indeed considered it. “I also told the owner that if he would not remove it, we would be outside of his restaurant educating his customers with signs and posters about the cruelty of foie gras. Bernard did not seem to care.” She called him again, on February 13, to remind him that APRL campaigners would be outside his restaurant the following day, Valentine’s Day ― one of the most popular days of the year for couples dining out.
“On the day of the protest, as the protesters were walking up, Kath and I went into the restaurant to ask the owner one more time to take foie gras off the menu,” says Christina. “We were not welcomed in the restaurant, to say the least, and the owner’s wife promptly called the police. It was a good thing that I contacted the police beforehand and that I have a good relationship with the local sergeant.”
Anti-foie gras protests are often held on a Friday or Saturday night, which are busy evenings for restaurants (Valentine’s Day was a Saturday this year). Christina waited until Monday to call Bernard’O again. “I got to speak to the owner’s wife, who said that she was happy to have us there and that we actually increased the sale of foie gras that night. This is a sad tactic that the other side likes to use to make our efforts seem less significant. I told her that we would return if they would not stop serving foie gras. We scheduled the protest for two weeks later and I called the restaurant two days later.”
On the next phone call to the restaurant, Bernard’s wife tried playing the sympathy card, but Christina wasn’t buying it. “This time she said that she loved animals and that we should consider her right to make money. With this I knew I had her, and I upped the threat. I told her that we would be back for our second protest with more people and for a full two hours if she did not remove foie gras. At the end of the phone call, she said that she would talk to the owner and the chef and then get back to us in two days. At the end of the second day, we called the restaurant and talked to Bernard. He said they had talked about it and that the restaurant would no longer be serving foie gras. To confirm, we sent a volunteer to look at the menu and ask what the specials were and, indeed, the restaurant was foie gras-free.”
In other words, it took a few phone calls, a little face time and a single protest for a restaurant to give up serving foie gras. And this was a restaurant that had seemed steadfast in its position.
To ensure restaurants are sticking to their foie gras-free pledges, APRL visits them about once a month, checks the menu and asks if foie gras is available as a side dish. “If it’s not, great,” says Christina. “We will check back in a month. We do tell the owner that if we find that the restaurant is serving foie gras again, we will return without warning. And that is how we continue to get victories and make them last.”
APRL is working hard to get every restaurant in San Diego to stop serving foie gras now. Speaking of which, as I was preparing this blog, Kath told me they were planning a protest at El Bizcocho. A few hours later, I received an email from Kath: “Bizcocho took foie gras off the menu! Woo hoo!!!”
If you’d like to thank Bernard’O and El Bizcocho for making the compassionate choice, you can email them:
Bernard’O – firstname.lastname@example.org
El Bizcocho – RanchoBernardoInn@JCResorts.com