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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.

Photo by Leo Laurence

Photo by Leo Laurence

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 – bernardodining@aol.com

El Bizcocho – RanchoBernardoInn@JCResorts.com

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erikmarcusErik Marcus is a tireless campaigner who works on efforts related to animal protection and promoting veganism. In addition to publishing Vegan.com, which features his daily blog, Erik has authored three books: Meat Market: Animals, Ethics and Money, Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating and The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice, which he just published this month. He took some time from his hard work to talk about his activism, his writing endeavors and the question all activists should ask themselves.

Your latest book, The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice, is hot off the presses. Please tell me what this new book covers.

I think when you first consider becoming vegan, it’s immensely helpful to get advice from somebody who has been doing it for a long time. So in this book, I strived to cover everything that is important to new vegans. I’ve written chapters on food shopping, cooking, nutrition, travel, relationships and so forth.                                     

Anybody can write about these things, so I kept asking myself, “Am I presenting this material as helpfully as possible?” My preoccupation with being genuinely helpful led me to offer up a ton of information I haven’t encountered elsewhere. For instance, there are plenty of places a vegan can buy food, so I’ve got a chapter about supermarkets, another about natural food stores, another about farmer’s markets, and still another about shopping online. 

Wherever I can in this book, I try to provide simple advice that unlocks a great deal of value. For instance, when talking about food, I introduce the idea of basing your diet on five core foods: smoothies, sandwiches, salads, stir-fries and grilled veggies. These foods are all super healthful, they are quick and easy to make, and they can all be prepared in a multitude of ways so you can eat them all the time without getting bored. 

My intention in writing this book was to give a non-vegan every piece of information required to allow uvgthat person to easily become vegan tomorrow, without fear or sacrifice. From the responses I’ve received from the book’s first readers, it appears I’ve accomplished that goal.

How does your new book differ from Meat Market and Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating?

Both of those books required me to spend months and months in an agriculture library. The Ultimate Vegan Guide, by contrast, is my attempt to distill my twenty years of vegan living into a short and super-readable book. I think this subject gave me room to be much more relaxed and entertaining with my writing.

You made Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating available as a free download from Vegan.com. Why did you decide to do that?

I guess it was sort of an experiment. I wanted to see how many people would take advantage of reading it if I made the book free. The book ended up being downloaded tens of thousands of times, and I’ve had numerous people approach me to say they went vegan as a result of downloading the book. I should mention the free download went away when I re-launched Vegan.com last spring, but I’ll bring it back at some point when I find some time.

Most people know you as an author, blogger, podcaster and public speaker, but you’re engaged in other models of activism. What’s your favorite form of animal activism?

Well, Vegan.com and my writing sucks up nearly all my time. But I still manage pass out Vegan Outreach literature at my local colleges at least a few times a semester. This is something anyone can do, and I urge people who are unfamiliar with the effectiveness of leafleting to read Matt Ball’s wonderful essay “A Meaningful Life.”

One of your points in Meat Market is the “commodity-cruelty argument.” Could you explain what this is?

I devoted Chapter 2 of Meat Market to this argument, and it so happens that Chapter 2 of The Ultimate Vegan Guide reiterates this argument in a more concise format. Basically, this argument introduces the ethical consequences of what happens when meat, milk and eggs are produced under a commodity system. See, the name of the game with commodities is that only the lowest-cost producers survive. So, when animal-based foods become commodities, what happens is that producers are forced to embrace every possible cost-cutting measure, no matter how cruel it is to the animals involved.                          

Just by understanding this one simple concept, you’ve gained a window through which you can witness and understand the deeply rooted cruelties that exist within agribusiness.

Speaking of ag cruelties, you recently scored a victory for animals at your alma mater, UC Santa Cruz: they’re going to start making cage-free eggs available. Can you walk us through what you did to make that happen ― and how others can do the same at their college?

After receiving guidance from Josh Balk of HSUS, I used the classic Henry Spira approach of opening a respectful dialog with UCSC’s director of dining services. When that communication didn’t bear fruit, I got the attention of the Chancellor’s office. Soon after that, I was able to get some media coverage of the issue ― and within weeks of that coverage appearing the University started offering cage-free eggs. It was no big deal; anyone can do this sort of thing. But given the number of battery eggs served on campus, the simple efforts I made are going to eliminate a great deal of cruelty.

I know this victory is just the beginning; what’s next for you in working with the campus?

Well, now that Prop 2 has passed, UCSC doesn’t have any excuse to continue serving battery cage eggs. So I’m now back in touch with the Chancellor’s Office to see how quickly they can get rid of all battery cage eggs at the University. I’ve made contact with other activists on campus and, if the University doesn’t take speedy action to get rid of battery eggs, we’re going to launch a campaign that will expose the university’s ties to animal cruelty. But I doubt such a campaign will be necessary: my intuition is that the Chancellor’s Office and Dining Services staff are outstanding people who will want to quickly cut the university’s ties to battery cage egg farms. It’s the right thing to do.

You’re considered one of the leaders in the vegan movement. Who are the people that inspired you?

I’m not a leader; I’m just a guy with a website who has written a few books. Wayne Pacelle, Paul Shapiro, Philip Lymbery, Josh Balk, Mahi Klosterhalfen, Jack Norris and Matt Ball: those are some of the movement’s leaders.                                              

I’ve been very fortunate to make friends with some incredibly effective people in the movement, and these people have played a big role in shaping the kind of activism I do. I got to know Henry Spira in the early 1990s, and my contact with him led me to the sort of work I do today. For me, it’s all about pragmatism: getting in tune with the public and figuring out what steps they’re ready to take right now. If you’re ready to go vegan, then great, I’ll give you the encouragement and the information you need. If you aren’t ready to stop eating animal products, then I’ll encourage you to eat fewer animal products and to shift your purchases away from factory farms.                                         

Outreach is all about listening to people, and helping them to take whatever next step they’re ready for. It’s not about deciding what step would make that person a moral human being in your eyes, and expecting that person to jump through the hoop you’ve constructed. That’s the mindset of an asshole, and it’s at the root of the angry vegan stereotype.

It seems you work non-stop on behalf of animals, and I know you’ve seen some of the cruelest abuses agribusiness subjects animals to. What do you do to keep from burning out?

It’s true that this work can mess with your head. After David Foster Wallace hanged himself this past autumn, I found myself emotionally unable to write for about a week. At some point, you need to take care of yourself. After all the exposure I’ve had to animal cruelty, I’ve stopped watching new cruelty videos when they come out. I’ve seen everything I need to see, and it’s important I preserve my emotional health.              

But the real way to avoid burnout is to regularly engage in tasks that you know will make a big difference. I’m certain that anyone who cares, and who works steadily, can keep more than a million animals out of a slaughterhouse. I talk about how to accomplish this in the final chapter of my Ultimate Vegan Guide. Since I know I’m being effective, there’s no room in my belief system to permit burnout.

We’re going to annihilate factory farming in our generation, while putting veganism solidly into the mainstream, and I’m delighted to be one of the people working to make this happen.

What’s next for you? Any other books you’ll be working on?

I think I’ve now finished plugging up what I perceived as the main gaps in the movement’s literature. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another book — at this point there’s nothing else in the vegan/animal rights world that I’d be interested in writing about. Since my book-writing career has likely come to an end, my life at the moment is at a crossroads; my main goal moving forward is to identify new efforts that make me increasingly effective for animals. I’m now asking myself the same question I hope every reader of this interview regularly asks themselves: What can I do that will impact as many farmed animals as possible?

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