For those protesting the production and consumption of foie gras in California, July cannot come soon enough. Protestors and foie gras ban supporters are using more than just the usual picket lines and graphic signs to show their distaste for restaurants that serve the rich, fatty liver of geese and ducks. Impassioned by a staunch PETA stance on the issue, and supported by some in the local vegan community, protestors are using email, phone calls, Yelp reviews and Facebook comments to make their case. Recently, Eater took an informal survey of restaurants in Los Angeles to see what types of backlash restauranteurs have experienced recently as the ban draws near.
Josiah Citrin's Mélisse hosted a whole duck foie gras dinner earlier this month. The multi-course dinner sold out soon after it was announced, but guests at the dinner noticed that some of those who held reservations were actually protestors. As Jonathan Gold wrote in his recap of the event on the Los Angeles Times blog Daily Dish:
There were the people inside the restaurant protesting the ban... There were louder people outside protesting the protest of the ban. There were other people outside protesting the protest of the protest of the ban. In the end, it was unclear whether the real protestors were the ones dedicated to protecting culinary freedoms, or the chanting ones hoping to have those freedoms curtailed just a little bit sooner.
Reached by phone, representatives at Mélisse confirmed that the restaurant had received calls that resulted in a few fake reservations. Mostly though, they were bombarded with negative comments on their Facebook page. The comments range from direct and personal, "I am boycotting your restaurant for serving foie gras. I'm disgusted that this is considered a delicacy. -- Christie Provost" to angry and incendiary, "Foie gras is absolutely inhumane. Force-feeding an animal to give it a painful disease, for the sake of a mere extravagance, is just cruel and unnecessary. -- Tess Elaine."
Many of the comments appear to come from people who don't even live in California. While the restaurant has received some negative posts on Yelp, the directory site has been good about allowing business managers to mark such comments as SPAM.
The Little Door serves foie gras, and has experienced on and off protests over the last couple of years. A few months ago, an anti foie gras activist group showed up to protest in front of the demure restaurant's front door. Half a dozen protestors made some noise out side, but when the restaurant completely ignored their presence, they left 20 minutes later.
Two years ago, a similar battle between protestors occurred at Michael Cimarusti's Providence on Melrose. This year though, Providence says it hasn't had any protestors and has been able to keep foie gras on its menu, much to the delight of its customers.
When the ban was protested in 2010, the now shuttered Le Saint Amour faced protestors who marched into the restaurant and harassed patrons and staff. The local police had to get involved before the trespassing stopped. Protestors are allowed to congregate in public areas, but not on private property.
Helen Johannesen, general manager and wine director at Animal and Son of a Gun, wrote in to Eater earlier this week with news of fake reservations. "It has happened at all the dinners, the activists make fake reservations so that it effects our business," she wrote. While most chefs are able to dismiss the protests because they haven't affected business, this new method is proving particularly hard to ignore. Fortunately, an easy solution is for restaurants to require a credit card to hold the reservation.
Michael's on Naples has been annoyed with the number of emails they've received. "Basically, people are writing nasty emails about how they are going to boycott us for serving [foie gras] and keep acting surprised that we're serving it. We've been serving it for years, it's always been on our menu," said management at the Long Beach restaurant. When the restaurant announced earlier this month in an e-blast that they were going to do a special foie gras menu, they received dozens of responses. The email onslaught was followed by dozens of angry Facebook comments. "We're able to delete them, and so far it hasn't affected our business."
Somewhat surprisingly, not all restaurants are having a negative experience. Management at JiRaffe said they have received only one angry phone call, but otherwise it's business as usual.
"Actually, we have more people ordering the foie gras dish on our menu than ever before," said a host at Chaya Brasserie. "We haven't experienced any protestors fortunately. If anything, people are ordering it now because they fear it will soon be unavailable. We're even thinking of having a foie gras fest dinner."
·Foie Gras Fighters Make False Resys to Thwart Service [~ELA~]
·All Fighting For Foie Coverage [~ELA~]