Recently, there’s been some local hoopla about the big Burrito restaurant group putting foie gras back on their menus. Reading some of the coverage, I found this quote:
“We will not be bullied into running our business to fit your specifications,” Fuller told the group via e-mail last week. “We did not commit to future seasonal menu planning.”
Bill Fuller is big Burrito’s corporate chef, and I was struck by the straightforwardness of the quote. Some of the other coverage had mentioned that Fuller originally pulled foie gras with the condition that it wouldn’t be served unless the animals were treated humanely. My assumption was that they’d found a humane supplier. (I know – there are debates about whether or not there can be humanely produced foie gras, but this is an issue where people can rationally disagree. There’s no need for madness.)
At any rate, I wrote to Fuller, to express my support for his stance. big Burrito has some amazing restaurants, and a wide, wide variety of options for almost every diner. I like not having to fret about whether my vegan friends will have something they can eat on the menu; I like the individual flavors and atmospheres of each restaurant. big Burrito is committed to that variety, and I’m glad of it. Some foods, like foie gras and veal, are the subjects of debate – but they are part of the variety that big Burrito provides.
Fuller wrote back, and included a response that he’d sent out to someone else. He said I could forward it along, so:
Thank you for your note. This is a difficult issue and one that has vexed
us for some time. Since you are a current and future customer, I want to
write you a note that is a little more personal than the responses I have
been sending. You obviously are quite familiar with our company style and
philosophy. You know we stand for great food and service and that we
believe in serving our community as well with both donations and charitable
works. You also know that we work to serve everyone, not just narrow
subsets of the dining populace. I imagine you are also familiar with our
ongoing efforts to buy local, sustainably-raised foods from small farmers as
well as many other items from local producers and artisans. I don’t need to
review that with you.
The particular problem with dealing with this issue is the presence of
threats and implied threats that go with it. In California, a Chef serving
foie gras received a video in the mail of his wife and small children taken
through his home kitchen window with a threatening letter attached. A
restaurant there was broken into, dry concrete poured into drains, and the
water turned on and left on creating massive damage. Here in Pittsburgh,
there have been a number of incidences of vandalism associated with protests
at restaurants and good people have been personally threatened and harassed.
These incidents and others are celebrated within the anti-foie gras movement
as victories. To deal with a group that condones this behavior is
The only answer that VFA will settle for is to not serve the item and to
never serve it again. That is their non-negotiable point. In June 2004, I
did agree to pull foie gras for a time while we evaluated the issue. I
looked into how our foie gras is produced. After my research, I decided
that the sensationalist material disseminated by VFA does not apply to my
Our supplier does not cage the birds. They are given excellent treatment
including freedom to roam and graze, which is a huge improvement over the
lives of most of the animals grown for human consumption. The same human
attendant is with them every day to do any maintenance and feeding for
entire the last three weeks of their lives, creating some sort of continuity
and comfort during that time. The farm was reviewed by members of the
American Veterinary Medical Association in association with New York State’s
research into passing anti-foie gras legislation and recommend against the
legislation based on their findings. The animal still gets killed and is
eaten. This is a fact that one would be a fool to deny.
At this point, we offer the item occasionally on our menus and is a delight
to many of our guests when it appears. It is only a peripheral item and is
not a big part of what we serve, like vegetarian food and gluten-free
options, but does serve part of our dining community. For example, we have
listed it on the catering menu for years and only had it requested once.
But the requester very much wanted to have the item and was elated to find
We have the issue on the table at big Burrito. It is under much discussion.
However, to appear to cede to this threatening, irrational group that has no
interest in rational dialogue would not be the right thing to do for the
Last night, we went to dinner at Casbah. Foie gras was not on the menu, but plenty of other delicious food was. Cheers!