|Deconstructing an Argument for Cruelty: Bite Bistro Emails, VFA Responds|
Foie Gras Protest @ Bite Bistro
Saturday February 25th 6-8pm. 565 Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue 15202
An important new development has emerged regarding VFA's Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh Campaign. If you have ever wondered for an example as to how one small protest could make a difference, our protest at Bite Bistro two weeks ago accompanied by plans for a second protest today, are clearly sinking in to the management of the establishment. VFA received the following response from Bite Bistro's owner, Danina DiBattista.
While Ms. DiBattista has received a personal response, we wish to deconstruct statements from her contact in a public forum so as to dispel any common (or, in some cases, uncommon!) misunderstandings regarding VFA's Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh Campaign. Ms. DiBattista's comments are in italics, with our point-by-point responses to follow.
I just received your email stating that you will be protesting again on Saturday.
I welcome you to protest again, as it is your right.
Please be aware that there will be police on scene, and the DA's office and local authorities, as well as our lawyer have been alerted once again on your intentions. And I will remind you once again, we have a camera security system as well as an alarm system at the restaurant. All of the local authorities have been made aware of your harassment and vandalism practices that other restaurants across the city have been a victim of. Protesting peacefully is one thing, but once you cross the line into vandalism, it's difficult for others to take you seriously, and it really disintegrates your integrity as a group of people that are all about "spreading the peace".
For starters, Voices For Animals is a public organization that, by definition, does not engage in or endorse any harassment, vandalism, or illegal activity. Second, although Ms. DiBattista says she will "remind us once again,” this is the first response from the management of Bite Bistro that VFA has received. Our two original attempts to contact the restaurant, beginning in December of last year and prior to our choice for Bite Bistro as a target for the Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh Campaign, went ignored. It wasn't until VFA's first protest and schedule for a second demonstration against the restaurant that Bite Bistro took the demand to remove foie gras from the menu seriously. Third, VFA's protests always remain peaceful and legal, so while Ms. DiBattista is free to have the police, DA, and other local authorities at her disposal, it will only result in a big waste of local tax dollars and the authorities' time.
This is a private business, in a small town. We're following the law, and it seems to me that you're only focusing on Foie Gras because it's an easy target. I think you should just take it a step further and protest the fact that we serve MEAT and animal products in general. Many of my loyal customers took your flyers thinking that you were actually promoting the restaurant. It was interesting to see their faces once they read the flyer. I was asked about the situation by many customers, and responded honestly about the production of foie gras. And to be completely honest with you, many of them ordered foie gras after reading your flyer. We sold more foie gras on that evening than we ever have before. If you doubt this, I will show you the sales slips. So perhaps your protest is causing an opposite effect.
Ms. DiBattista is partly correct when she says we are focusing on foie gras because it is an easy target. As one of the most overtly cruel and egregious products within the animal agribusiness industry, the foie gras industry is one of the only forms of institutionalized animal exploitation that is very possible to completely abolish in the near future. The purpose and strategy of the Foie Gras-Free Pittsburgh campaign, as well as other local and national foie gras activism efforts, is to give the industry a hard push towards the direction of elimination. Simply put, foie gras is the Achille's heel of the meat industry and that is why it is the perfect area to target.
This brings us to Ms. DiBattista's next issue: anyone who is familiar with Voices For Animals' work knows that we organize regular vegan outreach as well as events and actions that promote veganism. Of course Voices For Animals is opposed to the whole violent system of animal agribusiness, (as well as all other forms of animal exploitation), but we feel it is more effective to work towards abolishing the animal agriculture system as whole, through vegan education, rather than through protesting all the meat and animal products sold at each individual business. When dealing with an institutionalized system of cruelty that exists on such a massive scale that it has become deeply ingrained in all areas of our culture, this strategy just makes sense.
We have to wonder why Ms. DiBattista is inviting VFA to protest all the animal products at her restaurant, as we doubt she would be very happy if we decided to take her up on the offer. We are also curious as to which “truth” Ms. Battista is feeding to her customers, since she is quoted in recent media stating that Bite Bistro's foie gras is from Hudson Valley, which she says is “one of the most humane farms in the country.” Given that the process of foie gras production by definition involves deliberately inducing a deadly and painful medical disease in animals, we doubt that Ms. DiBattista gave her customers the whole truth. The most atrocious and cruelest of conditions were caught on tape at Hudson Valley. Ducks were being kept in individual isolation cages where they couldn't even spread their wings let alone walk, denied water to swim in (vital to water bird health). Ducks were also found sick and dying of aspiration pneumonia, lying dead in their own vomit, their livers exploding from being overstuffed with food, suffocation, aspiration pneumonia, and asphyxiation secondary to force-feeding. All at Hudson Valley.
Finally, this is not the first time we have heard the "we sold more foie gras than ever before" line. In fact, just about every one of our former foie gras campaign restaurant targets have told us this exact same thing, and just about every one of them eventually agreed to stop selling foie gras. It is irrelevant whether or not more foie gras is temporarily sold in the meantime at a restaurant, as the goal of the campaign is to permanently end the sale of foie gras at the restaurant completely.
The production and slaughter of animals in general is never going to be pretty, that's just the fact of the matter. You have pictures of sick animals etc... Has it ever occurred to you that any situation where animals are put together for extended periods of time, a certain percentage of them will get sick and die? It seems that you're so worried about focusing on foie gras production, that you're neglecting the cows, chickens and other animals that are heading to slaughter to feed this nation. By focusing on foie gras alone, you seem like extremists to the average person.
While we have already addressed the issue of vegan outreach and how it helps many other species who are unfortunately also victims of animal agriculture, it is great that Ms. DiBattista has so succinctly hit upon one of the main reasons why animal agribusiness and the mass confinement of animals is an inherently cruel system. Although we have to say if she is so sincerely concerned about the problems inherent to the animal agriculture system and about the "cows, chickens, and other animals" who she feels VFA is "neglecting,” she might want to personally consider a career change that is more in line with her ethics and values.
We don't offer foie gras all the time, it's a special item that shows up on our menu occasionally. Just like other products that are available on occasion.
Foie gras is available as a regular menu item on Bite Bistro's menu, as well as frequently served during special events. During the week of VFA's original announcement to target Bite Bistro regarding its foie gras sales, the item appeared on a special tasting menu, clearly advertised on Bite Bistro's facebook. Coincidence? Furthermore, if Ms. DiBattista is telling the truth when she says customers ordered foie gras after receiving our flyers the night of the protest, that means foie gras was immediately available that night for purchase. All this leads us to conclude that foie gras is avaiable much more frequently than Ms. DiBattista cares to admit. However, even if foie gras was only sold on occasion at Bite Bistro, that does not in any way excuse or justify its continued sale.
I took the plunge in opening this business, I took the financial risk, and I put in the work and effort, and sleepless nights. Your organization has nothing to do with my business. Protesting something on our menu is just fine. But who do you think you are to DEMAND that we remove something that we serve on occasion (that is LEGAL, by the way)? You're not the law, you're not the authority, you're just an opinion. I encourage your organization to open a "Voices for Animals" restaurant. That way you can serve the things that you feel are proper, and you can really feel good about it. Actually, there are many open storefronts in Bellevue, I can send you the information if you'd like. Once you're the one that is taking the risk of opening a business, and you're the one that is putting in the countless hours and work, let me know.
VFA begs to differ that we have nothing to do with Ms. DiBattista's business. We are an animal rights organization and our mission is to actively oppose animal abuse and exploitation. When Bite Bistro insists on supporting animal suffering by continuing to sell a product that is produced with so much cruelty that its production has been banned in over 12 countries, their business becomes VFA's, as the afflicted animals have no voice.
Ms. DiBattista's continually significant emphasis on the law and legality of selling foie gras completely misses the point that, as countless examples throughout history and in our present society have shown us, just because something is legal does not make it ethical.
While VFA is not interested or funded enough to accept Ms. DiBattista's offer to sell us on a Bellevue storefront, we can speculate as to why her offer may stand as though opening a restaurant is any person's simple and free will.
I hear that your organization is 800 members strong? Perhaps you should take your 800 members and protest on the lawns of the lawmakers? Why aren't you protesting to get the law changed? Maybe you don't want the law to change, then what would you have to protest and stand for? By protesting the businesses that are serving legal products, you're really just keeping the ducks and geese in the same position. Go and protest the law, and save the animals.
Ms. DiBattista seems to have a certain degree of naivete when it comes to laws and how easily she thinks they can be changed. The current legislative system is one mired with problems given its corruption by moneyed interests; the animal agriculture industry is one of the most powerful and wealthiest of these interests. The industry can afford to employ a whole host of lobbyists who can work endlessly to write laws that favor the industry and kill any legislation which opposes its profit-making practices. In other words, the laws are written by and for these wealthy and powerful industries. This is why all birds, including ducks and geese, are exempt from "humane slaughter" laws, and why many of the cruelest animal agribusiness practices, such as debeaking, tail docking, and the mass killing of newborn male chicks by the egg industry, are all legal and exempt from animal cruelty laws, as long as it's considered "standard and routine industry practice." Furthermore, since animals are considered property under the law and are not considered as sentient beings with their own needs and interests, laws can only currently serve to regulate systems of exploitation at best, rather than eliminate them. It's nothing short of a miraculous occurrence when a law that genuinely benefits animals manages to break through this industry's wall of opposition. When such a rarity does occur however, animal advocates have to fight fiercely to keep these laws on the books, and even when they do there is always the possibility that the laws will be overturned. The recent case of the ban on the sale of foie gras in Chicago is sadly a good example of this. Activists fought tirelessly in Chicago to introduce and ultimately pass a ban on the sale of foie gras throughout the city, only to have a coalition of wealthy restaurant owners and other industry leaders form to effectively overturn the ban about a year later. The system is clearly rigged to allow the most powerful and wealthy to break rules and fix the odds overwhelmingly in their favors.
This is why VFA's limited time and efforts seem much better spent informing restaurant owners of the realities of foie gras production and putting pressure on individual restaurants towards making the ethical decision to permanently remove foie gras from their menus.
Do you really think that protesting a 40 seat restaurant in a one square mile town in Pennsylvania is the way to spend your efforts? Freezing your asses off in the sleet, wind and snow?
If Ms. DiBattista is asking us whether it's worth the time and mild discomfort of being cold to speak out for animals and take action that can result in adding one more nail to the foie gras industry's coffin, the answer is absolutely.
If you agree, join us for future Bite Bistro protests!