April 18, 2012 in Food

Forum opens dialogue on ethics of eating

Audience urged to learn where meat comes from
By The Spokesman-Review
 
File photo

Chef Jeremy Hansen who owns Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie with his wife, Kate, prides himself on making house-cured meats.
(Full-size photo)

The critics who prompted the owners of Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie to host a forum on ethical eating either did not attend or were silent during last week’s meeting.

Restaurant owners Jeremy and Kate Hansen invited community members to come to talk about concerns about foie gras served at Santé, as well as other issues related to the ethics of eating after a flurry of comments were posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The notes were in response to a description of the way a rabbit was killed at Santé during a demonstration of skinning, cleaning and butchering rabbits by Novella Carpenter, an Oakland, Calif., author and urban farmer.  

The Hansens said some of the comments were threatening and were later taken down by the authors. Commenters also said the restaurant should stop serving foie gras over concerns for how the animals are fed while they are raised.

Lawyer Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of Spokane’s Center For Justice, who is a vegetarian, moderated the April 10 discussion. Also on the panel were:

• Jeremy Hansen, Santé owner and executive chef;

• Beth Robinette, of Lazy R Beef and a fourth generation cattle rancher;

• Craig Goodwin, a Presbyterian pastor, farmers market manager and author who wrote about his family’s efforts to eat local foods in “Year of Plenty”;

• Pete Tobin, an instructor at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at Spokane Community College.

Hansen choked up during his introduction when talking about how personal the attacks felt to him and his family. “The subject that we’re talking about here means a lot to me and the work that I do,” he said. “We’re not perfect here. We do the best we can.”

The restaurant is committed to buying animals that are raised in good conditions by local farmers. Santé chefs butcher and use almost every part of the animals in the restaurant’s meals and charcuterie. The freezers are full of livers and kidneys from cows and pigs, and those organs will eventually be used for pate and other dishes. Hansen added that he sometimes has to fight with the USDA slaughterhouse to save the animals’ organs, which are routinely thrown away.

For those who choose to eat meat, Santé is the “ethical gold standard” in Spokane, Goodwin said. It is the wrong target for those who are critical of the factory farming system that provides meat to most restaurants and grocery stories in the United States, he added. 

Eichstaedt started the question-and-answer portion of the forum by asking panelists whether it is ethical to eat meat at all. 

Tobin said most people in the area don’t believe taking an animal’s life for meat is unethical, but he said meat eaters have a responsibility to ensure that animals were not tortured during their short lives and that the meat was not wasted. All eaters, including vegetarians, should take responsibility for ensuring the food they eat is raised sustainably.

Robinette said her family encourages customers to visit the ranch to see how the animals are raised. About half of them have come to see the grazing operation. She said she takes a moment to reflect on the animal that died to provide her nourishment each time she eats. 

“If everyone did that … our food system would change dramatically,” she said.

Hansen took it one step further. “It is unethical to eat meat if you don’t know where it is coming from,” he said. He said he hopes to use the restaurant to help teach people about the ethical, environmental and health effects of their eating decisions.

The panel members also spoke briefly about foie gras in response to a question from Eichstaedt. 

Tobin said that after watching videos about how geese are fed to produce fat livers for foie gras, it’s easy to forget that many other animals are raised specifically to meet consumer demands and how much of those animals are wasted.

Goodwin said it seemed wrong to zero in on the small demand for foie gras when consumers are “surrounded by a horror show of industrial meat production” every day. “That is what our focus should be on,” he said.

In response to audience questions the forum became more of a primer on local eating.

Members of the panel encouraged people to ask restaurants and grocery stores more questions about the food and meat they sell. They told audience members if they have concerns about where their food comes from, they should talk to local ranchers and buy from them directly. Expect to eat less meat and pay more for it, they said, but eat seasonally and grow a few things in your own backyard. Learn to cut up a whole chicken and use it all, they advised.

Afterward, Hansen said he didn’t regret hosting the panel even though he wasn’t able to answer to critics. The conversation surrounding local eating, sustainable foods and the ethical implications of raising animals for food is an important one to have in a community, he said.

They hope to keep that dialogue open by hosting future events on the topic. To that end, they created a Facebook group where announcements about future events will be posted. Find it by searching for “Spokane – Eating Ethically” on the social media site.

Santé Restaurant and Charcuterie is at 404 W. Main Ave. in downtown Spokane.


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