Are You a Vegetarian?

lovely-football“Hi. I wonder if you know if the meat you serve is cage free?”

I’ve asked that question to a large number of people over the past 6 months, or has it been a year. I don’t think it really matters. What does matter is the response.

At a local restaurant Scarborough Fair I asked the waitress if she knew or could find out. The chef scoffed at the question and basically said ‘Such a stupid question! Of COURSE it is cage free! You imbecile! What else would I cook with.. Hmm!? OK, sure, that wasn’t exactly what he said but the sentiment and the general intention match his reply.

I ordered the meal. The chicken was amazing!

Why wasn’t it noted on the menu? That. I don’t know or understand.

I asked someone in California Pizza Kitchen… ENNNNHN! Nope. No luck there.

Recently I asked the gentlemen behind the counter of Koffee Too in New Haven and was told “No. We can’t guarantee that the chicken blah blah blah” replied the more senior employee. Next followed the strange question. “Are you a vegetarian?”

Have had the same experience in Hamden at Eli’s the day before I reeled for a brief moment then promptly said “No. I just prefer to eat free range.” My mood was panicked because I needed food in a desperate way. The employees shot options my way, I looked back and forth ready to say ‘Just give me a muffin.’ but saw just in time… Grilled Cheese. Phew.

But the strange experience of having two people ask me if I am a vegetarian really threw me. I have asked if the meat is free ranged with the intent of ordering food that would fit said category. But for some unknown reason I’m being asked if I don’t eat meat.

Why am I asking about the meat in a specific way with interest if I don’t eat it? I do believe I’m in a new grey area which will be frustrating and tiresome but ultimately healthy so I’m certain to stick to my guns.

Nope. I’m not all about the Atkins style. I don’t like my steak. And burgers are a once a quarter or bi-annual meal. I enjoy a good burger. But sure as rain I prefer beef that does not have antibiotics, growth hormones, tumors, or any other foreign substance in it. Call me crazy. The same thing goes for chicken.

Is this really a far reaching idea? Hell, just last month Wolfgang Puck said he is only going to use free range meat in his meals now because he feels responsible as a chef. He said recently “It’s not just about reducing obesity and diabetes, though that’s obviously a priority. It’s about getting every one of us to eat the right foods”

hello chtulhu ribbonsOn the topic of chicken he said “…all of the chicken I buy, even for my Wolfgang Puck frozen pizzas, will have been raised cage-free.” Now that’s wonderful but how can someone guarantee that it is actually cage-gree Wolfgang? “To make certain things stay above-board, I’ve hired someone who will police my purveyors. I want to ensure that everything labeled organic really is, and that no veal calf that finds its way into my kitchen lived its life chained inside a box.”

He’s not going soft “or, heaven forbid, vegan” he is simply paying attention to the food served to his customers. I applauded him in May and I continue to do so now. Side note – read his entire article below or here.

The strangest responses I’ve witnessed have been from older generations that don”t know what is happening in the market place. They don’t know that the food they’re buying is not the same food they bought a decade, or two, ago. The eggs are flimsy and break from the slightly fall. The milk has been processed and includes more chemicals than they thought could be allowed into the drink.

I’m in a unique position where I will be considered difficult… And I eat meat! Now THAT is entertaining stuff.

If I was a vegetarian I could simply ask for the meat to be kept off my meal. Sure I’d be charged the same price as if the meat was included – Bah! – but I’d be happy with my meal. If I didn’t care where the meat came from or what was in it I’d order away and fill up on meat and other stuff.

But me. Well, I’d like to know what I’m putting in my body but I’m not going the selective route of cutting out meat. I enjoy it on occasion. It isn’t a staple part of my life nor do I want it to be.

But I am not a vegetarian and I am not going to promote the Atkin’s Diet. Serve me up a plate of locally grown vegetables and fruits along with free range chicken or beef if you wouldn’t mind.

Or, if none of that is available, the panini grilled cheese with a tomato. Right. Thanks.

Original article

Wolfgang Puck: I Want Animals to Be Happy
That veal calf may end up as wiener schnitzel, but one of our greatest chefs wants it to have a happy life first.

By Wolfgang Puck
Newsweek

May 7, 2007 issue – I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how it’s up to chefs like me to help everyone stay healthy. It’s not just about reducing obesity and diabetes, though that’s obviously a priority. It’s about getting every one of us to eat the right foods. That means buying produce from responsible farmers who grow fruits and vegetables that aren’t covered with pesticides or genetically modified. It means getting meat from ranchers who not only shun the use of antibiotics and growth hormones, but also raise their animals humanely in a free-roaming environment.

I’m not going soft, or, heaven forbid, vegan. I’m just trying to be more accountable to myself, my customers and to those who are farming responsibly. And if it means being nicer to animals along the way, well, that’s a big bonus. Why shouldn’t cows and pigs feel sunlight on their backs, grass under their feet? Fish shouldn’t be jammed into tanks too full for them to even think about swimming. They should be able to exercise their muscles and feel a current. Yes, they’ll be killed for food—but until then, they should have a nice stay on Earth.

You might say this is ridiculous. Why does it matter how an animal is reared, since you know from the start that it’s going to be slaughtered? But I have had a change of heart. I want to be more outspoken about the treatment of animals. I care that a veal calf—yes, even one that’s destined to become wiener schnitzel at one of my Spago restaurants—doesn’t live out his days in a crate that’s too small for him to stand. As for foie gras, my customers and I can easily live without it.

Why did I adopt this new culinary philosophy? I’d been thinking about it for some time when the Humane Society of the United States, a Washington, D.C.-based animal-welfare organization, approached me last year about changing my menu to use ingredients exclusively from humane farmers. And I thought the time was right to make the switch, to lead by example. You might say I’ve been living this way all my life, from the time I was a young boy in Unterbergen, Austria. We never stocked cans in our pantry. Instead, we ate summer fruit in the summer and winter vegetables when the weather turned cold, just as nature intended. Our chickens were raised to run about the property, and were fed a wholesome diet. Our cows didn’t know a thing about bovine growth hormones. And the food tasted better.

This year, Spago turns 25. I am proud of how my 90-seat restaurant in L.A. evolved into a vast food company serving more than 10 million customers each year. But it’s not the past quarter-century that’s on my mind. It’s how I will manage my company for the next 25 years that’s consuming me. So here’s what I promise to do for a second act. In all of my restaurants, catering businesses, licensed foods and takeout establishments, I’m committed to using organic ingredients and humanely raised meats and fish. By the end of the year, all of the chicken I buy, even for my Wolfgang Puck frozen pizzas, will have been raised cage-free. The veal on my Spago menu is now free-range. To make certain things stay above-board, I’ve hired someone who will police my purveyors. I want to ensure that everything labeled organic really is, and that no veal calf that finds its way into my kitchen lived its life chained inside a box.

And it won’t stop with the food. Our society is too reliant on disposable packaging that sits for eternity in a landfill. I drive through the streets of Beverly Hills and can’t help but notice that this city has the largest garbage cans I’ve ever seen. It’s not that bad people live in Beverly Hills, it’s just that the more affluent a society we are, the more we tend to throw away. By the end of the year, I’ll replace all of my plastic to-go bags with recycled paper, and I’ll use more environmentally friendly containers.

I’m hoping other chefs will follow suit. If I can get my foods from responsible ranchers and farmers and feed millions of people each year—and not raise prices—then chefs who cook for smaller audiences can do this, too. And one by one, we’ll all benefit. The way I see it, our future will be filled with more chefs and fewer doctors.

© 2007 MSNBC.com

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