Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Buying Local - Even When You Eat Out!

An article caught my eye in the paper this past week about another Grand Rapids' restaurant jumping on the "local" bandwagon.

Rockwell's Kitchen and Tap, and Republic, located at 45 S. Division, are actually two distinct restaurants situated next door to each other, sharing a kitchen, but with different flavors and atmospheres. Rockwell's is an American pub, while Republic is a bit more upscale.

According the the GR Press, co-owner, Peter Hamm said he will emphasize using local produce, when its available. It doesn't stop there either, locally made art work adorns the walls.

Both Rockwell's Kitchen and Tap, and Republic join other restaurants in the area that are choosing to create a healthy community by supporting a sustainable and humane food system. Other restaurants doing the same are Bistro Bella Vita, The Green Well, Marie Catrib's and Naya. If you know of any I'm missing, please be sure to let me know by commenting below!

When choosing where to eat out, I'm happy to have another choice that seeks to protect the integrity of the natural environment and our resources. This should be something we should all be thinking about, whether its purchasing an air conditioner from the mom & pop shop down the street, or going to Best Buy. I am even more happy to support businesses that support a humane food system. In fact, there are a few restaurants in town that I refuse to go to because they serve foie gras, refuse to take it off the menu, and do not respond to my letters (*cough cough* Restaurant Bloom and Six One Six).

The entire article can be found on Mlive. Be sure to stop in and say hello. Thank them for buying local, and spread the word of the Coop while you're there.


Super Bon Bon said...

Restaurant Bloom! on the corner of Division and Monroe Center (across from the Police Station). Chef Miller's mission is local sustainable ingredients - without plastering 'LOCAL' advertising everywhere. Bloom is a really good secret that needs to get out. They recently had a second food review in the GR Press weekender as well.

Kolene said...

Super Bon Bon - I have sent 3 letters to Restaurant Bloom since December asking them to talk to me! They have NEVER responded. I find it irresponsible that any restaurant would serve foie gras. The production of foie gras is so cruel, it has been banned in Chicago and the entire state of California, as well as most European countries.

All I am asking is for them to acknowledge my letter and start a dialogue. Is that so hard?

Until then, I'll continue telling people that their secret is that they serve food produced in one of the most disgusting, torturous way!

Ryan said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Kolene, and respectfully disagree with Super Bon Bon - how can a business claim to suport "sustainability" and then also support an archaic, inhumane practice that has been banned in Los Angeles and Chicago? Fois Gras is as unethical, cruel, and inhumane as it gets - all in the name of "delicacy". Any chef that would serve this may claim many things, but sustainability is not one of them. The "secret that needs to get out" is the truth about how our food is really prepared, and the businesses in this town that choose fashionability over ethics.

Danielle said...

I agree with the majority here. Even if Restaurant Bloom boasts a commitment to it's community, all of that supposed good will is negated by supporting an archaic and cruel treatment of animals. For anyone who has the stomach to see what goes into the production of foie gras, check this out, and see if you'd still like to support Bloom.

Gail Philbin said...

I agree with the majority as well. I, too, tried to enlighten the Bloom staff when it first opened on Cherry Street. My husband and I went there and the food was good (even if they were fashionably small, yet overpriced portions)but I saw they had fois gras on the menu and when I asked about where they got their meat, it was clear the waitress didn't have a clue that local doesn't mean humane. So I left a Farms Without Harm brochure and told the waitress it would be great if they used some of those farmers' products. Again, her silence spoke volumes. I was really turned off with their whole approach to customer feedback.

GreggR said...

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but foie gras is again a useable product in Chicago.

Kolene said...

@ Greggr - Unfortunately, I did hear that. :( However, I still believe it is irresponsible for any restaurant to serve it, not in our town! I'll continue to pressure them to pull it from their menu and tell everyone I know to avoid that place until they do so!

Mike said...

It is nice to know that more local restaurants are serving local, sustainable food. And to know which restaurants are doing this. Thanks Kolene.

I guess I'm more naive than I previously thought. I've heard of fois gras and I although I've never eaten it, I also never knew how it was produced. Thanks to Danielle I now know the gory details. (Danielle, I am not being flippant here, I really do appreciate being enlightened.)

It is sad that people would continue to eat such a thing after knowing that animals suffer needlessly to produce it. Perhaps the original (but now lifted) ban in Chicago will prompt others to seek more information on how fois gras is produced and as a result choose to not support such barbaric practices. I did read that many Chicago restaurants are choosing to not serve fois gras now despite the lifiting of the ban.

Someone once said "you cannot legislate morality", and although I don't know if that is true, we can educate people so they will hopefully make wiser, more humane choices in the future. We will strive to do just that.

Kolene said...

Thanks for your comment Mike! I agree, even though it is not an actual law, I would hope that the people in my city make the choice to not support a product created in such a disgusting manner. I have to believe that since only a few restaurants (that I know of) in our city actually serve something so atrocious, that this isn't something widespread. Maybe it is an ignorance thing, but once I sent 2 letters to them explaining my concerns, they have no more excuses to not behave responsively. They can't support a local food system and purchase a product that goes against everything a decent human being would find despicable. It just doesn't work that way.

I also find it irresponsible that they can ignore any potential customer's concerns, even if they disagree. A simple "Thank you for your letter but we will continue serving foie gras for these reasons..." would have sufficed.

Ryan said...

I am reminded of the movie the Freshman with Mathew Broderick and Marlon Brando - in this film one of the main climaxes of the movie was an elitist high-society under-the-radar-of-the-law high ticket $$$$ banquet where the aristocrats would purchase meals made of endangered animals (like the komodo dragon). For them, and maybe the proprietors of restaurant Bloom, an attempt at creating a mystique of elegance with their establishment at whatever the cost and with disregard to what being "classy" really means. The most extreme analogy I can think of - and I apologize for the imagery - but if the preparing of human children became a delicacy, would one prepare it if the demand was there? Would we brag to have this type of fine cuisine on our menus? Or would our morality set in and we would do what we know in our heart is right? When cruelty becomes vogue, I fear for advancement and loose faith in utopia. I'll say it again, there is more to being a business with class than having beautiful drapes and stylish table settings. Ethical practices and a true regard for what their customers want is what makes a business "local". Restaurant Bloom confuses elitism and class with having class.

Ryan said...

Sorry to beat this horse to death - I just thought this was a hilarious excerpt from their website considering their current practices: "...with an emphasis on high quality, organic, local and natural products." and ..."this just makes the world a better place."

Either one of two things is happening 1. Buying an occasional brick of local cheese clears the conscience. or 2. Bottomline, they just don't care.

I wager they like the sound of referring to themselves with "high-quality, organic" but to them, its a means to an end - Obvious they are using buzzwords that they think people want, but really don't believe it themselves.

bloom said...

hello, chad here from restaurant bloom (partner/chef). i appreciate all the concern and discussion. we have encountered many comments before on our use of foie gras, and appreciate them all. i am very aware on how foie gras is produced, and find it very offensive when people assume i dont. i am very active in all of my purchases, whether it be produce, meat, fish, coffee, ect. i live by the old adige " a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." and most people have very little actual knowledge on the subject, this rings especially true on the internet blog that has become so "fashionable." first, i will address the restaurants that serve foie gras. two were listed, us, and you should have done your research. republic had it on their menu when they opened, it is on the 1913 rooms menu, bistro bella vita runs it as a special quite often, the chop house has it on their menu as well, naya has used it on occasion as has judsons steakhouse. other restaurants in the area that use it are journeymans cafe in fennville, and sprout restaurant in kalamazoo. so, there are a few more place to whom you can send letters. many of the awful pictures that you see on the internet are from foie gras farms overseas, or some to the north in canada. ourselves, and none of the restaurants i mentioned, procure foie gras from anywhere outside the u.s. hudson valley foie gras in new york, and au bon canard foie gras. both of these farms are small, organic, family run operations that are very respectable. they are not in it for the money, they respect the animals, and treat them with necessary care. the farms that i would be more concerned about, are large scale beef and poultry farms that most restaurant use in products from gordons or sysco. these are where the real problems lie. mass production, mass disease, and mass mistreatment of animals. why are we focusing on this one product that is very humanely raised, and has much better living areas than many many other farms. some misconceptions that follow foie gras are that force feeding is painful and cruel. this is not true. all water fowl do not have a gag reflex, which is why the can swallow large fish and amphibians whole. when they are fed this causes mild if any discomfort. the fattened liver of geese and duck was discovered by hunters in colder months when the animals would start to bulk up for cold weather and head south. they enjoyed the fatter liver and then souught to replicate it. there are bad foie gras farms, i will not deny that. but no more than there are bad chicken, beef, pork, and fish hatcheries. it is our goal to find out more about the individual farms and fisherman and only buy respectable product. animals that are raised poorly and distressed do not taste good, no more than a zucchini that fell off the plant and is half rotting tastes good. i would not buy a half rotten vegetable at the farmers market, no sooner than i would buy a half dead cow or pig. that would be ridiculous. i also dont appreciate all the comments with saying that we are using buzzwords and not being truthful, etc etc etc. its awfully easy to sit at your keyboard and criticize. one brick of local cheese, come on man, that is extremely offensive. i put a lot of effort into my selections, and yeah we do buy a few bricks of local cheese, and local bread, produce, beef, poultry, eggs, beer, wine, dairy, coffee and a few others. you dont have to eat foie gras, you dont have to agree with it, and you can even not eat at my restaurant if you wish not to. but dont hate on all of our practices because of one product. its very small minded and rude. many problems in the world today stem from a lack of respect for one other. i respect your right to find it wrong and omit it from your diet, but you should respect my right to serve it and enjoy it. i find it disgusting that 95% of restaurants in town serve asparagus out of season. do you realize that this asparagus is coming from underpaid farmers in mexico or south america and being put on a plane and flown here overnight, and then loaded onto a semi and driven hundreds of miles to its destination. this is irresponsible and unnecessary, and by the time you get it its not even fresh and barely resembles any kind of asparagus that i grew up eating. and to ms. kolene, i would love to respond to your letter, and wish i had more time to, but quite frankly i have to focus on my business and dont have a lot of time to respond to bad mouthing hate mail. and in regards to the use of the word fashionability in foie gras. ????? what is so fashionable about it? how is it any more fashionable than a sustainably raised chicken, a locally made cheese, a nice baguette from nantucket bakery. which, by the way, marthas vineyard and g.b russo's market also serve several foie gras products. again, i understand everyones concern and i think its great that people are attempting to educate themselves on food practices, that is commendable. but how far do you take it? i think the sale and purchase of any suv is extremely irresponsible, but im not writting letters to fox motors of harold ziegler telling them to pull em off the lot. and im not putting hate notes on people who drive hummer h3s and telling them that they dont support the troops in iraq. i might like to, but truth is they have the right to their decisions and i respect that. i will just ride my bike to work everyday and do my part, and hope and pray that they dont run me over. in closing, sorry if it offends you, my advice would be to not be so easily offended. i guarantee that each and everyone of you does something that i would disagree with but i will not judge on one practice alone. if i sit down to have a beer with you and cant stand you, so be it, but dammit i will try to love you. thats all i ask for, a little mutual respect. no more bad mouthing please. im not a bad guy, i just have different view points. we all do dont we? check out for a contrasting view point if you wish.

Kolene said...

First of all, let me say that I'm happy that it's only taken you 7 months to respond to my "bad mouthing hate mail." Chad, when I emailed you today I included a copy of my original letter sent back in January, in which I respectfully requested to discuss the matter with you. That letter was nothing but professional and respectful. If focusing on your business does not include responding to your customers concerns, than it may be time for you to hire some PR. I am not the only one in town that will not patronize your restaurant because of this issue, I can assure you of that.

This blog is certainly not the forum for us to discuss this now, even though it seems to be the one thing that has gotten a reaction from you. As I've said 3 times, please contact me if you would like to discuss this. You have all my contact info, email, phone, and home.

Ryan said...

In response to Chad (Bloom), maybe it is easy to be critical while sitting at a keyboard, but by the sound of it, it seems you had months of opportunities to respond to the issue they presented you and prevent it being discussed on a public forum. Your lack of response opened a call-to-action for an issue that needed to be heard. My past responses were based on what seemed to be your apathy, and although I am happy we actually are hearing from you, I am responding now to what seems to be, sadly, not your being genuine - but seemingly you are more feeling hurt that someone is criticizing your business (and unfortunately your character)and your reaction is "defense-mode" instead of addressing the concerns presented in a way that encourages a resolution or compromise. I read Kolene's original letter in her post, and it was nothing short of respectful. She deserved a respectful reply 6 months ago.

Every businessman should make time to respond to customer feedback. Not having time in lieu of running your business is a paradox - responding to customers is running your business.

I hear what you are saying though, and under other circumstances I would even agree with a lot of your logic. I even feel bad that your feelings are probably hurt. You probably had that awful feeling in the back of your throat and in your gut when reading these comments...? I wonder how those birds feel?

In all seriousness, I do relate to you are just trying to make a business you are proud of. But your pro-sustainability comments actually make your use of foie gras even less defensible. If you really believe the things you are saying, I don't know any other way of convincing you. The words "serves foie gras" and "local/sustainable business" could never be in the same sentence. Maybe I have more to learn about the reality of fois gras, as you say, but it seems you have a lot to learn about the organizations in this city who are defining what local and sustainable and ethical means. Its one or the other - my comment about the cheese was not meant to be a jab. I was getting at a point - example: a person can't erect an orphanage but then dump toxic sludge in the river and expect a humanitarian award - the two efforts cancel each other out. I commend you for your choice to buy from local farmers, but there are organizations and citizens in this city who are not likely to applaud your efforts at buying local if you cancel out the gesture with participating in an atrocious practice, whether you convince yourself it is not atrocious or not.

No farm that I have ever been on included force feeding an animal in their "treating of necessary care". I have a gag reflex too, but if someone forcefully fed me every day to the point where my liver expanded twice its size, I doubt the offender could hardly use the defense that I am experiencing "only mild discomfort, if any".

You said, "...i respect your right to find it wrong and omit it from your diet, but you should respect my right to serve it and enjoy it...." Analogy: That would be like saying I should quietly and personally be opposed to torture, but I should respect your right to lock up and beat your kids. I would expect anyone to speak their voice in the name of what is right or wrong. All animals have a right to a normal life. Even ones raised for food. You can list a hundred injustices, it doesn't defend this one on your part.

Your mention of other businesses that do it to - well, that's kind of like the time I was 8 and got in trouble for ________ and justified it by listing all the other kids that were doing it too. Sorry you seemed to be singled out on this one, but others doing it doesn't make it any more right.

Expecting businesses to avoid unethical practices is not blind hate. No one is singling you out. But you opened the door for criticism when making a claim of the importance of "natural organic products" and then avoiding a specific pointed question (of a practice you now proudly defend).

I will agree with you that problems in this world get solved by listening to each other. Maybe you will re-evaluate your belief on this one. I am sure you are a good person, and feel you are being wrongly attacked. But its those birds that are being attacked. A life with tubes and diseased organs in not a life. That enough I know. Strive to be the best local sustainable business in a real way, not just on the surface. Until then, you won't get support from the sustainable community. Good luck.

bloom said...

one more. this will be all. again, we appreciate your concern. i will however not continue to hash out this arguement. i know both sides of the story, i respect both views. i have had this discussion with many people before, even vegan customers of ours who completely disagree, but respect my decision and still allow me to cook for them very regularly. we agree to disagree, and both continue to fight for what we believe in and i encourage you all to do the same. i have already stated the reasons why i did not respond. several have said that i was running a bad business by not responding to my customers, but in an email i received on the subject, it was said that the person would not eat at the restaurant because of foie gras. how does that make one a customer if they refuse to come in? i was told by one guest of ours that if i take foie gras off the menu, she will not come back. i could potentially lose one very loyal customer to gain a few who have never even been in and already hold a grudge. it was proven again, why responding to such things has proven ineffective and only taken time away from my day. if you wish not to patronize us for one item, then fine. but im sure many of you stop at marthas to buy wine, or stop at nantucket for some baked goods, or eat at bistro bella vita occasionally or a restaurant in the gilmore collection. i think its interesting to not patronize us for this item, but to continue to possibly patronize the others. if im singled out, thats fine because i will stand up for what i believe. i have given this topic much thought time and time again. i have visited a foie gras farm in the u.s and saw nothing that showed me the animals were being treated cruely or inhumanely. im not trying to persuade anyone to eat foie gras if they think the animals experience discomfort or any other animal for that matter. the farm where i was and where i purchase my product left me with no guilt. i do strive to be local, more and more so every week. i do not see how being sustainable has anything to do with serving foie gras however, it is raised organically. i am sorry that i do not have your support, i truely am, but you have to stand for what you believe, as do i. this will be all from me. i dont think either of us will be changing our minds anytime soon. again, i wish to offend no one with my actions, but it is inevitible. i was offended that my restaurant was attacked for serving a product that i have no contension with, but others do. many muslims and christians alike think drinking alcoholic beverages is a sin and immoral. do you think i should stop serving wine?? i do care, i put a lot of time into caring. post a comment response if you will, but rest assured i will not respond. i respect you all for your decisions, i just wonder that if maybe we were friends before i had this restaurant if you might allow me to entertain you at a dinner party if i on occasion, cooked foie gras in my home.

Ryan said...

I really do appreciate yor responses, believe it or not. I think if we were friends before this, I would be more inclined to want you to change.

You make some good points with your comparisons - but are forgetting one key difference: you are taking the stance (from your website, as well as certain things you have implied) that "organic", and "naturally produced" are things that your business is all about, but then practice something that arguably contradicts your claim. No one expects you to buy organic all the time, but if one of your signature items is the polar ewxtreme of these terms, then red flags go up and I think anyone would have just claim to question your agenda.

I also still think you should have responded to her in the beginning at the very least.

The final thing I will say is, I’m sure the little old witch had lots of great excuses and logic for locking up Hansel and Gretel and fattening them up with cakes and pies, and she probably didn't feel she was doing anything wrong either; but none of those justifications are going to stop me from informing the townspeople of her gingerbread malpractice. I'm sorry it has to be that way. Good luck.

Derryle said...

I agree with Restaurant Bloom, I am a young Chef in this town fresh out of culinary school; I have a strong view that foie gras is not only delicious, but also not inhumane, if you do a little research, and stop listening to bias opinions of PETA and other websites that use pictures from other countries. Those other countries are also quite inhumane with many things they produce, the ducks and geese that are being produced for foie gras, are living better lives than any KFC or Tyson chicken farms, its just that its easy to find shocking images of foie gras farms so the PETA people choose to attack them. ALSO serving foie has nothing to do with sustainability, local products, or safe agriculture, you shouldn't pick on the restaurants that are trying to serve you fresh local ingredients, go picket KFC or Tyson and stop bothering the hard working, local business owners that are making a difference in this incredibly close minded town.

Gail Philbin said...

Wow. This is a helluva discussion. I'd just like to say two things:

1)I don't eat foie gras or any meat or dairy because of the way most farm animals are raised today.

2) I think the chef at Bloom has demonstrated an uncommon effort to try to understand the source of the products he uses and the issue of factory farming and cruelty in modern agriculture. I applaud that effort. He didn't come to the conclusion I would come to, but I sincerely appreciate the self-education on the topic he obviously has done.