Written by : Heather Clemenceau
(All images copyright Heather Clemenceau – use with permission only)
On Friday, April 27th, I attended the protest rally in support of Canadian and American horses, held at La Palette restaurant in Queen West, where many conscience-driven protesters have maintained vigil for about two months now.
La Palette, co-owned by bike-culture enthusiast Shamez Amlani, is one of the few holdouts in Toronto still serving horsemeat, other restaurants having capitulated long ago that horsemeat was at best, of “indeterminate origin,” and at worst, a chemical cocktail of cruelly-derived meat that by Shamez’ own description is “offensive to the English population.” Having encouraged other French restauranteurs to boycott American booze, Shamez now finds himself on the receiving end of this very effective form of expression, which now includes the Humane Society groups of Canada.
While we’re unsure of La Palette’s customer demographics, Queen West itself is home to an eclectic mix of dodgy and/or unique retail shops, and the occasional art gallery and vintage clothes stores, primarily patronized by aging skinny-jeaned hipsters who have not quite retired from the 80s punk sub-culture scene. Most patrons tonight are sitting at the bar rather than eating, and appear to be made up of the local community rather than epicureans from old-world horse-eating countries.
I’d been forewarned that tensions had flared recently. While Shamez and some staff members were primarily confined to making sarcastic remarks or occasional outbursts, the worst invective actually came from their customers, who had in the past tried to taunt the protesters with horsemeat or stories of their own animal cruelty. Peaceful protesters were taunted about their weight and appearance etc. and on the 27th, these taunts reached critical mass.
The first 2 hours of a 3 hour planned protest (all protest-related paperwork is duly prepared by the organizers and forwarded to the proper authorities) were uneventful – protesters politely engaged various passersby who expressed a mix of curiosity, skepticism, and often outright endorsement of our cause. We’ve even attracted a few “groupies.” At the start of hour 3 the ad hominem attacks went positively nuclear when two regular patrons, not known for swimming in the sane side of the pool, left the restaurant, walked directly and purposefully towards a group of vegan supporters and uttered a loud “Fuck You.”
“On second thought, I wouldn’t fuck you, because you are un-fuckable.” “I would rather fuck your dog.” This declared by an aging, pot-bellied misogynist asshat known for making these drive-by slurs, to a young woman, who didn’t even engage him verbally. Hell no – like any of us would waste our womanly charms on this sleazeball – not even if we’re faced with a fucking apocalypse. Anyway, while we’re accustomed to opposition or disagreement (which we handle with a quiet dignity), we stood by in astonishment while he continued his expletive-filled tirade, and his red-haired companion deciding to make her argument more emphatic by grasping a protester’s arm while arguing with her. And that folks, is an assault. In contrast, and with palpable coolness, the accosted protester did not react.
How far down the rabbit hole will we go tonight? Batten down the hatches folks, because it ain’t over yet – the shoutdowns now going nuclear, Shamez makes a dash outside just as the customers beat a hasty retreat (note to Shamez – you’d be proud, at least they left on foot and didn’t get into a gas-guzzling car). According to Shamez, the protesters have all increased his business three-fold via our “marketing efforts,” so he very theatrically pulls out his wallet and with a flourish, starts handing out money (one protester scores a $20) before he abruptly stops. Shamez, you had a $50 bill in that stash – where is the love?
At times raising his fist close to a protester’s face, Shamez completely abandoned any past pretense of politeness; he attempted to shout down our $20 recipient, invaded his space, and made many of us fearful that he was about to either pop a blood vessel or pop the protester. I’m left wondering if his protest against American booze went down like this?
After we make it plain that the customer started the incident, Shamez broke down and apologized on behalf of his clientele – “that should not have happened.” Of course it shouldn’t, but he needs a better class of customer. In the interim, the rest of us will be committed to getting in our six-cylinder SUVs to drive down to La Palette instead of riding our environmentally low-impact equines – those same ones he would like to serve up with a side of oats and carrots, under the guise of “multiculturalism.” Which of course begs the question, since horsemeat is purported by Shamez to be an ethnic dish, is this something that the ethnically-diverse Toronto should embrace?
Personally, I think this is a red-herring, because this is not what mutlculturalism means to me. While a lot of vegetarians, vegans, and horse lovers would not want to contemplate it, why not open a restaurant in any of the European countries that serve horse, because the vast majority of Canadians won’t eat it. Sure Shamez, we know your Canada includes Quebec, where horsemeat is popular in certain regions, but you’re not in Quebec.
And please, let’s be honest about what multiculturalism is not – it is not a defense of ethnic narcissism – whereby some groups appear to hold the opinion that they possess exclusive identities that are superior to other cultures. Multiculturalism is NOT an apology for limiting human rights or excusing cruel practices to either humans or animals. Canadians have universally shown that we do not accept Sharia law in our country, nor do we tolerate practices brought to our country that promote oppression, sexual harassment, genital mutilation, or oppression of those who express their sexuality or orientation differently than the majority. There are many viewpoints imported into Canada which should be left in the “old country” as they only serve to reinforce popular prejudice.
While I’m not suggesting that eating horsemeat is on a par with these crimes, I am making a point about multiculturalism and incrementalism as it applies to food handling and consumption, and the practice of desensitizing people to the eating of unusual foods without regard for how they are raised, obtained, or killed. Should Canadians be willing to accept the eating of dogs and cats in Canada, merely because it is accepted practice in some other locales in the world? Should we be afraid to critique the eating of Bear Paw soup because to do so might subject us to cries of “racism?” Witness the deluge of horsemeat-related opinion pieces coming out of the Toronto Sun (also noteworthy for it’s “Sunshine Girl” – another cultural anachronism). In the past few months we’ve observed numerous horsemeat articles by Toronto based newspapers, seemingly intent on softening up the market for horsemeat. Is it a mere coincidence that they are timed to coincide with the re-introduction of horsemeat to the La Palette menu? In my opinion, these articles have been published to attract attention. The authors of these opinion pieces have likely never spent a single day with a living horse, which is regrettable.
If they had, they would perhaps “get” much of the message we have been getting out to the public – that not only is horsemeat cruelly derived, it is not safe to consume non-food animals who have received drugs not intended for food animals, despite what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has asserted. That they do receive such drugs, not exclusive of Phenylbutazone (horse anti-inflammatory) is not in dispute. Claude Boissoneault, CFIA National Specialist, Red Meat Program, indicated to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) in October 2010 that in the past 5 years, 698 samples of equine meat was submitted for phenylbutazone testing. According to Agriculture Canada slaughter numbers, that is 0.18% of 385,339 horses slaughtered in 5 years – an abysmally weak cross section of testing. If the CFIA hasn’t had a single positive in eight years it doesn’t say much for the accuracy of their test. You can’t find a substance you’re not looking for.
On the other hand, the EU is doing a better job finding Phenylbutazone in their horsemeat supplies, a finding which is made all the more striking and relevant due to the “passporting” system in place in some EU countries. The passport system is intended to keep horses that have been given non-permissable drugs out of the food chain entirely, however as we can see from this link, even that system doesn’t work perfectly. Not only has drug-tainted horsemeat entered the food chain in Europe, it has been recalled long AFTER reaching consumers. What do these incidents in the EU suggest to you about the horsemeat supply in Canada, which uses the deeply-flawed EID document to “track” horses?
The writers of these articles may choose to consume meat that is not properly tested for safe consumption, but they are wrong to advise their readers to do the same, and the Toronto Sun and other papers should conduct better research. And of course, it goes without saying that we believe that Shamez is wrong to serve it.
Disagreement on this subject matter is unavoidable. This post is not about where you live or what you prefer to eat. Incrementalists and foodie-freaks equate strong criticism of their ideas with the idea that such criticism is a move to stifle their rights to eat whatever they wish. But the majority of people polled in Canada are opposed to horse slaughter – that’s where La Palette chooses to serve its horsemeat. So we will be there, asserting our right to peaceful assembly, until such time that reason prevails and perpetual hypocrite Shamez Amlani realises that our position on horsemeat is not much different from his position on cars or American liquor. Except of course, when you consider that horses are sensitive, sentient animals who generally start their lives as private pets, carriage horses, performance horses, children’s ponies, and cowboy steeds. So why is he still serving this product to his clientele?
(All images copyright Heather Clemenceau – use with permission only)