Written by Heather Clemenceau
All artwork/photography copyright Heather Clemenceau (use with permission only please)
Queen Street West in front of La Palette – where protesters against horsemeat have revived the lost art of honking. Here, tonight, honking is no longer interpreted as something hostile, like a rude gesture, or a jab in the side in a crowded elevator. Tonight, honkers in cars and on bicyclettes honk to reach out to us, and show support. We have determined, via direct scientific observation of the La Palette subjects, that the management DOES NOT support the social compact between us and the public. It does not seem to matter whether the honking is delivered via the delicate jangle of a bicycle bell, the tentative toot of a car horn, or in a full blast of a transport truck, they do not appreciate it. In fact, they roll the patio doors closed – on a sweltering hot June day – the patrons are being slowly cooked, quite unlike the tartare! La Palette co-owner Shamez enquired, rather like a host asking his guests who have overstayed their welcome, when we might be leaving? Normally, when I want my guests to leave, I start putting on the “showtunes,” but I have no intention of alerting Shamez to this tactic (unless of course, he happens to read about it first-hand here).
The news this week is that we became aware that La Palette received a “conditional pass” by Toronto Public Health, results of which are in the public domain and can be viewed as part of the “DineSafe” program. As a customer, the best thing to do is read up on any premises’ DineSafe rating before choosing to patronize any restaurant/grocery etc. Toronto Public Health publishes an Interactive map of every restaurant, grocery, cafe and take-out joint that’s been closed by Toronto Public Health since 2001. To sum up, below are the findings for La Palette, which led to the conditional pass:
- INADEQUATE FOOD TEMPERATURE CONTROL (This is rated as “critical” by Toronto Public Health)
- IMPROPER MAINTENANCE / SANITATION OF FOOD CONTACT SURFACES / UTENSILS /EQUIPMENT
- IMPROPER MAINTENANCE / SANITATION OF NON-FOOD CONTACT SURFACES / EQUIPMENT
- IMPROPER STORAGE / REMOVAL OF WASTE
- FAILURE TO PROTECT FOOD FROM CONTAMINATION
- BY-LAW #574-2000 INFRACTIONS
Jim Chan, head of Toronto Public Health’s food-safety program, explains that Toronto Public Health uses a risk-assessment system to figure out how frequently to inspect any given establishment, whether it’s a hot dog cart or a hotel kitchen. Here’s how it works:
“HIGH-RISK PREMISES (Inspected three times a year or more): The more complicated the food preparation, the higher the food-safety risk. “Think of a restaurant with multiple items on the menu, with raw food and ready-to-eat food,” says Chan. “Think of a hospital kitchen, or a long-term-care-home kitchen. If these operators are not careful, it increases the risk of food poisoning.”
MEDIUM-RISK PREMISES (Inspected twice a year or more): “Lots of people think McDonald’s would be high-risk, but it’s medium-risk,” says Chan. “Everything is generic: You have frozen patties, and there’s one way to cook them and one way to serve them.” Other medium-risk establishments: most pizza places, bakeries, sub shops and cafés.
LOW-RISK PREMISES (Inspected once a year or more): “When you look at a 7-Eleven, where all they have is a few hot dogs on a rotisserie, or they sell chips, pre-packaged sandwiches, stuff like that, they’ll be low-risk.” Ditto for Starbucks and most convenience stores.”
According to the inspection schedule, It seems that La Palette could perhaps reduce the number of inspections required for their resto from three to two per year by eliminating raw food such as horse or venison tartare, for example. Eating raw meat is asking for a parasitic infestation – it’s a fact that raw meat may contain harmful bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, campylobacter and E. coli that can cause food poisoning. These bacteria are destroyed when meat is correctly cooked. Unless you’re Anthony Bourdain, who quite often treats his GI tract like a toxic-waste dump, most people wouldn’t consider eating raw meat and it’s not recommended for young children, elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
When I think about eating raw meat, I feel an eating disorder coming on. Personally, I don’t eat meat, not only because of the cruelty to all meat-producing animals, but because pro-slaughter advocates are very cavalier about drug toxicology, about which they know NADA, and Big Ag is equally as cavalier. Pro-slaughter horse advocates whine about “wasting meat” but what they don’t understand is that euthanized horses (or any animal) which are composted or buried become part of the carbon cycle, without which life on earth would cease. Also, having an education in biology, I get a little panicky when I think that people, perhaps unknowingly, are eating food I’ve been taught to avoid. It seems every day there’s another recall of tainted meat, or in the case of horsemeat – a recall due to contamination by phenylbutazone. It’s little wonder that health authorities go apoplectic when they hear stories of consumers willingly chowing down on raw meat. You can get really, really sick. Or worse. Cooking meat is a safety issue.
Sometimes people will say, “Show me a horse that’s got trichinosis,” or “Prove to me that anyone’s ever gotten sick eating horsemeat.” I usually suggest those people go to Pubmed and start poking around, where there is plenty of evidence. Most disease is actually “idiopathic” – without known or attributable cause or mechanism. Case in point, if you ask a person who is suffering from cancer to define the cause of their disease, in all likelihood, neither they nor their oncologist will be able to precisely pinpoint a cause. While scientists know that Parkinson’s disease is caused by cellular death, they don’t yet know what causes that cellular death. Hence Parkinson’s is another one (of many) examples of idiopathic disease. But many of the Pubmed entries you can find about diseases associated with consuming horsemeat or meat in general are very precise in arriving at their conclusions – these case studies have pinpointed the cause and effect. All you need is one serving to make you really ill – especially if you’re eating it raw. Anthony Bourdain, who explains the philosophy or eating, well, pretty much anything that humans can catch and kill, in his book Kitchen Confidential, “Good eating is all about risk. ” Yes, I suppose the way Bourdain eats, that’s completely true – it’s about as risky as a dalliance in organized crime. I propose that we send Bourdain and other foodie freaks into the animal’s natural habitat, and watch them cope with their natural defences – that’s an assumed risk that would be quite entertaining. Even an animal experiencing its death throes is still capable of one final insult to the person attempting to eat it.
If we review the recent history of La Palette’s food inspections, we can see that they have passed their inspections at least since July 2010. We know that the management hasn’t changed, so we can only speculate as to why they have only received a conditional pass in May 2012. Shamez Amlani probably had no idea that La Palette’s “Scandalicious” menu, named for the “Winterlicious” dining festival, would transition into such an ominous foreshadowing. The proverbial heat is on – for food safety and for horses. We will continue to respectfully request that La Palette remove horsemeat from its menu, thereby reducing its impact on cruel animal slaughter practices and the possible unintended consequences of supplying their clientele with veterinary drug residues. But in the meantime, we will do what protesters do – get the word out, and continue to solicit support for our message by encouraging honking – we love it even if Shamez does not.