Thursday, September 06, 2007
Forcing the Issue
The resplendent if awkwardly named City of Brighton and Hove is a fine place, much improved of late with some strenuous work along the seafront, as if to compensate for the ugly reminder of what might have happened if the West Pier had ever been restored rather than left to rot and finally be torched (twice) by professional arsonists. There's a volleyball court, basketball, a new safe paddling pool (the old one is filled in) and an array of restaurants, bars, fish and chip shops and so on.
On a September evening as the sun sets over Shoreham Power Station's single chimney there's barely a finer stroll/jog/dogwalk to be had. And once you reach the border with Hove, marked by the smartly refurbished Embassy Court, you can take a gander up Western Street to Norfolk Square, as Nationwide is wont to do.
Western Street is a bit grey now, even on an autumnal evening, but the gayness of the Bedford Arms brightens it up and a few wee restaurants run by couples open and close their doors with relative frequency. At the moment, there's only The Gingerman which has not only survived but thrived in this out of the way place.
Now The Gingerman is one of the best places to eat in Brighton. It's a small, cosy restaurant just yards from the seashore and specialises in top quality modern food, well sourced and thoughtfully cooked and presented. It's got two sister premises now and manages to survive the vagaries of modern catering.
However on Tuesday night, in order to dine at The Gingerman you would have had to negotiate your way past a large picket line. 12 members of VIVA - the militant wing of vegetarianism -were protesting against the use of foie gras. They spread their large banner across the small pavement, blocking the entrance, handed out leaflets, and by megaphone informed the bemused residents of this quiet street that ducklings being caged, tortured and killed was not acceptable. Geese too. And everyone should boycott the restaurant until they took it off the menu.
Except it wasn't on the menu. Pig's head was, but foie gras wasn't. A neighbour pointed this out to them and was shouted down, the main defence being that it was on the "website" menu. Which I checked. And it isn't. But let's not get bogged down in detail. I would imagine that pate de foie gras might appear on the menu, sometime.
One of the protestors, all the way from Nottingham she told me, explained that it didn't matter how small or fragile a business was, if they were serving foie gras (which they weren't) they would be targeted.
"But what happens" I asked, "If they go out of business?"
"Good," she replied, "One down"
I explained that there were probably a thousand more targets in the Brighton and Hove area that might merit such a large protest.
"Well," I suggested, "What about the biggest hotel in Brighton for example, the Grand?"
"They don't serve it".
So I got out my mobile and called the Grand, got through to the King's restaurant, and was told that they had on the menu a starter of Ballotine of Foie Gras. There was a momentary silence. "Well they said earlier they didn't have any"
"But they do. Why don't you all go round there?"
"Em....because we're here"
At which point the exasperated neighbour intervened again, flourishing a menu and explaining that the Gingerman didn't serve etc etc.......and then a wee waitress poked her head out the door and said with only the faintest hint of frustration in her voice
"We don't serve foie gras" in an attempt to shoo them off.
This was turning into a sketch from Monty Python.
"What about the supermarkets?" I asked, "They sell tons of the stuff"
"I ain't seen it" said the Nottingham woman, who then confessed that she'd never looked for it, being a vegetarian.
"Waitrose don't," the woman with the megaphone announced,
"They have a policy not to sell it"
Well they might, but there's no mention of it on their website and I'm sure I've bought at least pate de foie gras in my local branch. (I only ever buy the real stuff in France)
"Well why not go to Tesco or the new Sainsbury's then?"
They looked at each other with raised eyebrows as if I was a stupid child unable to add up my numbers.
Then the police arrived, who explained that they happened to be driving by, hadn't been called by anyone, and suggested that the small doorway shouldn't be blocked. They refused and explained it was their right. The neighbour then intervened again and said "They don't sell foie gras, we've been telling them since they turned up". The policemen looked as if he regretted stopping. It was all very Brighton and jolly.
Now, I like a mixed diet, and I've eaten foie gras on occasion, so I'm inclined towards the view that bully boy picket lines shouldn't be choosing such small targets, especially places which don't even have foie gras on the menu, but I suppose we have a right to protest, picket and create a fuss anywhere we want.
Posted by Nationwide