CHICAGO — A West Loop restaurant and butcher shop known for its pork products is defending its use of meat after an animal rights group put an anti-meat billboard up across the street last week.
Publican Quality Meats, 825 W. Fulton Market, posted a message on Facebook Monday with a picture of the billboard, erected by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which includes a pig's face and the words "You can live without those ribs. I can't ... Try Vegan."
Instead of ripping PETA for the sign's placement, Publican explained its approach to butchering — and asked supporters not to "make fun" of PETA.
"At Publican Quality Meats, we eat meat," the message reads. " ... We choose to eat meat, but acknowledge that death as respectfully as possible. We deal with farms and purveyors where animals are free-range, uncaged, fed natural diets, are given no antibiotics or steroids and are slaughtered as humanely and painlessly as possible. But they ARE slaughtered. There is a death."
The message also posted questions and answers about the meat they use, how the animals are treated before they are butchered, and said they don't let any animal parts go to waste, unlike most large restaurants and chains.
They also explained that Publican staffers recently took a trip to witness a slaughter to learn how the animals they ultimately butcher are raised and killed.
Even though the message was careful not to criticize PETA, Cosmo Goss, Publican's executive sous chef and head butcher who helped write the Facebook response, said in an interview Monday the sign's placement was an "insult."
"I invite the people who put it up to come talk to me," Goss said. "I believe in what we do. We use meat that's amazing and animals that live amazing lives."
Customers voiced support for Publican Quality Meats, which is an off shoot of The Publican restaurant across the street at 837 W. Fulton Market.
"It's kind of like bringing sand to the beach, nobody's gonna buy [PETA's message] because everybody's come down here to eat meat," said Dante Carfagna, who was at Publican Quality Meats Monday morning. The Wicker Park resident's family runs a grocery and butcher shop, "so this is kind of close to what I grew up with," said Carfagna, 39.
West Loop resident Justin Riechers stopped to take a photo of the PETA sign on his way home.
"I'm not a vegan by any means, I just think it's funny," he said. "It's just a terrible place for it. Who's gonna take that seriously?"
PETA spokesman Liam Cronin said the message was aimed at the meat-packing district where Publican is located. While it's good that Publican doesn't get its meat from large slaughter houses, she said ultimately, not killing any animals would be the most ethical thing the West Loop butchers could do.
"If you're trying to reach people who are eating pigs, what better place than Chicago's meat-packing district?" Cronin said. "Animals value their lives just as much as the cats and dogs we share our homes with. That's the spirit of the billboard."
The West Loop sign isn't the only one in the city; Cronin said PETA has also put up a billboard at Ogden and Carroll avenues near the Harpo Studios building. That sign features a cow saying, "When you feed your family, please think abut mine. Try vegan."
The full response from Publican Quality meats is below:
At Publican Quality Meats, We eat meat. This means, no matter how you finesse it, there must be a moment when a living animal is killed. Before the linquica, ribeyes, 'nduja, chops, mica and harissa pate can fill our bountiful butcher cases, a death must occur.
We choose to eat meat but acknowledge that death as respectfully as possible. We deal with farms and purveyors where animals are free range, uncaged, fed natural diets, are given no antibiotics or steroids and are slaughtered as humanely and painlessly as possible. But they ARE slaughtered. There is a death.
This is why we do not waste a molecule of these beautiful animals. We process them into headcheese, marrow bones, cured meats, cooked meats, ham hocks, regular cuts, blood sausage. We feel this honors the life of the animal and is the right way to do this kind of work.
The Animal Rights Activist group PETA put up a billboard (pictured) across the street from PQM and Publican. It features a picture of a suckling pig and the slogan "You can live without those ribs. I can't" and the proviso 'Try Vegan'.
Anyone who has read this far and thinks we're going to mock or belittle PETA or their mission will have to go shopping somewhere else. We respect any serious and intelligent personal philosophy and admire PETA's knack for provocation and creative chutzpah. We are, and this might seem odd to say unless you really think about it, also people who are for the ethical treatment of animals with one gigantic difference; We do choose to eat animal flesh. We also choose not to ignore the reality of the choice.
About a month ago PQM organized a trip for our staff to one of our farmer/purveyors. The trip entailed an overview of the whole operation but included witnessing the slaughter. Our staff, our butchers in particular, are serious about their craft and sincerly idealistic about how they execute it. They were, to a person, profoundly moved by the experience. This post was already in the works and was only slightly prompted by the appearance of the billboard; a dialogue with Cosmo, Publican Sous-Chef and PQM Butcher and D, PQM manager about that trip, our philosophy and that undeniable death.
D: Why did we do the farm trip?
Cos: It's important to see it. It's important not to...put it in parentheses. It's a hard job that someone does, even in the best of circumstances.
D: Have you ever slaughtered an animal?
Cos: Yes. Lambs. At a very small farm. It becomes...it's hard to say...ritualistic, kind of religious. You calm the animal. We actually said a prayer to each one.
D: How did you kill it?
Cos: We slit their throats. It's about making it as quick and painless as possible. That may not sound quick or painless but it is very quick, especially if the animal isn't being herded into a chute and can smell and hear what's happening.
D: When I saw the billboard I thought, perversely, that we actually kinda line up with these guys in most regards...with, you know, one glaring exception.
Cos: Yeah, what I thought was that cute suckling pig...people need to realize...that pig is older than any chicken you've ever eaten. Commodity chickens that you buy in the grocery store...they're about 9 days old, socked full of steroids and fed completely gross shit to plump them up. Ours are 21 days old at least, live on a natural light cycle, no cages...there are pens where the chickens can hide from the other chickens. In chicken terms that's Quality of Life.
D: We did a bit about the American Livestock Conservancy a few weeks back. They're salvaging disappearing heritage breeds of animals and are addressing the seeming contradiction - if we don't eat these breeds they'll cease to exist. It's pretty much 'Eat the Pig, Save the Breed', and I thought about that when I saw the billboard too. The suckling pig petitioning to keep his ribs wouldn't exist if it wasn't produced for food. On the other hand, if it's Commodity Meat production, that's probably not a bad thing. He'd be better off not existing.
Cos: A lot of people will just never care but if you give me Commodity Meat next to any of our farmer's meat I will know which is which 100% of the time. Ours is natural and delicious and real and the other stuff is...stuff.
D: Why? How do you quantify and explain it to people?
Cos: We're, pretty much, a venue for the farmers. They raise the animals the right way and we just try to get out of the way in presenting them to our guests. They do all the work. We're the forum. Some people buck at the price but I say...you buy an organic apple, it costs twice as much as a regular apple. You buy pork that's being fed organic apples...it is a choice, but it's worth it. You can Taste the Difference.
D: I don't know if it's the timing of my commute or it's just there all the time but I frequently pass the rendering truck at the packing plant around the corner coming off the Green Line. The rendering truck does not have to visit PQM
Cos: We waste NOTHING. We use 100% of the animal. With pigs we use the skin, we make head cheese, we make stock from the bones, the tails end up in the Bolognese at Publican. We waste Nothing. That's how we honor the animal. We don't throw any of its Life away. Here's something to take away. If you go to the freezer at PQM and buy some of our packaged Publican hamburger patties...those are from ONE COW. If you get a burger at McDonald's there ismeat from over 1000 cows in it. Dramatize that in your head.
Thanks for reading through this long piece. Don't make fun of PETA. Support the Livestock Conservancy.