Publican vs. PETA? The pro-animal group kicks off a new campaign...

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 01/13/2014, 11:11am

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UPDATED 2 p.m.

A kerfuffle kicked off Monday morning between PETA and venerable restaurant The Publican when management there posted a lengthy, yet thoughtful, Facebook post about the PETA billboard erected close to the restaurant and its accompanying butcher and deli. Turns out that the billboard is part of a “Try Vegan” campaign that went live January 6 in Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago – although Chi-town appears to be the only city where the board popped up in extremely close quarters to a top-rated restaurant known for serving flesh.

“It’s kind of funny,” says Executive Sous Chef and Head Butcher Cosmo Goff. “Our first thoughts are: ‘is it malicious? You’re putting it in front of pork and beer restaurant and a butcher shop in the meatpacking district!’ There are a lot of things we see differently (with PETA) on but there’s a lot of things we see eye-to-eye on, which includes the treatment of animals. It’s important to get people talking about it. A lot of people aren’t educated or don’t care to be educated on the difference between our pork and pork at Jewel-Osco.”

Though it looks as if the billboard is targeted at Publican Quality Meats (PQM,) PETA says that is a combination of happenstance and location. “We’re going after the meatpacking district and not individual restaurants, although we’ve had campaigns against McDonalds, KFC and Wendy’s,” says Liam Cronin, a PETA spokesman. The second billboard is on the west end of the district at Ogden and Carroll. “We’re aiming to change hearts and minds. We wanted to get where people are going to eat meat and get them to rethink their next meal or purchase.”

Goff isn’t necessarily buying that explanation, but OK. “It’s all relative,” he says, going into extreme detail on what he says is the relatively humane process of selecting the chicken, pork and beef that he serves or sells. (His employees have to understand exactly where the animals come from.) “It’s random placement. It’s just happenstance that we decided to write about it a week later.”

PQM works with local farmers who treat the animals in a manner different from meat super factories which might sell animal flesh that comes from steroid-riddled, caged, never-seen-sunlight creatures. Goff says that PQM farmers pride themselves on raising and selling “heritage” brands of meat in better living conditions. “We get the lineage of the animals. It’s all documented. Two weeks ago we got the highest graded grass fed cow in the last two years in Illinois. Its parents were fed grass and never ate corn or soy. It was cool to have the information. That’s what we pay for.”

The save-the-animals message here includes two different billboards, one showcasing a suckling pig and the other showing a cow. The pig’s billboard reads: “You can live without those ribs. I can’t. Try vegan.” In Culver City, Cali., the board warns against eating fish. And in NYC’s Times Square, the billboard on 50th and Broadway shows a chicken and reads: “You can live without those wings. I can’t. Try vegan.”

Publican Quality Meats (PQM) online response to the billboard stated, in part, that PQM sells meat. Period. The post went on to describe the restaurant’s practices in meat procurement and even details a trip that the entire staff took so that they might learn about ethically-raised and humanely-slaughtered animals. In part, the posting said this: “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.”

Online, PQM also said it is inappropriate for fans to ridicule PETA. “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.”

Twitter: @adriennewrites

- Adrienne Samuels Gibbs