In a move to help consumers make more informed choices when choosing to eat humanely sourced animal products, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) developed and launched the very first restaurant database. The resource identifies 150 restaurants in 15 U.S. cities that offer products and menu items created by methods that benefit animal welfare, human health, and the environment. The free database includes 11 Bay Area restaurants and others in: Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Sharyana Prasad who works as the Program Officer for the U.S. office of the WSPA, which is based in Boston, says the on-line tool started as a response to polls regarding the way American’s think about farm animals. “A large majority think it’s important [to be conscious and compassionate about what they eat] but don’t know how to find humane products. We want to fill the void and bring information to consumers to make it easy to switch to humane foods.”
The database took six-months to create and involved an “intensive look into 15 top cities which represent a geographical spread of metropolitan cities which may also be popular tourist destinations,” said Prasad. “Our staff and consultants looked at products on the menus and talked to the farms and ranches directly to verify. We also spoke with someone at the restaurant, either the chef or the owner, to get their perspective.”
“I can’t source any other way,” says Dave McLean, owner of Magnolia Pub and Brewery. “No one wants to be responsible for being cruel or unjust. I don’t eat that way at home and when I go out I want the same. That’s just being a good person 101.”
“If you believe in putting the right things on your menu, it just requires a little research,” says Thom Fox, Acme Chophouse’s Executive Chef. “This is not only the wave of the future, it’s the wave of the now.”
In addition to the restaurant database, the Eat Humane website also features a Grocery Store Database for those who prefer to cook at home. It’s designed to help eaters find the best brands of humanely labeled foods available at the local grocery store. Some brands include Applegate Farms (available at Trader Joe’s) and Cyd’s Nest Fresh eggs (available at Safeway). The list includes products in the following categories: dairy, eggs, processed meat (includes products like burgers, hot dogs and sausage) and unprocessed meat (includes cuts of chicken, beef and pork) and is relatively comprehensive, listing choices in order of Best, Better and Good.
The website also features helpful tips and useful information to encourage people to eat less meat and supportive resources for those who choose to eat in line with their values. While some food labels indicate a meaningful animal care standard, there is no agency charged with verifying that participating farmers comply with the standards. And, in other cases though compliance is verified, the standards address only what is considered a limited definition of animal care and handling. According to the Eat Humane website “Animal welfare organizations in the U.S. have recently developed comprehensive humane standards that are verified, but products from these programs are not widely available yet.”
To make the process of finding humane food labels easier to understand, the WSPA has indicated the following as guidelines.
Their “A GOOD start” category is defined as “indicate a meaningful animal welfare standard but the standard covers only one aspect of animal care and compliance with the standard is not verified by a third party” includes foods labeled: “Cage free” (for eggs), “Free range” (for eggs, chicken, goose, duck and turkey) and “Grass fed” (for dairy, beef and lamb).
Their “Even BETTER” category is defined as “a higher level of animal welfare because the standards are more meaningful than those for the Good Start labels, but the standards are either not verified by a third party or cover only a limited aspect of animal care. Included here are labels such as “Free range” (for beef, bison, pork and lamb), “Pasture raised” (for dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb and pork) and “USDA Organic” (for dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb and pork).
And, finally, their “The BEST options” include “Certified Humane” (for dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb and pork), “American Humane Certified” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork) “Animal Welfare Approved” (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, beef, lamb, pork, rabbit) are defined as “covering multiple aspects of animal care and compliance with the standards is verified by an independent third party.”
“There are so many different labels that have some reference to humane, but people aren’t so sure which to choose,” says Prasad. “We want to encourage consumers to start with the ‘good.’ If people want to do a little more, go for the ‘best’ options.”
The WSPA has been in the U.S. for 25 years and was formed after the 1981 merger of the International Society for the Protection of Animals and the World Federation for the Protection of Animals. Based in London, the organization has offices in 18 regions around the world and works primarily in developing countries. They are the largest alliance of animal protection groups in the world with over 1,000 participating organizations in over 150 countries. Their main goal is to alleviate animal suffering and they tend to address issues that other organizations won’t touch – “like bear bating,” says Prasad. In the U.S., their primary issue is factory farming.
Of course, the WSPA is looking to add more restaurants to their database. If you are aware of any additional restaurants that serve humanely raised meat or dairy products, please send them their information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A shorter version of this article was printed in the Winter 2010 edition of Edible San Francisco