This article was published June 3, 2007
To chef David Ansill, foie gras is rich, silky liver, the perfect topping for his signature dish at his Queen Village restaurant.
So Cooney and about a dozen fellow placard-wielding protesters have gathered twice a week in front of Ansill and other Philadelphia restaurants that serve foie gras. Their goal is a foie-gras-free city.
Philadelphia has become a new battleground in the war against foie gras, not only regarded as a delicacy but as a cherished symbol of French culinary pride. Primarily prepared in restaurants and not at home, foie gras is deemed by fanciers as the epitome of luxury, one of the pricier ingredients, usually sliced into medallions and quick-seared or sauteed as an appetizer or garnish.
Restaurateur Stephen Starr removed foie gras from his menus, emboldening protesters to crank up their threats in the last month. Some restaurateurs have conceded just to get rid of them, while others have dug in.
Foie gras, facing a ban in California and wiped off menus last year in Chicago (though its mayor is seeking to overturn that ban), is on the block in Philadelphia.
A bill to ban its sale is pending in City Council's Licenses and Inspections Committee. Sponsor Jack Kelly plans to meet with new Council members after January's swearing-in before he moves on the bill, said his legislative director, John Cerrone. A more immediate issue, Cerrone said, is the city's homicide rate.
Foie gras' fans, including producers, distributors and chefs, counter that this is a canard - that the ducks do not suffer when being pumped with corn mush, and that U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors would not allow diseased livers to be sold.
Daugin said she believed that the U.S. foie gras industry - mainly two farms, one in California, one in New York state - was being picked on unfairly while other industries were largely ignored. Foie gras is "the easiest target because it's easy to show a tube in the neck of a duck," she said.
The loudest voice - and the reason the foie-gras movement has come to Center City - is a group under the warm-and-fuzzy name Hugs for Puppies.
Its leader is Cooney, 25, a lanky, long-haired Northeast Philadelphia native who became a vegetarian at 18 and shares a West Philadelphia house with friends and fellow Hugs for Puppies members.
In 2004, an FBI task force raided Cooney's house, searching for materials related to a campaign to shut down an animal-testing company. Cooney and other members targeted Huntingdon Life Sciences, protesting at its New Jersey headquarters and at the homes of employees and business associates. Cooney also was accused in 2004 of violating a court order restricting protests against a corporate executive.
Cooney said he had turned his attention to foie gras and to community vegetarian outreach. He also said he was not opposed to picketing restaurateurs' homes and had once picketed Starr's.
Cooney was "inspired" when Starr pulled foie gras from Barclay Prime, his Rittenhouse Square steak house. But Starr declined to credit protesters with his change of heart.
Starr pulled foie gras from his other restaurants, including Alma de Cuba, Morimoto and Striped Bass.
Hugs for Puppies members found several dozen other establishments serving foie gras. Picket lines went up.
While protesting Friday night outside Le Bec-Fin, Cooney and eight followers spotted Perrier stepping into his black Mercedes and screamed, "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
Perrier drove off.
A Four Seasons spokeswoman said foie gras was no longer offered at its top-rated Fountain restaurant.
In January, Hugs for Puppies approached management at Oceanaire, a seafood restaurant on Washington Square. Foie gras was removed. "It wasn't selling that well, anyway," said Mooradian, the general manager.
Along with the Starr restaurants, Oceanaire appears on Hugs for Puppies' roster of restaurants no longer serving foie gras. The list contains wishful thinking. Cooney said last week that the Jose Garces-owned restaurants Amada and Tinto were in the process of taking foie gras off the menu, but a spokeswoman said Friday that it remained.
Other restaurateurs - besides the feisty Perrier, who did not wish to comment for this article - will not be cowed.
"We're not giving it up," she said. "We've certainly looked into . . . the farming methods. We're 100 percent behind sustainable agriculture. We're no dummies. . . . There's no arguing with these kids."
Asked whether he would remove foie gras, Ansill said: "Now it is such a hard question. At Pif, we change the menu every day. It was never on the menu, but we used to get a lot of requests for it. That is when I started making it. . . . People liked it, kept asking for it."
He added that at Ansill, "it is one of our signature dishes, shirred eggs with truffles and cream with a little piece of foie gras on top. But I have now made the foie gras optional on that dish. . . . I'm not forcing anybody to eat it. If you want to eat it, eat it. If you don't, don't."