Yes, my senior prom took place nearly a month ago. No, I haven’t posted about the glorious meal I experienced that night at L’Etoile. Yes, I sincerely lament this fact and apologize to you, dear readers, both for my belated review and for my week-and-a-half-long hiatus from the blogosphere—the last week of high school finals certainly caught up with me. However, as of 10:00 this morning, I no longer have to refer to myself as an high school student and can finally liberate myself from the monotonous schedule I’ve endured for thirteen long years of mandatory schooling. Off to change the world at Vassar!
To celebrate both the end of an era and the rite of passage of prom, my best friend Connor surprised me with reservations at the classiest, most presigious, and locavorian restaurant in Madison—L’Etoile. While I’ve twice previously referred to Chef Tory Miller as my “culinary idol and locavore hero,” my opinon of the unquestionably talented chef (and recent winner of the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest) has since shifted a bit. I don’t want to criticize Tory’s astounding skill of transforming locally grown, organic produce into impeccable works of culinary art, and couldn’t reasonably do so without sounding utterly pretentious (not to mention rather insane). However, after becoming an avid supporter of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and listening to at least three episodes of her podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, daily, I’ve realized that Chef Tory Miller, along with so many other promoters of “ethical meat” who conveniently ignore the violent slaughter of animals and choose to romanticize images of “grass-fed beef” grazing in open pastures, falls under the category of an excuse-itarian. Colleen coined this term in her podcast entitled “The Rise of the Excuse-itarians (or The Emperor’s New Clothes)”, in which she proves the falsity and impossibility of “humane meat” (an obvious oxymoron), debunks the myth that humans supposedly perform a moral favor to animals by eating them (based on the blatantly flawed claim that animals would go extinct if humans did not consume them), and asserts that the rationalization and ritualization of eating meat stems from human arrogance and love of feeling dominant—a far cry from “saving” animals by essentially torturing them for our carnal pleasure. I highly recommend both the podcast episode I’ve linked above, as well as an article by B.R. Myers in the September 2007 issue of The Atlantic, in which Myers artfully exposes hyped-up “foodie hero” Michael Pollan’s hypocrisy, selfishness, and need to defend his meat-eating. Colleen prefaces this article beautifully with her own disdain of Pollan here.
Luckily, Chef Tory Miller seems to have developed at least an inkling of the benefits of a vegan lifestyle (or perhaps he has simply noticed an upturn in requests for vegan dishes, which would hopefully spur this inkling!), since he has begun labeling all menu items at his more casual restaurant, Graze, that are naturally vegan or can be modified to suit vegans. At L’Etoile, my waitress informed me that Chef Tory has started incorporating one first course and one entree on the majority of his constantly rotating menus that is either completely vegan or can easily be made vegan with a slight modification.
Despite their emphasis on the romanticized ideal of “ethical meat,” I’ve decided not to boycott L’Etoile or Graze, for I believe in the importance of increasing the demand of vegan options on restaurant menus—after all, spreading the message is key! Hopefully one day Tory Miller will realize the astronomical damage to the environment and the economy, which he strives to protect with his locavorian values, caused by our consumption of meat—yes, even “grass-fed,” “ethical,” “humane,” and “romance novel” meat.
With this notion of promoting the vegan lifestyle in mind, I allowed myself to enjoy an entirely vegan pre-prom dinner featuring spring’s bounty of gorgeous farmers market produce. However, since this post has already proven fairly lengthy, I’ll dial back my tendency to wax poetic about my particularly memorable meals and allow you to experience L’Etoile’s masterful cuisine simply through photos and short descriptions. You can rest assured that every bite of every dish sent my soul into utter gastronomical bliss.
Comment Provoking Questions: Have you heard of Colleen’s work or listened to her podcasts before? What is your take on “ethical meat”? How do you feel about patronizing restaurants that offer meat on their menus?
Until next time, Ali.