Prom at L’Etoile and My Take on “Ethical Meat”

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.

Another surprise from Connor: a personalized menu!

Complimentary sparkling cider as a toast to celebrate Tory Miller’s James Beard Award.

Amuse Bouche: crisp apple slices drizzled in white truffle oil, sprinkled with black pepper, and garnished with microgreens.

Hors d’Oeuvre: crunchy roasted asparagus with succulent cherry tomatoes drizzled in balsamic reduction (gluten-laden bruschetta given to Connor).

First Course: an amply sized (which I verily appreciated as many restaurant salads are woefully small) salad of gorgeous mixed greens, more candy-like cherry tomatoes, and full-flavored toasted hazelnuts in a lip-smacking dijon vinaigrette.

Entree: eggless “eggroll” of shiitake mushrooms, cabbage, radishes, and spiced peanuts over a bed of housemade udon noodles, “Szechuan style” shiitake mushroom puree, and a stir fry of wild ramps and gai choy (an Asian leafy green), garnished with pickled daikon radishes and an edible flower. OH WOW.

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.

6 thoughts on “Prom at L’Etoile and My Take on “Ethical Meat”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I didn’t know you were still in high school!! I’m graduating this year as well 😀
    I’d also like to let you know I recently turned vegan due to health, ethical, and environmental issues. I agree there’s no such thing as “happy cows” or “humane meat,” whatever… It’s still detrimental to the mother earth in many ways.
    p.s. I’m still brewing my own kombucha! 😉

    • Ali Seiter says:

      Congrats to you on graduating! Doesn’t it feel great?

      I’m so happy to hear of your transition to veganism. In regards to “ethical meat,” the animals are still slaughtered in the end just so humans can eat them, which is especially tragic seeing as we have no nutritional requirement for animal products–in fact, they are actually a hindrance to our health.

      YES, homebrewed kombucha! I’m definitely getting my homebrew on this summer.

      • Stephanie says:

        just to let u know, I don’t blog anymore, haha 🙂 I just keep it so whenever I feel like, I’ll go back to it…maybe in few years when I get used to university life!!! But it’s srsly great to know someone with similar interests. I feel so “strange” in my school to be eating raw kale, black rice…etc.;;

      • Ali Seiter says:

        I’m sorry you have to feel like an oddball! Luckily, most of the people at my school are incredibly curious and accepting of my veganism and healthy eating habits. I’ve had requests of being peoples’ personal chef on more than one occasion!

  2. Kate says:

    I agree that “ethical meat” does not exist. I also dislike people who are not vegan saying that they “believe in/support animal rights.” No, you don’t. Maybe you support somewhat increased animal welfare, but if you eat them or support their commercialization, you don’t think they have rights.

    • Ali Seiter says:

      I do think, though, that many people simply do not make the connection that the animals on one’s plate are the same as the animals for whom they advocate. I’ve heard many people who have gone vegan say that they have been animal lovers since they were children, but were not fully conscious that they were actually eating these very same animals. I think it all depends on the information to which one has access in order for them to become completely aware that no meat is ethical meat because it all comes from distressed, exploited animals.

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