Lion-Serving Restaurateur is King of the Bungle

Food lovers, many of whom aren't inclined to get worked up about disallowed goals, have saved their World Cup-related outrage for an act of culinary one-upmanship that unfolded last week in Arizona.

Cameron Selogie, owner of a Mediterranean bistro in Mesa, thought it would be a good idea to put lion burgers on his menu to honor the World Cup's host country. The chance to chomp down on the king of the jungle apparently tantalized Selogie's customers, who added their names to a 100-person waiting list. But animal rights activists were quick to condemn the stunt, calling the practice cruel and questioning the meat's provenance.

It's legal to import, buy and eat African lion, although a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokeswoman told the Arizona Republic that even lawfully obtained meat is harvested from old zoo and circus animals who "suffered terrifying deaths." U.S. law prohibits the importation and consumption of meat from endangered Asian lions. According to press reports, the USDA is investigating Selogie's meat source.

Selogie now says he was misled by his distributor into believing the meat he served was reputable. Presumably, his enthusiastically carnivorous customers are also feeling a bit hoodwinked.

Very few restaurants serve fully defensible menus. Intentionally or not, most restaurants have at least one item on their menu, one ingredient in their pantry with suspect origins -- or a massive carbon footprint. Since food rules are intensely personal, it's up to discerning consumers to ask the right questions and make informed decisions about what to order.

But the lion case reminded me again of the quandary food critics face when presented with environmentally sketchy dishes. I've never been offered lion, but I confront Chilean sea bass at an astonishing number of fancy restaurants in Dallas. Chilean sea bass, a mainstay of the "avoid" column on sustainable seafood lists, is seriously over-fished. Worse still, it's often caught by long line, a method that's fatal to nearby seabirds.

If I'm dining out for pleasure, I never order Chilean sea bass. But when dining out professionally, I'm not sure that choice is mine to make. When a server tells me the sea bass is the specialty of the house, I'm probably obliged to damn the dead albatrosses and give it a try. My job, after all, is to review a restaurant, not to engage in political activism. Plus, if I'm going to get all virtuous about sea bass, I might have to reconsider frog legs, Florida tomatoes, mass-produced eggs, imported shrimp, genetically engineered corn and meat -- which would render me pretty useless.

But should even a critic sample an ill-begotten lion? Or whale, which famously surfaced at a Santa Monica sushi parlor last month? I've consulted other food writers, and they don't know just where to draw the line either.

What do you think? Should critics indulge in every jungle beast and sea creature? Would you?

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