'We were in shock': Vegan protesters say Toronto chef carved up deer leg in front of them
A group of animal rights activists who protested outside of a Toronto restaurant known for serving game meat said they were shocked when they say the co-owner came out and carved up an animal leg in front of them.
Marni Ugar organized a protest on Friday, outside of the restaurant Antler Kitchen & Bar, located in the city’s west end. The small restaurant serves locally foraged ingredients, wild foods and meats including wild boar, venison, bison, and duck.
Although it’s known for serving meat, Antler also offers a number of vegetarian options such as lentil and beet salad, chestnut gnocchi, and vegetable lumpia.
The animal rights activist said she became aware of the restaurant in December, when she noticed a sidewalk board out front that read, “Venison is the new kale.” Ugar said she started researching more about the restaurant and took issue with the owners’ claim that they offer “ethical, humane meat.”
“I don’t think there’s any such thing,” she said. “It’s very misleading because they’re calling these animals wild animals, the deer and the boar, but they’re actually being farmed. So they’re not living in the wild. They’re just being bred and killed.”
Ugar also said the inclusion on the menu of foie gras, the liver of a goose or duck that has been criticized by animal rights groups for how it’s produced, is another reason she doesn’t believe the food they serve is ethical.
According to the protest’s event page on Facebook, set up by Ugar, the animal rights activists want Antler to offer patrons less meat and more vegan options.
“Last week was the first vegan menu board that they’ve had thanks to activists taking a stand for animals. It’s a great start, but only a start,” the event’s description reads.
‘It’s just an animal’
Friday’s protest was the fourth such event the small group of about a dozen members has held outside the restaurant since December, according to the Facebook page.
Armed with signs bearing phrases such as “Murderer” and “Animals are not ours to use,” the protesters stood outside of the restaurant’s front window and chanted slogans during the evening dinner rush.
In the middle of the protest, Ugar said the restaurant’s co-owner and chef, Michael Hunter, brought out a large deer leg and started carving it at a table directly in front of the window for about five or ten minutes.
“We were in shock,” she recalled. “It’s just an animal and we felt sad. For me, I felt sad for a few days after seeing that.”
Ugar said that Hunter then walked back to the kitchen with the meat he had just cut up. Approximately half an hour later, he returned holding a plate with a grilled piece of meat on it. Ugar said the chef sat down at the table in front of the window and ate what was presumably the deer meat.
Ugar said she thinks the group’s weekly protests were getting to Hunter and that he carved up the meat in front of them in retaliation.
“He wanted to get us back, which I guess is easy to do. We’re only there because we love animals,” she said.
The restaurant and Hunter did not respond to a request for comment, but the chef was quoted as telling The Globe and Mail that the continual protests were hurting his business.
“This is who we are and what we do,” he said. “They’re offending us; I’m going to offend them. So I went and got a deer leg.”
He told the newspaper that he later regretted the move because he felt he had “played into them [the protesters].”
Toronto police confirmed they were called to the restaurant twice that evening regarding a “vegan protest at a meat-serving restaurant.” Officers attended to “keep the peace” and no charges were laid or tickets issued, Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu said in a statement to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.
Since the event was livestreamed by one of the protesters, the reaction has been mixed online.
Some social media users defended Hunter’s actions and praised the restaurant.
“Next time I’m in Toronto I’m dining at Antler,” American comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted on Monday with a link to a story about the protest.
“Thanks vegans. I'll put Antler on my restaurant visit list next time I'm in T.O.,” one Facebook user posted on the protest’s event page.
“Wow I love that Antler restaurant. The chef had a great demonstration the other night of how to properly butcher a hind quarter of a deer. It's so amazing to know that what I am eating is that fresh,” another user wrote. “I'm not sure what the protesters were doing outside but it was hilariously entertaining.”
Others criticized the restaurant owner’s tactics.
“Everybody should boycott Antler! Sounds disgusting and as we can tell, the restaurant obviously doesn’t care about lives. Disgusting. If anybody knows if that “Chef” has a Twitter, let me know,” one Twitter user wrote.
“Maybe the folks at Antler will treat you to an appetizing, tableside mutilation,” another user wrote in response to Oswalt’s tweet.
Ugar said she reached out to Hunter via email and offered to reduce the protests to once a month in exchange for him putting up an animal rights sign in the restaurant. She said he counter offered to take her on a foraging excursion with other vegans, to which she has yet to respond.
“It’s a very nice offer but I just want to sit down and talk,” she said. “I prefer dialogue over fighting.”
Until that sit-down happens, Ugar said she plans to continue her group’s weekly protests outside of the restaurant.
“This is not an attack on a restaurant or a person. For me, it’s all about being a voice for animals.”