Camden couple rallies in defense of rabbits
Camden — A Camden couple wants local restaurants to stop serving rabbit and they're taking steps to make their dislike of rabbit-on-the-menu known.
Jan. 19, Wendy and Ray Andresen spent about two hours between noon and 2 p.m. outside Long Grain on Elm Street in Camden holding picket signs discouraging diners from eating at the popular Asian restaurant because rabbit sometimes appears on the menu there, said Long Grain employee Alicia Richardson.
Richardson said she received a call that Wendy and Ray Andresen and their friend Merrill Tucker of Camden, were outside Long Grain protesting. In response, Richardson and her friend Caroline Wilmot responded by making their own sign that read "we support local agriculture."
Richardson said Long Grain does not regularly serve rabbit and it only appears on the menu as a specialty item periodically. On Saturday night at the conclusion of dinner service, the Facebook page for Long Grain announced the restaurant had sold out of rabbit curry that day.
Wendy Andresen said Long Grain "used to be one of [our] favorite restaurants" before they began serving rabbit as a special. She said that special first came to her attention in December and it catalyzed her pursuit of a campaign against serving meat from the animals.
She has in the past posted fliers on local bulletin boards around Easter encouraging humane treatment of rabbits. She added she is a vegetarian and said the protests she spearheads are "totally peaceful," with no gory photos on her picket signs.
On Jan. 17, Camden Police officers visited the Andresens' home to issue a written warning for harassment and trespassing which Andresen said stemmed from two visits she made to Long Grain to strongly encourage owner Paula Palakawong to remove rabbit from the specials menu for good. Andresen said she spoke with Camden Police prior to protesting on Jan. 19.
Long Grain is not the only local dining establishment the Andresens are concerned about. Other restaurants that serve rabbit including Natalie's and Fromviandoux, both located in Camden, have been part of the Andresen's campaign against serving rabbit meat. Wendy Andresen said Jan. 21 she also intends to speak with staff at Francine Bistro and a number of restaurants in Rockland.
She said conversations with Natalie's co-owner Oscar Verest and a chef at Fromviandoux were both "very cordial."
Wendy Andresen said she and other protesters do not intend to negatively impact local businesses with their effort.
"We are completely in support of local restaurants, we mean them no ill will," Wendy Andresen said.
Earlier in January some local restaurateurs expressed concern about poor reviews of their restaurants, based on menus that include rabbit, had been posted to travel websites including tripadvisor and Yelp.
The reviews have since been removed, according to Brian Hill of Francine Bistro.
Andresen said she has written online reviews in the past regarding her concern about rabbit on restaurants' menus. She was unable to confirm recent reviews were written by her without seeing them, she said.
Wendy Andresen said she has a pet rabbit who runs free in her home. She said he is clicker trained and does tricks, he hangs out with her dog and expresses affection much the same way a dog would, she added.
"[The rabbit] is the light of my life," she said.
She explained that four million American households presently have pet rabbits and that they are the third most popular household pet after dogs and cats.
"We want them to have the same opportunities for love and affection as dogs and cats, they are capable of forming deep, affectionate bonds," said Andresen.
The Andresens currently have a petition circulating to encourage restaurants to stop serving rabbit.
She said her petition to stop the use of rabbits for food has received signatures both online and in person. The online petition had received 119 signatures on Jan. 21, but Andresen said she has received more than 200 total signatures. See the online petition here.
A signature and statement from Maine State Director for The Humane Society Of The United States Katie Hansberry on the online petition strongly encourages the exclusion of rabbit meat from the table, and states that rabbits suffer "the worst slaughter abuses."
Melanie Leo-Daigle is the manager at Fresh Off the Farm in Rockport. She said Wendy Andresen stopped by the natural food store during the week of Jan. 15 asking employees to sign her petition. While Leo-Daigle said she did not have a personal interaction with Andresen, she heard from her employees that Andresen had politely asked for signatures, explaining her position that rabbit should not be served in local restaurants. None of the employees at Fresh Off the Farm signed the petition, said Leo-Daigle.
"Our store remains politically neutral, we've learned over the years that no matter how we view things personally Fresh Off the Farm remains a neutral ground," she said.
Leo-Daigle added that Fresh Off the Farm does sell rabbit and can special order the meat for customers on request.
"We definitely advocate for them to be local and humanely raised, but what people choose to eat is their choice. It wouldn't be right for us to sign [the petition] and then sell [rabbit]," she said.
Andresen said she doesn't want to cause trouble.
"The whole things makes me incredibly uncomfortable," she said of picketing and petitioning. "I am willing to suffer through the discomfort because it's something I really believe in."
While Andresen said she is not focused on other meat animals, she added the meat industry creates pollution equal to that generated by the transportation industry.
"Meat is an optional part of your diet, that's kind of an aside, it's not my focus. I want rabbit off the menu and off the specials," she said.
Andresen called the consumption of rabbit meat "unethical" and said that her response to contentions that stopping the service of rabbit in local restaurants would hurt local farmers is all about ethics.
"Sometimes it requires a change of your lifestyle to live ethically, the only difference between a meat rabbit and a pet rabbit is opportunity," she said.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.