Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Skewered Beef: If CNN ever wants to do a Crossfire episode about restaurants instead of politics, RoxSand Scocos and Paul Fleming would make a feisty pair of combatants.

Back in June, RoxSand wrote a guest column. In it, she excoriated meat eaters in general and Morton's steak house in particular. Raising beef is environmentally insensitive, she said, and eating it in the amounts we do is bad for our health. She urged us to get beyond our fascination with "racks of flesh."

RoxSand took a pretty good hit in the letters department. One angry carnivore wrote: "So what if it took 30,000 gallons of water to produce my steak. That's probably only one half the amount of water it took to keep the grass green where RoxSand's husband plays golf." Another correspondent called her restaurant's organic vegetable dishes "tasteless" and "overpriced."

A few weeks ago, Paul Fleming, former owner of the Valley's two Ruth's Chris steak houses, used a guest column to get in a few whacks of his own.

RoxSand, Fleming suggested, is a Utopian dreamer. Sure, it would be nice to have organic produce from local farmers, but in this day and age, that's "unproductive" and "unrealistic." He also doesn't buy RoxSand's claim that cattle raising is a threat to the environment. Moreover, he wrote, no "fringe loony groups" are "going to influence how I serve food, or what I serve." Customers want meat, Fleming said, and he has no qualms about making sure they can have it.

I'm not going to take sides here. But let me point out a few disturbing tendencies in both arguments. Why is it we need to demonize others who do things differently from the way we'd prefer? To RoxSand, a 24-ounce porterhouse is "obscene"; to Fleming, RoxSand is Big Brother disguised in a chef's outfit.

After the demonizing, they start moralizing. RoxSand more or less calls carnivores ethically irresponsible. Food, she believes, must not only feed our bodies, but also nourish our souls. Fleming, on the other hand, claims good old capitalist moneymaking--giving customers what they want--is the cure for practically every social ill except jaywalking. Whatever the problem, he contends, a free market will eventually solve it.

What worries me is that after demonizing and moralizing, Americans invariably start politicizing. Look what's happened historically over divisive issues like alcohol, drugs, abortion and smoking. Do we really want our legislators--the same geniuses who made it a crime to slander fruits and vegetables--getting further involved?

People like RoxSand, who, in her heart, is sure she knows what's good for us physiologically, environmentally and spiritually, can make me uneasy. That's because too many do-gooders have done some very bad things, despite their good intentions. But people like Paul Fleming also make me nervous. After all, in a completely unregulated market, he'd be free to serve condor eggs or hire only white males, if that's what he thought his customers preferred.

Hey, guys: Next time I turn the column over to you, let's have a little more light, and a little less heat.

--Howard Seftel

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