Watch out. Now that San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Gary Danko has become the first restaurant to remove frog legs from its menu for environmental reasons, the Save The Frogs people want other restaurants to follow suit. It’s not so much that this group wants to reduce the amount of frog legs served in these restaurants. It’s more that it wants to piggyback on the sustainability clout of high-profile restaurants to aid worldwide amphibian conservation. Sure, it’s a good cause…but is this something with which restaurants should get involved?
France is the world’s biggest consumer of frog legs, with the U.S. being number two. Although tasty, frog legs are seldom seen on U.S. menus, even in the French and Cantonese segments that are their nominal strong spots. It’s hard to believe that the U.S. accounts for 20 percent of the world frog leg trade. But it does. Overall, estimates are that more than one hundred million frogs are taken out of the wild each year for food.
Which wouldn’t be a problem if the worldwide supply of frogs were inexhaustible. It isn’t. Scientists estimate that one-third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Yet it’s a back-burner issue even for hard-core environmentalists. It’s tough to rally people to support the Save The Frogs cause, and tougher still to publicize it.
Which is where restaurants come in. The Save the Frogs group convinced Restaurant Gary Danko to help give visibility to its cause, which it did on April 30, 2010, the 2nd annual Save the Frogs day.
“I commend Restaurant Gary Danko’s decision to remove frog legs from their menus, and I urge other restaurants to do the same,” says Kerry Kriger, founder and executive director of Save the Frogs! “The frog leg trade is responsible for the depletion of wild populations and the spread of infectious diseases and harmful invasive species.”
Actually, Kriger’s group is doing more than urging. Restaurants are the number one target of the group’s advocacy efforts. It seems like an issue a restaurant operator wouldn’t waste his or her time worrying about. But Save the Frogs has a well thought-out program that might give operators who serve frog legs pause. Think of it as a carrot-and-stick approach.
Here’s how the protest campaigns are spelled out on the Save The Frogs website.
“Save The Frogs would never lead a protest against a restaurant without first contacting its CEO and informing him/her of the problems associated with frog legs, and offering them positive publicity should they remove frog legs from the restaurant's menus. Save The Frogs would also first contact the restaurant's manager to inform them of the issue and seek their assistance. Save The Frogs' strategy is to first target upscale restaurants and large chain corporations that are unlikely to incur serious negative consequences should their customers no longer be able to eat frog legs.
“Following our contacting a company's CEO and the restaurant manager, should such a company fail to take action to remedy the ecological problems it is causing, Save The Frogs feels that peaceful protests are warranted, as they:
(1) Educate the restaurant's patrons, employees and passersby about frog extinctions and the problems associated with frog legs;
(2) Raise awareness of amphibian conservation efforts;
(3) Motivate people to take action and inspire others to do so; and
(4) Lead to the target restaurant eventually and inevitably ceasing frog legs' sales due to the negative publicity and loss of profits it incurs due to the protests.”
Which is to say, cooperate or else a bunch of eco-protestors sets up shop in front of your restaurant one day and begins to harass your customers. Right or wrong, this won’t be good for business.
So would Save The Frogs ever make good on its threat? It already has, targeting Irving, TX-based Uncle Julio’s Rio Grande restaurants. Here’s how Save The Frogs describes the situation:
“Uncle Julio's is a chain of 16 upscale Mexican food restaurants located throughout TX, VA, MD, FL, IL and GA. Uncle Julio's Rio Grande restaurants are not Mexican-owned.
“The restaurants sell American Bullfrogs farm-raised in China. These ‘Made in China’ bullfrogs are regularly infected with the deadly chytrid fungus, which has driven up to 100 amphibian species to complete extinction in recent years. The bullfrogs are also harmful invasive species that eat native frogs. As such, Uncle Julio's is contributing to the mass extinction of amphibians worldwide. To date, Uncle Julio's executives have refused to reply to any of our emails, phone calls or letters.
“Uncle Julio's is engaging in environmentally irresponsible business practices, and thus Save The Frogs endorses a full boycott of all Uncle Julio's Rio Grande restaurants. Save The Frogs will be staging peaceful (but visible!) protests at the restaurants beginning Save The Frogs Day and continuing indefinitely until they cease their ecologically damaging frog leg sales.”
For its part, Uncle Julio’s stonewalled the Save The Frogs people. “Uncle Julio’s is certainly not an ‘irresponsible restaurant chain’ as this group has said,” Uncle Julio’s c.e.o. Todd Conger told the Washington Business Journal. “Our suppliers have assured us that the frogs legs we serve are not an endangered species nor are they raised in an unhealthy environment.”
Were this dispute a war of words, Conger and Uncle Julio’s would win. But in fact the chain is catching some flak from environmentally sensitive customers—never a good thing. And we’re sure the whole incident has been a pain in the rear for Conger and the rest of the Uncle Julio’s team. And are frog legs still on the menu? They are.
Your restaurant probably won’t be targeted by this particular initiative. But there are plenty of advocacy groups out there for other threatened species that are more common on restaurant menus. You can bet these groups are paying to close attention to how well the Save The Frogs group’s tactics work. Will you be ready if one of these groups sets themselves up as judge, jury and executioner and targets your restaurant for action?