Meat is Murder, and so is eating out in Victoria

by Yule Heibel on December 27, 2003

If it turns out that the BSE infected cow that was recently diagnosed in Washington State originally came from Canada, I won’t be surprised (just look at Brian Evans’s face in this article and tell me he’s straight). This country has the most corrupt and lax system for overseeing environmental and health issues that I’ve ever come across in my (today) 47 years of living on two continents and 3 countries. Canada is a cesspool of pollution. The city of Victoria pumps raw sewage into the Juan de Fuca Strait. There are no air quality controls on cars for this city, nor are any in place federally. The restaurants in this fair tourist town are abominable, despite the abundance of fresh ingredients, and likely to give you food poisoning. There are no publically accessible health inspection reports of restaurants here or in Vancouver. The officials have been talking about it, but so far the consumer is left in the dark.

It’s all cronyism and corruption, left right and centre. When Werner and I lived here in the early 80s, we used to joke that Canada was “the Italy of the North.” I now feel that’s an insult to the Italians.

Driving home from my birthday lunch at McMorran’s in Cordova Bay (after which we all felt sick, even though we enjoyed the lovely view), we listened to The Smith’s “Meat is Murder.” I’m not a vegetarian (although I had the vegetarian dish at McMorran’s), but I am against industrial farming. I would kill an animal to eat it, I would buy meat from a local farmer who killed his/her own animals. But I’m getting sick of buying meat from the supermarket where I know it comes from industrial farms that rely on corrupt inspections and graft to increase profit — in addition to the inexcusably inhumane conditions the animals are kept in, along with the insane overproduction that results in “meat is murder.” When my parents and I still lived in Germany, before we emigrated to Canada in 1964/65 (in the wake of yet another massive financial failure and bankruptcy on my father’s part), we rented a farm near the Dutch border where my mother grew everything we ate, including the livestock. For dinner we had chickens we knew by name; we had lambs — they were all named “Floppy” — on special occasions.

What are we having for dinner today? Floppy? Oh, that’s nice. Floppy is bound to be good, he had such a great life and really loved feeding on that pasture with all the dandelions / nettles / grasses.

Before my parents died, they rented a farm for a few years on Vancouver’s outskirts, in the Fraser Valley in the Lower Mainland, and when I visited, we again had Floppy for dinner. I liked Floppy, and I didn’t consider Floppy a pet on the one hand or any less of a sentient being on the other just because I knew it before I ate it. but I sure don’t know the name of the stuff I buy in the supermarket, and my relationship to it is abominable and unspeakable and barbaric. The Smiths sing about these beautiful animals having to die — well, that’s sentimental rubbish. Of course they’re beautiful animals, but sentimentalising them into some stupid level of abstract beauty isn’t going to stop the barbarism of industrial farming. I have looked into Floppy’s eyes, and into the eyes of the chickens we ate at home. Almost every chicken we had we seemed to have named “Ille,” which is short for Ilse, which was my mother’s name. Don’t ask; I don’t know why we did that, except to laugh at my mother’s distractedness and to express — perversely — our affection at the fact that she fed us while my father managed to run consecutive financial ventures into the ground. All the chickens were generic — Ille das Huhn — a running family joke — but we knew the damned chickens, from the exciting moment they hatched, to how they grew and got their new feathers, and what colour eggs they laid, up to the occasional one ending in the Sunday fricassee. What sort of creatures am I buying in the supermarket to feed to my children? Animals “inspected” by corrupt bureaucrats, people more distracted than my mother ever was in her life? Or rather: people so single-mindedly bent on profit that they are distracted from every value worth having?

Canada acts so bloody civilised, and it uses its mantle of snow — “the Great White North, eh?” — to cover a multitude of sins. It’s all garbage and festering slime underneath.

My next task is to start a campaign to expose the rotten restaurants in this tourist town. We hardly ever go out to eat. Partly for financial reasons (too expensive), partly for dietary reasons, and partly because it’s becoming injurious to our health to do so. Take Ottavio’s in Oak Bay — please take Ottavio’s, as the shtick says. They specialise in Italian coffees and delicatessens, including handmade organic la-de-dah icecream that costs nearly $5 a scoop. When they moved this past summer to their new fancier location up the Avenue, we thought, Ok, nice place for a latte, at least it’s not Starbucks, even though it IS more expensive. But when I saw the moon-faced counterboy repeatedly doubledipping his little wooden paddle into the fancy icecream to have tastes of this and that flavour, licking the paddle in delight before dipping into the next flavour, I thought: FUCK OTTAVIO’s, I’m never going there again. I did go one more time, and my kids felt sick afterwards. That was that.

Or take the Marina Restaurant, another Oak Bay eatery with upscale pretensions. The last two times we went (last was in September, for wedding anniversary), we all felt sick. My husband says it’s because they use “bad fats” — he read an article by Margaret Atwood years ago about the recycled cooking oils industry in the restaurant business. But it can’t just be “bad fats” if you have a meal that’s simply grilled; it has to be bad hygiene. The Marina now takes on bus loads of tourists, which I don’t recall seeing in the summer of 2002. Well, there goes the neighbourhood. When you base your clientele on transients, there’s no one around at the end of the day to hold you to account. And the locals are so godawful British, they don’t complain: it’s like Fawlty Towers. Frankly, the food at the Marina stinks, and at the inflated prices, it should be vomited back onto the plates. It used to be good, but somehow in 2003 they went straight downhill. The busloads of tourists on whom they now base their bulk business go home with indigestion, but they don’t rock the boat and local diners can just piss off.

Hey, anyone reading this in Victoria: there are no health inspections worth the name of restaurant kitchens here. Hepatitis, bacterial infections, bad fats, greasy pans that don’t get cleaned properly, you name it: it’s all possible. But remember: we’re on an island, and so we get to pay extra, and we can’t get off that easily.

Ok, so is there anyplace worth going to for dinner? Yes, Zambri’s. No “bad fats” and you can see what they’re doing in the kitchen, and it’s so small that they can’t be lured into attracting the tourist busloads. If you see the masses — tourists, cattle, whatever — run away fast, ’cause there’s bound to be someone messing with the food supply and a greasy-palmed slimy mealy-mouthed Canadian bureaucrat standing in the Great White shadows waiting for the pay off.


Roland Tanglao December 28, 2003 at 1:45 am

Hi Yule.

The Vancouver and Richmond inspection reports are now online at:

Yeah, it sucks that there is no equivalent site for Vancouver.

Happy New Year!

Yule Heibel December 28, 2003 at 2:09 am

Thanks for that link, Roland! I checked it out and it was an eye opener to read some of the reports (hint for others: click on the inspection dates, it takes you to the reports). Over and over again it’s coolers kept at much higher than the regulation 4 degrees Celsius or below required by law (some coolers were as high as 11-13 degrees — that’s around 55 Fahrenheit!!), dishwashers that weren’t hot enough to sanitise dishes, and grease festering on the backsplash of cooktops. Yuck. We really do need something like this for Victoria, but I don’t think we have it. And the tourism industry board would probably go nuts if it came to pass, because heaven forbid that anyone should mess with this town’s #1 industry….

To my list of good places for food in Victoria — and I’ve only ever gotten take out from them, but it’s been quite good every time — are Da Tandoor (Indian) and Ming’s (Chinese).

Thanks again for that link, Roland, I’m bookmarking it!

Shelley December 29, 2003 at 11:08 am

Yule, thank you for this! I know that the raw sewage dumping has always been an issue, and that Canada’s environmental policies have been somewhat lax, but had no idea of the magnitude.

Seems we have our work cut out in two countries.

Yule Heibel December 30, 2003 at 11:18 pm

You know what the left on Vancouver Island’s PIRG gets all worked up about? The waste dumping by the cruise ship industry. But not a friggin’ word about the sewage dumping by the City of Victoria, that world-class ecotourism capital…. Our very own Fairfield Neighbourhood Association institutes an annual annoyance called “car free day,” which results in road closures around Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road, but does nothing to agitate for “air care” (that’s what car emissions testing is called here). They’re the worst kind of heads-up-the-arse lefties imagineable, incapable of systemic thinking.

Anonymous February 4, 2004 at 1:48 pm

Yule, you are an idiot. All this crap about feeling sick from eating in Victoria restaurants. It’s probably because you’re a fat American who eats way more than one portion and then ends up feeling “sick”. Why don’t you write about something that people actually care to read.

Milo Brucks April 7, 2005 at 1:12 am

Ms. Yule,
Your BLOG on Victoria is absolutley the type of uninformed rhetoric we in the food and beverage industry have to hear every day.

First your rant on public saftey.
The CRD ( Capital Region District) website has available online board of health inspections for every restaurant in its district. Had you actually taken the time to look perhaps you would have noted that. Also, Canada has some of the most stringent food saftey requirements in the world. Again something you would’ve known had you actually looked.
Your restaurant comments , again are uniformed, bias and very bitter, do you actually know anything about food or restaurants aside from what you’ve read. I bet if I came to your house I could show you how disgusting it truly is in comparison to any reputable restaurant. Also if you actually knew anything about food borne illness you would know that it takes 6 to 12 hours for any symptoms to appear. If your feeling ill right after eating in a restaurant you are either allergic to something or should have your stomach checked by a proffesional doctor and not some herbalist Einstein from Uraguay.

It sounds to me you have a bone up your arse because your too poor and life ignorant to actually enjoy life in Victoria. Do you work for a living or are you just another pseudo- intellectual, displaced malcontent art history wannabe looking for a soap box to regurgitate your bitterness from .

I suggest that if Victoria is so VILE, you should move back to the utopic fairy land from whence you came or at least try any city in the USA, preferably Detroit’s east side.

Milo Brucks

Yule Heibel April 17, 2005 at 9:17 pm

Well, well Milo, whoever you are: if you think the symptoms of food poisoning don’t show up for six to twelve hours, I sure hope you’re not running a restaurant. It takes about two hours, sometimes a bit longer, to experience symptoms (see this basic NIH site for more info). Please provide a link for CRD inspections, if they exist now. They certainly didn’t in Dec.2003 when I wrote this. I’ve spoken to doctors here who have practiced in several Canadian provinces as well as in other countries and on other continents, who attest that the Vancouver Island Health Authority is one of the most secretive and paranoid around. So, would I trust them to tell me what’s up? Nuh-uh. And look at the scandals re. BSE. The federal gov’t encouraged further import of cattle from Britain after BSE became such a big issue there, even though it was clear that these cattle were likely to be infected. It’s like those submarines they bought in a sweetheart deal from Britain, the ones that are deathtraps and recently resulted in the death of a Canadian sailor (see the Chicoutimi story). There’s too much corruption here, and consumers and citizens are asked to pay the price, with too little accountability for officials, elected or appointed. Let’s not even get started on the federal sponsorship scandal, or on BC having a premier up for re-election who is a convicted drunk driver.

As for restaurants: when you have places like Victoria, where the majority of customers are once-only (tourists) or Boston, say, where the majority are students who aren’t permanent residents of the city, quality suffers because the restaurants can get away with it.

Look, this is just a basic truth: a month or two ago, a friend of mine took her son, who had just completed a hospitality degree in Lucerne, Switzerland at that country’s most prestigious school for hospitality, to the famous House in Sooke Harbour, the one that’s supposed to be such a culinary destination, etc. Well, the son called to make the reservation. He was asked, “Are you local?” and he replied, “Well, I’m visiting, but my mother lives here.” “Oh, ok,” he was told. When he and his mother got there, they asked about this. Turns out, the famous Harbour House in Sooke charges on a two-tier basis: the locals get to pay $40 for the meal, while the visitors are charged $50 for the same dish. Do you think that’s kosher? Do you think that’s defensible? I don’t. It’s unethical.

In addition, the service was terrible: very snooty and condescending; and the food was a disappointment. There were two main courses on offer: lamb and fish. Vegetarians could just go home. Lots of people hate the taste of lamb. Many people also loathe fish. What’s up with the stupid idea of only giving those two choices? So my friend (the mom of the hospitality graduate) chose the fish, and it was nearly inedible, completely gummy and chewy and tough in the middle. For $50, if you’re a visitor, remember! She got it for $10 less. But the problem with a disappointing meal is that you can’t do anything about it afterward. At least I can’t — I can’t go and chuck it up, so I’m stuck with it. It also just shouldn’t be the case that a truly good restaurant has a bad day: they aren’t allowed that luxury. If it’s the case that it’s a bad day, they should refund the money. (I have to give the Marina credit here, they have done that.)

BTW: both McMorran’s and the Marina have improved since late 2003 and 2004. As for Ottavio’s, I don’t know. For all I know, they could still be double-dipping into the $5 gelatti, and selling the licked-upon fare to unsuspecting customers. Yuck.

But you know, Milo — and Mary, of the previous comment: please just fuck off, would you, because you are clearly unable to deal with criticism of what you cherish. Step back a bit and instead ask yourself: does she have a point? And give up on the ad hominem attacks (that I’m overweight — I’m not, Mary: I’m just slinky-bendy gorgeous, actually — or that my kitchen is filthy — it’s not, Milo, but thank god you’ll never get to see it). So piss off.

Anonymous September 16, 2005 at 6:52 am

Realy good site!

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