At the Hunter’s Head Tavern, “guilt-free dining” has nothing to do with calories or carb counts. The English pub in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C., this week became the first restaurant in the country to receive an animal rights groups’ certification for a menu with humanely raised and slaughtered fare, from the beef stew to the shepherd’s pie.
The designation allows the growing number of diners concerned about the welfare of their dinner fare to know that the meat or poultry on their plates was not raised in inhumane conditions, said Adele Douglass, executive director of Humane Farm Animal Care, which conducts the certification program.
“Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from,” Douglass said. In the case of the Hunter’s Head Tavern, nearly all of the meat and some of the produce comes from the nearby Ayrshire Farms.
Both the restaurant and the farm are owned by Sandy Lerner, who made a fortune as a founder of Cisco Systems and now uses the restaurant to showcase the quality of the humanely raised and organic fare that comes from her farm.
“We want to introduce people to looking at food in a new way,” she said. Take veal, for example.
“You can raise humane veal. There’s no reason you have to keep them in a crate, keep them anemic. God didn’t create veal crates. We did,” Lerner said. “If we can make people feel good about veal again, that’s a good thing.”
A vegetarian for much of her life, Lerner said she understands the contention by some that killing an animal for food is inhumane, no matter how well the animal is treated in life or how painless the method of slaughter is.
“People are going to eat meat,” she said. “But If I get you to eat one of my humanely raised turkeys, then that’s one that Butterball doesn’t kill.”
Humane Farm Animal Care, which runs the certification program, is aligned with two of the nation’s major animal-welfare organizations – the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The organization sets standards for the appropriate care and slaughter of livestock and poultry that often go well beyond the requirements of government regulations.
In general, the standards require that animals have necessary shelter, sufficient space to engage in natural behavior during their lives, and that the animals have to be stunned or otherwise rendered insensible before they are killed.
“A lot of emphasis gets placed on slaughter, but it matters not only how an animal is killed, but also how it is reared,” said Michael Appleby, a vice president at the Humane Society of the United States who also serves on HFAC’s scientific committee.
The certification standards also prohibit the routine use of antibiotics and hormones. Appleby said antibiotics are used in many commercial operations to promote unnatural growth of animals and the routine use of antibiotics also contributes to the growth of bacteria strains resistant to antibiotics.
While Hunter’s Head Tavern is the first restaurant to receive the Certified Humane designation, Ayrshire Farms is one of about 15 farms and producers across the country that has received the designation under the program, which began last year.
Ayrshire Farms is located in Loudoun County, the nation’s fastest growing county and the site of bruising battles between conservation and development interests.
Lerner said the growing niche of farmers who use organic practices and humane tactics provides an opportunity to preserve some of the country’s agrarian heritage.
“Humane, organic farming existed everywhere before the Second World War,” said Lerner, who grew up on a farm.
And she said the restaurant’s success – it has received glowing reviews in The Washington Post and other publications – proves that people will seek out organic, humanely raised fare not only for humanitarian reasons, but also for the taste.
“Nobody is going to come to any restaurant to eat bad food,” she said.