White Dog shines green light on menus

By Jess Hoogendoorn

Restaurant owner Judy Wicks knew she had turned a corner when she started teaching her own competitors what she had learned. Wicks appeared at Rider University on Wednesday, April 11, in the Bart Luedeke Center.

Founder of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, with its green and animal cruelty-free menu, she has been in operation for 24 years and has accomplished such feats as having her café become the first restaurant in Pennsylvania whose electricity is generated by 100 percent wind power. Also, all of the restaurant’s produce comes from organic local family farms and all meat is humanely raised.

“Our materialistic society has really desensitized us to the suffering that underlies our industrial system,” said Wicks. “What we really need to do is open our ears and our eyes and our hearts and to hear the cries of the pigs in the crates, and the animals in the laboratories and in the fur industry, and feel the suffering of the children in the sweat shops or enslaved in chocolate production.”

The event in Wicks’ life that brought environmental problems to her attention took place during a trip to the Poconos in 2001 when there was a severe drought. As Wicks began hiking in the woods, she noticed the lack of water in streams and the dryness of the woods.

“None of the birds were singing and I just felt this tension, this fear and distress in the woods, just the fear of fire,” said Wicks. “And I thought, ‘Oh my god,’ this is what it’s going to be like with global warming.”

Wicks then turned toward her restaurant menu and made some changes. Wicks knew about mistreatment in the production of veal and poultry, and made sure she ordered from humane farms. However, it was not until later that Wicks learned about the mistreatment of cattle and pigs. She took beef and pork off of the menu until she found farms where the animals were grass-fed and treated humanely.

“It was just so abominable to me to see these animals that are treated as machines when they are really intelligent, sociable, independent beings with emotions just like any other mammal,” said Wicks. “I saw it as a violation of nature.”

Wicks now has a cruelty-free menu. After making the changes, Wicks wanted to teach others how to help the environment and stop the inhumane treatment of animals.

“Then I thought, ‘Judy, if you really do care about those pigs and you really do care about the environment…then you’ll teach your competitors what you’ve learned,” she said. “That was a real turning point for me.”

As Wicks’ restaurant grew, she considered expanding and building another restaurant. Instead of building more restaurants, she focused more on the programs offered at the White Dog Café. These programs are designed to get people involved with the community and environmental activism.

“I didn’t like the idea of doing a cookie cutter White Dog,” said Wicks. “I thought that instead of spreading my brand, I could spread my model of teaching others. I joke that I’m not really in the restaurant business. What I really do is use good food to lure innocent customers into social activism.”

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