Fine dining and the fear of French canine kisses
As we all know, the French are champion diners. The tradition of the restaurant is more developed in this culture than in any other, and yet we turn a blind eye to the ways in which we could benefit from following their lead.
No, I’m not referring to the smaller portions, voluptuous sauces, or the cheese plate (though all are worthy improvements to any American’s dining repertoire). Rather, here I refer to the tradition of the Bistro dog.
Go to most any bistro in France and your well-behaved canine companion will not be turned away. A fine dining establishment might have some qualms, I’m told, but no neighborhood place worth its salt would reject a polite chien under the table or curled up emitting z’s of olfactory pleasure on the seat beside you.
Why then does America eschew the practice when it comes to our own dogs? Is it that our culture of canine companions is not yet as evolved as France’s? Perhaps it’s that our dogs are infinitely less well behaved.
It seems more likely, however, that our culture of cleanliness is what does us in when it comes to welcoming dog patrons in our nation’s eateries. In my estimation, that which keeps our subway air somewhat breathable relative to France’s BO-infused railways also keeps us free of canine company in restaurants.
Here’s the rationale: We Americans are super-sensitive in our hygienic ways. Perhaps it’s the Puritan influence (cleanliness is next to Godliness), but personal health and hygiene takes up eight full aisles in my SuperTarget here (I checked yesterday). Contrast that to what we see in European capitals and you’ll get my point. More diligent attention to issues of personal health are less prominent in comparison, but also factor in here.
Problem is, dogs pose almost no problems in restaurants, despite the widespread perception that they do. Partly that’s because local health departments in all municipalities maintain that dogs pose sanitary risks. Here’s a sample of what one Oregon lawmaker had to contend with after proposing a law to allow dogs indoors in restaurants.
“I love dogs. Love them. But not around food,” Gail Shibley, environmental public health administrator for the Oregon Public Health Division, told the Oregonian newspaper.
“They are quite naturally a vector for a variety of pathogens, including salmonella and campylobacter, also possible exposures to diseases like ringworm,” Shibley said.
And, of course, from a vet’s perspective, this is plainly ridiculous. Unless dogs are defecating willy-nilly in the kitchen among staff with no handwashing skills, such contagion is unheard of. Not to mention that the last case of salmonella I saw in a dog was three years ago (in a raw fed, immunosuppressed puppy).
You’re infinitely more likely to catch something life-threatening from the food itself, r something noxious from the kid at the next table—and no one’s banning food or children. Why? The dollars won’t allow it.
So why all the flak from overzealous public health departments everywhere? The vet in me says it’s more to do with age old prejudices than with any real science. The cynical me thinks it also has something to do with the restaurant lobby and the issue of dog bites and the liability insurance restaurants would need to carry to protect themselves from irresponsible dog owners willing to foist their poorly behaved pooches into close-quartered restaurants everywhere.
IMO, there’s no justification for the latter issue, either. Simple policies á la France would allow restaurateurs to decline to seat patrons with obnoxious dogs. They could even say no to dogs entirely—they run private establishments where they should legally be allowed to decline all dogs (except service animals, of course).
Dog mouths, though far from being a surface any of us would want to eat off, have not proved as detrimental to human health as public health departments would have us believe. They should all move their brains into the twenty-first century before opening their (far more infectious) mouths in defense of their current policies.