Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rabbits in Logan, Rabbits in Flint

Listening to the stellar Big Shed Audio produced piece "Rabbit So Good" on NPR, about the now defunct Venz Rabbit Hutch restaurant (Ann Venz, pictured) in Logan, AL, I was reminded of the infamous rabbit skinner, Rhonda Britton, from Michael Moore's documentary Roger & Me. (Warning: a rabbit dies in the clip. It is not for the squeamish.) As Britton mentions, holding an especially cute, floppy-eared rabbit in front of her yard in Flint, MI, a health inspector has threatened to close her operation unless she, "builds [her] a building where there's washable walls, washable floors, and an unbreakable light." You have to feel for Rhonda. It's snowing. Her rabbits, packed in a cage, are yellowing their neighbors' fur with urine. These sanctions would significantly cut into the "ten to fifteen dollars a week" profit her business yielded. All lights are breakable.

Roger & Me raised not a few hackles upon its release -- years later, those interviewed, including Britton, are still sore over compensation -- but I suspect the rabbit butchery garnered by far the most outrage. If the reactions to the "Rabbit So Good" piece are any indication, poor Britton probably met quite a backlash. A small sampling of responses to "Rabbit So Good" on the NPR viewing page:

I am extraordinarily disappointed in NPR for devoting so much time and attention to a restaurant that specializes in the death and mockery of rabbits.

I’m surprised and disappointed that NPR would include such an insensitive contribution. I’m sickened by the general acceptance, insensitivity and up-beat nature in which this report was written about the tasteless way “dinner" was served at this “restaurant".

As a rabbit rescuer and vegetarian, my stomach churned hearing about this restaurant that serves what I know as beloved pets as the main course.

To my mind, both the proprietors of the Rabbit Hutch and Rhonda Britton used a natural resource, rabbits, to maximize their livelihood, to get by -- especially in Britton's case. While the Rabbit Hutch, a restaurant structured to seat customers and, if inspired, seranade them with an organ and a sing-along, had the advantage of a group of loyal customers and community support, Britton acted alone because ... why, exactly? The answer, if there is one, says something about the state of these two very different towns at the time of these recordings. Ply Britton with, say, liberal small business loans for a year, or even six months, and watch her run the Flint outpost of the Venz Rabbit Hutch franchise.

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