Foie gras was brought to the attention of my frontal lobes this morning when I read an interview with Anthony Bourdain on Salon.com about a New Jersey law that will outlaw the production of foie gras. This will drive D'Artagnan, the artisan pioneer of foie gras in the United States out of business. Given that the other major producers of foie gras are located in the Hudson Valley of New York and in California, the latter state has already banned the practice (unless it can be proven humane) by 2012, and the former is contemplating similar laws, the burgeoning foie gras industry in the United States is threatened with regulatory extinction.
So what? So what if a bunch of Euro-foodie enthusiasts can no longer get fattened goose liver? What does it matter? The United States went 200 years without foie gras. Why care it all if there is no more domestic foie gras? It's not like I've ever had the stuff, or ever intend to. Those are the sort of questions that are rattling around in my head today.
(And yes, Eve, I am aware that you care deeply for the plight of the geese.)
Mostly, I think of the hypocrisy of it all. Foie gras is such an easy target. There are less than half a dozen real producers of foie gras in this country, pretty much all of them artisanal, family-owned businesses. It's not like we're talking "new from Hormel, the makers of SPAM, it's foie gras... coming to a fast food restaurant near YOU!". No, most of the same legislators who talk like the production of foie gras is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust would gladly sit down to a big Kansas feedlot-raised steak.
Have you ever been near a cattle feed lot? I got to drive past one last summer. You can smell it for nearly a mile before you see it, and the cows get to get fat on a diet of feed corn while standing in their own excrement for 6-8 months, just so you can have marbled beef under plastic wrap in your local megamart. How does that compare to a group of geese kept on an artisan farm who are fattened up for the last two weeks of their lives? I won't even get into modern farm-raised hogs, living with their tails cut off, or the cultivation of milk-fed veal.
I think I see the answer: geese are so cute. I know. I see them on a regular basis. It's easy to get behind a goose, and still feel good about going and having a good veal piccata.
I think Anthony Bourdain also has a point that appeals to my libertarian sensibilities. People have been eating fattened goose and duck liver in Europe for thousands of years. Does it not seem a bit of reach that the government gets to decide what people get to eat and not to eat in the face of an old cultural tradition? Should government really be doing this? This of course is the same government establishment that passed a law preventing McDonald's from being sued for selling food that contributes to the obesity of the United States. Goose liver is easy, McDonald's is hard... and well-able to make campaign contributions.
I sometimes think that these problems occur because we are no longer an agrarian nation. A majority of the population lived on family farms just over a century ago. In those days, if you got milk, eggs, bacon, or even foie gras, it was because your family raised the livestock and then took it round back to slaughter it. There was an immediacy to the cycle of life and death in the consumption of animal products. Now, most of us live in a sanitized world, as far as the products in the butcher case at the market are concerned. Do we care that we are no longer gathering fully adult populations of fish off the Great Banks of the Maritime Provinces (meaning that they are overfished)? Do we care that the term "organic" in food and produce is gradually being co-opted by corporate agri-business to compromise the notion of local, in seasonal meat and produce? No, but foie gras is evil!
And the geese? I sympathize with the geese. I guess I see what you are saying, anti-foie gras people... but I'm conflicted because there are so many, many more important problems with respect to diet, the preservation of arable land, the availability of fresh water, and the proper cultivation of healthly livestock that foie gras seems like a tempest in the teacup. I'm also a little wary of letting government have the power to legislate foie gras out of business in this country.
But don't worry, I won't be forcefeeding any geese any time soon either.
on 2006-10-05 at 9:12 p.m.
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