Five-Dollar Foie Gras

I’ve always thought of foie gras as a delicacy for the rich, something that was irrelevant to my struggling existence.  And I grew up despising all organ meats, so I never had much of an urge to try it.  That changed, though, when my stepmother Sheryl came to town and treated me to one of the most amazing meals of my life, at Morimoto in Philadelphia.  Chef Morimoto, whose Iron Chef exploits I’ve always admired, served a dish of Kobe beef and foie gras that blew me away.  It’s just… it’s the meatiest thing I’ve ever tasted, unbelievably rich and delicious.  I’ve had one or two opportunities to try it since, and it’s pretty damn amazing, though I’m a few lottery tickets away from ever buying it myself.

But foie gras, a French delicacy made from the liver of a fattened goose, has become a big issue on the Philadelphia food scene lately, as City Councilman Jack Kelly has introduced a bill that would ban the sale of foie gras within city limits.  Chicago has already passed a similar bill.  The question is whether the production of foie gras is too cruel to the geese whose livers are fattened to produce it.  David Snyder, better known as PhilaFoodie, visited a Hudson valley foie gras farm to observe its conditions, and came away convinced that the geese were not being treated cruelly; he published a (very persuasive, in my opinion) pro-foie gras article in Philadelphia Weekly.

Naturally, animal rights activists think so, and have been spending their time picketing fancy restaurants like Le Bec-Fin that serve it.  A group called Hugs for Puppies (yes, really) has been a particular thorn in local restauranteurs’ sides. 

Meanwhile, the restauranteurs, school in the traditions of French cuisine, are shocked that animal rights activists would attack artisanally made foie gras, which has been a delicacy since Roman times, rather than concentrate on what everyone admits are the horrific conditions of factory farming.  To educate the public about foie gras, they’ve organized a seven-day promotion called “Freedom Foie for Five” that will feature $5 lunches and dinners that include foie gras.

I’ll be honest with you: I’m undecided on this issue.  Here are my biases: I’m generally horrified by the conditions of commercial meat production, as is just about anyone who’s read Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (not to mention The Jungle).  I’m deeply suspicious of animal rights groups: I’ve worked on the political left for many years and have often found them shrill, dogmatic, and elitist.  I’m also suspicious of business owners who scream ‘Communism!’ every time City Council introduces a bill.  (Yes, I’m in favor of the smoking ban.)  I’m not a vegetarian (that’s another post) but I think that there are big problems with the way meat is consumed in the mainstream American diet.  I’m generally in favor of any food that’s produced by hand, by skilled artisans working in a centuries-old craft.   I think foie gras is delicious, but while I’m normally in favor of democratizing good food and getting delicious things out to the masses, I tend to think that foie gras should stay expensive– it should continue to be produced artisanally rather than becoming another factory product, which would bring in a high level of cruelty, as well as low safety standards. 

So: what do you think, readers?  If you’ve read the Philly Weekly article, were you convinced?  Do you think foie gras should be banned?  Do you think it’s delicious?  Will you be going out for a $5 taste?  And, while we’re at it: do you care?  Do you think this fuss about a food most people will never taste is a ridiculous distraction from the fact that more than 600,000 people in the Delaware Valley alone are at risk of chronic hunger?  Speak up!

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28 Responses to “Five-Dollar Foie Gras”

  1. jcleffie Says:

    This is a very tough topic. I do not think that the feeding of the geese is particularly cruel. Geese lack a gag reflex. They are not choking in the same way if any mammal were to be subjected to the same thing. I’m not saying that it is particularly pleasant for them. But if we are to eat meat, the process in getting the meat from farm to plate is not pleasant for the animal. Even in free range artisanal farms the animal has to be killed. There is no pleasant thing about that.
    Like Sarah, I quite like foie gras. But I also have a knee-jerk reaction to not side with the rich snobs thumbing their noses at animal rights protestors. Although I think many of the people in these groups (militant vegan anarchist types) get it very wrong on many things, I will not participate in counter protests by the rich that are planned. After all, one the places that I cut my political teeth was in the anarchist scene that included animal rights. I think many really good people are drawn to this area and shouldn’t be dismissed.
    I for one will continue to eat foie gras and I will respectfully argue with the militant vegan types why I think they are mistaken.
    This is obviously a stream of thoughts but I thought it might stimulate some conversation.

  2. PhilaFoodie Says:

    jcleffie: I cut my teeth on anarchy, too. But if people like us–people who enjoy foie gras and don’t believe it’s cruel–don’t show our support, foie gras will be banned.

    Rarely do we have the luxury of sitting back and trusting that the right thing will happen; we need to help make it happen. That’s what my days of anarchy taught me. And this is no exception.

    I do hope you sample some foie gras during the Foie for Five week. I’m not rich and I’m not a snob. But I don’t like people who are wrong telling me what I can and can’t eat.

  3. Shefaly Says:

    I think there is foie gras and there is foie gras. Those for banning foie gras need to eat some really good foie gras from France and while their palates are savouring the taste, be asked if they still want it banned.😉

  4. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen Says:

    I am not really sure how I feel about this. I guess Anthony Bourdain said it right – how can eating any meat product be cruelty free – you are killing the animal afterall. This goes for foie gras and any other meat. I guess it boils down to whether you think killing animals for food is cruel across the board.

  5. mbjesq Says:

    I have great admiration for my friends who are “compassionate eaters” — whether simple vegetarians or hard-core vegans. While I am an omnivore, I never eat meat in the presence of these people, even at a restaurant or if served by others. By the same token, I have no qualms about eating meat in front of vegetarians habituated by religious tradition. I live half of each year in India, and frequently eat meat at restaurants in the company of Hindu, vegetarian friends.

    Foie Gras epitomizes the moral weakness of my omnivorism. I disagree with JennDZ and Anthony Bourdain when they dismissively blanket all meat-eating as inherently cruel. There is no question in my mind that force-feeding ducks and geese is orders of magnitude more cruel than killing otherwise well-treated animals domesticated for slaughter. I realize, of course, that not all livestock is well-treated, and that this is a moral continuum rather than a black-and-white issue.

    That said, I happen to be in Paris at the moment, and foie gras is always one of my first purchases here. There are few things more satisfying than a little foie gras on bread from Poilane, with a nice Sauternes — and what’s a little hypocrisy in the service of our appetites!

    mbjesq
    http://memestreamblog.wordpress.com

  6. Shefaly Says:

    “.. vegetarians habituated by religious tradition.”

    As an Indian born in the Hindu tradition, and living abroad, I find this generalisation very stereotypical. I wish people in the West would stop propagating this half-baked truism!

    Eating meat is not religiously barred or expressly prohibited in Hinduism. Of our Holy Trinity, at least 1 is a mega-carnivore. Ancient texts show Brahmins (the highest caste, mainly made up of religious leaders and teachers) routinely ate meat and drank alcohol.

    Amongst the reasons why many Hindus in India do not eat meat are:
    (a) Personal preferences – some people avoid ‘taamasik’ food which include meat, spices, onions and garlic (think how many Brits hate the smell of garlic, besides the fact that it reminds them of the French!)

    (b) Logistical hassles due to hygiene or superstition: Some Hindus practise a strange concept which may be beyond most people. They would not touch meat to be cooked in the same pots as their vegetarian food cooks; at any rate, one person cannot touch both foods while cooking. This means that meat cooking days are major logistical hassle and meat is not cooked often

    (c) Random practices: Some people observe Tuesday as a no-meat day; others choose other days of the week. Nothing religious, just common practice. Likewise many people fast a day per week; some have religious beliefs, others do what westerners call “detox”..

    (d) Community-based differences: Some Hindu communities consider weddings a ‘saatvik’ (opposite of ‘taamsik’) occasion and would not serve meat; other Hindu communities serve meat AND alcohol at wedding receptions. Some communities e.g. Punjabis and Bengalis usually eat meat; others such as Tamil Brahmins usually do not, although Chettiyar (also Tamil) Brahmins do. They are all Hindus so the difference is more than just religion.

    (e) Last but not the least, the cost of meat-based versus vegetarian diet: Vegetarian diets are immensely cheaper than meat-based diets. Nuclear families in India are small but usually we have 4-5 people families. Plus we have a tradition of warm hospitality which means if you happen to be present at our place at meal times, we invite you – indeed expect you – to join us for a meal. Now imagine the cost! Meat based diets are more expensive and most people just can not afford warm hospitality and generosity which is common in our culture if they had a mainly meat-based diet.

    So please – try and see the complex reasoning behind why many are vegetarians; it is not always religious and religious alone.

    And next time, someone says this to you, point them to this blog.

    Thank you!

  7. therealpotato Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies, all! Shefaly, thanks in particular for your explanation of vegetarianism in Hinduism. I know that of my Indian friends (most of whom are atheists) some are disgusted by meat, others grew up on it and love to cook it. There’s certainly a broad continuum, though I don’t think mbjesq meant otherwise.

    I feel like I should clarify that my distrust of animal rights groups does NOT extend to vegetarians. Many if not most of my friends are vegetarians, and I’m actually pushing myself to expand my repertoire of veggie recipes. I’m also trying to cut down on meat myself for health reasons.

    I do think it’s hard to condemn foie gras alone, given that the vast majority of livestock in this country is not at all well-treated; most cows are factory farmed and pumped full of antibiotics and grain their stomachs weren’t meant to handle, and they die horribly. I’m actually considering changing my personal meat-eating habits to try to only eat grass-fed, humanely raised beef. But that still doesn’t change the fact that killing an animal is killing an animal. Humans are omnivores and I don’t have a problem with that, but the fact that we’re so far removed from the origins of our food is a problem. We would treat our chickens better if we were still killing them ourselves, like my grandma did when she was a kid, you know?

  8. Amardeep Says:

    Interesting discussion. I was a vegetarian for many years, and now eat meat, so I’ve thought about a lot of this.

    I think I agree with Sarah’s comment above — killing animals is killing animals, and to some extent it is always “cruel” in that we don’t need to do it to survive. But it is a practice that mainstream society accepts (at least in a non-veg culture).

    Foie Gras seems to be taking it a step further — it is potentially causing suffering to a living animal (though the jury is still out on how much suffering exactly) just for a little added taste. So while I’m not in favor of banning it in Philly or any other city, I’m a little uncomfortable about it. The fact that most “agribusiness” animals are treated equally badly doesn’t really mitigate my, er, distaste.

  9. Shefaly Says:

    Therealpotato: Thanks. My comment – and a fuller post which seems to be attracting many more possible explanations of how Hindus’ vegetarianism came to become common belief – was also precipitated by another incident not just the comment above.

    I was attending a reception in the House of Lords on Wednesday. Just as soon as I put a canapé in my mouth (foie gras on toast), someone asked me “Aren’t all Indians vegetarians?”. You can imagine my annoyance at both the question and its timing. But when in doubt, ask. And when in anger, post😉 So I did – post a big one, that is.

    Thanks.

  10. MBJ Says:

    Shefaly:

    “As an Indian born into the Hindu tradition,” as you put it, you take the hard-road to make rejoinder to an argument I never made: that all Hindus are vegetarians. (The easy way to prove the point is by simply citing the fact that not all are.) Clearly you were dying to make the point — as illustrated by your second post and the fuller treatment on your own blog. Fine, it is a good one. But let’s be fair.

    The distinction I made is between people who eat from sincerely held principles of compassion and those who are merely habituated to vegetarianism via religious tradition, whether Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, or any other. You will notice that, in my comment, I describe some of my friends as Hindu vegetarians, which would distinguish them, I should think, from my friends who are Hindu omnivores. Apologies (if they are necessary) for singling out Hindus to the exclusion of other vegetarian traditions in my comment. It was clearly meant to be an example, not a definitive list of religious traditions that either advocate or prescribe vegetarianism.

    I am generally in the habit of “propagating half-baked truths” only on my own blog, rather than on the blogs of others; and I frequently do this not “from the West,” but from the East. This comment happened to be made from Paris; but I deny the underlying criticism in this case.

    I also think, if anything, the portion of my comment on which you seized illustrated your ultimate admonition par excellence: I look to “the complex reasoning behind why [people] are vegetarians; it is not always religious and religious alone.” Aren’t we really on the same page here?

    As a person born into the tradition of literacy, please read more carefully before you attribute an error to me that I would not, and did not make. (As for the dumb-ass you encountered on Wednesday: what do you expect at a cocktail party at the House of Lords, for crying out loud! Start keeping better company and you won’t be subjected to such idiocy.)

    While I have never so much as entertained the idea that all Hindus are vegetarians, your presentation — suggesting that vegetarianism is community-by-community, household-by-household based happenstance among Hindus — is a bit disingenuous. There appears to be plenty of Vedic literature advocating vegetarianism both as a practice of ahimsa and as purifying aspect of prasad. It is not some accident that vegetarianism, while hardly ubiquitous and increasingly disregarded, remains in the mainstream of Hindu tradition, throughout the country, Bengalis and Chettiyars notwithstanding.

    But there’s a point you make that, if right is a fun fact: that Shiva was a “mega-carnivore”. I don’t pretend to be a student of Hinduism — or much interested in it, for that matter — and can’t quite place the stories or examples of which you are thinking. (I can think of some where, in his capacity as destroyer, he uses consumption of flesh as a tool: the guardian lions parable, for example. But nothing that quite makes your point.) I’d love to get examples, if you are up for a reply.

    Cheers,

    mbjesq
    http://www.memestream.org
    http://memestreamblog.wordpress.com

  11. Shefaly Says:

    MBJESQ: Thanks for your note.

    Your earlier comment indeed provided what can be called “escape velocity” (or served as the last straw) to my annoyance at years of being asked this question.

    My argument plainly is that there is no generalisation possible, least of all religion-based. Yes I have extended it to cover – in the main post – this assumption that all Indians and all Hindus are vegetarians.

    In a population of 1 Billion, it is possible entirely to find a statistically significant sample to support nearly any point of view. Bengalis and Chettiyars are not the only meat-eating communities; they have for company:

    1. Punjabis (even Sikhs whose religion more clearly advises against meat and alcohol, but whose “kukkad” i.e. chicken habit is legendary in its own dinner time and otherwise in North India),

    2. The 7 North-Eastern states, where Hinduism IS still the dominant religion

    3. Keralites (also the communities that are not Syrian Christians; it is a coastal state and they have access to some great sea food, which in Indian vegetarian tradition, is “meat” not something for vegetarians; in fact if you are visiting London anytime, do drop me a note on my blog. I shall be happy to take you to a great Keralite restaurant where you can discuss this more with the owners who are first generation emigrants from Kerala…),

    4. Hyderabadis (even Hindus, since H’bad has a great Muslim tradition where biryanis and meats are central to the cuisine),

    5. Odiyas (which is a coastal state and has plenty of sea-food and plenty of poverty which does not allow many choices),

    6. Gujarat (some communities which are non-Gujarati and not necessarily always Hindu, so yes this example weakens my not-a-Hindu-thing point but in the interest of fairness I shall quote this here)

    7. Kashmiris – Kashmiri Hindus eat a lot of meat; the common explanation is that there is not much vegetable harvest in Kashmir so they eat what they have.

    So it is not “disingenuous” to suggest that it is somehow “community-by-community, household-by-household based happenstance among Hindus”. Because that is not what I suggested. I used illustrations which showed that any generalisation re Hindus and their vegetarianism is likely to be falsifiable.

    You say there is “plenty of Vedic literature advocating vegetarianism both as a practice of ahimsa and as purifying aspect of prasad”. I did not deny that in the main post. However there is even bigger – and more widely read – body of literature, folklore and stories, all of which suggest that Brahmins also ate meat, Kshatriyas definitely ate meat, Vaniks/ Vaishyas may or may not have (nobody really wrote much about them) and Shudras, well, nobody cared what they are but communities such as Chandals, who handled corpses on ghaats, definitely ate meat.

    As religious practices and ceremony go, Bengalis in Kali-Puja even make offerings with meat to Durga.

    As for not finding evidence on Shiva, I would suggest some more reading. I am sure you can find a lot of stuff.

    However I can assure you, nobody in India thinks of Paris as west…

    Thanks for reading my comment and taking time to respond to it.

    PS: Sorry, Real Potato.

  12. Shefaly Says:

    Corrigendum: Nobody in India thinks of Paris as “East”..🙂

    East in our minds probably does not even begin in Turkey but in the Middle East.

    So alas, MJBESQ, you remain “in the west” as far as a majority view of 1 Billion is concerned.

    Thanks.

  13. MBJ Says:

    Most folks in Paris think of Pondicherry as the “East”, however; and it is from there that most of my “half-baked truths” emanate.

    Cheers,

    mbjesq
    http://memestreamblog.wordpress.com

  14. Charli Says:

    Many who insist foie gras is “cruel” or “causes suffering” are putting humans in the place of animals. They are assuming that animals’ physiology is the same as our own. By this logic, we should be horrified that the poor things stand around in the winter without shoes and socks.

    That is the basic misconception exploited by animal rights organizations, that ducks are like people. Yes, a tube in the throat is not comfortable for humans. Neither is swallowing whole, spiny wriggling fish, which many species of ducks delight in.

    In the same way, an enlarged liver in water fowl is a normal process, not a disease process. In fact, most birds have the same mechanism. Have you ever seen fat hummingbirds? Yet they sure take on a lot of sugar water before they migrate. The extra energy is stored in an enlarged liver.

    For the activists and others not well-informed on the issue, foie gras production has been carefully examined by animal welfare advocates who have determined it to be humane. Unfortunately, these activists (or terrorists, if you will) are uneducated and ignorant of the truth. They may even know the facts but chose to ignore them out of zealotry for their cause.

    But for those who wish to know more about foie gras production, there are two articles at the bottom of the first page of http://www.artisanfarmers.org that discuss the animal welfare aspects of it. For some additional perspective, see: http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/sep05/050901q.asp

    Foie gras is not cruel. These protests around the Philly restaurants amount to terrorism and that IS cruel. Some of these business owner’s lives and the lives of their families have been threatened. Over food. This is cruel.

    I grew up on a farm vandalized by so called animal rights activists. It was frightening. It was cruel.

    I am a vegetarian. This is my choice in a country which is thankfully full of choices. Ultimately, the people responsible for the protests in Philly are an activist minority, dictating menus to otherwise creative chefs. These chefs are just trying to run their businesses. They are offering choices to their customers in a country founded on the freedom to choose.

    I send my utmost respect to the restaurants who are taking a stand on this issue. I hope the citizens of Philly really take advantage of this opportunity to sample one of the world’s greatest delicacies.

  15. therealpotato Says:

    Charli, thanks for commenting. I particularly appreciate the info on water fowl physiology– it’s a topic I’m not familiar with and I appreciate the information.

    However, I have to take issue with your equating peaceful protest with terrorism. I’m a veteran protestor myself (against the last few wars, for gay rights, for immigrants’ rights and in support of numerous strikes, to name a few reasons), and I think that protest is a valid and, indeed, important way for people to express their political beliefs. If you’re citing American freedoms, remember that freedom of expression is another guarantee– and I’ve personally taken part in protests against the Bush administration’s attacks on that freedom.

    That said, I’ve also been on the other side– I worked at Planned Parenthood for three years and experienced death threats, harassment and really bad singing at the hands of anti-abortion protestors. I know how it feels. And if anti-foie gras protestors are indeed issuing death threats, you’re right to condemn them. That’s outrageous, and I hope that even their fellow anti-foie gras advocates will condemn such tactics. But death threats are not the same thing as peaceful protest, and though I don’t agree with their cause, I do support their right, and anyone else’s, to hold protests and engage in peaceful civil disobedience. If I didn’t, I couldn’t very well complain the next time my antiwar brothers and sisters are beaten and jailed.

    Thanks for stopping by– I hope you’ll continue the discussion.

  16. Liz Says:

    I have to agree with Charli, in addressing the so-called cruelty of foie gras. As someone who works in the food business, I have visited a foie gras farm. I have also visted a chicken plant and a turkey farm. The main difference I noticed between foie gras farms and chicken plants is the scale. The amount of chickens processed in one plant in one day can be equivalent to all the ducks raised at one farm in One Year.

    While I am not opposed to eating meat, I know where it comes from. I think this is important. I think too many Americans are divorced from the notion that their food actually Comes From Somewhere. And because of this, they are sadly uninformed. They allow themselves to be swayed by animal rights activists touting propaganda and lies.

    I’d like to agree with therealpotato about the peaceful protesting also. I too believe freedom of speech is an important right. It would be hypocritical of anyone who supports the freedom of choice when it comes to food to deny that freedom to those who’d like to protest. However, I researched the death threats. It appears that at least two restauranteurs have been threatened recently. One chef in Austin was clearly afraid for his life after having facing vandalism and threatening phone calls: http://parind37.austin360blogs.com/entry.aspx?q=db6ca4b1-1a3d-4d00-8c89-99ae00223edd and even epicurious.com mentions the death threats in Philly: http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2007/09/philly-foie-gra.html#more .

    Death threats are a scare tactic, probably rarely followed through on. But it seems terribly hypocritcal for people who’d like to end the eating of meat to threaten to kill a human being. I’m not saying humans are better than animals… Maybe we’re about the same in our creator’s eyes. But if you want to protect one, why offer to kill another? It makes no sense. And I think it probably does qualify as terrorism under the Homeland Security Act.

  17. Amit Says:

    Liz,
    in the war of obfuscation and finger-pointing, it is quite possible to pay someone to make death-threats and arrogate such actions to animal rights protesters. As for the militant ones, please keep in mind that there have been documented cases where AR groups were infiltrated by corporate hackeys to incite people to violence, break the law and undermine the credibility of the movement in the public. Which is not to say that there aren’t extremist elements in the movement. But it’s never that simple.🙂
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Perceptions_International
    Do a search for “Mary Lou Sapone” or “Seymour Bud Vestermark.”

    The AR movement – just like any other movement/group – has the whole spectrum of people from peaceful to those who are extremists. The media chooses to focus on the violent and angry ones, because that is what sells the story. Just because I find angry anti-Iraq-war demonstrators disagreeable, it does not take anything away from the validity of anti-Iraq-war stance (from my pov).

    sarah,
    I think it is next to impossible for a non-vegetarian to not go on the defensive and feel some guilt when discussing facts regarding this issue, because it will create a great disconnect between beliefs and actions (if they care, that is), more so for someone like you who believes in justice, equality etc.🙂
    I mean, we all have this disconnect as humans, but in most cases, it’s manageable or we choose to ignore the obvious or rationalize it away. I don’t agree with the dairy industry but still eat cheese once a while. I justify it by minimizing my use of it and hope that one day, I will stop. BTW, one of your arguments was similar to the one on the cheat-sheet you posted at SM (can’t find the link) about racism debate where people use certain arguments to deny racism.😉

    I suggest that the restaurants post some detailed pictures of the foie gras production process on their menu.😀
    (just kidding)

    I think the information regarding how food is produced and its ecological+health impact should be available to people so that they can make an informed decision. But again, it’s not as simple as that – big businesses go to great lengths to muddy the waters, and follow the path of least resistance (poor/black communities) when setting up McDs and BurgerKings – the very population who are least likely to have access to that information.

    While I’m a firm believer of people making their own informed choices, I also have to wonder how long will the current system of subsidized high-impact meat industry continue, given that global warming and carbon-footprint are entering the popular lexicon. Will we have to legislate how much meat one can eat in a week? I hope it doesn’t come to that.

  18. therealpotato Says:

    Hi Amit,

    Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking comment! 🙂

    The article you mentioned is called How to Suppress Discussions of Racism. Tell me if I’m mistaken, but I think you’re talking about point #2, “Attack the person, not the argument,” in reference to this comment:

    I’m deeply suspicious of animal rights groups: I’ve worked on the political left for many years and have often found them shrill, dogmatic, and elitist.

    Yes? I was wondering if someone would call me out on that sentence, actually. I should qualify it by saying that this has been my personal experience with organized animal rights groups, not with individual vegetarians/vegans. I think a majority of my friends are now vegetarians or at least quasi-vegetarians, actually, and most of them are quite pleasant (that’s why they’re my friends, heh).

    I’ve always approached vegetarianism from a fairly pragmatic perspective: if it works for you as a personal choice, great, you’ll probably be very healthy and happy, and your choice should be accommodated and respected by others, just as you should respect their choices– since, after all, meat eating stems from a variety of cultural and other factors. I’m not a vegetarian, personally, because (1) I grew up in a very meat-and-potatoes culture and feel at home with it, and (2) I’ve spent the last few years avoiding wheat, and almost all commercially produced vegetarian foods and vegetarian restaurant meals contain wheat gluten; often the only wheat-free choice on a menu is a piece of meat. So it’s a personal choice, and I’m frustrated when animal-rights types berate me for that choice without knowing all of the factors involved in that decision.

    But, of course, it’s not just a personal choice, it’s also a political and environmental one. There’s no question that meat production at any level bigger than the artisanal scale is deeply detrimental to the earth. The way it is currently practiced (probably the only way to achieve large-scale production) means that the potential energy and nourishment that grain on its own could provide is instead diverted into livestock, which consume far more calories in grain than their flesh provides in meat. The feeding and antibiotic practices used create unhealthy animals and unsafe meat, and the wastes and carbon emissions produced are massively harmful, not to mention the conditions of the workers. I’m not arguing in favor of factory farming. I think that in an ideal world, meat would be raised on a small, artisanal scale and eaten rarely– much the way foie gras is now. And I’m trying to move my own eating habits in that direction– I try to eat meat only when I know where it comes from.

    But– and here’s my other beef (no pun intended! ok, maybe a little intended) with the animal rights groups– I also don’t think that whether or not I personally eat meat does a damn thing to change that. I’ve heard the argument that for every person who stops eating meat, fewer cows have to die. Unfortunately, that argument is totally out of touch with economic reality. Simple supply-and-demand economics are fiction. We (meaning the US) actually overproduce meat already. The meat industry isn’t going to just cut its production (and profits), it’s going to make meat cheaper, make servings bigger, and target new markets. If you want to interfere with that process, it’s going to take systemic change. I don’t know about legislating how much meat one can eat (we did have ration cards back in the forties)– after all, the meat industry has enormous pull in Congress– but it seems to me that the trajectory of capitalism, which requires constant growth and expansion, is going to have to be stopped at some point. That kind of growth has created industries so needlessly massive that these consequences are inevitable, but it doesn’t have any mechanism to stop and pull back. Which, I think, is where workers’ movements have to come in– only right now they are extremely weak and depoliticized from years of attacks.

    You or me being vegetarians isn’t going to do it, and neither will banning foie gras. It’s a slippery slope– if you ban foie gras, going by the excessive-cruelty criterion, how can you not ban factory meat? Maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen, but how can a government that survives on the meat industry’s money ever abolish it? Especially when its own professed ideology directly contradicts such an action?

    Man, this is a thorny subject. It brings up all sorts of huge philosophical questions, and I’m certainly not going to claim to have the answers to them. I may even have to delve into some Peter Singer here…

    By the way, all, I’m working on a review of Marion Singer’s ‘Food Politics,’ which is about regulation and deregulation in the food industry– do check it out.

  19. Amit Says:

    sarah,
    I was thinking more along the lines of #3 & #4. You are such a good sport and so open-minded🙂

    Yes, it does seem a daunting task to go against the meat industry, but in my sphere of influence, I am smack-dab in the middle, so I can always start from there. One can also target the problem at different ends. I do think that personal changes, however small, can be very empowering and tend to radiate out. Rosa Parks is a good example.

    Also, I’m not “against” the meat industry in the sense that they need to go away – I’d be happy if they switch to more sustainable practices, or if farms like PolyFace become more popular. Nor do I dislike or hate people who are meat-eaters. I’m realistic in the sense that changes (personal and social) take time, and happen in incremental steps – which doesn’t mean I don’t take the first step. So this is where I disagree that banning foie gras won’t do anything. It raises awareness of an issue.

    When activists target some practice of an industry, they tend to focus on the worst/powerful offender, or pick one company (e.g. Nike) – hoping that others will follow suit once the big player changes. If it weren’t for the efforts of activists, dog-racing and cock-fighting (with razor blades attached to their feet) would still be legal in many states, even though many people were probably pissed off.

    I agree that animal rights activists need to tone down their rhetoric, as it can be counter-productive. You will probably find more acceptance in a vegetarian group which is open to people at different stages (curious, interested, semi, vegans), whereas animal rights groups, by necessity, tend to have a black-and-white outlook.

    Sorry, I tend not to get into discussions on ar/vegetarianism, as I consider food options largely a personal choice* with many factors (comfort food, family, culture, upbringing etc.), but couldn’t help this time after reading all the comments.🙂

    * though as you mentioned, it’s much more than that, and our tax money is used to subsidize it.

  20. therealpotato Says:

    Hey Amit,

    Thanks!🙂

    I actually agree with pretty much everything you said in your last comment. You make a good point about the ban bringing attention to the issue, though I don’t think this is the entry point I’d pick if I were setting out to start a dialogue on animal rights issues… then again, it’s caused a meat-eater like me to start looking at the social, political and philosophical questions surrounding this issue, so yeah, maybe this IS the right way to go about it. (Except for the death threats, of course.)

    Much of my last post was responding not only to you but to the experience I’ve had with animal rights groups, most of which have been of the anarchist-crusty punk variety.

    But I do think we agree on the need for sustainable practices. And you’re right about personal changes having a positive effect– I’d just add that their effect tends to be on a personal level. Making changes in your own life can empower you and inspire others; it is not, however, going to save a cow’s life or bring down the meat industry, which is how I’ve heard the argument put in its most vulgar form.

    I’m glad you felt moved to comment! I’d love it if more of my posts had this level of debate and exchange going on in the comments. 🙂

  21. Amit Says:

    Making changes in your own life can empower you and inspire others; it is not, however, going to save a cow’s life or bring down the meat industry, which is how I’ve heard the argument put in its most vulgar form.

    Agreed.🙂

  22. Undecided about Fois Gras « Law For Food Says:

    […] 18th, 2007 The Real Potato sums up the moral dimensions of fois gras remarkably well: “I’ll be honest with you: I’m undecided on this issue. Here are my […]

  23. Patou: Bad Food in a Big, Empty Room. « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] website and on Menupages.com, and everything looked delicious– with the Real Potato’s ongoing debate in mind, I had plans to order the foie gras terrine. And it was a great deal– three tapas for […]

  24. About Real Potatoes: A Memo to the U.S. Potato Board « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] let you readers know that their product doesn’t contain diacetyl (at least, not anymore). The ongoing debate about foie gras has attracted some attention from representatives of the industry, both on the site and in my email […]

  25. Steak Frites at Les Halles: The Cookbook vs. The Restaurant « The Real Potato. Says:

    […] and truffles on it.  It was delicious, and formerly vegetarian Diana got to try her first bite of foie gras (she’s a convert).  This dish, however, was the black mark on the otherwise exemplary […]

  26. Dale Barlitt Says:

    I believe our society,has other things to concern themselves with?,rather than condemning liver (goose)patte!

  27. Ferzik546 Says:

    Девочки по доступным ценам в москве и по всей россии


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