Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cruelty and Conscience

Foie Gras has come up twice in the past two days: I read this New York Times article on Ludo Lefebvre's all-foie tasting menu at his restaurant, Animal, in anticipation of California's foie gras ban taking effect, and I was sent this menu by a friend who's visiting Montreal (healthy!)

It seems to me that the wrong discussion is taking place. It shouldn't be a question whether or not shoving a tube down a goose's throat in order to force feed it and fatten up its delicious liver is cruel. Of course it's cruel, and of course it hurts the animal. Anyone who argues otherwise is lying or deluded. It's unfortunate that the above article's only pro-foie voices are either arguing this illogical point or are comically obnoxious (although earnest and fiercely passionate) frenchmen (an impression I got of Mr. Lefebvre from Top Chef Masters, and which this article cements - really, Ludo, foie gras is to the French as kimchi is to Koreans? You're comparing an absurdly rich, decadent delicacy to pickled cabbage which is eaten with almost every meal? REALLY?)

Here's what bugs me about this whole discussion: yes, there is no way, by definition, to make cruelty free foie gras, and I'm certainly open to arguments for vegetarianism, or to limiting ourselves to cruelty free meat, or dramatically reducing our meat consumption. But the large (LARGE) majority of meat that we eat (and yes, I am part of we) is raised in absolutely horrifying conditions, and banning foie does not seem like a step in the right direction, to me. It's like McDonalds having carb-free options - putting an easy band-aid on a relatively small problem can actually divert attention away from the bigger, tougher, more deeply entrenched problems. Banning foie gras might make us feel good, but by doing so, we're giving ourselves permission to ignore the fact that the cow that died for our burger has spent it's life in a place nowhere less horrifying than Hell on Earth.

It may seem silly posting about such a high end ingredient. I'm certainly no Fat Cat; I've only ever tasted real foie once, around five years ago (full disclosure, it was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten: a "Foie Gras Brulée" at Jean Georges in NYC (if you're ever in New York, go to the Nougatine room at Jean Georges for lunch - $32 for three shockingly good courses - it's one of the best deals in the city), which was a piece of silken, luscious foie gras with a crispy bruléed crust, paired with an sticky-sweet, bitter grapefruit marmalade which scraped the fat from the mouth, so that every bite of the foie was just like that revelatory first one), but it's hard to even say (or type) "foie gras" without sounding like a pompous ass.

I guess I'm trying to use this issue to illustrate a bigger point - we're in a world that needs changing. To fix the way we think of and consume food, we need to fundamentally change our attitude towards health and consumption, to cross a massive chasm. I worry that acts like the banning of foie gras are tiny steps towards that chasm, getting us closer to the edge, shrinking the distance we have left to get a running start and, someday soon, leap across.

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