Saturday, June 30, 2012

Au revoir, foie gras—a nightmare ends in California

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Would you forcefeed your pet to make his liver swell up so you can feast on it with fava beans and a nice Chianti? No? But are you OK that it's done to ducks and geese to make foie gras? We had pet ducks growing up, and I recoil at the thought. In fact, some years ago I had to fight the gag reflex just to taste foie gras in the interest of research.

It was unremarkable. It had the consistency of deviled ham. And I couldn't get the image of a tortured duck out of my head. How can people think it's delicious?

Who the hell invented foie gras? (Hint: I've linked to one possible answer at the bottom of the post.) Who, one day, said, "I know, I'll take this hapless duck and..." Well, I'll let someone else paint the picture for you.

" produce foie gras, factory farm workers shove long pipes down the throats of ducks and geese multiple times each day to force-feed the animals unnaturally large quantities of corn and fat. The process causes the birds' livers to become diseased with hepatic lipidosis and swell up to 10 times their normal size. The birds are then slaughtered, and the diseased, engorged organ is sold as foie gras." ~ ASPCA
The French have a word for the process: gavage, which means to gorge. I don't think it's a coincidence that it's merely one letter away from "savage," although it's pronounced more like "garage." It's downright medieval.

How does a duck feel about this? Do you ever wonder? Or have you been looking away?
"Cramming pipes down ducks' throats is both physically painful and psychologically terrifying for these poor ducks." ~ Farm Sanctuary senior director for strategic initiatives Bruce Friedrich.
Just because they don't have a gag reflex doesn't mean they like it.

Understand, I'm not against eating meat, fish, fowl or eggs. I'm against deliberately harming, distressing or inhumanely confining animals prior to slaughter or laying eggs, with the intent to increase production and profit.

So HURRAY! Foie gras is banned in California starting Sunday, July 1, 2012. Phasing out gavage here was a long process that began in 2004.


Now let's set aside the foie gras issue itself and look at what usually happens around a point of contention.

Quite often, the knee-jerk reaction to deeply felt convictions such as this is an arrogant attempt to redirect. There are people who behave as though they have the right to tell you what you should feel strongly about. If it's not about something they personally deem the world's biggest problem, they will not hesitate to set you straight. I read a comment on one site that said, "Before you try to save the ducks, go rescue the humans living under the bridge." If you are of this opinion, here's what I have to say: Condoning cruelty isn't going to better the world. At the risk of sounding like Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cake"), do feed the homeless, just not with foie gras.

Really and truly, dear reader, just because I occasionally isolate one thing that gets my goat and choose to blog about it on this here blog which is mine mine mine doesn't mean I have completely unplugged from the Extremely More Important Problems of the Big, Bad World that people of this ilk will trip all over themselves to point out to me. How much more useful are they being, giving orders to get over it?

It's one thing to express your opinion, which might differ from mine, and quite another to tell me I'm wrong to feel the way I feel about something. That's called overstepping your boundaries. Notice that the inarticulate are more prone to this, as if to compensate. You'll find plenty of examples here.


All right, here's the answer I promised you. Who invented foie gras? One theory is that the Jews did. Old Testament Jews, that is. The story is that once Pharaoh tasted foie gras made by Jews the non-forcefed way, he demanded it year-round. Trouble is, geese only fatten up in the fall, to make it through the winter. So the Jews had to forcefeed them to keep the Pharaoh rolling in foie gras.

Listen to chef Dan Barber tell the tale here. He also talks about Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa's natural, humane way to get his beloved geese to pig out of their own accord. Barber calls him the goose whisperer.

Sousa: "I'm just here to give the geese what they want."

Bravo. Paddle away, ducky.

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