Food & Wine Thursdays: The Foie Gras Hypocrisy

2010 has come with little fanfare–not a lot has changed on the global stage and not much is looking to change in the coming months. But 2010 has brought us one year closer to California’s upcoming 2012 ban on the production of foie gras in the state.

Foie gras is the fattened liver of ducks and geese. It’s delicious. The controversy around this innocuous delicacy involves its production, whereby a tube is inserted into the fowl’s beak and food is forced directly into the animal’s stomach. This process exploit’s migratory birds’ natural ability to eat a virtually unlimited amount which it stores as fatty deposits around the liver so as  to have plenty of energy stored up for the long flight south for the winter.

California’s law, along with a similar ban in New York, will essentially end foie gras production outside of France. The theory behind the law is that the perceived force-feeding of ducks and geese is cruel.

This may be true. It may not. That’s not the problem. I personally don’t find it cruel: In the instances I’ve seen of the process, the animals eagerly take every inch of food they can get, just like Sasha Grey. Unlike Sasha Grey, however, the geese aren’t tied up. They’re free to go any time.

At the core of this law is a fundamental hypocrisy that abides in that odd breed of politically correct meat eaters—that at the end of the day one kind of dead animal is morally better than another.

Some of these folks are vegetarians and more power to them: opposing the slaughter of animals for food is a rational moral stance built upon the underlying premise that animals should not be killed for human consumption. But many opponents of foie gras are the same folks who proudly proclaim they only eat Niman Ranch meat or Hoffman Farms chickens—that somehow because their food animals were raised “humanely” that makes it okay that the animals were brutally slaughtered.

A dead animal is a dead animal and limiting an animal’s suffering doesn’t change the end result. You either believe animals should be killed for food or not. End of story.

There are a multitude of reasons that one should eat meat from humane, organic, and sustainable farmers—but it has nothing to do with humane treatment. Good meat tastes better and is better for you. A Hoffman farms chicken is infinitely more nuanced in flavor and texture than its factory-farmed counterpart. Grass-fed beef contains less cholesterol and is loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs from cage-free vegetarian fed hens have beautiful orange yolks, less cholesterol, and more nutrients than the 7-11 variety. And quite simply they taste better.

Artisan-produced meats are also more likely to be processed with attention and care, using minimal preservatives and maintaining the integrity of cuts and chops with an attentive eye to the presence of fat, gristle, and marbling.

Organic meats are also better for the environment—less energy is used in transporting, processing, and treating the animals. Animal waste is less concentrated (Harris Ranch, anyone?) and the animals play a natural role in maintaining the ecosystem through erosion control, fire prevention, and natural fertilization.

But don’t try to say that the animal on your plate is any better off because it spent a year enjoying a bit of open space and better food—that’s inane. It’s the same canard (haha!) as supporting the death penalty as long as the inmates are treated well and killed without pain. A dead person is still a dead person—and we aren’t even given the bonus of being allowed to eat dead people. Beliefs about the humanity of either process might make you feel better, but it doesn’t wash the blood away from your hands (or your plate).

To what results can those obsessed with the welfare of dead animals point? How about the ban on horse meat sale and consumption? That must have ended the slaughter of horses for profit in the United States, right?

As of 2008, the U.S. is the largest exporter of horse meat in the world. There are horses to be killed and there is a market for its meat. If you oppose horse slaughter you’re better off not buying a horse or not attending events at which horses are used (and often abused) for entertainment or profit rather than telling people what they can and can’t do with an already dead animal.

And what about foie gras? In 2012, instead of the geese being in the hands of small-farm artisan producers, we’ll either see larger scale farming of “humane” versions of foie gras probably processed with additional chemicals and additives or we’ll rely solely on imported foie gras.  Either way we further marginalize the small farmer in America.

We’re better off focusing our energy where it makes the most impact. Support organic producers. Fight factory farming, which is one of the biggest threats to the safety of our food chain and the welfare of our environment. Shop locally from small farm producers. Pay the extra 10% for the sustainable product. Chances are it’ll taste a hell of a lot better anyway.

But unless you’re planning to go vegan, quit wasting money and time fighting hypocritical battles to decide for the cow who should kill it. Gas chamber, electric chair, firing squad, or lethal injection—it doesn’t change what ends up on your plate.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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5 Responses to Food & Wine Thursdays: The Foie Gras Hypocrisy

  1. Clint says:

    Gonna have to link my upcoming Saturday post back to this one. Your argument here on meat is, oddly enough, highly applicable to dead flowers as well.

  2. Tim Bennett says:

    Thank you! Solid vindication that I should be allowed to punch farm cows in the face. The cops wouldn’t believe my excuse that I was pre-tenderizing them.

  3. Clint says:

    Well if they’re dairy cows they’re not going to be slaughtered, so you’re just being a jerk. But then again, they’re cows.

  4. Pingback: Of Dead Flowers and Pteranodons « The Satellite Show

  5. Charlie says:

    …And cows are jerks, so there you have it, folks.

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