Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

On foie

Several months ago at a party, after a few too many glasses of wine, it seemed a good idea to make small talk with a young woman by launching into a tirade against Charlie Trotter's stance on foie gras. The man is, of course, something of a legend in the non-coastal culinary world that is Midwest. He's easily one of the most acclaimed chefs in our little corner of the world--the author of 14 books and an 8-time Beard Award winner--which is why it was so surprising that, in 2002, he decided to stop serving the drool-inducing liver at his flagship restaurant. It's in part because of this that, by the time Chicago decided to ban the sale of foie in 2006, Trotter had become the de facto poster boy of the movement. And it was for this that I railed against him.

(Never mind the hypocrisy of making one's living by selling dead--albeit delicious--animals, while claiming the moral high ground over a fringe, luxury item. Of course, carnivorous legislators aren't immune, either. While I'm not supposing a tautology of moral equivalence, it’s easier to engage in ethical masturbation by taking on the three, small American producers of a "cruel" product you probably don't eat anyway than it is to take on the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and admit that hamburgers come from similarly gruesome origins.)

Foie gras has been the subject of much discussion over the last few years, and has long been a target of animal rights activists: its production involves slaughtering force-fed ducks and geese for their engorged livers. There is, of course, a caveat: like bacon, oysters, truffles, or chocolate, foie gras is fucking amazing.

I remember, as a freshman at the UW, meeting Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA and crazy person. (Further evidence of insanity can be found, for instance, here, here, or here.) The thing is, she didn't seem so crazy at the time. In fact, the films they'd shown were frightening. Among other horrors that would make Takashi Miike blach, they showed pictures of ducks being force-fed by steel tubes which sometimes gashed viciously through their throats.

Never mind that the physiology of these birds' livers and throats are inherently different than those of mammals (and never mind that my impressionable young mind hadn't yet picked up on the insanity). The images were powerful.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a name that will likely be familiar to foodies and animal rights activists alike. It is, I think, important for today's aspiring freshman vegan to see that the reality, at least for the producer whose foie we're likeliest to see in Madison, is far from the Texas Chain Saw-style horror portrayed by PETA and those who subscribe to their claims. Even the most jaded, nihilistic sensualist will probably find a little comfort in it.

And the girl at the party? Apparently she wasn't turned on by a drunken, vitriolic defense of gavage. It was never meant to be.

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