Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Chicago's Long Nightmare is Over"

To put it in the words of The Joplin Globe's columnist Mike Pound, "Chicago's long nightmare is over."

Chicago gourmands can order foie gras again!

Last week, in a vote of 37-6, the Chicago City Council repealed its controversial ban on the sale of foie gras. The repeal goes into effect later this month.

During the two-year ban, Chicago chefs found ways of serving the delicious treat. One might have paid top dollar for a fig dish and received complimentary foie gras, as Bin 36 offered. The restaurant was visited by the Health Department, who declined to issue a citation, paving the way for Chicago's foie gras speakeasies (or "duckeasies," if you will). The ban simply made foie gras more dangerous, more alluring, and in higher demand.

Chicago may have repealed its ban because America was laughing. The ban made the city look like, as Anthony Bourdain said, "some stupid cow town." Chicago's mayor even said the City Council's ban was "the silliest thing they've ever done" and has made Chicago "the laughingstock of the nation."

The repeal has implications for other cities, like Philadelphia (where legislation has been quietly put aside), and states, like Maryland (where legislation to ban failed). Animal rights activists cling to the argument that because Chicago has banned foie gras, other cities should conform.

As David Snyder, of PhilaFoodie, points out, "[b]ut now the follow-the-crowd argument has lost its teeth. Chicago was critically important to the activists—it was the first and only U.S. city to ban foie gras and, they maintained, it legitimized a path for other cities to follow. However, after enduring two years of ridicule and now repealing the ban in a loud, lopsided, public display, Chicago now stands for something completely different—the foie gras ban was a mistake. California passed a ban four years ago that doesn't become effective until 2012. However, after the more recent brouhaha in Chicago it’s unlikely that any U.S. city will ban foie gras now. More broadly, Chicago’s repeal also renews the debate as to whether it’s appropriate for local government to legislate what we put on our plate, at least in cases where there is no legitimate public interest to protect."

Ultimately, the repeal gives freedom back to Chicago chefs and consumers. The Illinois Restaurant Association said it best in a statement last week. "As an industry, we think that menu offerings are best left to the individual restaurant operators, rather than being dictated by government."

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

DIGG Article: How Foie Gras is Made

I found the following article through DIGG and encourage others to read it and go to the site to DIGG it so more people may find it. The author, Dr. Michael R. Eades, is the best selling author of Protein Power, and health care expert in nutritional science, low carb diets, and other health issues.

I’ve posted a couple of times on foie gras - on both cooking and eating it. In one of the posts I quoted from an article in the International Herald Tribune that I read on the plane coming back from France. At the time this article wasn’t available for linking, but it is now. The journalist who wrote the piece had wondered about how gavage (the force-feeding of ducks and geese) was performed, so he hied himself to the Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York (where are own foie gras originated) to see for himself.

To animal welfare groups, the obscenity of force-feeding, known by the French word “gavage,” is self-evident. But Ginor and his partner Izzy Yanay, who runs the farm, accuse their critics of anthropomorphism and ignorance of duck anatomy and behavior. They say the practice is as benign as it is ancient, since waterfowl lack a gag reflex and have sturdy throats that easily tolerate grains, grit, stones and inflexible gavage tubes. To understand gavage, they say, is to accept it - as they insist poultry researchers have, after examining birds for signs of undue suffering during gavage and finding none.

I visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras recently, seeing gavage for the first time. I saw no pain or panic in Yanay’s ducks, no quacking or frenzied flapping in the cool, dimly lighted open pens where a young woman with a gavage funnel did her work. The birds submitted matter-of-factly to a 15-inch tube inserted down the throat for about three seconds, delivering about a cup of corn pellets.

The practice, done three times a day for a month, followed by slaughter, seemed neither particularly gentle nor particularly rough. It was unnerving to see the tube going down, and late-stage ducks waddling bulkily in their pens, but no more so than watching the epic gorging at an all-you-can-eat buffet, where morbid obesity is achieved voluntarily, with knife and fork.

Since the International Herald Tribune is owned by the New York Times, and since the New York Times never misses an opportunity to demonize anything that flies in the face of any of the liberal shibboleths - global warming, minimum wage, welfare reform, animal cruelty, etc. - I figured the report had to have been, if anything, hedged toward the anti-gavage. Considering that, it doesn’t look like all that bad a deal for the ducks, especially since it takes only a few seconds, not the all-day force feeding that many would have us believe they endure. In fact, the case could be made that - just as with humans - this carb overload is actually enjoyable.

MD blogged on the situation from her perspective.

But is making ducks obese humane, even if they enjoy it?

Certainly developing a fatty liver isn’t any better for the ducks in the long run than it is for people, but with one clear difference. For ducks, there isn’t a long run. Unlike ducks, people live long lives, potentially get sicker, may become less productive, and surely end up leading more costly lives in terms of the medical burden to themselves, their insurer, or society as the metabolic consequences of fatty liver, insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity take their toll. For domestic fowl, raised for food, their end is going to be pretty much the same, regardless of the condition of their livers when the ax falls. If they enjoy a bit of corn-gluttony along the way, don’t seem to object to it, aren’t discomfited overmuch by it, then where’s the harm? For me, it’s a treasure and I can say without hesitation that no duck ever guzzled corn in vain whose liver wound up, seared, on my plate.

Also coming from the New York Times is Michael Pollan who has a great piece on how the politicians are creating a smoke screen by going after the only two (politically unconnected) producers of foie gras in this country instead of dealing with the giant factory farms (very politically connected; read: many campaign contributions), which deal much more misery to animals in their keep.

I’m not about to defend foie gras from the legions of righteous animal defenders. But do we have any reason to believe that feeding ducks and geese corn through tubes put down their throats is any more brutal than snipping off tails and beaks? I have not visited either of America’s foie gras farms, but I note that they have invited journalists to visit and see the operations for themselves. (Just try to wangle your way into an industrial chicken or hog facility.) Some of the journalists who have accepted that invitation report that the birds rush over to the farmers at feeding time. Our own visceral revulsion at the prospect of having tubes stuck down our throats may have to do with the fact we have a gag reflex; ducks and geese do not. I seriously doubt you’d ever see pigs rushing over to the man wielding the pliers.

To ban foie gras is symbolic politics at its worst, a way to create the appearance of doing something about a problem that politicians — and, let’s face it, most of us eaters — would rather not confront. So we close down a couple of foie gras farms. (Though the California law gives the farmers till 2012 to desist, which is odd: if force-feeding ducks is really so heinous, then how in good conscience can we abide the practice for six more years?) We brace ourselves for a major change in our eating habits: no more foie gras after 2012. What a sacrifice! And, after patting ourselves on the back for all we’ve done for the animals, we can now, with clear conscience, turn back to our breakfast, ordering bacon and eggs, sunny side up.

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. And if a picture is worth a thousand, then a video ought to be worth about ten million. One of my readers alerted me to the fact that the iconoclastic chef Anthony Bourdain had a segment on the making of foie gras on his television show. I looked on YouTube, and, sure enough, there it was buried deep within dozens and dozens of film clips showing the alleged cruelty of the procedure.

(For the video, see Foie Gras for the Holidays with Anthony Bourdain.)

After you watch the Bourdain video, take a look at a few of the others. You’ll notice that they make the gavage process last much longer than it actually does - at least this was the case with the half dozen or so I watched. To paraphrase one of the cable news networks: I report, you decide.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Esquire Visits the Farm

John Mariani, of Esquire magazine, made a visit to Hudson Valley Foie Gras recently.

His findings were similar to the findings of everyone else who bothers to take a tour of the farm: "I didn't see any of this suffering those crazies are screaming on and on about...Ducks raised for foie gras production are treated as well as (and probably better than) most animals in the food chain."

Yet another unbiased report of a visit to a foie gras farm. In the article Mariani even mentions how others can go about getting a tour of the farm. Try it. Chances are you'll find the same thing he did: foie gras is produced humanely.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Philly Foie Needs Your Help!

Philly fans of foie gras unite! This Saturday December 8th, Philly foie fans are planning a protest. An anti-protest.

This Saturday, Hugs for Puppies and Professionals Against Foie Gras will be holding a "No Foie Gras Gala" to fund raise. The event starts at 6 p.m. at the Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square. The groups, lobbying for a city ban on the delicacy, will host Jack Kelly, Gene Bauer and other animals rights activists. The menu will include a variety of vegan appetizers.

Hugs For Puppies has made a name for itself loudly protesting outside Philly restaurants selling foie gras. City-Councilman Kelly would like to see foie gras banned. This is a call to fans of foie gras in Philly to give those zealots a taste of their own medicine! Show up on Saturday to help keep foie gras legal in Philadelphia.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Anti-Foie Politics Don't Pay

UPDATE: Unfortunately, Kelly won his re-election bid in Philly. But his narrow victory should send a message: The public does not want to be bullied around their own dinner tables!

On Tuesday, two of foie gras' legislative enemies were up for re-election. Barring any recount changes, both legislators lost.

Michael Panter, a New Jersey Democrat, lost his bid for re-election as Assemblyman for the 12th District. Panter introduced legislation a year ago which would have banned the production, distribution, and sale of foie gras in New Jersey.

This would have hit the area, including New York City, quite hard - in the wallet and in the mouth. New Jersey is home to D'Artagnan, one of the nation's premier sellers of foie gras and other high-end foods. Panter's bill could have put the 120-employee, New Jersey-based D'Artagnan out of business. Such a move would have outraged chefs, food lovers, and consumer choice advocates across the tri-state area and beyond.

Jack Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican, lost his bid for re-election as a Philadelphia City Councilor. Kelly planned to introduce a bill to ban the sale of foie gras next year. This sparked a raging controversy including media wars, injunctions, and lots of screaming. At the time of this posting, this election is extremely close and while it appears Kelly has lost his seat, absentee ballots will be added in and official results could take as long as two weeks to be announced. (Cross your fingers.)

For now, they're gone.

Of course, I can't say for sure that the legislators' silly ideas on banning food became their downfalls, but I can speculate. I am proud of the people of New Jersey and Philadelphia for taking a stand against an activist minority and supporting the freedom of choice.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity...and Foie!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fire at Hudson Valley Foie Gras

Late in the evening of October 30, a tragic fire raged through a barn at Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

The barn housed 11,000 breeder ducks, all of which perished in the fire. Thankfully, no humans were hurt.

Both PETA and Farm Sanctuary have swooped like vultures, releasing statements full of misinformation and propaganda. One criticism is that there were too many ducks confined in too small a space. This is absolutely untrue. I'd like to print Michael Ginor's refutation of this claim (made originally here):

"As a co-owner and co-founder of Hudson Valley Foie Gras I would like to thank Mr. Ruhlman for his well wishes and for placing his sympathy with the ducks, where they belong. We are very saddened by the fact that birds, that we so carefully and attentively care for, perished in this fire. These ducks were in a carefully maintained breeding barn and not a "storage facility" as has been somehow misreported. This was a relatively large barn, approximately 60,000 square feet in size. A "factory farming" type of operation would squeeze 40,000 ducks into such a space. "Humane" growing guidelines suggest 3 square feet per duck, allowing for about 20,000 ducks in such a coop. Hudson Valley utilized the space for 11,000 ducks allowing about twice the suggested space per bird. I am profoundly confused by the allegation of any inhumanity involved with this unfortunate event or the suggestion that these ducks were unkindly treated in any way."

So clearly, the ducks were living better than do animals in any other poultry rearing operation I know of.

My deepest sympathies go out to the farmers. Those who cared for these ducks will feel their loss most deeply.

Thankfully, it appears the business and the quality of the foie gras will not be affected, due to an alternative supplier of eggs.