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Last week, in a vote of 37-6, the Chicago City Council repealed its controversial ban on the sale of foie gras.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Chicago may have repealed its ban because America was laughing.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."