June 26, 2005

Is foie gras evil?

Ever since I saw the movie "Mondo Cane," back in the 1960s, I've believed the methods used to make foie gras were truly evil. In the nutty old documentary -- which displays all sorts of human follies -- we see a close-up of a goose's eye as it's being force-fed. I don't know what the goose really felt, but as a human being, looking at that eye, I had to read: terror.

But consider this, written by Lawrence Downes in the NYT:
To animal welfare groups, the obscenity of force-feeding, known by the French word gavage, is self-evident. But Mr. Ginor and his partner Izzy Yanay, who runs [the country's leading foie gras producing] 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 stress and suffering during gavage and finding none.

I visited Hudson Valley Foie Gras last week, seeing gavage for the first time. I saw no pain or panic in Mr. 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 the all-you-can-eat buffet at Shoney's, where morbid obesity is achieved voluntarily, with knife and fork.
Downes compares the ducks' interests to the interests of the farm workers: "175 people, mostly Latino immigrants [many of whom] live in trailers on the grounds and worship in a tiny chapel of crepe-paper streamers and candles in a corner of a warehouse." He also notes that their are far more brutal things going on in the production of the ordinary beef, pork, and chicken that most of us eat. We focus on the bizarre and not the ordinary, however, and deliberately producing an enlarged liver seems pretty bizarre. And most of us don't eat foie gras, so opposing it is a sacrifice-free virtue. I don't know if Downes is a shill for the foie gras industry, but it's obviously important to get all the facts and think straight about these issues.


Dave said...

I don't understand the appeal of foie gras. It doesn't taste very good.

The plight of the former animal, to me, is irrelevant.

Ann Althouse said...

I've never had it -- partly because I've assumed all these years it was evil.

nina said...

Gavage, like slaughter, need to be scrutinized so that the infliction of pain and gratuitous cruelty to the animal are not part of the process. I think the leaders in the field have exemplary practices. To focus on Hudson Valley Foie Gras or any of the other foie gras manufacturers (as animal welfare groups have done) and not say in the same breath that the conditions for producing the bulk of the beef and pork currently sold in the US are far more horrific is, I think, unfair.

chuck_b said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chuck_b said...

I believe an anti-foie gras bill passed the California legislature last year and Schwarzenegger signed it. There's one company making foie gras here and they will be forced to shut or move to another state when the law takes effect in a number of years. I tend to think that kind of exercise of government power is evil.

As for foie gras, I think it's gross but not evil. "Gross" wouldn't necessarily stop me from tasting something if it was offerred to me, although it might in some cases.

I freely admit to being a tangle of hypocrisy and contradiction when it comes to eating animals. Fish and chicken always okay. Cow, lamb, pig and turkey sometimes okay. Ducks, rabbit, deer, and squid never okay.

Some of that is taste preference, and some of that is guilt and I have no idea how either bias mechanism operates. Do I worry about it or concern myself with other peoples' opinions about my integrity or lack thereof? Ha, ha, ha....

I also eschew foods made from "strange" things or scary-sounding parts. Bull's testicles? I'll pass. Ditto for heart, tongue, kidney, intestine, stomach and brain. All of them sound "gross" to me, but brain additionally seems "wrong" somehow. I need my meat to be abstract in order to enjoy it.

Also, being a chemist and knowing about all the stuff in the meat and what it does inside your body interferes substantially with my eating pleasure. I don't see the meat; I see the chemicals. I eat meat about once or twice a weak, and I don't think about it much.

I wear leather shoes and belts, but my wallet is made out of recycled rubber inner-tubes. It looks better than any wallet I've ever owned, leather or canvas, and it's held up better as well. In fact after three years, it still looks brand new. Imo, noone can wear fur w/out looking ridiculous and vulgar.

chuck_b said...

Wow-- i misspelt "week"! Far out!

ronin1516 said...

well, I had some today at brunch at a friend's place. And I didnt understand what the attraction of foie gras is. I did not like the taste at all, even though the other gourmands in attendance couldnt stop ohhing and ahhing over the foie gras that was served. I took a bite, and then spat it out over the deck when the host and his wife were not looking!!!

Ann Althouse said...

Ronin: I wonder what small animal had the gourmet, pre-chewed treat. Raccoon?

Hot Stuff Carbiener said...

I've only had foir gras once and had no idea what it was. I thought it was hazelnut butter. Dang, it was good. And with no guilt at the time. :o)