Foie gras—fattened duck or goose liver, a controversial delicacy—has been banned in California since 2012. On Jan. 7, a judge overturned the ban. At least for now, it’s legal. Chefs are excited to the brink of indecency. Animal rights activists are sorting through the “mutilated bird” collections to create the ultimate picket signs. Diners are looking to get a taste of this icky-sounding food taboo. It’s Foiemaggedon 2015. I’ve been talking to chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, distributors, activists and others involved in the fracas. Over the next few days, I’ll release a series of “Thoughts on Foie Gras,” with their insights and my own observations on the controversy.
#1: IT’S NOT ABOUT ‘FREEDOM’
Some foie gras fans have, sadly, acted as though Delta Sigma Foie just won a drinking contest with Alpha Beta Peta. This shouldn’t be about the freedom to eat whatever the hell we want, no matter what it does to animals. Our No. 1 priority of carnivores at this point in American history should be to improve the welfare of our food animals, within reason. Large-scale factory farming is a pretty awful enterprise that our own questionably excessive demand for meat has created. “You’ve got people who say, ‘We can choose what we want to eat,'” says Marcus Henley, farm operations manager at the nation’s leading farm, Hudson Valley Foie Gras. “We don’t believe that at all. That’s not what this is about. The animal’s welfare is the most important thing.” It’s also not about keeping the government out of our food. Although the United States government is sometimes a bit too paranoid, it also does a lot to promote animal welfare and food safety. Without the government, our food system would be a far filthier system of profiteering and crimes against the animal kingdom. The main two questions should be: Is foie gras inhumane? And is it unconstitutional for California to ban an agricultural product from another U.S. state, even if that product passes all of its state’s animal welfare requirements?