Friday, July 07, 2006

U.S. Sears Foie Gras

Neal Patterson
Special Correspondent

The efforts to ban foie gras in Chicago and California most likely signal the beginning of the end for this delicacy in the U.S. For most, this will mean nothing, since only those who frequent finer dining establishments even consume the fatty duck liver. In fact, many might rejoice that such elitist fools will be denied one of their treasured indulgences. It’s one of our quirky American traits to worship wealth while simultaneously sneering at anything that smacks of aristocratic pretentiousness. No wonder Donald Trump and Paris Hilton are so popular.

For the politicians who enact legislation against the production and sale of foie gras, it’s an easy call. They can afford to offend a few duck farmers and gourmands in their effort to finally do something that will placate the vegans and PETA zealots. It’s rare when an elected official can take a stand that will win praise from this faction without pissing off just about everyone else.

Of course, the primary reason behind the ban is that force feeding ducks to create those extra fatty livers is considered unusually cruel. Attempting to make ethical decisions in the area of animal farming is like trying to discern what should be considered a war crime. At least the ducks raised to create foie gras are free range. Can’t say the same for the agribusiness calves chickens who are trapped in cramped pens, wallowing in their own feces while being fed hormonally enhanced food that create plumper breasts. Of course, don’t expect to see the politicians going after the likes of Tyson anytime soon. No up side there, since the animal farming giants are too big and, dammit, too many people like fried chicken and hamburgers. I believe that the enjoyment of chicken tetrazzini and a medium rare steak will be a god-given right for some time to come. I even believe the immobilized calves will be ignored so that we may continue to enjoy veal parmesan. Foie gras, on the other hand, has been sacrificed to the evil sin column.

Banning foie gras is the culinary example of our constant effort to nibble around the edges of our moral dilemmas. We attack what is easy to attack so that we may preserve the larger transgressions. We feign outrage over viewing Janet Jackson’s breasts at the Super Bowl, but true pornography will thrive. We like it too much. Illegal flag burning has a good chance of becoming a Constitutional amendment simply because most people have no interest in burning flags. A ban on radio talk show hosts who spout opinions other than those of the reigning administration may have a tougher time getting through.

I suppose I should take some comfort in this: the fact that we seldom give up the core of our rights since such things are important to the majority of us. But I can’t help wondering whether the 18th amendment, which created Prohibition, would have ever been repealed from our Constitution had it only covered champagne rather than all alcoholic beverages. I suspect people would be drinking just as much alcohol today as they currently do; they just wouldn’t have the special delight of enjoying one of its finest examples.

If foie gras disappears from every menu in the U.S., I’m sure the country and its citizenry will survive. However, I don’t believe we should feel any better about ourselves for it. As in so many aspects of our lives, there are some hard realities that we don’t like to face. We eat animals, and the raising and slaughter of those animals is not a pretty process. We can’t gain higher moral ground simply because we have stopped one form of animal farming. We simply lose one of the more exquisite offerings a meat eater can experience.

As for the vegans who declare that their lifestyle is the only ethical choice, it’s important to bear in mind that such a lifestyle is a privilege only allowed in a developed country and could not be feasibly imposed on all humans around the globe. Instead of feeling superior, they should celebrate living in a country of such freedom and abundance that allows them the opportunity to consume only quality fruits, grains, and vegetables (along with the nutritional supplements they must take to make up for the meat they aren’t eating). And while the vegans are celebrating their good fortune for living in the United States, maybe they can exercise a little tolerance, which is essential to any free and civilized society.