California chefs revolt against renewed foie gras ban

Californians are crazy about banning things (particularly if they have anything to do with conservative values) but sometimes they get a bit carried away and it comes back to bite them. More than half a decade ago the Golden State fell victim to a marketing campaign from PETA and was convinced to pass a ban on foie gras because of the poor treatment of the birds involved. That was immediately challenged in court, re-filed, recycled and has been battled over back and forth since then. This month yet another court weighed in and said the ban was constitutional and could go back into effect… at least until it was immediately appealed yet again. (Did I really need to tell you that it was a panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals?)

That didn’t go over very well with many chefs who specialize in the dish. In fact, some of them immediately came out swinging and announced that they weren’t going to stop serving it, at least until all the appeals were exhausted. (LA Times)

As of Friday night, the foie gras torchon was staying on the tasting menu at Melisse in Santa Monica, said owner and two-star Michelin chef Josiah Citrin.

“I didn’t really know it was coming; we’ll just see what happens,” he said. “I enjoy eating foie gras, but it’s not going to end what I do. I just don’t like being told what we can and can’t use.” …

Marcus Henley, the manager at Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York, said in an email to The Times, “We will appeal. This process may take months. Until this appeal is completed, the law and the ban are not implemented and foie gras is legal to sell and serve in California.”

The challengers will have two weeks to ask a larger 9th Circuit panel to review Friday’s ruling, after which the 9th Circuit must decide whether to consider it. That process could take weeks, if not months, attorneys said.

This is one of those subjects I’ve vacillated on for quite a while, being forced to deal with the fact that I seem to apply a double or even triple standard when considering it. While I don’t believe that any animals have rights (aside from those humans decide to assign to them) I treat various animals differently when it comes to the level of care they need to be shown. Wild animals pretty much need to stay out of our way or, in many cases, just kill and eat us if they can manage it. (Best of luck sharks, alligators and wolves.) The real questions come with the various classes of domesticated animals.

At the top are companion animals, particularly dogs and cats, because we modified them both in their physical characteristics and their temperament to serve as our friends. I have virtually zero tolerance for any needless cruelty or neglect when it comes to them. But I’m ashamed to admit that I have slightly less of an emotional investment in work animals (draft horses, oxen, etc.) and probably the least for our stock of animals which we domesticated specifically for the purpose of eating them.

That doesn’t mean that I have zero empathy and I’m bothered by some of these subjects as well. I haven’t eaten veal in roughly 25 years because I don’t like the treatment of the veal calves. But I also don’t call for boycotts on veal or ask for the practice to be outlawed. Social pressure has been enough for many farms to make the veal raising process at least a bit more tolerable.

When it comes to chicken and geese, I’m sorry to say I mostly just see them as food. But I do agree that the force feeding of animals to produce foie gras is more than I can stomach. As a boy I had to help tend chickens on my grandfather’s farm, but it was very different from the commercial farming of today. We had a coop where the laying hens sat in actual nests and you had to lift them up to collect eggs by hand. (And some of them could get quite testy about it, I assure you.) The others walked around in the pen and ate the feed we had to scatter in their yard. Cleaning the coop and the pen was a seriously unpleasant job. But I considered that a fine life for a chicken because, as I said, I looked at them as food. It’s just how I was raised.

I hope farmers find more humane ways to produce foie gras since there’s obviously a demand for it. (I’ve had it a few times at higher end restaurants and it’s actually very good.) But getting the courts and the government to shut down the productivity of the farmers in response to the agitation of some activists doesn’t seem like the way to deal with this.