Are there many foodstuffs as contentious as foie gras? No matter who or where you are, you’ll probably have an opinion: it’s posh food, innit; it’s a horrific and cruel process; it’s delicious and I’d smear myself with it daily; it’s too expensive; it’s hard to get... And it seems opinions remain polarised worldwide. Come 1 July, California will see it banned throughout the state (although note Chicago did something similar a few years ago before changing its mind and New York thought long and hard about it) although other countries, particularly the French, natch, remain heartily in favour of its consumption. There is a high-profile, celebrity-rammed campaign in this country to see the sale of it banned and many restaurants feel forced off the fence and on to one side or the other, some even intimidated into banning it by threats of violence from campaigners.
Let’s be clear on this. When foie gras is unethically produced (and 90% of it is), it’s never going to be defendable. Often the birds are in cages so small they can’t stretch their wings, the feeding is rough and mechanised and often the birds are left in pain and even internally damaged by the process. However, some farms in Spain and France are going the distance to produce foie gras on a smaller, gentler scale and many chefs take the trouble to visit farms and check out what they’re actually buying; many come away reassured that the delicacy is as thoughtfully produced as it can be. That’s all well and good, but such is the antagonistic nature of this issue, they can’t even advertise their efforts properly, for fear of reprisals.
Many are saying the onus is on the consumer to check with the restaurant whether the advertised foie gras is indeed ethically produced; we say, if we couldn’t be bothered to do that with chicken and pork, why would we make the effort with something eaten so infrequently by most of us? If we’re happy scoffing ‘popcorn chicken’ from a box, microwaving a chicken ready meal or eating a cheap pepperoni pizza without checking its origins first, how on earth do the powers-that-be (who possibly have a little too much free time on their hands) expect those who choose to eat foie gras – and are happy to hand over the necessary spondulicks to do so – to care?
It is in fact illegal to produce foie gras in this country, although clearly not to import it. You can understand how that would irritate the anti campaigners – it seems somewhat hypocritical. The illegality of production is also somewhat contrary, given our poultry welfare is now probably one of the best in the world. Surely we could be trusted to produce decent, humane, happy foie gras and make the most of the rest of the bird, rather than just ditching the carcasses?
What are your thoughts? Are you for or against? Would you prefer to eat a British product, humanely produced or do you think the whole issue revolting? Is it right people’s livelihoods are threatened for simply having an opinion or do you feel chefs should be leading from the front on all matter animal welfare?