Schwartz, Carmellini, and Other Chefs Force-Feed Readers With Weak Foie Gras Logic

Categories: The Critic
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"Certainly a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."
-- Pope Benedict XVI, speaking when still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Six local chefs weighed in yesterday on California's upcoming ban (July 1) on force-feeding birds and on selling the resultant enlarged livers. In 2006, I interviewed various local chefs on the topic for a feature story called "Foie Wars". A few foie gras farms have since adopted more "humane" ways of stuffing the birds, but most places still do it the old-fashioned way. Before I respond to each of the chefs who opined on the subject, let's just make sure we all know what this old-fashioned way implies.

During the last three to four weeks of a 16-week life, each day the force-fed bird gets grabbed by its neck and a metal tube nearly a foot long is inserted down its throat. This process takes place three times daily, until a ten-pound bird will consume 400 to 500 grams of feed -- the equivalent of a 175-pound person having 44 pounds of pasta pushed into him each day. The livers of each bird will swell six to ten times in size and weight, at which point the enlarged organ distends and displaces space normally reserved for the air sac, which causes the bird to gasp for air when breathing. They become so obese their legs get pushed out laterally and they can barely walk. Then again, they are restrained in shoebox-size cages so small they can't turn around or stretch their wings, so not being able to stroll is perhaps the least of their problems.

Now keep in mind: This isn't a process used to help feed billions of hungry children around the world with protein-rich liver. It isn't an unfortunate necessity required to provide working people with meat to eat. The millions of birds that suffer the lives described above do so for one reason only: so their livers can serve as an expensive foie gras delicacy for the privileged few who can pay for it. We're not talking about rich people only, but just the sort who can afford to dine at Red the Steakhouse, Meat Market, the Dutch, and so forth.

Andrew Carmellini (the Dutch), Sean Brasel (Meat Market), Peter Vauthy (Red the Steakhouse), Jamie DeRosa (Tudor House), Michael Schwartz (Michael's Genuine Food & Drink), and Kenny Gilbert (the upcoming Swine Southern Table & Bar) expressed dismay at California's foie gras ban. Each chef's argument more or less boils down to the same essence: Why not instead go after _________ ? (fill in the blank: chicken industry, shark finners, etc).

Sheesh -- what a weak defense. Here's what I mean:

Jamie DeRosa wonders whether "chefs/restaurants ignoring the shark fin ban [will] be treated equally." He adds that "some chefs dismiss the assertion that the method of raising ducks and geese for foie gras is cruel, but all agree that the practice of finning is."

Other chefs take the same tack: point to a different form of animal cruelty that is even more prevalent, and imply that any effort to stop the torture of ducks and geese somehow makes things worse for the sharks (DeRosa), chickens (Schwartz), baby cows (Brasel), Kobe cows (Gilbert), and tomato and sugar-cane workers (Carmellini).

The last comparison, from Andrew Carmellini, is probably the dumbest of the bunch: "I have always had a problem with the anti-foie people. Why not put their efforts toward the tomato or sugar-cane pickers in Florida and the quality of their lives? Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of Americans eat tomatoes and sugar; .001 percent... eat foie gras."

In other words, forget about trying to stop millions of innocent animals from needless suffering and instead concentrate on getting pay raises for farm workers. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I'd feel better about Carmellini's viewpoint if I found out he was remunerating his dishwashers at the Dutch in a generous fashion.

And let's extend the logic of concentrating only on solving the statistically larger problems and excluding the lesser ones. Would these chefs suggest that those who were seeking justice for Trayvon Martin should have stopped and instead joined in the chorus against the deaths in Syria? After all, a lot more Syrians are being gunned down by their government than African-Americans are being killed by crazy white people. Or perhaps they should have been concentrating on getting wage hikes for tomato growers instead?

Kenny Gilbert declares flat-out: "I do not believe it is cruel. The product is farm raised, fed and harvested" (a word one uses for commodities, not living beings). Gilbert then compares force feeding to "providing massages" and feeding "fatty foods" to Kobe cows. This leads me to conclude that Gilbert has never had a proper massage.

Sean Brasel doesn't think "there's much difference between force-feeding ducks to make foie gras and baby veal." Brasel continues, "My concern is where the line is drawn between what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to 'producing' food."

Allow me to draw the line: If an animal is being inflicted with pain and suffering in order to be raised for food, it is not acceptable.

Peter Vauthy "grew up with geese, ducks, and other animals." He raised chickens and knows "from experience ducks and geese can naturally eat more than you can ever imagine."

Um, Peter, I know some guys who "eat more than you can ever imagine." What I mean is that they can consume two or three huge portions of spaghetti for dinner -- not 44 pounds of pasta per day. That goes beyond imagination into unimaginable grotesqueness. On the other hand, Vauthy deserves credit for forwarding the only rational logic of any of the aforementioned chefs: "If you don't like foie gras, then exercise your freedom by not eating it."

A genuinely angry Michael Schwartz comes out swinging: "It's total fucking bullshit. Why don't they go after the chicken industry?" It's a valid point, but so is the converse: If one is compassionate toward chickens, why not extend the love to geese and ducks?

Legislating a sense of ethics is one way to go about helping the birds. Israel, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom have gone this route; California is about to do so.

Another means is for concerned consumers to do as Vauthy suggests, which is to stop eating foie gras. But really, most Americans partake of this delicacy only in restaurants, so if chefs simply stopped putting it on their menus, fewer people would indulge -- and as a result, far fewer birds would suffer.

For that to occur, however, chefs first have to get beyond the denial phase.

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10 comments
Green with Envy
Green with Envy

I wish there were a "Love It" option and not just a "Liked" option. "Folks with Causes" can be a scary lot.

David T
David T

Ducks don't have gag reflexes.. They have separate passages for breathing and eating. In other words, duck don't choke. Water fowl swallow frogs, fish, and other birds whole as, to state the obvious, they lack teeth. I doubt a thin tube is much of a challenge compared to that.  The whole issue is based on how we would feel if that were done to us. That false empathy is just too simplistic. It ignores the fact that we aren't ducks (and ducks are not experiential humans trapped in a duck body) and we don't know what it's like to breath through our tongue or swallow a fish the size of a football, which geese do without discomfort.

Dandy Lion
Dandy Lion

I share the grief of the previous posters. I have never been to a goose farm but have been permanently scarred by the screams of innocent dandelions as their leaves were ripped from their bodies for a human's salad indulgement.

Jefferson Thomas
Jefferson Thomas

Thanks for spreading a little reality about foie gras. The resistance of these chefs shows a real laziness and lack of imagination, not to mention an unwillingness to take responsibility for the consequences of their choices. Using animals for food is cruel in general, but force-feeding ducks and geese for foie gras is particularly horrible.

Swerner
Swerner

"Allow me to draw the line: If an animal is being inflicted with pain and suffering in order to be raised for food, it is not acceptable."  If that is your true belief, and you still continue to eat meat, then you are a hypocrite.  Have you even done any true investigation into foie gras production?  I suggest you read the book "The Foie Gras Wars" by Mark Caro if you would actually like to be educated on the subject.  However, I suspect that you do not care about facts.

Upset
Upset

Klein, you are a coward. Did you really interview these guys, just to mock them. Best part is that you stop short of belittling Scheartz. Even you know that would probably be the last straw in your downward career.

Martin Black
Martin Black

I don't even understand why chefs are so against it.  California isn't saying you can't have foie gras, you just have to have cruelty free foie gras.  So it will cost more, but these are high end chefs so they can just up the price on their dishes and promote it as cruelty free.

Danny Brody
Danny Brody

Of course, to be clear, Michael has never served foie at MGFD.

Danny Brody
Danny Brody

While I used to love and revere chefs and restaurant people in general, I have to say that the opinions of the chefs here sound so dumb that one can't help but think that the whole business has been consumed by the dumb-it-down, lowest-common-denominator thinking of reality/cooking TV and/or the restaurant business's endless PR-driven folderol.   And Michael Schwartz, especially, should know better.  Michael, the same people who have pushed for the legislative ban on foie (about which I am completely agnostic), have been working hard, for twenty years or more, to get the industrial chicken farms cleaned up.  These same people DO work on other issues, many of which are supposedly near to these chef's hearts.  So my only conclusion is that these chefs are either ill-informed, or being willfully ignorant.  Because I know they could not be as dumb as they sound here

Heather Moore
Heather Moore

Chefs and foie-gras eaters can deny the problem, sugarcoat things, or deflect attention anywhere else they want, but foie gras production is still extremely cruel and should be banned everywhere. They should be ashamed for using such lame, apathetic, and downright inaccurate excuses just to assuage their consciences and appease the few heartless people who still eat dead duck livers. A talented chef can prepare a mouth-watering meal without abusing animals. These chefs clearly need to go back to culinary school--and kindegarten to learn the Golden Rule.

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