IDA Writing Alert: Cooking Up a Battle over Foie Gras

October 11th, 2007 8:36 pm by Kelly Garbato

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From: In Defense of Animals – takeaction [at] idausa.org
Date: Oct 10, 2007 11:49 AM
Subject: Writing Alert: Cooking Up a Battle over Foie Gras

Congratulations to volunteer writer Marge Hackett whose letter to the Ojai Valley News on foie gras was published.

Time magazine ran an article about the controversy over foie gras. Please write a letter to the editor about the suffering ducks and geese endure to produce foie gras. Send letters at letters [at] time.com.

Read “Cooking Up a Battle over Foie Gras” online.

Cooking Up a Battle over Foie Gras

Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2007
By Lisa McLaughlin

At Philadelphia’s Vintage restaurant last week the special was two delicately pan-seared pieces of foie gras perched atop toasted brioche with a berry coulis, garnished with fresh raspberries and a side of rebellion.

The days of foie gras as a simple exercise in gastronomic luxury are over. Foie gras — French for the fatted liver of a duck or goose — has come under increasing fire in the U.S., where it is a $17 million business. Chicago has banned the sale of it and California law will make it illegal to sell or raise foie gras by 2012. The fiercest battleground right now is in Philadelphia, where City Councilman Jack Kelly has proposed a ban and animal rights group Hugs for Puppies has been protesting the homes and businesses of chefs who serve the delicacy. But a group of Philly restaurateurs are fighting back, under the banner Philadelphia Chefs for Choice, marking the first time anywhere that chefs have organized to protest the foie gras protesters. During the first week of October, nearly 20 restaurants served foie gras specials on their lunch and dinner menus for just $5. The chef group has stated: “In the city of Philadelphia, the birthplace of American liberty, we want to keep the right to serve foie gras.”

The debate is centered around the practice of gavage, in which corn is force-fed to farm-raised ducks through a funnel down their throats. Some argue that gavage is inhumane, while others counter that the physiology of a duck is not the same as a human. “It seems terrible if you don’t know that a duck’s esophagus is lined with a very thick cuticle, if you don’t realize that baby ducks are fed by their mother pushing her beak down the baby’s throat,” says Ariane Daguin, owner of D’Artagnan, the largest foie gras purveyor in the U.S. Recent studies by Dr. Daniel Gu men a leading expert on the physiological effects of gavage, have shown that ducks with young in the wild were under more stress than the ducks being fed through gavage. And both The American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates and the American Association of Avian Pathologists have concluded that foie is not a product of animal cruelty.

Animal rights activists remain unconvinced and have been increasingly organized in their efforts to have foie gras banned. Hugs For Puppies, which began as an informal vegetarian outreach and animal rescue group in Philadelphia in 2002, started approaching restaurants a few years ago and occasionally protesting, says founder Nick Cooney. “Last December [restaurateur] Stephen Starr stopped serving foie gras and it really motivated us to keep going. Now we are out protesting every week.”

Starr, who owns a dozen Philly hotspots, tells a different story. He emphasizes that the activists had little to do with his decision to remove foie gras from all of his Philadelphia restaurants. “If they said ‘Can we meet with you?’ I probably would have, but instead they use the bullhorn, these really creepy tactics. The bottom line is,” he says, emphasizing his own personal opinion, “that it’s probably not a good thing to do to the animals. But honestly to me it was a non-issue. It didn’t sell that well, I don’t like to eat it myself.”

But having credited themselves with a victory, the Hugs for Puppies group has moved onto other restaurants, picketing the businesses and homes of chefs like David Ansill who recently removed foie gras from his menu at his restaurant Ansill after protesters hounded his customers and staff and leafleted his neighborhood for months. “When I talked to him he hadn’t slept in 15 days,” says foie gras distributor Daguin. “The acts of the protesters are nearly terroristic,” she says. Said Ansill wearily: “It wasn’t worth it. I caved.”

Cooney claims that his group represents the public majority, citing a survey which says that 85% of Pennsylvanians are anti-foie gras. “It’s not just a matter of preference on a menu like chocolate or vanilla. It’s a matter of protecting animals.”

But as celebrity chef/author Anthony Bourdain has argued, how can any meat product be cruelty-free if you are killing an animal? To some chefs the anti-foie gras movement feels like the first step towards demands for completely meat-free menus. Chef Parind Vora, whose Austin, Tex., restaurant Jezebel has been subjected to twice weekly protests by a group called Central Texas Animal Defense, believes that animal rights activists are targeting foie gras because it’s a small industry with little resources to fight back. It’s also food often associated with the upper crust, allowing the class issues to color the debate.

But in Philadelphia last week, foie was the food of the people. At Caribou Cafe, the sliders came topped with caramelized onions and a piece of pan seared foie gras. At Zinc, the foie came poached with mango chutney and waffle chips. Diners wearing bold red “We Love Foie Gras” T-Shirts embarked on foie-cathalons. “I could care less about those snobby French chefs,” Councilman Kelly said in response to a local paper on Monday. “They can stick their $5 foie gras up their rears.” And, as the week ended, restaurateurs planned their next steps. For Michael and Terry McNally of the London Grill it’s about freedom of choice. To celebrate that freedom, they are planning an Oct. 22 dinner in honor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras co-founder Michael Ginor and his book /Foie Gras: A Passion/ with a $165 prix fixe 6-course dinner that includes foie gras in every course, from the matzo ball soup to a creme brulee dessert.

You can use the following points to assist you in writing your letter or visit http://www.stopforcefeeding.com for more information:

* Every year nearly 500,000 ducks are confined into warehouses, force-fed with a pipe shoved down their beaks, and slaughtered for their diseased livers.

* Recent investigations of the United States’ only three foie gras farms found gross neglect and cruelty. Witnesses found tens of thousands of ducks confined in filthy, overcrowded confinements and others left to suffer in enclosures so small they could even spread a wing.

* Ducks are force-fed with a long metal pole repeatedly shoved down their throats. The torture begins when they are just three months old and continues until they are sent to slaughter.

* During the investigations of three U.S. foie gras farms, investigators found birds on the verge of death, covered in their own vomit. Other birds were found dead in their cages. They had suffocated and choked to death from being force-fed.

* Many of the ducks who survive become too sick to walk. Those who survive the feedings suffer from a painful illness that causes their livers to swell to ten times their normal size.

Letters should be less than 200 words. Please do not send attachments and please remember to include your full name, address, and phone number (for verification purposes–street names and phone numbers will not be published) and not to use any exact wording in this alert.

Sincerely,
Kristie Phelps
Communications Director

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with more than 85,000 members and supporters dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of animals by protecting their rights and welfare. IDA’s efforts include educational events, cruelty investigations, boycotts, grassroots activism, and hands-on rescue through our sanctuaries in Mississippi and Cameroon, Africa.

In Defense of Animals 3010 Kerner Blvd., San Rafael, California 94901 – P: (415) 388-9641 F: (415) 388-0388

email: idainfo [at] idausa.org

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