Defending Foie Gras

SeriousEats.com has a long (4600 word) article by the site’s Executive Editor, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, defending America’s foie gras industry. It’s a puff piece from top to bottom, albeit an unusually well-written one that will doubtless persuade many readers. You get the feeling the author sent the profiled farm’s owner a voicemail or email saying, “It’s finished, and I’m sure you’ll love it.”

One problem with the piece is that it’s written by someone who is, by his own assessment, “comfortable” with foie gras, and is therefore comfortable of the standard practice of force feeding ducks. In other words, the guy has already made his peace with the most invasive practice in all of agribusiness: should we really trust him to be our tour guide for evaluating the foie gras industry?

I’ve no doubt that a truly neutral observer would have raised all sorts of questions and issues that this article leaves unaddressed.  But there is one point the author makes in passing: it appears that the incidence of bruised and blemished livers ranges between 30 to 45 percent. This seems a shockingly high number, and evidence enough that there’s something terribly wrong with foie gras production—especially if we believe the author’s claim that this particular facility is “the best” the industry has to offer.

Additionally, the word “abscess” is never used is this piece. Given that the rate of liver damage is so high, I would love to know what percentage of ducks raised for foie gras have abscessed livers.

Is it OK to raise an animal in a way that is likely to cause serious liver damage, simply to produce a delicacy gourmet product? I think this is reason enough to condemn the industry, and to take action to eliminate it.

But the author’s in no mood to go into the details of liver damage. Instead, we get a shifty defense of the foie gras industry’s cruelty:

We’d seen the process from start to finish, and from all outward appearances, the ducks seem to live perfectly comfortable lives—at least as well as you can expect for any farm animal. Certainly far better lives than the millions of cows and pigs and billions of chickens that are raised every year for our consumption.

See what he’s done: he’s using the cruelties of conventional factory farms as a way to justify the cruelties of the foie gras industry. He then gets even more explicit:

If you are going to protest anything, it should be the industrial production of eggs, where chickens are routinely kept in cages so small that they can’t even turn around for an entire year.

How much effort does this guy expend protesting battery eggs? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess: absolutely none. And then his very next sentence is:

The problem, of course, is that you tell people to stop eating cheap eggs, and nobody will listen.

Actually, people do listen. California’s 37 million residents listened well enough to ban battery cages from the state starting in 2015. And Michigan and Ohio are getting rid of battery cages as well. On top of that, hundreds of colleges and university dining halls have stopped purchasing battery cages. See, people do care about cruelty: just not the scumbags who think foie gras is an ethically acceptable food.

And, for all the cruelties of factory farming, at least these facilities provide a substantial portion of America’s calories. Foie gras, by contrast, is a luxury food eaten by people who enjoy the taste of a diseased and damaged liver. And that’s an obscenity that nobody can reasonably defend. (Thanks, Veronique.) Link.