The Fois Gras Debate


California passed a fois gras Ban in 2004, which goes into effect on July 1. Naturally, a lot of chefs think this is a bad idea. Given the types of people I follow on Twitter, I heard about the reaction to the ban before the ban itself. So what's the deal?

The people against fois gras point to the force-feeding of a goose, which gives a goose more food than it needs, so that its liver will become fattier. Okay, we are a humane society who doesn't want to hurt animals unnecessarily. It's hard to argue that point. Except that the chefs are pointing out that a vast majority of poultry and meat in the US market are being raised in horrific circumstances, such as animals living their lives covered in their own filth and unable to move around, but that's perfectly legal and much more wrong than the fois. And there we have the interesting bit.

Neither group wants to hurt animals. We all have our own tolerance for the harm to animals vs. the need/desire for food. On the vegan side, there is no tolerance for harm to animals. For everyone else, there is a compromise. The most important factors in that compromise will likely indicate which side of the fois gras ban any given person will fall on.

For the legislators, the desire is to ensure that as many people as possible get a chance to buy meat at a low price.* For the chefs, the goal is to make the sacrifice of any given animal mean as much as possible, so they will focus on things that make the quality and taste of the meat as good as possible. Legislators see the compromise as something for the greater good, and chefs see the compromise as one of respect for the animal.

Personally, I side with the chefs. I understand the legislators' desires, but I think that we are sincerely unbalanced in our approach to how much meat we need to eat at any given meal, and the shear number of animals that are harmed by industrial farming far outweighs the few geese that are force fed. Even if force feeding were as bad as many of the practices of the large-scale poultry, beef, and pork raising industries, which I am not conceding, there are so few geese/ducks that are affected that maybe we should consider looking at a problem with larger reach first.

Of course, the reach is part of the issue. A change to, say, the practices of the mainstream chicken ranches would affect not only all the chickens, but all of the people who buy chickens, which means that it's fraught with peril, both to the people they would affect as well as the people who might vote for them. After all, being the legislator who tripled the price of chicken isn't going to make you a popular person when the next voting cycle comes around. A ban on fois gras makes it clear that you are for animal rights without doing anything that will affect enough people who would vote against you, so it's fairly safe.

Image of the goose copyright AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by anemoneprojectors (back soon??!).

*- Of course, there may be an underlying reason for that desire, such as a company or industry with that goal has given the legislator a fat sack of cash, and the legislator really likes cash. However, the underlying reason is not the focus here.