No Foie Gras? 
A Polemical and Impassioned Response
by John Shulman

Following my review of The Slow Food Guide to Chicago, I learned that this City of Big Shoulders…My city, ”Hog Butcher to the World” has banned the sale of foie gras starting in June of 2006!

Surprised, you bet surprised. You could have knocked me over with a fattened goose liver. Use it as a weapon, yes, but don’t dare eat it!

I now live in California, where foie gras will be banned in 2012. Our state is led by an actor, who used to pump up with steroids, and Oakland, where I live is number one in the rate of homicides, yet a ban on foie gras is the cause du jour in the Golden State—and apparently elsewhere.

In Sonoma California, the anti-foie gras folk vandalized a restaurant in town that dared to serve this totally voluntary and legal food choice. They also took menacing videos of the producer’s family innocently playing in front of their house, basically saying, “We know where you live”!

In Chicago, Cyrano’s Bistro, whose owner spoke against the ban, was vandalized, its windows broken and its door smeared with blood. You have to wonder: exactly whose blood did they use for this lovely and considerate gesture? Were they emulating a sort of Passover for the animal rights but not human rights crowd?

There is also ample evidence that this practice is not cruel, since years of observation show that the birds readily respond to those “force feeding” (unfortunate term) them and do not avoid the food-filled tube that is inserted into their mouths.

The main group behind this move in Chicago is called Farm Sanctuary, and they also have campaigned against the veal and poultry industries where, to be sure, gore happens. I find it very interesting that they have avoided the meat processors. Or is it that they do not wish to become part of a bratwurst at the next Texas rodeo?

Mayor Daley has said, “ We have children being killed by gang leaders and dope dealers. We have real issues here in this city.  And we’re dealing with foie gras? Let’s get some priorities.”

Now, as you can imagine, foie gras is not a staple of the Chicago diet. Pizza, steak, ribs, hot dogs, and hamburgers? Yes. But fattened goose or duck liver is a rare commodity in the Windy City.

Charlie Trotter, who for his own reasons, has stopped serving foie gras at his highly respected Chicago restaurant and is “trotted” out as an icon of the anti-foie gras movement said of Farm Sanctuary—while refusing to sign their anti-foie gras pledge—“These people are idiots. Understand my position: I have nothing to do with a group like that. I think they are pathetic” (Chicago Tribune).

I fully respect people who, for whatever reason, do not choose to eat certain things. Last week I had a group over for dinner that included people who don’t eat mammals, avoid shellfish and peanuts, and one who hates any kind of fish, so chicken was on the menu. Not one of these guests asked me to place my right hand over my heart and take a pledge to not yada yada yada!

In the 1940s, there were margarine trucks at the Illinois side of the Wisconsin state line selling that banned product in the Dairy State of Wisconsin. Will that happen at the city limits of Chicago? If you need your foie gras fix, all you need do is get into your car and drive to some foie gras friendly border town, belly up to the bar, and say “foie gras and keep it coming and a tankard of your finest Sauterne.”

All in all, this question of poultry liver is small in terms of amount of product sold, but I am bothered by the religiosity of its supporters and by their “I have seen the light, and I will convince you or vandalize you until you do” approach.

Additionally, I have not seen an explanation by Alderman Joe Moore who proposed the ordinance as to why now, what’s next, why it so easily was adopted by the city fathers, or even why him? My hunch, nurtured by years of living in what may now be called “The city of absent livers”, is that it was simply a case of “I’ll give him his, and next time I will get mine, regardless of how inane it might be.”

Well, Maybe Chicago hasn’t really changed!

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