Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Foie Gras or Foie GROSS??

OK ethical food. I think this is going to be both easier and harder than clothes to blog about. Easier because I don’t really buy clothes that much (and not in a saintly I don’t need material belongings way but in cash flow kind of way) so I don’t have much chance to get practical experience. Harder because, well it's food and drink. And the reason I have no money for clothes is because I spend loads on food. And unlike Renata I am not a great cook and am quite prone to anything that makes the cooking process easier. Including the dreaded ready meals. Yes I know....

So the other night I am out for my friend’s birthday. We are in a lovely French restaurant and as I browse the menu I notice it has foie gras on it. I skip over it, thinking to myself how misguided the restaurant is for having such unethical meat on their menu. Bless the French. They don’t know that us right on Londoners would not eat that.

And then one of our party ordered it. And as I gasped in horror, someone else said ‘oh good call, I nearly ordered that’ 2 Foie gras eaters at our table? Surely not! No not at all. Several members of the party are foie gras eaters. When asked why I was so shocked, I mumbled something about not really ‘eating that kind of thing of ethical grounds’ and then tucked into my veggie gnocchi (v nice by the way)

Now the area of ethical meat is something I do have a bit of an interest in. I was a vegetarian for 14 years. When I gave up, I gave up on the grounds that I would only eat free range, organic meat. To my shame this has slipped quite a lot. And whilst I actually don’t eat much meat, I don’t stick to the free range organic rule. So I am not one to preach about what people should and shouldn’t eat.
But the foie gras thing through me. I had thought it was common knowledge that this was unpc meat. Is this just a misconception? When pushed about what the ‘ethical grounds’ I don’t eat it are, I said about the force feeding being kind of cruel but actually couldn’t really argue anything very strongly as I don’t really know enough. Time to do some research:

Foie gras – the case against:

Is pretty strong. To create the foie gras, geese and ducks are force fed by tubes, being made to eat more than they would in the wild and much more than they would normally eat domestically. Animal rights groups say that this force feeding in itself is very cruel. But if that’s not enough to convince you then there are a whole host of problems it causes which are inhumane. These include livers swollen to many times their normal size, impaired liver function as they become diseased, death if the force feeding is continued, and scarring or tearing of the esophagus. They put on weight so rapidly that they find it hard to stand, walk or even breathe. The birds are usually reared in cages to make the force feeding easier, meaning even if they can walk they have no room too. Think this is the over sensitivity of an ex veggie? Well not really. An European Union report concluded that ‘force feeding, as currently practiced, is detrimental to the welfare of the birds’ Its illegal to produce it in many European countries including here in the UK as well as Israel, Argentina and parts of America (California, obviously).

Also there is an alternative. Farms both here (sold in the ever ethical Waitrose) and in Spain have produced an ethical version that doesn’t require any forced feeding and the animals can be raised in a free range environment. However consumers and chefs (including Gordon Ramsey) claim the taste is not the same and still insists on using the actual Foie Gras. I would do a taste comparison but it’s not the sort of thing us ex veggies tuck into so I have never actually had real Foie Gras – any comments on this welcome.
Oh and Kate Winslet, Roger Moore and the Pope think it’s bad.

The case for:

Mostly seems to be based around the fact that it tastes nice (ok that’s biased. Start again) Farmers claim geese and ducks naturally ingest large amounts of whole food and gain weight before migration. They also contend that Geese and ducks don’t have a gag reflex so do not find it as uncomfortable as we may assume. And that in the wild the birds keep food such as fish in their esophagus for a long time anyway. If geese and ducks are stressed they won’t eat or digest the food well and therefore won’t produce good Foie Gras, so it’s in the farmers interests to have happy digesting birds. The pro foie gras camp also argues that using the term diseased liver is inaccurate and misleading.

There is also the argument that it has become the slight cause de jour among animal welfare groups and that the attention it receives is out of proportion with the level of cruelty (see above for celeb band wagon)

Well maybe it’s the ex veggie in me or the guilt of a new meat eater but I don’t think I will be eating it any time soon. It’s, of course not my place to tell people what they can and can’t eat so I won’t be lecturing my friends too loudly about it. However, having made this decision, what do I do with it? Is it enough not to eat it? Do I know need to not go to restaurants that sell it? Shops that sell it? Advice please??

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