Saturday, August 1, 2009

Off the Shelf: 'The Foie Gras Wars' by Mark Caro

I've never eaten foie gras. And Melissa hasn't either. So it's a bit difficult to throw myself into the middle of the controversy surrounding the delicacy as described in "The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight."

Basically, it boils down to whether you think gavage -- the term for force feeding the ducks or geese -- makes the animals suffer during the force-feeding period. The author, Mark Caro, a longtime Chicago Tribune reporter, talks to people on both sides of the issue, including restauranteurs and farmers who perform the gavage as well as animal-rights activists and others who say the process should be stopped.

One nuance that continues to come up is that those who opposed the force feeding often never visited a foie gras farm. And they also were inclined to say that foie gras farms would just give them the "white glove" treatment -- show them the clean processing areas -- if they did go to one.

The author describes his trips to some foie gras farms in America and France. He ate his fair share of foie gras, but he also participated in the foie farm process.

A foie gras liver can grow to be up to 6 to 10 times larger than a normal size one, which those against point to as unhealthy. In addition, they say that the animals vomit after feeding, but others posit that it is simply food from the force feeding that the duck or goose does not digest.

The question comes down to whether you think the animals suffer, either during the force feeding or in their treatment during the gavage period.

For me, the book certainly intrigued me enough to want to try foie gras sometime. And, if I do like it and see myself eating it a lot, to also visit a foie farm.

There were some larger issue pull-away quotes or passages that also intrigued me in the book:
  • "I think something good has to be coming from a farm that you recognize, with farming practices that you recognize. ... Gourmet has to be linked to sustainable farming." - Ariane Daguin, the daughter of famed French foie gras farmer Andre Daguin.
  • In the first few paragraphs of the second chapter, the author talks about the "collective denial" of not linking a living animal to be a part of the food that we eat. I think that is an apt term for that disconnect.

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